Photo Essays  


Published: April 14, 2012 at 09:23 p.m.
Updated: April 16, 2012 at 01:48 p.m.

Best NFL draft picks at every position in first round

In 1967, after seven years of competition for players, the AFL and NFL decided they had enough with inflating the costs to acquire college talent through their ferocious bidding war. The result: The first NFL draft as we now know it. With that in mind, we present the best all-time values at each spot in the first round.

32 Photos Total

  • 32.  Logan Mankins, Patriots, 2005 32

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    32. Logan Mankins, Patriots, 2005

    Okay, so maybe Mankins doesn't scream "sexy," but four Pro Bowls isn't bad for the last dude taken in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Coincidentally, Mankins' chief competition here for the best 32nd pick since 1967 was his former teammate, Ben Watson, who was the 32nd overall pick the year before. The first round has only had 32 selections since 2002, when the Houston Texans joined the NFL fray.

  • 31. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders, 2003 31

    Tom DiPace/Associated Press

    31. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders, 2003

    The first round has only gone 31 picks deep since 1999, when the "new" Browns made their not-so-triumphant return. That said, the best player to ever be taken in the No. 31 spot is no doubt Asomugha. The possible Hall of Fame-caliber player is alongside Darrelle Revis as the best shutdown corner in the game.

  • 30. Reggie Wayne, Colts, 2001 30

    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    30. Reggie Wayne, Colts, 2001

    For not having much history (since 1995), the 30th slot in the draft has some pretty good names attached to it: Kenny Britt, Dustin Keller, Joseph Addai and Keith Bulluck to name a few. But to think the Colts got Wayne, now with 862 career catches, a Super Bowl ring, and also a member of 10 playoff teams, this low in the first round is a better deal than anything Montgomery Ward's could offer.

  • 29. Hakeem Nicks, Giants, 2009 29

    G. Newman Lowrance/Associated Press

    29. Hakeem Nicks, Giants, 2009

    While Nicks posted more than 1,100 yards receiving last year, it's tough putting him over former safety George Teague, who once famously knocked the snot out of a gloating Terrell Owens. T.O. decided it was a good idea to celebrate a touchdown on the Cowboys' 50-yard line, and paid for it. As beautiful as that hit was, the nod still goes to Nicks, who has the potential to be a great one.

  • 28. Darrell Green, Redskins, 1983 28

    National Football League

    28. Darrell Green, Redskins, 1983

    Green narrowly beats former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was as good as they come. Green was one of the best corners of his era. Because he played for tiny Texas A&I, the diminutive speedster was available to the Super Bowl-champion Redskins on the last spot of 1983's uber first round ... one that included future Hall of Famers John Elway, Eric Dickerson, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

  • 27. Dan Marino, Dolphins, 1983 27

    National Football League

    27. Dan Marino, Dolphins, 1983

    We're going back-to-back here with the 1983 NFL Draft, as the AFC champion Dolphins had to wait to the end of the first round to pick. Luckily for Don Shula, several teams passed on Marino because of unfounded drug rumors. He only went on to become the most prolific passer ever, and his sophomore 1984 campaign still might be the best ever for a QB.

  • 26. Ray Lewis, Ravens, 1996 26

    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    26. Ray Lewis, Ravens, 1996

    Lewis was just 20 years old when the Baltimore Ravens took him 26th overall. Talk about knocking it out of the park. The Ravens got Jonathan Ogden fourth overall in this draft, an 11-time Pro Bowler. Then they get another future Hall of Famer in Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowler.

  • 25. Stanley Morgan, Patriots, 1977 25

    Paul R. Benoit/Associated Press

    25. Stanley Morgan, Patriots, 1977

    One year after the Bicentennial, the Patriots made one of their better draft picks of the millennium, or this millennium for that matter. Morgan was one of the best deep threats in the NFL for the better part of a decade, averaging a whopping 19.2 yards per catch. In his 10th year, Morgan had a 1,491-yard campaign for the AFC East-champion Patriots.

  • 24. Ed Reed, Ravens, 2002 24

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    24. Ed Reed, Ravens, 2002

    There are so many great players to choose from in regards to the 24th overall pick in the draft: CJ2K, Aaron Rodgers, Steven Jackson, Eric Moulds, Rodney Hampton, James Brooks, Raymond Chester and Calvin Hill, to name a few. But it's hard to argue with Reed, whose big-play ability in the defensive center field will land him in Canton, Ohio, and 57 career interceptions aren't bad, either.

  • 23. Ozzie Newsome, Browns, 1978 23

    National Football League

    23. Ozzie Newsome, Browns, 1978

    Before Newsome was making great draft picks -- like Ed Reed in 2002 -- as general manager of the Ravens, he was a Hall of Fame tight end in Cleveland. Newsome played 13 seasons, all with the Browns, and retired with the most catches by a tight end at the time, 662.

  • 22. Andre Rison, Colts, 1989 22

    Greg Trott/Associated Press

    22. Andre Rison, Colts, 1989

    Believe it or not, there haven't been any great Hall of Fame-worthy players taken in the 22-hole. The best is Rison, the former Colts, Falcons, Browns, Jaguars, Packers, Chiefs and Raiders wide receiver who snagged 743 career receptions. Originally drafted by Indianapolis, Rison was dealt to Atlanta in a trade that brought Indy the No. 1 pick in the 1990 NFL Draft: Jeff George, who was later Rison's teammate.

  • 21. Randy Moss, Vikings, 1998 21

    Kevin Terrell/Associated Press

    21. Randy Moss, Vikings, 1998

    Sorry, Steelers fans, but the controversial Moss gets the nod over Hall of Famer Lynn Swann as the best 21st overall pick in NFL history. While Swann was historically great in big games, Moss' overall production cannot be ignored. Swann retired at 30; Moss caught 23 touchdowns at 30. In fact, Moss has 153 receiving touchdowns, tied with Terrell Owens for second all-time.

  • 20. Jack Youngblood, Rams, 1971 20

    National Football League

    20. Jack Youngblood, Rams, 1971

    The NFL's most famous tough guy is well known for playing on a broken leg through the 1979 playoffs, but he was so much more. Youngblood was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who played 14 seasons in the NFL -- 10 of which were playoff seasons. He also was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

  • 19. Randall McDaniel, Vikings, 1988 19

    National Football League

    19. Randall McDaniel, Vikings, 1988

    There's something to be said for being quietly brilliant, which McDaniel most certainly was. The 12-time Pro Bowler was always considered the best guard in pro football, which is why he only missed the accolade twice in his career: his first year (1988) and his last (2001). He narrowly edges Marvin Harrison and Roger Wehrli on this list.

  • 18. Art Monk, Redskins, 1980 18

    National Football League

    18. Art Monk, Redskins, 1980

    Perhaps no one had his former fans screaming louder and longer for his Hall of Fame worthiness than Monk. But, as the league's preeminent possession receiver of the 1980s, he deserved it. That's why he finally got into Canton in 2008. Of course, 940 career catches and three Super Bowl rings sure didn't hurt.

  • 17. Emmitt Smith, Cowboys, 1990 17

    National Football League

    17. Emmitt Smith, Cowboys, 1990

    When you're the NFL's all-time leading rusher, it's hard not to be named the best player ever picked at your slot in the draft. Second-year head coach Jimmy Johnson knew he needed a better option than Paul Palmer at tailback. All he got was a guy who led the NFL in rushing four times and was both the NFL and Super Bowl MVP. Not bad value for a 17th overall draft choice.

  • 16. Jerry Rice, 49ers, 1985 16

    George Nikitin/Associated Press

    16. Jerry Rice, 49ers, 1985

    The 49ers made a draft-day deal with the Patriots to jump ahead of the Cowboys at the 17th spot and get Jerry Rice 16th overall in the 1985 NFL Draft. What a move. Rice became arguably the greatest player in NFL history. He's the all-time leader in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and touchdowns (208). Incidentally, he also was the first overall pick in the USFL's 1985 draft.

  • 15. Alan Page, Vikings, 1967 15

    National Football League

    15. Alan Page, Vikings, 1967

    In the first AFL-NFL draft, the Vikings got a certifiable all-timer in Page, one of the greatest players ever ... irrespective of position. His quickness and brains made him disruptive for 15 seasons in the NFL. In fact, Page was so good that he was named NFL MVP in 1971. Only two defensive players have ever gotten that honor from The Associated Press: Lawrence Taylor (1986) and Page.

  • 14. Jim Kelly, Bills, 1983 14

    National Football League

    14. Jim Kelly, Bills, 1983

    While Darrelle Revis (2007) is incredible, it's hard to not rank the former K-Gun maestro as the greatest 14th overall pick of all-time. Kelly opted for the USFL after being selected by the Buffalo Bills. But after the league went belly up, the former Houston Gambler took the league by storm in 1986. He would lead the Bills to four straight Super Bowls as well as go 101-59 as a starting quarterback. Not bad.

  • 13. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs, 1997 13

    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    13. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs, 1997

    There are some pretty good guys whose names were called when the 13th pick came up. Franco Harris, for one. And another Hall of Famer, Kellen Winslow, was taken in this slot as well. But the nod goes to Gonzalez, who like Winslow had athleticism that made him a matchup problem in his younger days. Now his football IQ procures him 80-catch seasons. Overall, his 1,149 receptions are the most ever by a tight end.

  • 12. Warren Sapp, Buccaneers, 1995 12

    National Football League

    12. Warren Sapp, Buccaneers, 1995

    Interestingly enough, no Hall of Famers have been taken 12th overall since the joint AFL-NFL drafts started in 1967. Sapp probably has the best shot, as the former Buccaneers and Raiders defensive lineman was named to seven Pro Bowl teams while racking up 96.5 sacks. That's pretty impressive when you consider that most of those came playing on the interior of the line.

  • 11. Michael Irvin, Cowboys, 1988 11

    Ron Heflin/Associated Press

    11. Michael Irvin, Cowboys, 1988

    Some real home runs have been hit in this spot over the last decade: J.J. Watt (2011), Patrick Willis (2007), Jay Cutler (2006), DeMarcus Ware (2005), Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Dwight Freeney (2002) pretty much say it all. But the best of the 11s has to be Irvin, who has 750 career receptions, three Super Bowl rings, and an off-yellow Hall of Fame blazer.

  • 10. Rod Woodson, Steelers, 1987 10

    Jeff Glidden/Associated Press

    10. Rod Woodson, Steelers, 1987

    Marcus Allen (1982) was a great football player, but Woodson gets the vote as the greatest 10th overall pick since the merger. A member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, Woodson could play his corner position as good as "Night Train" Lane or Deion Sanders. What's more impressive is that Woodson became an All-Pro safety in his mid-30s.

  • 9. Bruce Matthews, Oilers, 1983 9

    National Football League

    9. Bruce Matthews, Oilers, 1983

    Brian Urlacher (2000) makes this ranking somewhat interesting. Until you look up Matthews and see he made the Pro Bowl 14 times at three different positions: Tackle, guard and center. The guy was part of that incredible 1983 draft, and wouldn't hang up the cleats until he finished the 2001 campaign at 40 years old.

  • 8. Ronnie Lott, 49ers, 1981 8

    Al Golub/Associated Press

    8. Ronnie Lott, 49ers, 1981

    There are several Hall of Famers who can claim they were the super-8s: Willie Roaf (1993), Mike Munchak (1982) and Larry Csonka (1968) were all outstanding players in their time. But no safety ever played the game like Lott did, a Hall of Famer himself, and the eighth overall pick in the 1981 draft. Pro football's toughest safety made 10 Pro Bowls, four as a corner.

  • 7. Phil Simms, Giants, 1979 7

    National Football League

    7. Phil Simms, Giants, 1979

    Adrian Peterson (2007) and Champ Bailey (1999) sure aren't bad, but Phil Simms' performance in the biggest game of his life wins out. Going 22-for-25 is a dream game, but when it comes in the Super Bowl with the rules of that era, it's on a whole other level. Legendary GM George Young's first-ever draft pick more than panned out, setting numerous team passing records while getting two Super Bowl rings in the process.

  • 6. Walter Jones, Seahawks, 1997 6

    Thomas E. Witte/Associated Press

    6. Walter Jones, Seahawks, 1997

    The sixth spot in the order has produced some guys who imposed their will on games ... James Lofton (1978), John Riggins (1971) and Floyd Little (1967) were all picked just outside of their respective draft's top five. But none of them -- or any sixth pick -- dominated the way Jones did. The former Seahawks left tackle was a nine-time Pro Bowler and at one time was the very best in the game.

  • 5. Deion Sanders, Falcons, 1989 5

    Tom DiPace/Associated Press

    5. Deion Sanders, Falcons, 1989

    "Primetime" barely edges out another shutdown corner, Hall of Famer Mike Haynes (1976), for the best fifth pick of all time. Sanders even gets the honor over LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), who has more than 18,000 yards from scrimmage. Junior Seau (1990) was also a No. 5 overall pick. The fact is there's never been a defensive back who was such a threat with the ball in his hands. It got to the point in Sanders' career where no one would throw at him. Oh, and he is also a Hall of Famer.

  • 4. Walter Payton, Bears, 1975 4

    John Swart/Associated Press

    4. Walter Payton, Bears, 1975

    There have been no fewer than seven Hall of Famers taken at this slot in the draft, with two more potential candidates in Charles Woodson (1998) and Jonathan Ogden (1996). Even with nine great players, picking "Sweetness" is easy. Payton retired as the league's all-time leading rusher after 13 seasons in the league and probably is the greatest all-around running back the game has ever known.

  • 3. Barry Sanders, Lions, 1989 3

    National Football League

    3. Barry Sanders, Lions, 1989

    In the closest heat yet, Sanders edges out -- squeaks by -- the Bengals' Anthony Munoz (1980). The reason: Sanders impacted the games he played in more by virtue of carrying the ball. The former Lion rushed for 15,269 yards and, next to Gale Sayers, might've been the most exciting running back ever. While Munoz changed the way left tackle was looked at, Sanders' brilliance is simply too hard to ignore.

  • 2. Lawrence Taylor, Giants, 1981 2

    National Football League

    2. Lawrence Taylor, Giants, 1981

    Marshall Faulk (1994) was taken here. So was Calvin Johnson (2007). The great Eric Dickerson went second in 1983. And two Cowboys legends, Tony Dorsett (1977) and Randy White (1975), just missed being the top player taken in the draft. The issue for all these guys is that the most dominant defensive player ever, and one of only two defenders to be named AP's NFL MVP, was taken second overall: L.T.

  • 1. Peyton Manning, Colts, 1998 1

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    1. Peyton Manning, Colts, 1998

    How do you decide between John Elway (1983) and Troy Aikman (1989)? You don't. You pick Peyton Manning, who when it's all said and done might sit next to Joe Montana and Tom Brady as the greatest quarterbacks to ever lace 'em up. Manning has some sturdy competition at the top: Bruce Smith (1985), Earl Campbell (1978), Lee Roy Selmon (1976), Terry Bradshaw (1970), O.J. Simpson (1969) and Ron Yary (1968). Oh, and a certain runt of a brother was picked here too.

Discuss ()