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Published: April 23, 2013 at 09:22 a.m.
Updated: April 22, 2014 at 04:59 p.m.

Top NFL draft picks Nos. 1-32

While the Internet is bombarded with mock drafts projecting the picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, we've decided to do something a little different. Here are the best selections based on where the players were selected, Nos. 1 through 32, in the draft's modern era (since 1970). Some spots were easy to determine the best pick; other choices are likely to spark heated debate.

32 Photos Total

  • 32. Drew Brees (San Diego Chargers, 2001) 32

    G. Newman Lowrance/Associated Press

    32. Drew Brees (San Diego Chargers, 2001)

    Possessing the No. 1 overall selection of the 2001 draft, the Chargers traded out of that slot and the selection then went to the Atlanta Falcons, who promptly took Michael Vick. The Chargers then went on to fill two major needs, drafting RB LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 6 overall and Brees 26 spots later. While Brees and Tomlinson helped lift the Chargers out of the doldrums, the quarterback saved his finest work for another team. Brees won Super Bowl XLIV (and earned game MVP honors) with the New Orleans Saints, two seasons later broke the single-season passing yardage record and a season after that set a new mark for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

  • 31. Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland Raiders, 2003) 31

    Paul Sakuma/Associated Press / AP

    31. Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland Raiders, 2003)

    Before a free-agent signing with the Philadelphia Eagles' "Dream Team" turned into a nightmare, Asomugha was one of the NFL's preeminent shutdown corners. In Oakland, Asomugha was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, frequently shadowing an opponent's top receiver and rarely seeing a pass thrown in his direction. After a two lackluster seasons in Philadelphia, Asomugha returns to the Bay Area in 2013 to help the San Francisco 49ers in their quest to win the Super Bowl.

  • 30. Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts, 2001) 30

    Alex Brandon/Associated Press / AP

    30. Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts, 2001)

    Wayne has been one of the NFL's most productive receivers for more than a decade, earning six Pro Bowl selections and playing a major role in the Colts' triumph in Super Bowl XLI (scoring Indianapolis' first touchdown of that game on a 53-yard pass play). Wayne currently ranks 14th all-time with 13,063 career receiving yards. A three-year contract signed in 2013 virtually assures that Wayne will complete his career with the Colts.

  • 29. Chris Spielman (Detriot Lions, 1988) 29

    Associated Press

    29. Chris Spielman (Detriot Lions, 1988)

    Spielman appeared born to play football. Born in Canton, Ohio, Spielman quickly emerged as a defensive stalwart for the Lions. Spielman was a major contributor in the Lions' only playoff win since 1957, a 38-6 demolition of an up-and-coming Dallas Cowboys team in the 1991 playoffs, a win that capped Detroit's finest season since their last championship in 1957.

  • 28. Darrell Green (Washington Redskins, 1983) 28

    Doug Mills/Associated Press / AP

    28. Darrell Green (Washington Redskins, 1983)

    Green's inspiring story of overcoming the odds coming out of tiny Texas A&I to have a 20-year Hall of Fame career made him an easy sentimental choice at this spot. Green's accolades include seven Pro Bowls and an NFL record for intercepting a pass in 19 consecutive seasons. Green, who was known for his blazing speed, was also an exceptional return specialist and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

  • 27. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins, 1983) 27

    Associated Press / AP

    27. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins, 1983)

    Marino -- famously passed over by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers for Gabe Rivera -- was named first- or second-team All-Pro eight times and was a nine-time Pro Bowl pick. Before Brett Favre and the elite passers in today's game set new standards for quarterbacks, Marino was the owner of every major passing record. Marino -- a 2005 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee -- was the third Hall of Fame quarterback to be selected in the 1983 draft.

  • 26. Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens, 1996) 26

    Associated Press / FOSEAM

    26. Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens, 1996)

    As the Ravens' second first-round pick in what is one of the greatest draft classes of all time (Jonathan Ogden went fourth overall), Lewis quickly emerged as one of the game's greatest linebackers. However, it will be Lewis' 2000 season that will define his career, leading a defense that set records for fewest points allowed (165) and fewest rushing yards allowed (970) and earning MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXV. Lewis capped his career helping lead the Ravens to a second championship in Super Bowl XLVII.

  • 25. Ted Washington (San Francisco 49ers, 1991) 25

    Al Golub/Associated Press

    25. Ted Washington (San Francisco 49ers, 1991)

    The No. 25 spot in the draft has yet to produce a Hall of Fame inductee (and that goes back beyond the "modern era" we're celebrating here). Washington isn't a glamorous pick here, but he was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, a one-time Super Bowl champion (with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII), and one of the NFL's most effective defensive tackles during a 17-year career spent with seven different teams.

  • 24. Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens, 2002) 24

    Nick Wass/Associated Press / AP

    24. Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens, 2002)

    Like the No. 25 spot, the No. 24 place in the first round has yet to produce a Hall of Fame player. However, Reed appears destined to one day be enshrined in Canton. Reed is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, five-time All-Pro and a member of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII-winning team. Reed's returns of interceptions, fumbles, punts and blocked punts are among some of the most exciting plays in NFL history.

  • 23. Ozzie Newsome (Cleveland Browns, 1978) 23

    Jeff Glidden/Associated Press

    23. Ozzie Newsome (Cleveland Browns, 1978)

    Before Newsome became one of the league's best general managers, he was the ultimate iron man tight end, playing in 198 consecutive games for the Browns, including a streak of 150 consecutive games with a reception. Newsome's 662 receptions and 7,980 receiving yards are both Browns franchise records. Starting in 1996, Newsome has served as the Ravens? general manager and was instrumental in drafting Ray Lewis in 1996 (pick No. 26 on this list) and Ed Reed in 2002 (pick No. 24 on this list).

  • 22. Andre Rison (Indianapolis Colts, 1989) 22

    Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

    22. Andre Rison (Indianapolis Colts, 1989)

    The draft's modern era has yet to produce a Hall of Famer at this spot, and Ernie Stautner -- who was selected No. 22 overall in the 1950 NFL Draft -- is the only player drafted at this spot to have earned a place in Canton. For portions of Rison's career he was one of the game's top receivers, earning five Pro Bowl selections and scoring a touchdown in the Green Bay Packers' win in Super Bowl XXXI. Rison gets the nod over Hanford Dixon -- who was part of one of the NFL's all-time great cornerback tandems in Cleveland -- and Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds -- who played on the 49ers' first Super Bowl-winning team.

  • 21. Randy Moss (Minnesota Vikings, 1998) 21

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press / AP

    21. Randy Moss (Minnesota Vikings, 1998)

    In a battle of talented receivers from two different eras, it was the active player who beat out Hall of Famer Lynn Swann (who was also a No. 21 overall draft pick). Moss certainly deserves the nod, given how he dominated the NFL immediately as a rookie. Moss has caught 10 or more touchdown passes in nine seasons, including an NFL-record 23 in the New England Patriots' undefeated regular season of 2007.

  • 20. Jack Youngblood (Los Angeles Rams, 1971) 20

    National Football League / LIEBB

    20. Jack Youngblood (Los Angeles Rams, 1971)

    Youngblood embodied the rugged tough-guy persona of 1970s-era pro football. He is famously known for playing on a fractured fibula during the 1979 playoffs and playing every defensive down in Super Bowl XIV. Youngblood played in five NFC Championship Games, was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, five-time All-Pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

  • 19. Randall McDaniel (Minnesota Vikings, 1988) 19

    National Football League / LIEBB

    19. Randall McDaniel (Minnesota Vikings, 1988)

    McDaniel gets the nod over Marvin Harrison (1996 draft) and Jack Tatum (1971 draft) as the top No. 19 overall draft choice. McDaniel anchored the offensive line for the Minnesota Vikings, who had their best season in 1998 going on to score a then-record 556 points. McDaniel was selected to 12 Pro Bowls and earned Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2009.

  • 18. Art Monk (Washington Redskins, 1980) 18

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press / SPINP

    18. Art Monk (Washington Redskins, 1980)

    While the quarterbacks and supporting casts changed throughout the Washington Redskins' three Super Bowl-winning teams from 1982 to 1991, Monk was the one constant. Monk set then-NFL records for catches in a season (106), most consecutive games with at least one reception (164) and career receptions (820). Monk was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

  • 17. Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys, 1990) 17

    Tim Sharp/Associated Press / AP

    17. Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys, 1990)

    Sixteen teams passed on the eventual all-time leading rusher before the opportunistic Cowboys pounced at pick No. 17, thus adding the final piece of the famous trio that also included Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. With three future Hall of Famers teaming up on offense, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in a four-year span. Smith was MVP of the Cowboys' triumph in Super Bowl XXVIII. In 2002, Smith became the NFL's all-time leading rusher and finished his career with 18,355 yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

  • 16. Jerry Rice (San Francisco 49ers, 1985) 16

    Andrew Innerarity/Associated Press

    16. Jerry Rice (San Francisco 49ers, 1985)

    Rice was without peer on the football field, as well as in the selection of the No. 16 overall pick in the all-time mock draft. Rice is so far ahead of the competition in every major career receiving mark that it's hard to imagine any player ever reaching those marks. Rice is 307 receptions ahead of second-place Tony Gonzalez; 6,961 yards ahead of second-place Terrell Owens and 41 touchdowns ahead of second-place Randy Moss on the NFL's all-time lists in those statistical categories. Rice was a winner, too, being on three of the 49ers' five Super Bowl champion teams, and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXIII. Rice earned Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2010.

  • 15. Dennis Smith (Denver Broncos, 1981) 15

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press / SPINP

    15. Dennis Smith (Denver Broncos, 1981)

    Historically, this has not been a great spot to be selecting in the first round. Recently, promising talents such as Bruce Irvin (Seattle Seahawks, 2012), Mike Pouncey (Miami Dolphins, 2011), Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants, 2010) and Brian Cushing (Houston Texans, 2009) have been selected at No. 15 overall. Albert Haynesworth was also a No. 15 overall pick (by the Tennessee Titans in 2002), and once was one of the league's dominant defensive lineman, but his lasting legacy is as the gold standard of horrific free-agent signings. Smith's career was more spectacular. He played 14 seasons -- all for the Denver Broncos -- was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and helped the team reach three Super Bowls.

  • 14. Jim Kelly (Buffalo Bills, 1983) 14

    Associated Press / FOSEAM

    14. Jim Kelly (Buffalo Bills, 1983)

    Kelly originally opted to play in the USFL for the Houston Gamblers, but went to Buffalo when the league folded and quickly help turn the Bills into perennial playoff contenders. Kelly led the Bills to eight playoff appearances in his 11 seasons. Guiding the Bills' exciting K-Gun no-huddle offense that also featured Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, Kelly passed for more than 3,000 yards in eight seasons.

  • 13. Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs, 1997) 13

    David Stluka/Associated Press / STLUD

    13. Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs, 1997)

    Gonzalez beats out Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow (a No. 13 overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in 1979) for the nod at this spot. Like Winslow before him, Gonzalez has established himself as one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game. Gonzalez holds the NFL records for most receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns for a tight end.

  • 12. Warren Sapp (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995) 12

    Peter Cosgrove/Associated Press

    12. Warren Sapp (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995)

    Sapp will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013 for his work as one of the most dominant defensive tackles in NFL history. Sapp was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and was a major force in driving the Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII.

  • 11. Michael Irvin (Dallas Cowboys, 1988) 11

    Eric Gay/Associated Press / AP

    11. Michael Irvin (Dallas Cowboys, 1988)

    All time, the No. 11 overall spot in the draft has produced Hall of Famers in Frank Gifford (New York Giants, 1952), Doug Atkins (Cleveland Browns, 1953) and Paul Warfield (Cleveland Browns, 1964). Irvin is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Irvin was a big part of the Cowboys' rise from the ashes of a 1-15 1989 season to Super Bowl champion three seasons later.

  • 10. Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1987) 10

    Jeff Glidden/Associated Press / AP

    10. Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1987)

    Woodson narrowly beat out another former Raider, Marcus Allen, to be the top selection at this spot in the NFL draft. Woodson was an All-Pro performer as a cornerback, kick returner and safety. Woodson -- an 11-time Pro Bowler -- played in three Super Bowls for three different teams (1995 Steelers, 2000 Ravens and 2002 Raiders) winning one of those games. Woodson -- a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee -- was named to the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team nearly 10 years before his retirement.

  • 9. Bruce Matthews (Houston Oilers, 1983) 9

    Kevin Reece/Associated Press / REECK

    9. Bruce Matthews (Houston Oilers, 1983)

    At the time of his retirement, Matthews -- who played every position along the offensive line during a 19-year career -- played in more games (296) than any other player in league history. A nine-time All-Pro selection, Matthews played in 14 Pro Bowls (nine at guard, five at center), tied for the most all time. Matthews was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

  • 8. Ronnie Lott (San Francisco 49ers, 1981) 8

    Al Golub/Associated Press / GOLUA

    8. Ronnie Lott (San Francisco 49ers, 1981)

    As important as Joe Montana was to the 49ers' offense, that was Lott's influence on the team's defense, earning All-Pro honors at three different positions (cornerback, free safety and strong safety) and twice leading the NFL in interceptions (1986 and 1991). Lott was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

  • 7. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings, 2007) 7

    M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

    7. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings, 2007)

    Peterson sprinted onto the NFL scene in 2007, rushing for a single-game record 296 yards in his rookie season against the San Diego Chargers. In 2012, Peterson recovered from a late-season knee injury in 2011 to come within 9 yards of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2,106 to 2,097). Peterson was named the league's MVP and Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts.

  • 6. John Riggins (New York Jets, 1971) 6

    Associated Press

    6. John Riggins (New York Jets, 1971)

    If you go beyond the parameters of the "modern era" of the NFL draft, the No. 6 spot has produced two of the all-time greats: quarterback Sammy Baugh (Washington Redskins, 1937) and running back Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns, 1957). Like Brown before him, Riggins was a workhorse who could get tough yardage in crucial situations. The most notable occasion was in Super Bowl XVII against the Miami Dolphins, when Riggins provided a dramatic go-ahead touchdown on a fourth-and-1 situation in the fourth quarter. The powerful run propelled the Redskins to their first-ever Super Bowl victory and first NFL title since 1942. Riggins was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

  • 5. Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons, 1989) 5

    National Football League / LIEBB

    5. Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons, 1989)

    Sanders -- the brash man nicknamed "Prime Time" -- beat out a talented group for this spot (LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers, 2001; Junior Seau, San Diego Chargers, 1990; Mike Haynes, New England Patriots, 1976). While excelling at cornerback, Sanders was one of the league's most dangerous return specialists -- returning nine kicks for touchdowns in his career -- and also dabbled on the offensive side of the ball, catching a pass in the Cowboys' victory in Super Bowl XXX. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

  • 4. Walter Payton (Chicago Bears, 1975) 4

    Red McLendon/Associated Press / AP

    4. Walter Payton (Chicago Bears, 1975)

    Payton -- the man they called "Sweetness" -- owned a number of key records when he retired in 1987, including total yards (16,726), seasons with 1,000 or more yards rushing (10), yards rushing in one game (275 vs. the Vikings in 1977), games with more than 100 yards rushing (77), and rushing touchdowns (110). Payton -- a nine-time Pro Bowl selection -- was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

  • 3. Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions, 1989) 3

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    3. Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions, 1989)

    Sanders rushed for 1,000 or more yards in each of his 10 NFL seasons, the first player ever to do so, and earned first- or second-team All-NFL in each of those 10 seasons. Sanders is also the owner of two of the top seven single-season rushing performances of all time, having rushed for 2,053 yards in 1997 and 1,883 yards in 1994. Sanders' lasting legacy is his highlight-friendly career, in which even his runs for negative yards were entertaining. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

  • 2. Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants, 1981) 2

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press / SPINP

    2. Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants, 1981)

    A nine-time All-Pro and 10-time Pro Bowl selection, Taylor -- one of the most-devastating pass rushers in NFL history -- was a member of two New York Giants Super Bowl-winning teams (XXI and XXV). In helping lead the Giants to the Super Bowl XXI crown, Taylor recorded 20.5 sacks and was named the NFL's MVP, becoming the first defensive player to earn such honors since 1971 (Alan Page). Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

  • 1. John Elway (Baltimore Colts, 1983) 1

    Associated Press / AP

    1. John Elway (Baltimore Colts, 1983)

    Elway -- who lured another No. 1 overall selection, Peyton Manning, to play for his Broncos -- never played a down for the Baltimore Colts. Instead, he forced a trade to the Broncos, for whom he became one of the NFL's all-time clutch quarterbacks, leading a record 47 fourth-quarter game-winning or game-tying drives. The most famous of which came in the 1986 AFC Championship, when Elway led a 98-yard drive to force overtime. The Broncos went on to win the game, and Elway's reputation as a late-game performer was set. Elway was the choice at No. 1 over some all-time greats, including Manning (Indianapolis Colts, 1998), Bruce Smith (Buffalo Bills, 1985) and Earl Campbell (Houston Oilers, 1978).

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