As the NFL Draft looms, FOXSports.com takes a look back at the best draft picks ever made. Whether they were drafted No. 1 overall or at the back end of the first round, these players made an instant impact and had successful football careers.
No. 1 – John Elway
Elway was taken No. 1 overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Indianpolis Colts, but refused to play them and was eventually traded to the Denver Broncos. He spent his entire career in the Mile High City and led them to two Super Bowl championships. The Stanford standout was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, after being selected to nine Pro Bowls.
Other candidates: Bruce Smith, Terry Bradshaw, Peyton Manning
No. 2 — Lawrence Taylor
Taylor won several defensive awards in 1981, his rookie season with the New York Giants, and was the most dominant outside linebacker of his time. Taylor, who had double-digit sacks in each season from 1984-1990, was named the AP’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times.
Other candidates: Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk
No. 3 – Barry Sanders
The Lions took Sanders with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. Sanders was an All-Pro every season in his career and is known as the most elusive running back in NFL history. Sanders rushed for 15,269 yards in his 10-year career and ranks third all-time in rushing.
Other candidates: Dick Butkus
No. 4 – Walter Payton
Payton was drafted No. 4 overall in the 1975 draft by the Chicago Bears and was known as one of the most prolific running backs of all time. Payton won two NFL MVP awards and led the Bears to a Super Bowl championship in 1985.
Other candidates: Otto Graham
No. 5 – Deion Sanders
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Sanders No. 5 overall out of Florida State in the 1989 NFL Draft. Sanders, who was an electric return man, scoring nine special teams touchdowns, but made his money as a shutdown cornerback. Sanders spent his career with five different teams and second all-time in interception return yardage (1,331).
Other candidates: LaDainian Tomlinson, Len Dawson, Junior Seau
No. 6 – Jim Brown
When the Cleveland Browns made Brown their No. 1 draft pick in 1957, they acquired the future rookie of the year, a four-time MVP and a nine-time Pro Bowler. Brown, who retired the summer of 1966 to pursue acting, stunned fans with his announcement. He was one of the most durable running backs of all-time, never missing a game in his nine-year career.
Other candidates: Walter Jones, Torry Holt
No. 7 – Champ Bailey
The University of Georgia star was drafted No. 7 overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and quickly became an elite player. He was traded to Denver before the 2004 season and the Broncos have had a mainstay at cornerback ever since. Bailey, who often forces quarterbacks to ignore his side of the field, has appeared in 11 Pro Bowls, the most ever for a cornerback.
Other candidates: Adrian Peterson, Pat Richter
No. 8 – Ronnie Lott
Lott was drafted in 1981 to play cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers, but was later switched to safety and eventually earned All-Pro honors at three different positions (cornerback, strong safety and free safety). In Lott’s 14-year career, he led the league in interceptions twice and recorded 100 plus-tackles five times.
Other candidates: Larry Csonka, Lance Alworth, Willie Roaf
No. 9 – Bruce Matthews
Matthews played 19 seasons in the NFL, but got his start in 1983 drafted by the Houston Oilers. Matthews paved the way for legendary running back Earl Campbell in Houston and went on to play every position on the offensive line. Matthews was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Other candidates:Brian Urlacher, Jerome Brown
No. 10 – Marcus Allen
The Oakland Raiders drafted the rookie of the year in 1982, as Allen ran for 11 touchdowns in just nine games. Allen was known as one of the best short-yardage backs in league history, and spent 16 seasons with the Raiders and Chiefs. Allen became the first NFL player to rush over 10,000 yards and catch passes for 5,000 or more yards, accomplishing the feat in 1995.
Other candidates:Rod Woodson, Willie Anderson
No. 11 – Michael Irvin
Irvin was the Dallas Cowboys’ 1988 first-round pick, following an elite career at the University of Miami. Irvin rapidly became one of the most dominant receivers of all-time after Dallas added Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith. In 1995, Irvin set an NFL record of 11 100-yard receiving games and was a cornerstone of the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl championship teams.
Other candidates: Ben Roethlisberger, Paul Warfield, Leo Nomellini
No. 12 – Herb Adderly
Adderly was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1961 as a running back, but legendary coach Vince Lombardi had the vision of switching him to cornerback late in his rookie season. During a 12-year career, Adderly played in five Pro Bowls. He recorded 48 career interceptions, seven of which he returned for touchdowns.
Other candidates:Joe Namath, Warren Sapp
No. 13 –Tony Gonzalez
The all-time receptions leader for tight ends was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997 as dual-sport (football, basketball) star at Cal. Gonzalez, who is a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, was the first player at his position to catch over 1,000 balls.
Other candidates:Kellen Winslow, Franco Harris, Bob Lilly
No. 14 – Jim Kelly
Kelly was taken 14th overall in the 1983 draft, but didn’t debut for the Buffalo Bills until 1986 because he chose to play for rival league USFL. Kelly specialized in running the no-huddle offense and led Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Kelly’s No. 12 remains the only number to be retired in Bills’ franchise history.
Other candidates: Darrelle Revis, Eddie George
No. 15 – Alan Page
After graduating from Notre Dame, the Minnesota Vikings drafted Page No. 15 overall in the 1967 NFL Draft, and he played a majority of his 15-year career in Minnesota. Page was a consistent force off the edge at defensive tackle, recording 173 sacks. Page was the first defensive player to be named NFL MVP since the award’s inception. Off the field, Page has achieved supreme greatness: He is an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Other candidates: Dennis Smith, Jason Pierre-Paul
No. 16 – Jerry Rice
Rice, who was taken 16th overall in 1985 by the San Francisco 49ers, is widely considered the best player to ever play the game of football. Rice played in 13 Pro Bowls, won three Super Bowl rings and was named NFL offensive player of the year twice. Rice holds numerous NFL records, but none as prestigious as the league’s all-time receiving leader.
Other candidates: Troy Polamalu, Jevon Kearse
No. 17 — Emmitt Smith
No argument here – Smith finished his NFL career as the league’s all-time leading rusher as well as a league and Super Bowl MVP. Smith was the 17th pick overall in 1990. He went on to win four NFL rushing titles (1991-93, 95) and gave Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson a most valuable alternative to tailback Paul Palmer.
Other candidates: Steve Hutchinson
No. 18 — Art Monk
Some have debated whether wide receiver Art Monk, the Washington Redskins’ first-round pick in 1980, belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he was surrounded by greatness on three Super Bowl champion teams. But Monk, who gained 1,000 receiving yards five times in his career, was without question among the NFL’s most dominant possession receivers of his era (1980-95).
Other candidates:John Henry Johnson, Maurkice Pouncey
No. 19 — Randall McDaniel
The Minnesota Vikings’ first-round pick in 1988 proved his worth immediately, earning all-rookie honors as a starting guard. McDaniel, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2009, started 13 consecutive playoff games for the Vikings, blocked for six 1,000-yard rushers and five 3,000-yard passers in a career that saw him elected to 12 consecutive Pro Bowls.
Other candidates: Roger Wehrli, Shaun Alexander, John Mackey
No. 20 — Jack Youngblood
This rugged defensive end was the Los Angeles Rams’ No. 1 pick in 1971 and emerged as the team’s starting left end by ’73. Youngblood, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001, played in a team-record 201 consecutive games and is considered one of the NFL’s toughest players: Despite sustaining a fractured fibula in the opening round of the 1979 playoffs, Youngblood played every down en route to Super Bowl XIV.
Other candidates: Mark May
No. 21 — Lynn Swann
Tough call here between two great wide receivers. Randy Moss was an incredible find by the Vikings at No. 21 overall in the 1998 draft, but Swann, the Steelers’ first-round pick in 1974, capped his Hall of Fame career with an MVP trophy from Super Bowl X. Swann’s fluid athleticism made him a joy to watch; he caught the game-winning touchdown in the AFC title game as a rookie and finished with 5,462 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns.
Other candidates: Randy Moss
No. 22 – Harris Barton
Why Harris Barton? It’s impossible to ignore the contributions this talented right offensive tackle made in helping the San Francisco 49ers win back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1988-89. Barton’s selection in the 1987 draft was considered a coup by coach Bill Walsh, who was looking for an eventual replacement for Keith Fahnhorst. Barton became a starter in 1988, played 12 seasons and was a two-time Pro Bowler.
Other candidates: Hacksaw Reynolds, Ernie Stautner
No. 23 — Ozzie Newsome
Known now as a Hall of Fame caliber general manager for the Baltimore Ravens – he drafted Ed Reed, among other greats – Newsome’s NFL career began as a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1978. The “Wizard of Oz” was a consummate team leader at tight end, catching a pass in 150 consecutive games. Newsome was enshrined in Canton in 1999.
Other candidates: Bill George
No. 24 — Ed Reed
Newsome saw greatness in Reed, one of the NFL’s most feared and respected players, and drafted the free safety in 2002 out of the University of Miami. Reed combines intelligence, skill and strength to dominate opponents, studying film to discern weaknesses and tendencies. His hard work and talent has paid off: Reed is an eight-time Pro Bowler and was the 2005 NFL defensive player of the year.
Other candidates: Aaron Rodgers, Steven Jackson
No. 25 — Ted Washington
Another superb first-round selection by 49ers, who drafted him in 1991, Washington was a massive 6-foot-5, 365-pound nose tackle who dominated at the point of attack through the 2007 season. He played for seven NFL clubs and established himself as the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle of his era. Washington was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and won a Super Bowl XXXVIII title with the Patriots.
Other candidates: Santonio Holmes, Donovin Darius
No. 26 — Ray Lewis
The Ravens’ first-round pick in 1996, Lewis is regarded as one of the best linebackers of all time; he helped cement that status by being selected All-Pro 10 times (a record for an inside/middle linebacker) and winning NFL defensive player of the year in 2000 and 2003. Lewis is the second linebacker to win Super Bowl MVP, and is the first to win the award for a winning team (Super Bowl XXXV).
Other candidates: Alan Faneca, Joe Delamielleure
No. 27 — Dan Marino
In 1983, the Miami Dolphins’ patience in the first round paid off when they landed Marino, who went on to reign as the most prolific passer in NFL history until Drew Brees caught him in 2011. Marino was the first player to pass for 5,000 yards in a season; that was in 1984, when he also threw a then-record 48 touchdowns. In his Hall of Fame career, Marino passed for 3,000 or more yards 13 times.
Other candidates: Roddy White
No. 28 — Darrell Green
This was another tough call at No. 28; former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks is among the best to ever play his position. But Green, the Redskins’ pick in 1983 out of tiny Texas A&M-Kingsville, inches ahead because of this amazing statistic: He intercepted a pass in an NFL-record 19 consecutive seasons. Green, the ultimate ballhawking cornerback and member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s, was enshrined in Canton in 2008.
Other candidates:Derrick Brooks
No. 29 Nick Mangold
The New York Jets landed one of the NFL’s finest centers, grabbing Mangold at this spot in the 2006 draft. He replaced Kevin Mawae and established himself instantly as a dominant leader on the offensive line: As a rookie, Mangold allowed only a half-sack, committed only three penalties and made all the line calls. He is a three-time All Pro selection and is widely considered one of the finest run blockers to ever play the position.
Other candidates:Hakeem Nicks, Dave Wilcox
No. 30 — Joseph Addai
The Indianapolis Colts have had good luck with the No. 30 overall pick – they also selected wide receiver Reggie Wayne at the same spot in 2001. But running back Joseph Addai, the team’s first-round pick in 2006, was an instant hit: On Nov. 26, 2006, Addai tied a Colts franchise record for most rushing yards in a game with 24 carries for 171 yards and four touchdowns against the Eagles. He led all rookie running backs in rushing with 1,081 yards. Addai, who has been a clutch playoff performer, also completed his first NFL pass during the 2009 season – a touchdown throw to Wayne.
Other candidates:Reggie Wayne, Sam Huff
No. 31 — Nnamdi Asomugha
The Oakland Raiders initially took some heat for selecting Cal’s Asomugha in the first round in 2003; some scouts didn’t even have him on their boards. Their loss. Asomugha, who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, is among the NFL’s premier cover cornerbacks, a gifted, intelligent athlete and leader who is a three-time Pro Bowler and four-time All Pro selection.
Other candidates:Todd Heap
No. 32 — Logan Mankins
The New England Patriots are known for their draft-day acumen, and Mankins – a three-time All Pro at center since being draft 32nd overall in 2005 – illustrates the value a top offensive lineman provides – Mankins is a four-time Pro Bowl selection. The NFL Draft increased its first round to 32 picks in 2002, but that doesn’t diminish Mankins’ worth.
Other candidates:Drew Brees