2012 NFL Draft: The Best 1st-Round Picks by Draft Slot in NFL History
With the 2012 NFL draft fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and make a list of the best players in NFL history who have been picked at each slot in the first round.
Each of these men were highly sought-after players coming out of college. They overcame the odds by performing well enough for long enough to become some of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
They paved the way for every one of the young men who hope to land a spot on an opening day roster for one of the 32 NFL teams in 2012.
Let's take a look at who made the list.
No. 1: Peyton Manning
John Elway received consideration for this spot, but after a close review Manning is clearly the best player who has ever been selected with the first-overall pick in the NFL draft.
Elway won one more Super Bowl than Manning, but Manning won four NFL MVP awards to Elway's one and went to the Pro Bowl 11 times to Elway's nine.
Manning will go down as one of the greatest players in NFL history, whether he plays in 2012 or not. His career has left a legacy of excellence, dedication, passion and skill.
Honorable mentions: Chuck Bednarick, Earl Campbell, John Elway and O.J. Simpson
No. 2: Lawrence Taylor
Few players have revolutionized the NFL to the same degree that Lawrence Taylor did as an outside linebacker for the New York Giants.
Taylor's ability to reek havoc on opposing quarterbacks from the outside linebacker position caused offensive coordinators headaches and sleepless nights.
He is credited with changing the pass-rushing schemes, offensive line play and offensive formations of the NFL in his day, and what we see on defense these days is a direct result of Taylor's contributions to the game.
In his 13-year career, Taylor was voted onto 10 Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams, winning two Super Bowls in the process. He is also the only player in NFL history to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
He is one of the all-time greats, and as such, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1999.
Honorable mentions: Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson
No. 3: Barry Sanders
Alas! What could have been...
Barry Sanders cut his own career short when he was 30 at the pinnacle of his athletic abilities and achievements. Throughout his 10-year stay with the Detroit Lions, Sanders only missed nine total games, and he looked good enough when he quit to play for at least another five years.
If he had stayed in the league, he would surely be sitting atop the NFL's all-time leaderboard for career rushing. As it stands, Sanders is still ranked third on that list with 15,269 yards, only 3,086 yards behind Emmitt Smiths's all-time record.
Sanders was a genius on the football field, and watching him run on opposing defenses was often a humorous venture. He could make anyone miss one-on-one, and he often made the best defenders in the league look ridiculous.
Honorable mentions: Dick Butkus and Anthony Munoz
No. 4: Walter Payton
Walter Payton was one of the most naturally gifted, hardest working athletes to play in the NFL in his era, and his legacy is one that is still honored and carried on to this very day, despite being gone for these past 13 years.
He is second on the NFL's all-time rushing leader board with 16,726 yards, and he will forever be cherished by fans in the Windy City.
Payton was named to nine Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pro teams, winning a championship with the 1985 Bears team in Super Bowl XX.
Honorable mentions: Otto Graham and Gale Sayers
No. 5: 'Neon' Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders brought a spark of life to every team that had the privilege of having him on their roster.
Despite being known around the NFL as a lockdown corner, Sanders still managed to lure enough throws his way during his 14 years in the league to amass 53 career interceptions (24th all-time in the NFL).
For his career, Sanders was named to eight Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams, winning the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994 and the NFC's Player of the Year award twice (1993 and 1994).
Sanders was also a two-time champion, winning one Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers and one with the Dallas Cowboys.
He is one of the best to have ever played the game, and he's the best player taken fifth overall in the draft during the modern era.
Honorable mentions: LaDainian Tomlinson, Len Dawson, Mike Ditka and Junior Seau
No. 6: Jim Brown
Jim Brown easily beats out the other great players that have been picked at No. 6 in the NFL draft.
Brown doesn't hold any of the all-time rushing records, but you could argue that he's the best running back to have ever played in the history of the NFL.
Brown was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame back in 1971, seven years before I was born. He only played in nine seasons in the league, totaling nine Pro Bowl appearances and eight first-team All-Pro squads.
He averaged 1,368 yards and just under 12 touchdowns per season during his nine-year career, pitching in another 2,499 yards and 20 touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield.
The greatest power back in NFL history; there will never be another like Brown to ever play the game.
Honorable mentions: Sammy Baugh, Walter Jones, John Riggins and James Lofton
No. 7: Adrian Peterson
To be honest, the NFL has had bad luck with this pick, and the irony isn't lost on me. The fact that Adrian Peterson is the best player to come out of this draft slot should be evidence enough.
This isn't a knock on Peterson, who is the best running back today in the NFL.
In only five seasons as a pro, Peterson has put together quite a résumé: 6,752 yards (4.8 yard average) and 64 touchdowns. This averages out to 1,350 yards and just under 13 touchdowns per season (that is Jim Brown territory, by the way).
If Peterson can stay healthy for another five years, he could start to challenge some of the all-time records. If he stays healthy through his mid-30s, he will be the GOAT.
Honorable mentions: Phil Simms
No. 8: Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott was one of the most feared tacklers in the history of the NFL.
He is also tied with Darren Sharper for the NFL's sixth-best career interceptions mark (63 interceptions).
He is also an indomitable warrior who "had the tip of his left pinky finger amputated after the 1985 season when it was crushed by tackling running back Timmy Newsome, and a bone graft surgery wouldn't have him ready in time for the 1986 season (H/T Wikipedia)."
Who needs a pinky, anyway?
Lott went on to intercept 10 passes the next year.
Honorable mentions: Lance Alworth and Larry Csonka
No. 9: Brian Urlacher
Brian Urlacher is entering into the twilight of his illustrious career. Throughout his 12-year career, he has been one of the most well-balanced middle linebackers in the league.
Urlacher started his career off in 2000 with the Chicago Bears on a high note, winning Defensive Player of the Year. He went on to collect the 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, along with eight Pro Bowl appearances and five All-Pro selections.
He excels in all phases of the game, and for his career, Urlacher has tallied 41.5 sacks and 21 interceptions.
He is one of the Bears' all-time greats, and I hope he can keep it up for at least a couple more years.
Honorable mentions: Lenny Moore
No. 10: Rod Woodson
Rod Woodson is one of the NFL's all-time greatest safeties. He finished off his career in 2003 with the third-most interceptions in the history of the league (71 interceptions).
Over the course of his 17-year career, Woodson was selected to 11 Pro Bowls, six first-team All-Pro teams and two second-team All-Pro teams. He was also the the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and a Super Bowl Champion with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000.
Woodson was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame with the class of 2009, and he's the best player to have ever been picked at No. 10 overall.
Honorable mentions: Marcus Allen, Ron Mix and Jerome Bettis
No. 11: Michael Irvin
Michael Irvin was one of the main offensive weapons for the Dallas Cowboys during their incredible run at three Super Bowls in the 1990s.
Irvin was always one of the guys I loved to hate, being a 49ers fan. His physical style of play at the wide receiver position was/is rare, and he had some huge games in the playoffs against my team.
Honorable mentions: Paul Warfield, Frank Gifford and Ben Roethlisberger
No. 12: Joe Namath
Joe Namath is a god in New York still to this day.
After winning an AFL championship with the New York Jets in 1968, Namath famously guaranteed the Jets would win Super Bowl III in 1971 against the Baltimore Colts, and then went out and backed it up.
He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1985 despite having a career record of 64-64-4.
I'm not trying to hate on Joe, but you have to admit no quarterback nowadays would even get a sniff at the Hall with his credentials.
Still, Namath is an NFL icon, and he is the best player in league history to be taken 12th in the NFL draft.
Honorable mentions: Warren Sapp, Lee Roy Selmon, Haloti Ngata, Shaun Ellis and Jonathan Vilma
No. 13: Bob Lilly
Bob Lilly was one of the greatest defensive tackles to ever play in the NFL, and he was a major part of the Dallas Cowboys' "doomsday defense" that terrorized the league in the 1960s and into the 1970s.
Lilly was originally a defensive end that Tom Landry brilliantly moved inside. As a defensive tackle, Lilly was a wrecking ball of a pass-rusher.
In Lilly's 14-year career, he tallied 94.5 sacks. He was also selected to 11 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro squads.
Lilly is one of the players from the past that would dominate even in today's game. He was one-of-a-kind.
Honorable mentions: Franco Harris and Kellen Winslow, Sr.
No. 14: Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history who has never won a Super Bowl.
He took the Buffalo Bills to an incredible four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990-1993, losing four straight times.
Kelly currently holds the Bills career passing yards leader (35,467 yards), and he was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2002.
Honorable mentions: Darrelle Revis, Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey
No. 15: Alan Page
Alan Page was one of the members of the "Purple People Eaters" for the Minnesota Vikings in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.
As a defensive tackle, Page sacked opposing quarterbacks an incredible 148.5 times (unofficial, via Wikipedia).
Page's career garnered him many personal accolades and landed him in the Hall of Fame.
Honorable mentions: Derrick Johnson
No. 16: Jerry Rice
Perhaps the greatest player to play at any position in the history of the NFL, Jerry Rice is an easy pick here at 16.
No player in the history of the game holds more unattainable records than Rice. Many of his records seem unlikely to ever be broken.
The biggest one in my book is his career touchdowns mark. In 20 years, Rice scored 208 touchdowns.
The next person closest to Rice is Emmitt Smith, who retired with 175.
There will never be another like him.
Honorable mentions: Al Toon and Eddie Brown
No. 17: Emmitt Smith
No other running back in NFL history has run for more yards or touchdowns than Emmitt Smith. It seems unlikely any back will break his records, either, as the NFL continues to evolve into more of a spread 'em out passing league.
His superstar abilities were far more important to the Dallas Cowboys' three championships in the 1990s than Troy Aikman or Michael Irvin. Without Smith, they had nothing.
He entered into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2010, a well-deserved resting place for one of the game's legends.
Honorable mentions: Sebastian Janikowski, Steve Hutchinson
No. 18: Art Monk
Art Monk is one of the most underappreciated wide receivers in NFL history. After ending his career in 1995, he had to wait all the way until 2008 to finally get inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Monk spent most of his 16 years with the Washington Redskins, where he was one of the most productive receivers in the NFL. Over the course of his career, Monk and the Redskins won three Super Bowls (XVII, XXII and XXVI).
A consumate pro, Monk exceeded 50 catches in a season nine times, and five times, gained more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Honorable mentions: Jeff Backus, Chad Pennington
No. 19: Marvin Harrison
In terms of precision and finesse, there have been few players in the history of the NFL to equal what Marvin Harrison brought to the Indianapolis Colts during his 13-year career.
He had an other-worldly five-year stretch from 1999 to 2003, where he averaged 113 catches, 1,519 yards and 12 touchdowns.
For his career, Harrison has done it all: He won a Super Bowl, was selected to eight Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro teams.
He was amazing on the field and fun to watch, and I'll be shocked if he doesn't make his way to the Hall of Fame.
Honorable mentions: Jack Tatum, Shawn Alexander
No. 20: Jack Youngblood
Jack Youngblood famously carried the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl in 1979 despite suffering a broken left leg.
He is a Hall of Fame inductee from the class of 2001 who finished his career with an unofficial sack mark of 151.5.
Youngblood was an ironman for the Rams, playing in 201 consecutive games, a Rams team record. He only missed one game in his 14-year NFL career. He was as tough as nails, and he is the best player in history to be taken 20th overall in the NFL draft.
Honorable mentions: Tamba Hali, Adam Archuleta
No. 21: Randy Moss
Randy Moss is the only player I've witnessed since Jerry Rice that has skills comparable to Rice. Too bad he doesn't possess Rice's insane work ethic, too.
It's alright. Nobody does.
Moss should be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee when he's officially finished with his playing career.
In 13 seasons, Moss has tallied close to 15,000 yards and 153 receiving touchdowns, good for fifth on the all-time list.
Honorable mentions: Vince Wilfork, Jeff Faine
No. 22: Jack 'Hacksaw' Reynolds
Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds didn't have as illustrious a career as most of the men on this list, but he was a tough middle linebacker who played for the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers during a highly productive 15-year career.
He won two Super Bowls (XVI and XIX) with the 49ers and was selected to two Pro Bowls.
Reynolds earned his nickname in 1969 by cutting an abandoned 1953 Chevrolet Bel-Air (some accounts claim it was a Porsche) in half with a hacksaw after his previously unbeaten University of Tennessee team returned from an embarrassing 38-0 road loss to Ole Miss (H/T Wikipedia).
Honorable mentions: William "Refrigerator" Perry
No. 23: Ozzie Newsome
Before becoming one of the NFL's best general managers for the Baltimore Ravens, Ozzie Newsome was a Hall-of-Fame tight end for the Cleveland Browns.
In an era before Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Rob Gronkowski, Newsome was the ideal pass-catching tight end. During his 13-year career, he collected 662 catches for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Newsome was named to the NFL's first-team All-Pro squad seven times during his career, and his contributions to the game of football are being felt still.
Honorable mentions: Willis McGahee and Antoine Winfield
No. 24: Ed Reed
Taken with the 24th pick of the 2002 NFL draft, Ed Reed has turned himself into the best free safety I've ever seen play with my own two eyes.
Reed has all the physical tools for success, but he has taken film study to an entirely different level and is one of the best students of the game in NFL history.
A rangy ball hawk, Reed will often bait inexperienced quarterbacks into throwing an easy interception by pretending to play a different coverage than what he's actually focused on.
Throughout his 10-year career, Reed has collected 57 interceptions (t-11th on the all-time list). Personally, I'd love to see him stick around for a few more seasons and challenge the top five.
Honorable mentions: Dallas Clark, Stephen Jackson
No. 25: Stanley Morgan
Like "Hacksaw" before him, Stanley Morgan is a name many of you might not recognize.
Morgan was a stalwart receiver for the New England Patriots in the late-1970s and through the 1980s.
In his 13-year career, Morgan collected 534 catches and 67 touchdowns, though he would surely have better numbers in today's NFL.
Blessed with exceptional speed and hands, Morgan 19.2 yards per catch, a gaudy figure in any era.
Honorable mentions: Jason Campbell
No. 26: Ray Lewis
Watching Ray Lewis play these days, you'd never know he was getting ready to enter into his 17th season in the NFL.
Lewis is the best middle linebacker I've ever seen, and you would have a hard time convincing me there has ever been another one better than him in the history of the league.
Lewis is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl XXXV MVP, 13-time Pro Bowl invitee and seven-time first-team All-Pro, among many other accolades.
He has stated he's definitely going to be returning to play for the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, and he looks like he might play until he's 40.
Honorable mentions: Alan Faneca
No. 27: Dan Marino
Dan Marino used to hold all the NFL passing records before Brett Favre took 'em all away.
Like Jim Kelly, Marino is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game to never have won a Super Bowl. For those of you who may be younger, imagine if Peyton Manning had never won his...
Marino possessed one of the strongest arms in history, too. His release was so quick and his passes so crisp that defenders didn't have a chance half the time.
Despite never winning the big game, Marino led the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs ten times in his 17-year career, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame to honor his achievements in 2005.
Honorable mentions: Larry Johnson
No. 28: Darrel Green
Darrell Green used to call himself the "itty bitty guy" due to his diminutive stature (5'9", 184 pounds).
Green didn't play small, and he ended his career after 20 productive years in the NFL, tallying 54 interceptions in the process (t-20th all-time in the NFL).
One of the reasons for his success was that Green was one of the fastest players in league history. He could keep up with any receiver and remains one of the top corners to have ever played.
Honorable mentions: Derrick Brooks
No. 29: Nick Mangold
Note: The draft didn't include picks 29 and up until 1993.
Nick Mangold is one of the best centers playing in the NFL today. Now in his sixth season in the pros, Mangold has been named to four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.
Blessed with excellent size, agility, strength and balance, Mangold has a chance to go down in history as one of the all-time great New York Jets.
Honorable mentions: Nick Barnett and George Teague
No. 30: Reggie Wayne
Reggie Wayne joins Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison on this list. Maybe Bill Polian did know what he was doing after all?
Wayne led the entire league in receiving in 2007, and he has put together three seasons of ten-plus touchdowns. He is still a dangerous weapon at the age of 33, and it seems reasonable to assume he could continue to play at a high level for two to three more years.
Wayne could end up in the Hall of Fame by the time his career is all said and done. He is an exceptionally gifted athlete, and if he follows Manning wherever he goes in 2012, his chances would likely double.
Honorable mentions: Keith Bullock
No. 31: Nnamdi Asomugha
After spending his first eight seasons in Oakland, Nnamdi Asomugha took his considerable talents to Philly this past offseason.
A lock-down corner in a man-to-man scheme, the Eagles asked him to become a zone defender. Why in the world would you do that?
Don't expect the struggles to continue in 2012, though. I'm expecting Asomugha to rise to the challenge and remind the rest of the league why nobody threw his way when he was with the Raiders.
Honorable mentions: Todd Heap
No. 32: Logan Mankins
Note: 2002 was the first year that the 32nd-overall pick was in the first round of the NFL draft.
Logan Mankins was selected by the New England Patriots with the 32nd-overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft. He has made four Pro Bowl and three first-team All-Pro teams, and last year, he took home the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award for his stellar work in the trenches.
Mankins is currently one of the league's premier offensive guards, and he rounds out my list of the best players in the history of the NFL to be taken at each first-round draft slot.
Honorable mentions: Mathias Kiwanuka and Ben Watson