HOUSTON – Deion Sanders became the NFL draft’s first fashion icon by accessorizing a black and white track suit with loads of sparkling gold jewelry and dark shades when he took the call from the Atlanta Falcons before they selected him fifth overall in 1989.
As memorable as Sanders’ draft swag remains, wearing a track suit on draft night or the jean shorts Brett Favre wore would be scoffed at today with top players gathering for a televised event that has become as much runway show as sporting event.
While top prospects in this year’s draft like quarterbacks Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson and defensive lineman Will Anderson Jr. prepare their fits for the big night, we look back at some of the most memorable draft night ensembles since the splash by Sanders.
Ray Lewis chose a flashy Versace look when the Ravens took him in the first round in 1996. The linebacker rocked a silk shirt, belt and sunglasses by the designer with white slacks as he helped usher in the move from casual draft night clothes to more sophisticated looks.
Over the next decade, most players made the transition to suits, but they were more going to church with your grandma looks than high fashion statement pieces.
Then came 2016 and running back Ezekiel Elliott’s bold choice of a crop top tuxedo shirt when the Dallas Cowboys took him fourth overall. He stunned on the red carpet when he unbuttoned his suit jacket to reveal his bare, toned abs, raising the bar for draft night fashion surprises.
The following season, safety Jamal Adams shined in a white windowpane patterned, double-breasted suit when he was taken at No. 6 by the Jets.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson took a page out of Lewis’s book by going designer head to toe when he was taken by the Ravens in 2018. He complemented the rich green Gucci suit with a white UFO printed shirt by the designer, a signature Gucci belt and went Gucci down to the shoes with a brown pair adorned with the brand’s bee logo and signature red and green details.
When defensive end Nick Bosa was selected second overall by San Francisco in 2019, he delighted Ohio State fans everywhere by opening his gray suit jacket to reveal a lining covered with images of mascot Brutus Buckeye.
After a virtual 2020 draft because of the pandemic, players raised the bar again with some stunning looks when the event returned in person in 2021.
The star of that draft and arguably the best dressed player in the event’s history was Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, who was taken 10th by the Eagles. The slim receiver wowed in a impeccably fitted bespoke suit by Brian Alexander.
The blue shawl collar jacket with a tied waist was adorned with gold pins of his initials on one lapel. He also added his initials on blue velvet loafers that pulled the look together.
Last year’s draft was a banner year for fashion.
Perhaps the biggest style star of the night was Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, taken at No. 4 by the Jets. He brought the best jewelry since Sanders to stun — and blind — anyone in his path. He accessorized his sky-blue suit with two thick Cuban link chains adorned with two huge diamond-soaked pendants celebrating his Sauce nickname.
One was a hot sauce bottle and the second was the word “Sauce” in all caps that had diamonds set to look like they were dripping from the letters.
Offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu had the most creative look when he was taken sixth by the Panthers last season. He rocked a white suit with green accents made to look like the Nigerian flag as a nod to his heritage.
The last stunner of the 2022 draft was receiver Garrett Wilson, who took draft style to the next level with his eye-catching ensemble when the Jets took him with the 10th pick. Wilson wore a gray and white double-breasted, color block suit that he set off with $1,690 Prada lug sole combat boots and three strands of chunky pearls.
From Sanders to Sauce, the NFL draft has been a style showcase for more than three decades. Thursday we’ll find out which of these upcoming NFL stars has top-tier fashion sense to match their special talent.