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Published: April 5, 2017 at 04:10 p.m.
Updated: April 20, 2017 at 09:43 p.m.

Ranking the 50 No. 1 overall picks of the common-draft era

Before the implementation of the rookie wage scale, newbies would make a ton of money before setting foot on the field, wrecking salary caps and ticking off their teammates.

It used to be worse. Before the first combined AFL-NFL draft in 1967, there were two leagues bidding on players. The owners were worried, as rookie wages rocketed off the charts. Thus, you had the beginnings of a merger.

Last year, Jared Goff became the 50th player selected first overall since the AFL and NFL combined drafts. With the 51st No. 1 overall pick coming up on April 27 in Philadelphia, I decided to take a look at all 50 No. 1 overall picks from the common and modern draft era and rank them from best to worst. All things were considered, with a player's success with his drafting team serving as a tiebreaker. Your thoughts are welcome ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

50 Photos Total

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Los Angeles Rams, 2016.<br />
<br />
Jared Goff kicks off the list of the top 50 No. 1 overall picks not because he's the most recent, but because we have no idea who or what he's going to be as a quarterback. Will he be the leader John Elway became, or can he even start for as long as the next guy on this list did? Who knows? What we do know is the situation Goff inherited. Would Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston or Peyton Manning have been that much better? Maybe Manning, a truly transcendent player. But let's provide Goff, who went 0-7, the same chance we'd all want in a new gig. Hey, Troy Aikman was 0-11 his rookie year. 50

    Ben Liebenberg/NFL

    50) Jared Goff, quarterback

    Drafted by: Los Angeles Rams, 2016.

    Jared Goff kicks off the list of the top 50 No. 1 overall picks not because he's the most recent, but because we have no idea who or what he's going to be as a quarterback. Will he be the leader John Elway became, or can he even start for as long as the next guy on this list did? Who knows? What we do know is the situation Goff inherited. Would Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston or Peyton Manning have been that much better? Maybe Manning, a truly transcendent player. But let's provide Goff, who went 0-7, the same chance we'd all want in a new gig. Hey, Troy Aikman was 0-11 his rookie year.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Oakland Raiders, 2007.<br />
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Does anyone remember JaMarcus Russell completing 72 percent of his passes with a 128.1 passer rating in a win over the Texans, or going 15 of 22 against the Dolphins earlier in that 2008 season? I remember the latter, as I wrote about it for FoxSports.com. There was a time, in Russell's second season, when it looked like he would and could be a player. It was mostly downhill from there, as he was less ready to be a franchise leader off the field than on it. His "want to" was questioned. His passer rating plummeted. And so did Oakland's hopes of not having to lean on guys like Andrew Walter. 49

    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    49) JaMarcus Russell, quarterback

    Drafted by: Oakland Raiders, 2007.

    Does anyone remember JaMarcus Russell completing 72 percent of his passes with a 128.1 passer rating in a win over the Texans, or going 15 of 22 against the Dolphins earlier in that 2008 season? I remember the latter, as I wrote about it for FoxSports.com. There was a time, in Russell's second season, when it looked like he would and could be a player. It was mostly downhill from there, as he was less ready to be a franchise leader off the field than on it. His "want to" was questioned. His passer rating plummeted. And so did Oakland's hopes of not having to lean on guys like Andrew Walter.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Indianapolis Colts, 1992.<br />
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Like several of the players coming up on this list, Steve Emtman's career was ravaged by injury. Through nine games of his rookie year with the Colts, Emtman displayed moments where it looked like he could be the dominant force Ted Marchibroda's Colts desperately needed. He even took a Dan Marino pass 90 yards to the house to beat the 6-0 Dolphins. It didn't get much better there for Emtman, whether because of his patellar tendon or a neck injury suffered in 1994. Fun fact: The Colts owned the top <i>two picks</i> in 1992, selecting linebacker Quentin Coryatt one spot after Emtman. 48

    Barry Sweet/Associated Press

    48) Steve Emtman, defensive end

    Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 1992.

    Like several of the players coming up on this list, Steve Emtman's career was ravaged by injury. Through nine games of his rookie year with the Colts, Emtman displayed moments where it looked like he could be the dominant force Ted Marchibroda's Colts desperately needed. He even took a Dan Marino pass 90 yards to the house to beat the 6-0 Dolphins. It didn't get much better there for Emtman, whether because of his patellar tendon or a neck injury suffered in 1994. Fun fact: The Colts owned the top two picks in 1992, selecting linebacker Quentin Coryatt one spot after Emtman.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Cleveland Browns, 2000.<br />
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Courtney Brown's career didn't go the way media or the fans expected, but the man himself accepted. A quiet player, Brown maybe didn't take his on-field struggles in stride internally, but he kept plugging away through several injury setbacks. His career as a pass rusher (17 sacks in five years with Cleveland) and a first-round pick was one of many developments to set the Browns back. What was known then but not remembered now is that this guy flashed serious potential before suffering ankle and knee injuries. He had microfracture surgery in the early 2000s when that wasn't really a thing yet. It wrecked his career. This was a defensive end who ran a <i>4.52</i>. Think about that. 47

    Ed Betz/Associated Press

    47) Courtney Brown, defensive end

    Drafted by: Cleveland Browns, 2000.

    Courtney Brown's career didn't go the way media or the fans expected, but the man himself accepted. A quiet player, Brown maybe didn't take his on-field struggles in stride internally, but he kept plugging away through several injury setbacks. His career as a pass rusher (17 sacks in five years with Cleveland) and a first-round pick was one of many developments to set the Browns back. What was known then but not remembered now is that this guy flashed serious potential before suffering ankle and knee injuries. He had microfracture surgery in the early 2000s when that wasn't really a thing yet. It wrecked his career. This was a defensive end who ran a 4.52. Think about that.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Cincinnati Bengals, 1995.<br />
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Ki-Jana Carter was the most talented running back in the top conference in college football, but he's remembered for being a mediocre NFL running back. The bridge -- the broken bridge -- between the two is what happened on Aug. 17, 1995: Carter made a cut in the Pontiac Silverdome on his third professional carry, tearing a ligament in his knee, which set him on the path to what he would become with the Bengals. He was never the same explosive (but still powerful) back again. Talk to any evaluator or anyone covering the Big Ten at the time, and they will tell you <a href="http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/nfl/bengals/2015/08/14/ki-jana-carter-cincinnati-bengals-1995/31647135/" target="_blank">how unique this guy was</a>. Despite a myriad of injuries and comebacks, Carter scratched out seven years and 1,144 yards in the league. 46

    Tom DiPace/Associated Press

    46) Ki-Jana Carter, running back

    Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals, 1995.

    Ki-Jana Carter was the most talented running back in the top conference in college football, but he's remembered for being a mediocre NFL running back. The bridge -- the broken bridge -- between the two is what happened on Aug. 17, 1995: Carter made a cut in the Pontiac Silverdome on his third professional carry, tearing a ligament in his knee, which set him on the path to what he would become with the Bengals. He was never the same explosive (but still powerful) back again. Talk to any evaluator or anyone covering the Big Ten at the time, and they will tell you how unique this guy was. Despite a myriad of injuries and comebacks, Carter scratched out seven years and 1,144 yards in the league.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> New England Patriots, 1982.<br />
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A big defensive lineman taken first overall from the University of Texas is supposed to be dominant. Yeah, it didn't really work out that way for Kenneth Sims, who stumbled out of the blocks in a rookie season interrupted by a player's strike. Sims was hurt in Year 2, and by Year 3 was considered a bust with all of 6.5 sacks to his name. He stuck with it through off-field ups and downs, enjoying his finest season in 1985 with 5.5 sacks and a Super Bowl berth for the upstart Patriots. By his final season, he had worked himself into a decent player ... for a 5-11 team. 45

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    45) Kenneth Sims, defensive end

    Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1982.

    A big defensive lineman taken first overall from the University of Texas is supposed to be dominant. Yeah, it didn't really work out that way for Kenneth Sims, who stumbled out of the blocks in a rookie season interrupted by a player's strike. Sims was hurt in Year 2, and by Year 3 was considered a bust with all of 6.5 sacks to his name. He stuck with it through off-field ups and downs, enjoying his finest season in 1985 with 5.5 sacks and a Super Bowl berth for the upstart Patriots. By his final season, he had worked himself into a decent player ... for a 5-11 team.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Cleveland Browns, 1999.<br />
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Loved what Bruce Arians said a few years ago about Tim Couch <a href="http://mmqb.si.com/2014/11/05/nfl-bruce-arians-arizona-cardinals-interview" target="_blank">to Peter King</a>, and it bears repeating: "Tim Couch. Hell of a player. Tim was no bust. It kills me when people call him a bust. His arm was just so torn up he couldn't play anymore. He would have been a real good one." The specific problem? A torn labrum suffered in 2000. That, and taking a pounding as a rookie (a league-high 56 sacks). Couch led the Browns to a playoff berth in 2002, but he was injured, giving way to Kelly Holcomb. The arm problems took care of the rest. 44

    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    44) Tim Couch, quarterback

    Drafted by: Cleveland Browns, 1999.

    Loved what Bruce Arians said a few years ago about Tim Couch to Peter King, and it bears repeating: "Tim Couch. Hell of a player. Tim was no bust. It kills me when people call him a bust. His arm was just so torn up he couldn't play anymore. He would have been a real good one." The specific problem? A torn labrum suffered in 2000. That, and taking a pounding as a rookie (a league-high 56 sacks). Couch led the Browns to a playoff berth in 2002, but he was injured, giving way to Kelly Holcomb. The arm problems took care of the rest.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Atlanta Falcons, 1988.<br />
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Aundray Bruce was the tall, athletic linebacker <i>every</i> team wanted in 1988. Or, in other words, the Lawrence Taylor they were all trying to get. Fresh off an awful 1987 season, the Falcons thought Bruce would spruce up their defense. His play was worse than that rhyme. After a promising rookie campaign with 70 tackles and six sacks, Bruce could never take the next step ... either toward the quarterback or in his career in Atlanta. Bruce became a situational rusher for the Raiders and played 11 seasons in the league. 43

    Peter Moran/Associated Press

    43) Aundray Bruce, outside linebacker

    Drafted by: Atlanta Falcons, 1988.

    Aundray Bruce was the tall, athletic linebacker every team wanted in 1988. Or, in other words, the Lawrence Taylor they were all trying to get. Fresh off an awful 1987 season, the Falcons thought Bruce would spruce up their defense. His play was worse than that rhyme. After a promising rookie campaign with 70 tackles and six sacks, Bruce could never take the next step ... either toward the quarterback or in his career in Atlanta. Bruce became a situational rusher for the Raiders and played 11 seasons in the league.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Kansas City Chiefs, 2013.<br />
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Eric Fisher has become a reliable starter in Kansas City, even if he hasn't been the sort of All-Pro level player most offensive linemen taken that high are expected to be (think Joe Thomas). Fisher has improved since struggling early, and give Kansas City this ... he can put <a href="http://www.kansascity.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/sam-mellinger/article126786054.html" target="_blank">a stranglehold on a pass rusher</a> when needed. Too soon? 42

    Ben Liebenberg/Associated Press

    42) Eric Fisher, offensive tackle

    Drafted by: Kansas City Chiefs, 2013.

    Eric Fisher has become a reliable starter in Kansas City, even if he hasn't been the sort of All-Pro level player most offensive linemen taken that high are expected to be (think Joe Thomas). Fisher has improved since struggling early, and give Kansas City this ... he can put a stranglehold on a pass rusher when needed. Too soon?

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Buffalo Bills, 1972.<br />
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Would you believe the first Notre Dame player to go No. 1 overall was Walt Patulski? Feel free to use that bit of trivia at the sports bar. Patulski started in Buffalo for four seasons before putting in a final year with Don Coryell and the 1977 St. Louis Cardinals. Patulski never lived up to his draft status, unfairly described as not being mean enough. His intellectual approach didn't mesh with Bills head coach Lou Saban, which Patulski <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2016/11/19/busting-40-years-nfl-darkness-walt-patulski-explains-went-wrong/" target="_blank">admitted last year</a> wrecked his career. 41

    National Football League

    41) Walt Patulski, defensive end

    Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1972.

    Would you believe the first Notre Dame player to go No. 1 overall was Walt Patulski? Feel free to use that bit of trivia at the sports bar. Patulski started in Buffalo for four seasons before putting in a final year with Don Coryell and the 1977 St. Louis Cardinals. Patulski never lived up to his draft status, unfairly described as not being mean enough. His intellectual approach didn't mesh with Bills head coach Lou Saban, which Patulski admitted last year wrecked his career.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Buffalo Bills, 1979.<br />
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What a ride for Tom Cousineau. Drafted first overall by the Bills in 1979, Cousineau jumped to Montreal of the CFL to make double the cash. He was the Grey Cup MVP in 1979, but before too long looked to get back into the NFL. Art Modell ponied up big money at the time, as well as a first-, second-, and third-round pick for a <i>linebacker</i> in Cousineau. He was a decent player in Cleveland, leading the team in tackles multiple times. Ah, but that first-round pick ... can you say <i>Jim Kelly?</i> 40

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    40) Tom Cousineau, linebacker

    Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1979.

    What a ride for Tom Cousineau. Drafted first overall by the Bills in 1979, Cousineau jumped to Montreal of the CFL to make double the cash. He was the Grey Cup MVP in 1979, but before too long looked to get back into the NFL. Art Modell ponied up big money at the time, as well as a first-, second-, and third-round pick for a linebacker in Cousineau. He was a decent player in Cleveland, leading the team in tackles multiple times. Ah, but that first-round pick ... can you say Jim Kelly?

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Houston Texans, 2014.<br />
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If last season was any indication of Jadeveon Clowney's potential, then he should climb rather quickly up this list. He's at No. 39 mostly because of a career filled with as much injury as promise. That said, Clowney made my <a href="http://www.nfl.com/photoessays/0ap3000000794421/blank">All-Under 25 Team</a> due to the huge step forward he took when J.J. Watt was no longer available to the team, as well as the flexibility he allows Romeo Crennel to move him around. 39

    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    39) Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end

    Drafted by: Houston Texans, 2014.

    If last season was any indication of Jadeveon Clowney's potential, then he should climb rather quickly up this list. He's at No. 39 mostly because of a career filled with as much injury as promise. That said, Clowney made my All-Under 25 Team due to the huge step forward he took when J.J. Watt was no longer available to the team, as well as the flexibility he allows Romeo Crennel to move him around.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Houston Oilers, 1973.<br />
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John Matuszak -- better known as "Tooz" -- is as well known for his acting roles as his playing career, which ... wasn't bad. The first overall pick of the Oilers in 1973 was traded to the Chiefs in the deal that landed Hall of Famer Curley Culp in Houston. Two years later, Matuszak landed in Oakland, where he won two Super Bowls and was a starter five of six seasons for the Silver and Black. Hey, the dude <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1Zw1AjW7Zs" target="_blank">was Sloth in "The Goonies"</a> and played in "The Ice Pirates." He deserves to be higher than a few peeps on this list. 38

    Greg Smith/Associated Press

    38) John Matuszak, defensive end

    Drafted by: Houston Oilers, 1973.

    John Matuszak -- better known as "Tooz" -- is as well known for his acting roles as his playing career, which ... wasn't bad. The first overall pick of the Oilers in 1973 was traded to the Chiefs in the deal that landed Hall of Famer Curley Culp in Houston. Two years later, Matuszak landed in Oakland, where he won two Super Bowls and was a starter five of six seasons for the Silver and Black. Hey, the dude was Sloth in "The Goonies" and played in "The Ice Pirates." He deserves to be higher than a few peeps on this list.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Cincinnati Bengals, 1994.<br />
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Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson never played to the level of the game-changer he was purported to be. In fact, he was one of several top draft picks that didn't quite pan out for the Bengals in their putrid decade of the '90s. Big Daddy was far from a bust, though, ultimately playing 13 years in the league and racking up 54.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position. That ain't bad. 37

    Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

    37) Dan Wilkinson, defensive tackle

    Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals, 1994.

    Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson never played to the level of the game-changer he was purported to be. In fact, he was one of several top draft picks that didn't quite pan out for the Bengals in their putrid decade of the '90s. Big Daddy was far from a bust, though, ultimately playing 13 years in the league and racking up 54.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position. That ain't bad.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Houston Texans, 2002.<br />
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The first thing that comes to anyone's mind regarding David Carr's career is how much he was annihilated. No one -- from the fans to assorted media members -- can get past the constant barrage of pressure the elder Carr was under early in his days with the Texans. Which means that we all miss the outstanding talent he possessed. Carr's arm strength was fantastic, as was his overall athletic ability. He made plenty of big plays, too, be it to Corey Bradford, Andre Johnson or Billy Miller. You've probably never heard of two of those guys, which is another reason Carr led the league in being sacked three of his five seasons as a starting QB. 36

    Ed Betz/Associated Press

    36) David Carr, quarterback

    Drafted by: Houston Texans, 2002.

    The first thing that comes to anyone's mind regarding David Carr's career is how much he was annihilated. No one -- from the fans to assorted media members -- can get past the constant barrage of pressure the elder Carr was under early in his days with the Texans. Which means that we all miss the outstanding talent he possessed. Carr's arm strength was fantastic, as was his overall athletic ability. He made plenty of big plays, too, be it to Corey Bradford, Andre Johnson or Billy Miller. You've probably never heard of two of those guys, which is another reason Carr led the league in being sacked three of his five seasons as a starting QB.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2015.<br />
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Yep, Jameis Winston could be higher on this list, but let's give him time. The Bucs' franchise quarterback has only played two seasons in the league. That said, in that span, Winston has become the leader on the field and a very productive quarterback, despite being just 23 years old. He's also been asked to do so much more than other young passers, having already thrown nearly 300 more passes than the quarterback drafted right after him (Marcus Mariota). No wonder Winston went first overall. 35

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    35) Jameis Winston, quarterback

    Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2015.

    Yep, Jameis Winston could be higher on this list, but let's give him time. The Bucs' franchise quarterback has only played two seasons in the league. That said, in that span, Winston has become the leader on the field and a very productive quarterback, despite being just 23 years old. He's also been asked to do so much more than other young passers, having already thrown nearly 300 more passes than the quarterback drafted right after him (Marcus Mariota). No wonder Winston went first overall.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Indianapolis Colts, 1990.<br />
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The Jay Cutler of his day. (In fact, the Bears were the last team to take a look at George.) Like the much maligned Cutler, George's attitude, or <i>perceived</i> attitude, had him looking for a job at 34 when his arm was still stronger than that of anyone in the league. It was also the reason he played for five teams (and was on the roster of seven) in his career. There were highlights along the way, however, like in 1995, when he threw for 4,143 yards and led the Falcons to the playoffs. Or 1999, when he went 8-2 with the Vikings, taking them to the postseason, as well. 34

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    34) Jeff George, quarterback

    Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 1990.

    The Jay Cutler of his day. (In fact, the Bears were the last team to take a look at George.) Like the much maligned Cutler, George's attitude, or perceived attitude, had him looking for a job at 34 when his arm was still stronger than that of anyone in the league. It was also the reason he played for five teams (and was on the roster of seven) in his career. There were highlights along the way, however, like in 1995, when he threw for 4,143 yards and led the Falcons to the playoffs. Or 1999, when he went 8-2 with the Vikings, taking them to the postseason, as well.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> St. Louis Rams, 2010.<br />
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So maybe Sam Bradford hasn't lived up to his draft spot, or to his status as the last rookie to earn the kind of mega-deal the college elite used to get. Bradford has managed to carve out a career as a viable NFL starter and could further boost his reputation by directing the Vikings to the postseason. Despite Minnesota's mediocre 2016 season, Bradford led the NFL in completion percentage while posting a 20:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 33

    Stephen Chernin/Associated Press

    33) Sam Bradford, quarterback

    Drafted by: St. Louis Rams, 2010.

    So maybe Sam Bradford hasn't lived up to his draft spot, or to his status as the last rookie to earn the kind of mega-deal the college elite used to get. Bradford has managed to carve out a career as a viable NFL starter and could further boost his reputation by directing the Vikings to the postseason. Despite Minnesota's mediocre 2016 season, Bradford led the NFL in completion percentage while posting a 20:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1977.<br />
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Ricky Bell was a workhorse back. He could flat-out play. But many people didn't see it that way after his production slowed down severely in 1980, and he was out of the league in 1982. What they didn't know was that Bell was suffering from heart failure caused by dermatomyositis. Prior to that, Bell had been an ascending player on an ascending expansion team, culminating with a 1,263-yard season and an appearance in the 1979 NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, Bell would be out of football within three years and die two years later from heart failure. A tragedy in every sense of the word. 32

    Vernon Biever/Associated Press

    32) Ricky Bell, running back

    Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1977.

    Ricky Bell was a workhorse back. He could flat-out play. But many people didn't see it that way after his production slowed down severely in 1980, and he was out of the league in 1982. What they didn't know was that Bell was suffering from heart failure caused by dermatomyositis. Prior to that, Bell had been an ascending player on an ascending expansion team, culminating with a 1,263-yard season and an appearance in the 1979 NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, Bell would be out of football within three years and die two years later from heart failure. A tragedy in every sense of the word.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Miami Dolphins, 2008.<br />
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Jake Long was a top performer at left tackle early in his run in pro football, even making first-team All-Pro in only his third season with the Dolphins. Shortly thereafter, injuries and a general decline in play saw Long play for four teams in five years. Otherwise, he would be higher on this list. Still, people forget he made four Pro Bowls right out of the gate. 31

    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    31) Jake Long, offensive tackle

    Drafted by: Miami Dolphins, 2008.

    Jake Long was a top performer at left tackle early in his run in pro football, even making first-team All-Pro in only his third season with the Dolphins. Shortly thereafter, injuries and a general decline in play saw Long play for four teams in five years. Otherwise, he would be higher on this list. Still, people forget he made four Pro Bowls right out of the gate.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Dallas Cowboys, 1991.<br />
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Russell Maryland might have been the oddest No. 1 overall pick of the last 50 years. In 1991, the consensus top player in the country was Rocket Ismail. The speedster flew north to the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, leaving Jimmy Johnson to take someone he was comfortable with in Maryland (his former player at Miami). Maryland was a fine defensive tackle in the NFL, winning three Super Bowl rings and making a Pro Bowl in a 10-year NFL career. 30

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    30) Russell Maryland, defensive tackle

    Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys, 1991.

    Russell Maryland might have been the oddest No. 1 overall pick of the last 50 years. In 1991, the consensus top player in the country was Rocket Ismail. The speedster flew north to the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, leaving Jimmy Johnson to take someone he was comfortable with in Maryland (his former player at Miami). Maryland was a fine defensive tackle in the NFL, winning three Super Bowl rings and making a Pro Bowl in a 10-year NFL career.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1986.<br />
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While many people will want to see Bo Jackson much higher on this list, reality versus myth comes into play. Was Jackson an exceptional athlete? Absolutely. But splitting time with MLB meant that Jackson never even rushed for 1,000 yards (he came quite close in 1989 in only 11 games). Incidentally, Jackson did not play at all the year he was taken No. 1, passing on suiting up for the Bucs to play for the Memphis Chicks in the Kansas City Royals' farm system. 29

    Richard Drew/Associated Press

    29) Bo Jackson, running back

    Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1986.

    While many people will want to see Bo Jackson much higher on this list, reality versus myth comes into play. Was Jackson an exceptional athlete? Absolutely. But splitting time with MLB meant that Jackson never even rushed for 1,000 yards (he came quite close in 1989 in only 11 games). Incidentally, Jackson did not play at all the year he was taken No. 1, passing on suiting up for the Bucs to play for the Memphis Chicks in the Kansas City Royals' farm system.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> New York Jets, 1996.<br />
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Often discussed more for his mouth than his play on the field, Keyshawn Johnson accomplished much during a noteworthy 11-year career with the Jets, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Panthers. He caught 814 balls, posted four 1,000-yard seasons and won a Super Bowl while in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, Johnson was often seen as a bit of a blowhard. But that didn't make him a bad player. 28

    Wally Santana/Associated Press

    28) Keyshawn Johnson, wide receiver

    Drafted by: New York Jets, 1996.

    Often discussed more for his mouth than his play on the field, Keyshawn Johnson accomplished much during a noteworthy 11-year career with the Jets, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Panthers. He caught 814 balls, posted four 1,000-yard seasons and won a Super Bowl while in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, Johnson was often seen as a bit of a blowhard. But that didn't make him a bad player.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Atlanta Falcons, 2001.<br />
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Like Eli Manning, Michael Vick's selection as the top overall pick involved his future team making a trade with the Chargers. Soon thereafter, the speedy lefty became the most exciting player in football, leading the Falcons to a win at Lambeau in the playoffs in 2002 (the first ever postseason loss for the Packers there), then the 2004 NFC Championship Game. Off-the-field decisions affected Vick's career from there, although he experienced a nice renaissance in Philly in 2010. 27

    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    27) Michael Vick, quarterback

    Drafted by: Atlanta Falcons, 2001.

    Like Eli Manning, Michael Vick's selection as the top overall pick involved his future team making a trade with the Chargers. Soon thereafter, the speedy lefty became the most exciting player in football, leading the Falcons to a win at Lambeau in the playoffs in 2002 (the first ever postseason loss for the Packers there), then the 2004 NFC Championship Game. Off-the-field decisions affected Vick's career from there, although he experienced a nice renaissance in Philly in 2010.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Indianapolis Colts, 2012.<br />
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Andrew Luck will ascend this list and leapfrog a few quarterbacks in front of him shortly. But he must do his best to stay healthy and not play quarterback like a linebacker. So much of how Luck has been rated thus far has been based on potential. That said, he tossed 40 touchdown passes in his third season, while already throwing for over 4,000 yards three times in his career. 26

    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    26) Andrew Luck, quarterback

    Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 2012.

    Andrew Luck will ascend this list and leapfrog a few quarterbacks in front of him shortly. But he must do his best to stay healthy and not play quarterback like a linebacker. So much of how Luck has been rated thus far has been based on potential. That said, he tossed 40 touchdown passes in his third season, while already throwing for over 4,000 yards three times in his career.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> San Francisco 49ers, 2005.<br />
<br />
Alex Smith might not be the premier quarterback in pro football or even in the top 10, but he has become a player who gives team a chance to win while rarely being the reason his team loses. That might not make the fans of said teams jump up for joy, but Smith has been a quality starter of late, benefitting from having stability at offensive coordinator in Kansas City. That was problematic early in his career in San Francisco -- like, "he had a new one in six of his first seven seasons" problematic. 25

    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    25) Alex Smith, quarterback

    Drafted by: San Francisco 49ers, 2005.

    Alex Smith might not be the premier quarterback in pro football or even in the top 10, but he has become a player who gives team a chance to win while rarely being the reason his team loses. That might not make the fans of said teams jump up for joy, but Smith has been a quality starter of late, benefitting from having stability at offensive coordinator in Kansas City. That was problematic early in his career in San Francisco -- like, "he had a new one in six of his first seven seasons" problematic.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Houston Texans, 2006.<br /> 
<br />
Much debate came with Mario Williams going ahead of Reggie Bush, but now there is little doubt that it was the right choice. For all the criticism of Williams by various media members and fans, the guy who never seemed to do enough accomplished much in his 11 years in the league. That includes 97.5 sacks and four Pro Bowls. The recent one-year stint in Miami? Not as memorable. 24

    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    24) Mario Williams, defensive end

    Drafted by: Houston Texans, 2006.

    Much debate came with Mario Williams going ahead of Reggie Bush, but now there is little doubt that it was the right choice. For all the criticism of Williams by various media members and fans, the guy who never seemed to do enough accomplished much in his 11 years in the league. That includes 97.5 sacks and four Pro Bowls. The recent one-year stint in Miami? Not as memorable.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Carolina Panthers, 2011.<br />
<br />
Much is left to be written about Cam Newton's career, but he's already accomplished a ton, from breaking Peyton Manning's rookie passing yards record to creating a new high-water mark for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (with 14 in 2011) and winning the league MVP award in 2015. Newton did not enjoy his best season in 2016, but with his shoulder <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000796371/article/cam-newton-recovering-after-shoulder-surgery">healing up</a>, he should be better in 2017. 23

    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    23) Cam Newton, quarterback

    Drafted by: Carolina Panthers, 2011.

    Much is left to be written about Cam Newton's career, but he's already accomplished a ton, from breaking Peyton Manning's rookie passing yards record to creating a new high-water mark for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (with 14 in 2011) and winning the league MVP award in 2015. Newton did not enjoy his best season in 2016, but with his shoulder healing up, he should be better in 2017.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1987.<br />
<br />
Quarterbacks drafted before everyone else always get saddled with the most pressure, which is compounded by the fact that they are usually joining a lousy football team. Case in point: Vinny Testaverde, who suffered through six tough years in Tampa Bay before turning into a solid veteran QB for the Browns, Ravens and Jets. Testaverde not only played until he was 44, but he threw for 46,233 yards and 275 touchdowns. Wow. 22

    Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press

    22) Vinny Testaverde, quarterback

    Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1987.

    Quarterbacks drafted before everyone else always get saddled with the most pressure, which is compounded by the fact that they are usually joining a lousy football team. Case in point: Vinny Testaverde, who suffered through six tough years in Tampa Bay before turning into a solid veteran QB for the Browns, Ravens and Jets. Testaverde not only played until he was 44, but he threw for 46,233 yards and 275 touchdowns. Wow.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> New England Patriots, 1984.<br />
<br />
Irving Fryar struggled early in his career, especially with the incredible expectations of being the top overall pick a year after so many rookies made a huge impact (1983). Over time, though, Fryar developed into a reliable possession receiver who was better in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Fryar played until he was 38 years old, at wide receiver no less, posting 851 career catches and 85 total touchdowns (84 receiving). 21

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    21) Irving Fryar, wide receiver

    Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1984.

    Irving Fryar struggled early in his career, especially with the incredible expectations of being the top overall pick a year after so many rookies made a huge impact (1983). Over time, though, Fryar developed into a reliable possession receiver who was better in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Fryar played until he was 38 years old, at wide receiver no less, posting 851 career catches and 85 total touchdowns (84 receiving).

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> New Orleans Saints, 1981.<br />
<br />
You won't find too many No. 1 overall picks who paid more immediate dividends than George Rogers, who led the NFL in rushing with a whopping 1,674 yards as a rookie. Rogers ran for 1,000 yards twice for the Saints and twice for the Redskins, and he even won a Super Bowl ring with Washington in his final season. Oh, and Rogers' rookie rushing total is still second all-time. 20

    Jackson Hill/Associated Press

    20) George Rogers, running back

    Drafted by: New Orleans Saints, 1981.

    You won't find too many No. 1 overall picks who paid more immediate dividends than George Rogers, who led the NFL in rushing with a whopping 1,674 yards as a rookie. Rogers ran for 1,000 yards twice for the Saints and twice for the Redskins, and he even won a Super Bowl ring with Washington in his final season. Oh, and Rogers' rookie rushing total is still second all-time.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Cincinnati Bengals, 2003.<br />
<br />
Carson Palmer sat his entire rookie season to learn, but by Year 3, he had the Bengals in the playoffs, with the promise of much more to come. However, injuries and inconsistent play marred much of Palmer's time in Cincy, which was followed  by a sub-.500 two-year stint in Oakland (Palmer went 8-16 with the Raiders in 2011 and '12). He's managed to be a more effective player under Bruce Arians in Arizona. Palmer's ability to throw a nice deep ball dovetails with Arians' belief that routine checkdowns are as enjoyable as routine enemas. 19

    Ed Betz/Associated Press

    19) Carson Palmer, quarterback

    Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals, 2003.

    Carson Palmer sat his entire rookie season to learn, but by Year 3, he had the Bengals in the playoffs, with the promise of much more to come. However, injuries and inconsistent play marred much of Palmer's time in Cincy, which was followed by a sub-.500 two-year stint in Oakland (Palmer went 8-16 with the Raiders in 2011 and '12). He's managed to be a more effective player under Bruce Arians in Arizona. Palmer's ability to throw a nice deep ball dovetails with Arians' belief that routine checkdowns are as enjoyable as routine enemas.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> New England Patriots, 1971.<br />
<br />
Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls for the Raiders, and he might be one of the least-talked about successful quarterbacks in NFL history. Unfortunately, at least for the Patriots, Plunkett endured plenty of growing pains early in his career. A promising rookie campaign was followed by years of struggle -- including a trade to San Francisco -- before Oakland owner Al Davis brought Plunkett into the fold in 1979. 18

    J. Spencer Jones/Associated Pres

    18) Jim Plunkett, quarterback

    Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1971.

    Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls for the Raiders, and he might be one of the least-talked about successful quarterbacks in NFL history. Unfortunately, at least for the Patriots, Plunkett endured plenty of growing pains early in his career. A promising rookie campaign was followed by years of struggle -- including a trade to San Francisco -- before Oakland owner Al Davis brought Plunkett into the fold in 1979.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Baltimore Colts, 1967.<br />
<br />
Bubba Smith was a monster to play against when healthy. A better athlete than almost anyone he lined up against, Smith was a major force on the Colts' Super Bowl teams in 1968 and 1970. Unfortunately, knee problems limited Smith's long-term effectiveness; otherwise, he'd be higher on this list. Still he managed to play nine years in the league while winning a ring in Super Bowl V. 17

    David Durochik/Associated Press

    17) Bubba Smith, defensive lineman

    Drafted by: Baltimore Colts, 1967.

    Bubba Smith was a monster to play against when healthy. A better athlete than almost anyone he lined up against, Smith was a major force on the Colts' Super Bowl teams in 1968 and 1970. Unfortunately, knee problems limited Smith's long-term effectiveness; otherwise, he'd be higher on this list. Still he managed to play nine years in the league while winning a ring in Super Bowl V.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Atlanta Falcons, 1975.<br />
<br />
Steve Bartkowski played 11 seasons in Atlanta, taking the Falcons to the playoffs three times. His finest season came in 1980, when he led the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. He also paced all passers with a sterling 97.6 passer rating in 1983. Bad knees, not an inability to play quarterback, shortened Bartkowski's career. 16

    Associated Press

    16) Steve Bartkowski, quarterback

    Drafted by: Atlanta Falcons, 1975.

    Steve Bartkowski played 11 seasons in Atlanta, taking the Falcons to the playoffs three times. His finest season came in 1980, when he led the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. He also paced all passers with a sterling 97.6 passer rating in 1983. Bad knees, not an inability to play quarterback, shortened Bartkowski's career.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Detroit Lions, 2009.<br />
<br />
Matthew Stafford is quickly climbing up this list. Stafford tossed 41 touchdown passes in only his third season while leading the Lions to the playoffs. Only Dan Marino -- who had 48 in Year 2 -- recorded a 40-TD season earlier in his career. Stafford was an MVP candidate last year until an injured finger affected his play. His ability to make plays late in the fourth quarter is beginning to separate him from other quarterbacks. At 29 years old, Stafford should be entering his prime quarterbacking years. 15

    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    15) Matthew Stafford, quarterback

    Drafted by: Detroit Lions, 2009.

    Matthew Stafford is quickly climbing up this list. Stafford tossed 41 touchdown passes in only his third season while leading the Lions to the playoffs. Only Dan Marino -- who had 48 in Year 2 -- recorded a 40-TD season earlier in his career. Stafford was an MVP candidate last year until an injured finger affected his play. His ability to make plays late in the fourth quarter is beginning to separate him from other quarterbacks. At 29 years old, Stafford should be entering his prime quarterbacking years.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> New England Patriots, 1993.<br />
<br />
Despite being largely known as the man replaced by Tom Brady in New England, Drew Bledsoe should be remembered for being a fine passer in the 1990s. In fact, Bledsoe led the NFL with 4,555 yards in only his second season. He also led New England to Super Bowl XXXI. While his stints with the Bills and Cowboys were often underwhelming, he did throw for over 4,000 yards in his first year in Buffalo while putting together five game-winning drives in his only full season as a starter in Dallas. 14

    Al Messerschmidt/Associated Pres

    14) Drew Bledsoe, quarterback

    Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1993.

    Despite being largely known as the man replaced by Tom Brady in New England, Drew Bledsoe should be remembered for being a fine passer in the 1990s. In fact, Bledsoe led the NFL with 4,555 yards in only his second season. He also led New England to Super Bowl XXXI. While his stints with the Bills and Cowboys were often underwhelming, he did throw for over 4,000 yards in his first year in Buffalo while putting together five game-winning drives in his only full season as a starter in Dallas.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Detroit Lions, 1980.<br />
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Another first overall pick whose career was derailed by a knee injury, Billy Sims was simply brilliant in four-and-a-half seasons with the Lions. He rushed for 1,303 yards as a rookie, then followed up with 1,437 the next season. He was both explosive and shifty. He was on his way to easily topping 1,000 yards again in 1984 when disaster struck. In Week 8 against the Vikings, Sims tore up his knee on the Metrodome turf and would never play again. 13

    Associated Press

    13) Billy Sims, running back

    Drafted by: Detroit Lions, 1980.

    Another first overall pick whose career was derailed by a knee injury, Billy Sims was simply brilliant in four-and-a-half seasons with the Lions. He rushed for 1,303 yards as a rookie, then followed up with 1,437 the next season. He was both explosive and shifty. He was on his way to easily topping 1,000 yards again in 1984 when disaster struck. In Week 8 against the Vikings, Sims tore up his knee on the Metrodome turf and would never play again.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> San Diego Chargers, 2004.<br />
<br />
Not wanting to play for San Diego, Manning was part of a draft-day trade with the Giants that included Philip Rivers. Thirteen seasons and two Super Bowl rings later, the Giants don't regret it. How far Manning climbs on this list -- and, more importantly, whether he makes the Hall of Fame -- depends much on what he can accomplish with a solid Giants team right now. 12

    John Marshall Mantel/Associated

    12) Eli Manning, quarterback

    Drafted by: San Diego Chargers, 2004.

    Not wanting to play for San Diego, Manning was part of a draft-day trade with the Giants that included Philip Rivers. Thirteen seasons and two Super Bowl rings later, the Giants don't regret it. How far Manning climbs on this list -- and, more importantly, whether he makes the Hall of Fame -- depends much on what he can accomplish with a solid Giants team right now.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Dallas Cowboys, 1974.<br />
<br />
Not many people were scouting Tennessee State back in 1974, but former Cowboys personnel czar (and my NFL.com colleague) Gil Brandt was. Dallas was rewarded for its interest in the 6-foot-9 Jones with 15 fine years. No player was ever better at anticipating and swatting down passes. Despite being overshadowed by Hall of Fame teammate Randy White, Jones made three straight Pro Bowls from 1981 to '83. 11

    National Football League

    11) Ed "Too Tall" Jones, defensive end

    Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys, 1974.

    Not many people were scouting Tennessee State back in 1974, but former Cowboys personnel czar (and my NFL.com colleague) Gil Brandt was. Dallas was rewarded for its interest in the 6-foot-9 Jones with 15 fine years. No player was ever better at anticipating and swatting down passes. Despite being overshadowed by Hall of Fame teammate Randy White, Jones made three straight Pro Bowls from 1981 to '83.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> St. Louis Rams, 1997.<br />
<br />
Pace was maybe the best player at his job on the 1999 Rams, a.k.a. "The Greatest Show on Turf." When he entered the NFL, Pace joined a terrible football team in need of an identity. But that was not the case for long. Pace made seven straight Pro Bowls in developing into a top-flight left tackle, quietly and <i>consistently</i> performing his role so that the Rams' offense under Kurt Warner -- and, later on, Marc Bulger -- could thrive. 10

    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    10) Orlando Pace, offensive tackle

    Drafted by: St. Louis Rams, 1997.

    Pace was maybe the best player at his job on the 1999 Rams, a.k.a. "The Greatest Show on Turf." When he entered the NFL, Pace joined a terrible football team in need of an identity. But that was not the case for long. Pace made seven straight Pro Bowls in developing into a top-flight left tackle, quietly and consistently performing his role so that the Rams' offense under Kurt Warner -- and, later on, Marc Bulger -- could thrive.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1976.<br />
<br />
The Bucs' first real star, Lee Roy Selmon came out of Oklahoma ready to play in 1976, and by 1979, he was making the Pro Bowl every year. Selmon would make six straight Pro Bowls before a bad back forced him to retire prior to the 1985 season. Selmon was the best player the Bucs ever had prior to the Tony Dungy teams. 9

    National Football League

    9) Lee Roy Selmon, defensive lineman

    Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1976.

    The Bucs' first real star, Lee Roy Selmon came out of Oklahoma ready to play in 1976, and by 1979, he was making the Pro Bowl every year. Selmon would make six straight Pro Bowls before a bad back forced him to retire prior to the 1985 season. Selmon was the best player the Bucs ever had prior to the Tony Dungy teams.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Minnesota Vikings, 1968.<br />
<br />
A Hall of Fame tackle, Ron Yary was as steady a player as there was in the 1970s, a six-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. While you hear so much about the Vikings' defense from Yary's era (the "Purple People Eaters"), Yary was the most consistent offensive performer on Minnesota's four Super Bowl teams. 8

    Harold Filan/Associated Press

    8) Ron Yary, offensive tackle

    Drafted by: Minnesota Vikings, 1968.

    A Hall of Fame tackle, Ron Yary was as steady a player as there was in the 1970s, a six-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. While you hear so much about the Vikings' defense from Yary's era (the "Purple People Eaters"), Yary was the most consistent offensive performer on Minnesota's four Super Bowl teams.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Houston Oilers, 1978.<br />
<br />
Quite simply the greatest power back in NFL history. Earl Campbell pummeled his way through the league, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,450 yards as a rookie, 1,697 in Year 2 and a staggering 1,934 yards in 1980. Think about those numbers, then realize he did it all while running <i>through</i> people. Like, plowing them over, often 30 times a game. 7

    Ed Kolenovsky/Associated Press

    7) Earl Campbell, running back

    Drafted by: Houston Oilers, 1978.

    Quite simply the greatest power back in NFL history. Earl Campbell pummeled his way through the league, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,450 yards as a rookie, 1,697 in Year 2 and a staggering 1,934 yards in 1980. Think about those numbers, then realize he did it all while running through people. Like, plowing them over, often 30 times a game.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Buffalo Bills, 1969.<br />
<br />
O.J. Simpson didn't hit his stride with the Bills until Lou Saban took over head coaching duties in 1972. Simpson led the NFL in rushing in four of the next five seasons, including with 2,003 yards in 1973. 6

    Tony Tomsic/Associated Press

    6) O.J. Simpson, running back

    Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1969.

    O.J. Simpson didn't hit his stride with the Bills until Lou Saban took over head coaching duties in 1972. Simpson led the NFL in rushing in four of the next five seasons, including with 2,003 yards in 1973.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Dallas Cowboys, 1989.<br />
<br />
Hard to believe that it was 28 years ago when Troy Aikman was drafted first overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Aikman was the first ever draft pick by Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones. After beginning his career with 11 straight losses, Aikman would eventually start (and win) three Super Bowls. He also posted an 11-5 playoff record in the process. Many league observers consider him the most accurate intermediate thrower they've ever seen. His leadership? Off the charts. 5

    Mark Lenniman/Associated Press

    5) Troy Aikman, quarterback

    Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys, 1989.

    Hard to believe that it was 28 years ago when Troy Aikman was drafted first overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Aikman was the first ever draft pick by Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones. After beginning his career with 11 straight losses, Aikman would eventually start (and win) three Super Bowls. He also posted an 11-5 playoff record in the process. Many league observers consider him the most accurate intermediate thrower they've ever seen. His leadership? Off the charts.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970.<br /> 
<br />
One of only three quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls, Terry Bradshaw did it first. Though Bradshaw struggled the first five years of his career, the Steelers' draft investment paid major dividends in the late 1970s. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, partially because he was a highly successful game manager. Not later in his career, though, when his downfield passing often compensated for a defense that wasn't as strong as it had been. Pittsburgh doesn't win Super Bowl XIII and XIV without his 300-yard passing performances in each game. His 64-yard moon shot to Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X might be the best big-game throw ever. 4

    Associated Press

    4) Terry Bradshaw, quarterback

    Drafted by: Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970.

    One of only three quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls, Terry Bradshaw did it first. Though Bradshaw struggled the first five years of his career, the Steelers' draft investment paid major dividends in the late 1970s. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, partially because he was a highly successful game manager. Not later in his career, though, when his downfield passing often compensated for a defense that wasn't as strong as it had been. Pittsburgh doesn't win Super Bowl XIII and XIV without his 300-yard passing performances in each game. His 64-yard moon shot to Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X might be the best big-game throw ever.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Baltimore Colts, 1983.<br />
<br />
You could make the argument that John Elway belongs even higher, but given that he never played a down for the team that originally drafted him, third seems right. Elway refused to play in Baltimore, so in May 1983, the Colts traded him to the Denver Broncos for Chris Hinton (a fantastic offensive tackle), backup QB Mark Herrmann and a 1984 first-round pick. Of course, Elway wound up starting five Super Bowls for the Broncos. The two Super Bowl wins at the end of his career pushed him into legendary status, but fans should remember that Elway won the league MVP in only his fifth year, becoming one of the youngest quarterbacks to ever accomplish that feat. 3

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    3) John Elway, quarterback

    Drafted by: Baltimore Colts, 1983.

    You could make the argument that John Elway belongs even higher, but given that he never played a down for the team that originally drafted him, third seems right. Elway refused to play in Baltimore, so in May 1983, the Colts traded him to the Denver Broncos for Chris Hinton (a fantastic offensive tackle), backup QB Mark Herrmann and a 1984 first-round pick. Of course, Elway wound up starting five Super Bowls for the Broncos. The two Super Bowl wins at the end of his career pushed him into legendary status, but fans should remember that Elway won the league MVP in only his fifth year, becoming one of the youngest quarterbacks to ever accomplish that feat.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Buffalo Bills, 1985.<br />
<br />
The NFL's sack king deserves this high ranking, especially because Bruce Smith provided 15 Hall of Fame seasons for the team that drafted him. Hard to believe now, but people questioned the Bills' decision back in 1985. Smith's 200 sacks are beyond question, as are his eight first-team All-Pro selections and 11 Pro Bowl nods. Oh, he also was Defensive Player of the Year twice and was named to two different All-Decade teams by the Hall of Fame. So basically, he deserves to be above the quarterbacks on this list. Except one. 2

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    2) Bruce Smith, defensive end

    Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1985.

    The NFL's sack king deserves this high ranking, especially because Bruce Smith provided 15 Hall of Fame seasons for the team that drafted him. Hard to believe now, but people questioned the Bills' decision back in 1985. Smith's 200 sacks are beyond question, as are his eight first-team All-Pro selections and 11 Pro Bowl nods. Oh, he also was Defensive Player of the Year twice and was named to two different All-Decade teams by the Hall of Fame. So basically, he deserves to be above the quarterbacks on this list. Except one.

  • <b>Drafted by:</b> Indianapolis Colts, 1998.<br />
<br />
Easy choice at the top of the list. Not only is Peyton Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time (I have him at third), he remains at the top of the charts in most major passing stats. Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie but started picking things up over the back half of his debut season. By Year 2, he was a Pro Bowl-level player and had the Colts in the playoffs. Manning's total of five MVPs continues to boggle the mind. What player, in any sport, can lay claim to being the <i>best</i> of the best in five different years? Not many. 1

    Al Messerschmidt/Associated Pres

    1) Peyton Manning, quarterback

    Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 1998.

    Easy choice at the top of the list. Not only is Peyton Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time (I have him at third), he remains at the top of the charts in most major passing stats. Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie but started picking things up over the back half of his debut season. By Year 2, he was a Pro Bowl-level player and had the Colts in the playoffs. Manning's total of five MVPs continues to boggle the mind. What player, in any sport, can lay claim to being the best of the best in five different years? Not many.

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