A look at the best 1st-round picks, spot by spot

Drafting in the NFL is a lot like investing on Wall Street. No

matter how extensive the research, there’s no telling what will

happen once the money is plunked down for a Terry Bradshaw or

Lawrence Taylor. Or for a Lawrence Phillips or Tony Mandarich.

It never hurts to try learning from history.

With that in mind, The Associated Press looked back at every

player taken at each spot in the first round of the NFL draft since

the ”common draft” began in 1967. This pick-by-pick approach

compared all the No. 1s to each other, the No. 2s … all the way

to the Nos. 32s.

What follows is a subjective list of the best pick made at each

slot, with the reason they were chosen, and others who were

considered. Picks were based on a player’s entire career. When it

was close, the balance tipped toward the player who meant the most

to the team that drafted him.

The research yielded some nuggets worth keeping in mind for this

year’s draft.

The best news is for the Cincinnati Bengals, who pick fourth.

History says that’s a juicy spot. Only No. 1 has produced more Hall

of Famers. The eighth and 19th spots also have been bountiful,

raising hopes for fans of the Tennessee Titans and New York


Sorry, San Francisco 49ers fans, but history shows seventh is a

spot to avoid. It’s the first pick that features an overwhelming

collection of clunkers. Since ’67, no Hall of Famer has been

drafted at No. 7, at least not yet. The same can be said of Nos.

12, 22, 24, 25 and 29-32, although the 29-32 grouping deserves an

asterisk because those didn’t become first-rounders until the


These results also validate several things fans already knew,

such as wise drafting being a big part of the Steelers becoming

such a perennial power. Pittsburgh claimed three of the top 11

”best” picks and five of the 32.

The quality of several college programs jumped out, too.

Southern California and Miami (Fla.) put four guys on this list,

Syracuse had three and Florida and Ohio State had two.

As for the best year, the Class of ’83 lived up to its hype,

putting three guys on this list, more than any other year. The ’83

crop’s great reputation is primarily for quarterbacks, and this

list includes two of those players and a defensive back.

Let the debates begin.

No. 1

Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970, Louisiana


John Elway, Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning were far more

dazzling. Earl Campbell was far more feared. Yet teams draft

players they think will help them win championships. Bradshaw

guided the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles and was the MVP in

two of those championship games.

No. 2

Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants, 1981, North Carolina

He changed the course of his team’s history – Super Bowl titles

following the 1986 and 1990 seasons – and changed the way outside

linebackers are used. Heck, he also led to a change in the

importance of offensive left tackles. All that earns LT this spot

over some other incredible players, such as Randy White, Tony

Dorsett and Eric Dickerson.

No. 3

Anthony Munoz, T, Cincinnati Bengals, 1980, USC

Barry Sanders was an unbelievable talent, and would’ve been the

NFL’s rushing champion had he not retired early. While he made more

people pay attention to the Detroit Lions, he never got them over

the top. Munoz was among the greatest blockers in league history.

His best work was in 1981 and ’88, years his quarterbacks (Ken

Anderson and Boomer Esiason) were NFL MVPs and the Bengals went to

the Super Bowl.

No. 4

Walter Payton, RB, Chicago Bears, 1975, Jackson State

”Sweetness” would be in the discussion of greatest running

backs of all time, probably the best of the Super Bowl era. His

only Super Bowl was as part of the ’85 Bears juggernaut, but his

overall dominance makes him an easy choice over fellow Hall of

Famers Joe Greene, Derrick Thomas, John Hannah and Bob Griese.

No. 5

Deion Sanders, CB, Atlanta Falcons, 1989, Florida State

Although ”Prime Time” won Super Bowls rings with other

franchises, the other guys he’s up against didn’t lead their

original teams to Super Bowl titles either. Thus, his overall

talent wins him this spot over Mike Haynes, Junior Seau and

LaDainian Tomlinson.

No. 6

Floyd Little, RB, Denver Broncos, 1967, Syracuse

Lots of really good players have been taken at this spot, yet

few who jump out as franchise-changers. Little wins out for all

that he meant to the Broncos in their AFL days and then early NFL

years. Others under consideration were John Riggins, James Lofton,

Tim Brown, Walter Jones and Torry Holt.

No. 7

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings, 2007, Oklahoma

The youngster is on his way to becoming the first Hall of Famer

drafted at this spot. The fact the pick is riding on the

expectations for the rest of his career says something about the

rest of the candidates here. Those also in the conversation include

Phil Simms, Sterling Sharpe, Bryant Young and Champ Bailey.

No. 8

Ronnie Lott, DB, San Francisco 49ers, 1981, USC

Whether he lined up at cornerback, free safety or strong safety,

Lott was among the best at his position. Making the All-Decade Team

twice puts him among the greatest of any decade. Those four Super

Bowls he won with the 49ers make him an easy pick over Larry Csonka

and Mike Munchak.

No. 9

Bruce Matthews, G, Houston Oilers, 1983, USC

He retired having played the most games by a position player in

NFL history. And he didn’t just play, he excelled, earning nine

All-Pro selections. No wonder he became the rare offensive lineman

welcomed into the Hall of Fame the first time he went on the

ballot. A no-brainer pick over Brian Urlacher.

No. 10

Rod Woodson, DB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1987, Purdue

Marcus Allen and Jerome Bettis had terrific careers, helping

teams win Super Bowls. Bettis was probably the better pick because

he was less of a college standout; Allen, after all, won the

Heisman Trophy. Yet Woodson trumps them all. An All-Pro at

cornerback, safety and kick returner, he was voted to the NFL’s

all-time team while still playing. He helped the Steelers reach the

Super Bowl, then was part of Super Bowl teams for the Raiders and


No. 11

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004, Miami


Big Ben has guided Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl three times in

seven seasons, winning twice. He’s the youngest QB to win a Super

Bowl and he’s still only 29. Pretty amazing that there are only two

QBs on this list so far, and both were drafted by the Steelers.

Michael Irvin and Dwight Freeney were also considered for this


No. 12

Warren Sapp, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995, Miami (Fla.)

Voted the top defensive player in college football, he was

supposed to be a top-five pick. Then came rumors he’d tested

positive for cocaine and marijuana, causing him to slip in the

draft. The Bucs took the risk and were rewarded with a standout

career. Between his success and the mediocre careers of all other

No. 12 picks, there are no runners-up.

No. 13

Kellen Winslow, TE, San Diego Chargers, 1979, Missouri

Tony Gonzalez also was drafted 13th, and he’s broken all of

Winslow’s receiving records at tight end. The pioneer at the

position gets the nod, though, even over another strong candidate,

Franco Harris.

No. 14

Jim Kelly, QB, Buffalo Bills, 1983, Miami (Fla.)

The Bills had to wait for Kelly to play out his career with the

Houston Gamblers of the USFL. He was worth it, leading Buffalo to

four straight AFC championships. Although he didn’t win a Super

Bowl, he’s an easy pick over Eddie George and Darrelle Revis.

No. 15

Alan Page, DE, Minnesota Vikings, 1967, Notre Dame

Page was the first defensive player voted league MVP, and among

the stars of the ”Purple People Eaters.” Like Kelly, we’re

celebrating his role in getting his team to four Super Bowls

without punishing him for going 0-for-4. Now a judge on the

Minnesota Supreme Court, he can appreciate this decision being


No. 16

Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers, 1985, Mississippi Valley


Like Payton, he’s the kind of guy who would’ve been an easy pick

regardless of where he was taken. Any receiving record Rice didn’t

set is probably not very important. He could’ve caught touchdown

passes wearing his three Super Bowl rings. He laps the field over

Russ Francis and Troy Polamalu.

No. 17

Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas Cowboys, 1990, Florida

Let’s see, he was the leading rusher in NFL history, led his

team to three Super Bowls in four years, won a regular-season MVP

award and was a Super Bowl MVP. Yeah, that’s pretty good for a No.

17 pick, better than Gene Upshaw and Doug Williams.

No. 18

Art Monk, WR, Washington Redskins, 1980, Syracuse

It’s often said that Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls with three

different quarterbacks. Well, all three threw to Monk. He held the

record for most receptions until Rice came along. The strongest

competition here are both newcomers with potential for greatness,

Joe Flacco and Maurkice Pouncey.

No. 19

Marvin Harrison, WR, Indianapolis Colts, 1996, Syracuse

Suddenly, there’s a run on Syracuse receivers. Harrison had the

luxury of being on the receiving end of Peyton Manning’s passes,

but he was very good for a very long time, helping the Colts go

from also-rans to Super Bowl champions. He topped a field that

included Jack Tatum, Randall McDaniel and Shaun Alexander.

No. 20

Jack Youngblood, DE, Los Angeles Rams, 1971, Florida

You try telling him that Steve Atwater or Javon Walker were

better. Youngblood played 201 straight games in his Hall of Fame

career, and that doesn’t include playing a Super Bowl with a broken


No. 21

Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974, USC

Swann’s specialty was making the big catch in big games, which

earned him this selection over Randy Moss. As great as Moss was in

his prime, he was part of a 15-1 Minnesota team that didn’t reach

the Super Bowl and part of a 16-0 New England team that lost the

Super Bowl.

No. 22

Jack Reynolds, LB, Los Angeles Rams, 1970, Tennessee

Those Rams sure were good at drafting in the early ’70s. Along

with Youngblood, ”Hacksaw” helped the Rams get to the Super Bowl.

Reynolds, however, moved north to San Francisco and won two Super

Bowls. The most noteworthy other selection at this spot also is

known by his nickname: ”The Refrigerator.” But William Perry

wasn’t nearly as good for as long.

No. 23

Ozzie Newsome, TE, Cleveland Browns, 1978, Alabama

As GM of the Ravens, Newsome would love finding a bargain like

himself. He retired with the fourth-most catches in NFL history and

wound up in the Hall of Fame, making him the obvious pick over Ray

Guy and Deuce McAllister. (At a weaker draft spot, Guy – a punter –

might’ve been an intriguing choice for this list.)

No. 24

Calvin Hill, RB, Dallas Cowboys, 1969, Yale

The Cowboys might have thought their scouting computer hiccuped

when it claimed an Ivy League running back was one of the best

players in college football. They took the chance anyway and were

rewarded with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Hill tied Jim

Brown’s record for most yards by a rookie and he was second only to

Gale Sayers in the league that season. He helped Dallas reach the

Super Bowl for the first time the next season and win it all the

season after that. Aaron Rodgers makes for tough competition here,

but as a top-10 talent who was slipping, he wasn’t the draft-day

risk Hill was.

No. 25

Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2006, Ohio State

Geez, another Steeler. But being a Super Bowl MVP gives him the

credentials to top the other 25th picks, a crop that includes Ted

Washington and – wait for it – Tim Tebow.

No. 26

Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens, 1996, Miami (Fla.)

Except for the Colts taking Harrison, it’s hard to imagine what

the other teams drafting ahead of the Ravens were thinking in ’96.

Lewis was a standout player in college who became a two-time NFL

defensive player of the year and a Super Bowl MVP. That gives him

the nod over Hall of Famer Joe Delamielleure and Dana


No. 27

Dan Marino, QB, Miami Dolphins, 1983, Pittsburgh

Perhaps the greatest value among all first-rounders. No, he

didn’t win a Super Bowl for the Dolphins, but he set virtually

every NFL passing record. No other 27th pick comes close. Few other

first-rounders in any spot do.

No. 28

Darrell Green, DB, Washington Redskins, 1983, Texas A&I

The Redskins may have been hoping Marino fell to them in ’83.

Regardless, they did darn well, getting a speedy cornerback who was

among the NFL’s best for many years and part of the reason

Washington won two Super Bowls and played for another title during

his career. Derrick Brooks is another No. 28 pick who had a

distinguished career, but not as spectacular as Green’s.

No. 29

Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets, 2006, Ohio State

After a string of Hall of Famers, a mere two-time All-Pro will

have to suffice now that we’re getting into the spots that are

first-round newcomers. This pick reached top-tier status in 1993,

and Mangold is the best of the bunch by helping the Jets get within

a game of the last two Super Bowls. Nick Barnett and Michael

Jenkins are next-best contenders.

No. 30

Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts, 2001, Miami (Fla.)

Kudos to Peyton Manning for helping put another guy on this

list, even if he’s not on here himself. Wayne went from excelling

alongside Harrison to proving worthy of taking over as the main

man, keeping the Colts near the top of the NFL and getting them to

another Super Bowl. He beats a solid field that includes teammate

Joseph Addai, Heath Miller and Keith Bulluck.

No. 31

Nnamdi Asomugha, S, Oakland Raiders, 2003, California

Welcome to the party, Raiders. Alas, this great pick is likely

to leave the club when free agency begins. They’ve already made the

two-time All-Pro, and NFL man of the year for all his off-field

good deeds, the highest-paid defensive back. Now he’s expected to

cash in again. His toughest competition here was Todd Heap.

No. 32

Logan Mankins, G, New England Patriots, 2005, Fresno State

The way this powerhouse club has been built, it’s fitting that

its only appearance on this list is with an interior offensive

lineman taken with the final pick of the first round, out of a

non-BCS school. Mankins is a two-time All-Pro who protects Tom

Brady (a sixth-rounder, by the way). Other guys up for this choice

were Mathias Kiwanuka and Anthony Gonzalez.

NOTE: The length of the first round has fluctuated:

25 picks – 1990.

26 picks – 1967, 1969-75.

27 picks – 1968, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1991.

28 picks – 1976-81, 1983-85, 1987, 1989, 1992.

29 picks – 1993-94.

30 picks – 1996-98.

31 picks – 1999-2001, 2008.

32 picks – 1995, 2002-7, 2009-10.

This list did not take into consideration supplemental