Pick Six  


Was Eli Manning a part of the greatest first round ever?


The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, which will be held Thursday, has the makings of an all-timer, given that this is one of the more epic draft classes. Expectations are very high for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, and there is a deep crop of players at receiver and defensive tackle.

So I've been thinking, what was the best first round ever? I went back and looked at every draft since 1967, when the common draft began being held, to figure it out. I used a very complicated formula that awarded points for Hall of Famers and guys who would go on to play in postseason All-Star games (actually, when I put it that way, my formula wasn't so complicated after all).

Obviously, the results of my review are going to be skewed toward the older classes, given that we don't know yet who in the modern era will make the Hall of Fame. But I did put on my thinking cap to anticipate that, in an effort to make it more balanced.

Here are some classes that deserved consideration but didn't make the cut:

1998 NFL Draft: This class could be closing in on four Hall of Famers -- Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Randy Moss are likely in, with Alan Faneca being the wild card. But points are taken away for Ryan Leaf.

1971 NFL Draft: John Riggins and Jack Youngblood are two Hall of Famers who were drafted in the first round this year. And if Jim Plunkett ever gets the recognition he deserves, then you would be looking at three.

1975 NFL Draft: A really good group here headlined by Walter Payton and Randy White. And 11 players from this first round were selected to the Pro Bowl.

1978 NFL Draft: Three great Hall of Famers: Earl Campbell, James Lofton and Ozzie Newsome. The thing that hurts here is only eight guys would play in the Pro Bowl. So they nailed some big ones, but really whiffed a lot.

And without further ado ...

  • 2004 NFL Draft

    I'm putting this under the futures category, but it's safe to say the first round has already produced three Hall of Fame players -- Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Larry Fitzgerald. Vince Wilfork and Philip Rivers are putting great careers together, too. Sean Taylor won't make it to the Hall of Fame, but you have to give credit here for a great pick.

  • 1973 NFL Draft

    There were only two Hall of Famers in this class -- John Hannah and Joe DeLamielleure -- but there will someday be a third, after Ray Guy finally gets in. The most incredible thing about this class is that 15 players from the first round made it to the Pro Bowl (in a 26-team league, no less). Two of the guys who didn't make it, John Matuszak (who had a nice career) and Johnny Rodgers, went on to star in the CFL.

  • 1969 NFL Draft

    Three dominating Hall of Famers were taken in the first round, led by O.J. Simpson (first overall), "Mean" Joe Greene (fourth overall) and Roger Wehrli. Thirteen players in total made it to a postseason All-Star game, a pretty good clip for the first round. Also included in this group: Bengals rookie Greg Cook, who Bill Walsh said could have been one of the game's best, if not for a shoulder injury.

  • 1967 NFL Draft

    This draft might seem like it should be the best of all time, given that the first round featured four Hall of Famers -- Bob Griese, Floyd Little, Alan Page and Gene Upshaw. But only four more players from this draft wound up playing in All-Star games, so the class lands at No. 3 on this list.

  • 1989 NFL Draft

    Green Bay Packers fans might want to forget about this class, but four Hall of Famers were drafted in the first five picks -- Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders. Only Tony Mandarich failed to live up to the hype. Eleven players (including Bobby Humphrey, a supplemental pick) would play in the Pro Bowl. Jeff Lageman and Cleveland Gary also had their moments.

  • 1983 NFL Draft

    Six Hall of Famers in one draft class make this the best first-round class of all-time. John Elway and Eric Dickerson were the first two overall picks, followed by Bruce Matthews (No. 9), Jim Kelly (14), Dan Marino (27) and Darrell Green (28). Fifteen guys in all were selected to Pro Bowls. Some darn good role players, such as Billy Ray Smith (5), Jim Jeffcoat (23) and Willie Gault (18), also came out of this class.


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