Draft Round by Round: Greatest Players Selected in Pro Football

Barry ShuckContributor IIIApril 15, 2012

Draft Round by Round: Greatest Players Selected in Pro Football

0 of 21

    The year was 1935. The Philadelphia Eagles had just completed their third season and again finished at the bottom of the division. In the infancy of their existence, the Eagles had won a sum total of nine games.

    At the time, every college football graduate was a free agent, able to sign with whichever team they desired. The blue-chip players usually signed with the teams that offered the largest contract. That was annually the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, clubs which had larger stadium venues and sizeable gates. Another team, the Green Bay Packers, also offered large contracts to players, although their stadium was a third of the size of their big-city neighbors.

    From the inception of the NFL in 1920 until 1935, those four clubs had won nine league titles collectively and numerous championship game runner-ups.

    Bert Bell, owner of the Eagles, had made an observation. With the top four teams always in title contention while the rest of the league floundered, the bottom-tier clubs were the franchises which failed financially, folded, relocated and were poorly attended every season.

    Bell surmised that the process by which NFL teams formed their rosters had to change.

    At the subsequent winter owner’s meetings, Bell told his audience that he had a theory that pro football was like a chain—the league is no stronger than its weakest link. He proposed that at the end of each season, the league should pool the names of eligible college seniors and then make selections in reverse order of the standings.

    Essentially, this would force good players to play for bad teams, which would make bad teams better. Then attendance would increase, and competition for the league title would become more intense, and teams would be in the hunt longer.

    The word “draft” was never used in Bell’s proposal, but once approved, the media called the procedure what it was. And thus, the NFL draft was born.

    On February 8, 1936 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia, an historic event took place in the annals of the NFL. The very first college player draft was held.

    The first-ever draft was comprised of nine rounds. The Eagles, oddly enough, selected first, having posted a 2-9-0 record in 1935. The first player selected was Jay Berwanger, a running back from the University of Chicago. Berwanger was the first winner of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, which would be renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year. He was known as the “one-man football team” for his powerful runs and bruising style.

    Berwanger never played for the Eagles. The problems before the draft were also problems once the draft was instituted. Berwanger demanded $1,000 a game. The Eagles subsequently traded his rights to the Bears, one of the more financially-stable teams in the NFL.

Round and Round

1 of 21

    The number of rounds in the draft has changed as the owners saw fit. In 1937, the draft increased to 10 rounds and then to 12 in 1938. From 1939 to 1942, it jumped to 22 rounds.

    From 1943 to 1948, another 10 were added to make a grand total of 32 rounds. This was done solely because of World War II. Every club was faced with player shortages, as hundreds of players left their teams and entered the war effort. The owners decided that they should draft just about every eligible graduated senior. This also allowed teams to hold onto rights longer (than the customary one year) once college players returned and now were past their college eligibility.  

    1949 saw a drop to 25 rounds. From 1950-1959, 30 rounds were the norm. For the NFL in 1960, 20 rounds occurred.

    The upstart American Football League (AFL) did not hold a draft in the beginning, but in 1961 it held a 30-round draft with its owners over the telephone. That draft, along with the 1962 version, saw every AFL team being assigned a region of the country in close proximity to each club. This encouraged local college stars to play with regional teams. The ’62 draft increased to 34 rounds.

    Every college draft from 1961 to 1966 was fierce. While each league had a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to sign away each other’s veterans under contract, the gloves were certainly off for the new waves of college talent. And nobody did this as well as the AFL.

    During this time period, while the NFL was drafting 20 rounds, the AFL plucked 29 rounds of players. All of the big-name players were drafted by both leagues. Linebacker Lee Roy Jordan was a second-round pick of the Boston Patriots in 1963 yet was the sixth player taken in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys.

    QB John Hadl was the 10th pick in the first round by the Lions, but chose the AFL’s San Diego Chargers contract instead. He became the first AFL player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In addition, Hadl wore No. 21 as a quarterback in both leagues. In 1973, the NFL passed a uniform numbering system which allowed QBs to only wear numbers 1-19.

    The ferocity of the draft changed in 1967. Part of the merger agreement between the two leagues was that a common draft would begin with the ‘67 college draft.

    From 1967-1976 the draft was 17 rounds. This decreased to 12 rounds from 1977-1992. With free agency in its infancy and changes made about player movement through the player’s union, the league adopted eight rounds for 1993 and the now-standard seven rounds from 1994 to present.

    This has led to what players now refer to as “having been drafted in the eighth round.” Athletes such as Arian Foster, Victor Cruz and Fred Jackson were all passed in the draft and resorted to being signed via a free-agent contract. 

    “Mr. Irrelevant” was introduced in 1976. This appellation is designated to the last overall player selected in the draft. In 1980, ESPN boss Chet Simmons approached then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle about covering the draft live. Although Rozelle did not believe it would be entertaining television, he agreed. The 1988 draft was moved from a weekday lineup to a Saturday/Sunday event. This catapulted ESPN’s coverage and ratings to new heights.

    For the 75th Anniversary of the draft, in 2010 the NFL moved the first round’s coverage to Thursday night. This is typically the most-viewed TV night, and it placed the NFL Draft into Primetime. The second and third rounds take place on Friday, followed by Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

Round 1

2 of 21

    As should be expected, the first round is bursting with big names, college stars and future Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers.

    The QB position boasts John Elway, Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath, Sid Luckman, Sammy Baugh, Peyton Manning and Bobby Layne.

    Running backs are just as great: Gale Sayers, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, Glenn Davis, O.J. Simpson, Hugh McElhenny, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Franco Harris, Ollie Matson, Adrian Peterson, Doak Walker and Frank Gifford.

    At every position in the first round, there are great players stacked to the ceiling. Picking just one at each position is almost impossible. How can you omit players such as OT John Hannah, WR Lynn Swann, TE Tony Gonzalez, LB Chuck Bednarik, DE DeMarcus Ware and DB Ronnie Lott? Decisions were not easy to say the least, and this list may not be your list.

    And as far as the LB choice, yes….the exclusion of Lawrence Taylor was the toughest of any list. But watch a YouTube video of who was selected.

    Reader’s note: The first numbers are the year in which the player was drafted. HOF denotes a player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, followed by induction year. It should also be noted that the team that drafted the player wasn’t always the team in which the player gained most of his fame. Guy was the first and only punter ever to be selected in the first round in the NFL Draft.

    QB 1983 Dan Marino, Dolphins HOF 1970

    RB 1991 Emmitt Smith, Cowboys HOF 2010

    FB 1957 Jim Brown, Browns HOF 1971

    OL 1980 Anthony Munoz, OT Bengals HOF 1998

    WR 1985 Jerry Rice, 49ers HOF 2010

    TE 1978 Ozzie Newsome, Browns HOF 1999

    DL 1969 “Mean” Joe Greene, Steelers HOF 1987

    LB 1965 Dick Butkus, HOF 1979

    DB 1989 Deion “Primetime” Sanders, HOF 2011

    P/K 1973 Ray Guy, P Raiders

Round 2

3 of 21

    For some odd reason, the second round has been very productive for selecting great QBs and LBs. How can you argue with Ken Stabler, Drew Brees, Randall Cunningham or Boomer Esiaison? Or linebackers Jack Ham, Chad Brown, Chris Spielman, Ken Lanier, Bill George and Jack Lambert?

    QB 1991 Brett Favre, Falcons

    RB 2006 Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

    FB 1936 Alphonse "Tuffy" Leemans, Giants HOF 1978

    OL 1988 Dermontti Dawson, OG Steelers HOF 2012

    WR 1965 Fred Biletnikoff, Raiders HOF 2006

    TE 1963 John Mackey, HOF 1992

    DL 1952 Gino Marchetti, Yanks HOF 1972

    LB 1981 Mike Singletary, Bears HOF 1998

    DB 1967 Lem Barney, Lions HOF 1992

    P/K 1992 Jason Hanson, K Lions

Round 3

4 of 21

    Future QB greats rule this round: Matt Schaub, Dan Fouts, Fran Tarkenton, Don Meredith and John Hadl. Stenerud is one of three kickers enshrined in the HOF but the first dedicated kicker.

    QB 1979 Joe Montana, 49ers HOF 2000

    RB 1995 Curtis Martin, Patriots

    FB 2005 Frank Gore, 49ers

    OL 1968 Art Shell, Raiders HOF 1989

    WR 1957 Tommy McDonald, Eagles HOF 1998

    TE 2003 Jason Witten, Cowboys

    DL 1972 Harvey Martin, Cowboys

    LB 1958 Ray Nitschke, Packers HOF 1978

    DB 1970 Mel Blount, Steelers HOF 1989

    P/K 1966 Jan Stenerud, Chiefs HOF 1991

Round 4

5 of 21

    An abundance of world-class WRs were selected here: Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Roy Green, John Stallworth, Cliff Branch, Vic Washington and Charlie Joiner. Andersen is the NFL’s all-time leading scorer.

    QB 1949 Norm “The Dutchman” Van Brocklin, HOF 1971

    RB 1990 Chris Warren, Seahawks

    FB 2007 Le'Ron McClain, Ravens

    OL 1976 Tom Rafferty, OG Cowboys

    WR 1976 Steve Largent, Oilers HOF 1995

    TE 1985 Mark Bavaro, Giants

    DL 2004 Jared Allen, Chiefs

    LB 1976 Harry Carson, Giants HOF 2006

    DB 1958 Erich Barners, Bears

    P/K 1982 Morten “The Great Dane” Andersen, K Saints

Round 5

6 of 21

    There are too many RBs to choose from: Barry Foster, Dorsey Levens, Hershel Walker and Dave Meggett. Defensive line had plenty of options as well: Aaron Kampman, Dexter Manley and Michael Sinclair. Pihos was one semester short of a law degree when he turned to pro football.  

    QB 1944 Bob Waterfield, Rams HOF 1965

    RB 1966 Walt Garrison, Cowboys

    FB 2004 Michael Turner, Chargers

    OL 1974 Mike Webster, OC Steelers HOF

    WR 1945 Pete Pihos, Eagles HOF 1970

    TE 1991 Ben Coates, Patriots

    DL 1957 Henry Jordan, Browns HOF 1995

    LB 1996 Zach Thomas, Dolphins

    DB 1977 Lester Hayes, Raiders

    P/K 1983 Jim Arnold, P Chiefs

Round 6

7 of 21

    I hated to boot Neil Rackers off the kicker list. And there were DBs aplenty: Dick Lynch, Al Harris, Bo Orlando and Dwight Hicks.

    QB 2000 Tom Brady, Patriots

    RB 1995 Terrell Davis, Broncos

    FB 1966 Emerson Boozer, Jets

    OL 1954 Jim Ray Smith, OT Browns

    WR 1971 Mel Gray, Cardinals

    TE 1985 Jay Novacek, Cardinals

    DL 1977 Joe Klecko, Jets

    LB 1994 Lee Woodall, 49ers

    DB 1951 Jack Christiansen, Lions HOF 1970

    P/K 1983 Reggie Roby, P Dolphins

Round 7

8 of 21

    This was the year of the unsung offensive linemen: Adam Timmerman, Max Montoya and Scott Wells. Also, there were quite a few pass defenders: Cortland Finnegan, Jake Scott and Ron Fellows. And WRs: Marques Colston, T. J. Houshmandzadeh and Harold Carmichael.

    QB 2005 Matt Cassel, Patriots

    RB 1958 Bobby Mitchell, Browns HOF 1983

    FB 1991 James Joseph, Eagles

    OL 1967 Rayfield Wright, OT Cowboys HOF 2006

    WR 1964 “Bullet” Bob Hayes, HOF 2009

    TE 1990 Shannon Sharpe, Broncos

    DL 1977 Carl Hairston, Eagles

    LB 1963 Bobby Bell, Chiefs HOF 1983

    DB 1960 Larry Wilson, Cardinals HOF 1978

    P/K 1982 Gary Anderson, K Bills

Round 8

9 of 21

    Kicker Pete Stoyanovich was a close call in this round. Cox would gain his fame while playing for the Vikings and is still their all-time leading scorer. He would later invent the Nerf football.

    QB 1981 Wade Wilson, Vikings

    RB 1963 Hewritt Dixon, Broncos

    FB 1964 Leroy Kelly, Browns

    OL 1987 Kevin Gogan, OG Cowboys

    WR 1983 Mark Clayton, Dolphins

    TE 1991 Frank Wainright, Saints

    DL 1983 Richard Dent, Bears HOF 2011

    LB 1986 Seth Joyner, Eagles

    DB 1984 Eugene Daniel, Colts

    P/K 1960 Fred Cox, Browns

Round 9

10 of 21

    Unitas never played a down in six preseason games for the Steelers. He was cut and played for a minor league team for one full season before a tryout with the Colts. There were many great RBs to choose from in this round: Terry Allen, Johnny Bailey and Stump Mitchell. Maynard has the distinction of being the first player to gain yardage in an overtime game when he fielded the kickoff in the 1958 game against the Colts.

    QB 1955 Johnny Unitas, Steelers HOF 1979

    RB 1941 Tony Canadeo, Packers HOF 1974

    FB 1985 Thomas Sanders, Bears

    OL 1936 Dan Fortmann, OG Bears HOF 1965

    WR 1957 Don Maynard, Giants HOF 1987

    TE 1987 Keith McKellar, Bills

    DL 1971 Vern Den Herder, Dolphins

    LB 1977 Scott Studwell, Vikings

    DB 1967 Ken Houston, Oilers HOF 1986

    P/K 1983 Ali Haji-Sheikh, K Giants

Round 10

11 of 21

    The defensive line had a lot of challengers in this round: L.C. Greenwood, Brad Culpepper and Mike Lodish. 

    QB 1964 Roger Staubach, HOF 1985

    RB 1986 Via Sikahema, Cardinals

    FB 1987 Merril Hoge, Steelers

    OL 1989 Mark Schlereth, OG Redskins

    WR 1987 Robert Clark, Saints

    TE 1979 Dwight Clark, 49ers

    DL 1986 Clyde Simmons, Eagles

    LB 1985 Reggie McKenzie, Raiders

    DB 1984 Shaun Gayle, Bears

    P/K 1986 Tommy Barnhardt, P Buccaneers

Round 11

12 of 21

    Fears is arguably the fourth-greatest WR in NFL history and was part of a dominant Rams team.

    QB 1985 Doug Flutie, Rams

    RB 1983 Tim Spencer, Chargers

    FB 1953 Alex Webster, Giants

    OL 1985 Raleigh McKenzie, OG Redskins

    WR 1945 Tom Fears, Rams HOF 1970

    TE 1970 Mack Alston, Redskins

    DL 1965 Jethro Pugh, Cowboys

    LB 1979 Monte Coleman, Redskins

    DB 1971 Mike Wagner, Steelers

    P/K 1963 Jerrel Wilson, P Chiefs

Round 12

13 of 21

    Taliaferro was the first black player drafted in the NFL but played in another league. He would go on to become a juvenile court judge. Lavelli is still one of the greatest WRs.

    QB 1949 George Blanda, Bears HOF 1981

    RB 1949 George Taliaferro, Bears

    FB 1991 Bob Christian, Falcons

    OL 1950 Ray Wietecha, Giants

    WR 1947 Dante Lavelli, Rams HOF 1975

    TE 1968 Bob Trumpy, Bengals

    DL 1979 Dave Logan, Buccaneers

    LB 1983 Karl Mecklenburg, Broncos

    DB 1972 Joe Lavendar, Eagles

    P/K 1992 Klaus Wilmsmeyer, P Bucs

Round 13

14 of 21

    Lockhart was one of the NFL’s first premier defensive backs. Upon his death in 1986, the Giants wore spider patches on their uniforms en route to winning Super Bowl XXI. O'Neal is best known for kicking the longest punt in pro football history, with a 98-yard beauty between the Jets and the Broncos. 

    QB 1945 Charley Conerly, Redskins

    RB 1961 Elijah Pitts, Packers

    FB 1970 Don Highsmith, Raiders

    OL 1975 Herbert Scott, OG Cowboys

    WR 1975 Bob Gaddis, Bills

    TE 1972 Jean Fugett, Cowboys

    DL 1944 Ray Poole, Giants

    LB 1962 Nick Buonicotti, Patriots

    DB 1965 Carl “Spider” Lockhart, Giants

    P/K 1969 Steve O’Neal, P Jets

Round 14

15 of 21

    Briscoe was not the first black QB but in 1968 became the first starting black QB in NFL history. He later switched to WR and played on the Dolphins' undefeated/untied team in 1972. Owens is the inventor of the “Alley Oop” play, used mainly in basketball today. Jones coined the term "sack."

    QB 1968 Marlin Briscoe, Broncos

    RB 1962 Ernie Green, Packers

    FB 1948 Chick Jagade, Redskins

    OL 1975 Joe Fields, OC Jets

    WR 1956 R.C. Owens, 49ers

    TE 1967 Chet Anderson, Steelers

    DL 1960 David "Deacon" Jones, Rams HOF 1980

    LB 1973 Brian Kelley, Giants 

    DB 1975 Randy Rhino, Saints

    P/K 1974 Mark Moseley, K Redskins

Round 15

16 of 21

    “White Shoes” Johnson is credited with end-zone celebrations. Davis was used as an offensive tackle while with the Browns, but the Packers switched him to defensive end, where he played for 10 years and earned five Pro Bowls.

    QB 1973 John Hufnagel, Broncos

    RB 1972 Tom Sullivan, Eagles

    FB 1955 J. D. Smith, Bears

    OL 1939 Tom Greenfield, OC Packers

    WR 1974 Billly "White Shoes" Johnson, Oilers

    TE 1973 Gary Parris, Chargers

    DL 1956 Willie Davis, Browns HOF 1981

    LB 1960 Larry Grantham, Colts

    DB 1943 Russ Craft, Eagles

    P/K 1975 Bob Thomas, K Rams

Round 16

17 of 21

    Russell went to seven Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls. After his rookie season, Bleier was wounded in the Vietnam War and earned a roster spot after being waived two straight seasons. 

    QB 1964 Bill Munson, Oilers

    RB 1969 Rocky Bleier, Steelers

    FB 1965 Junior Coffe,y Oilers

    OL 1939 Dick Farman, OT Redskins

    WR 1975 John McKay, Jr., Browns

    TE 1964 John Hilton, Bills

    DL 1948 Bill McPeak, Steelers

    LB 1963 Andy Russell, Steelers

    DB 1969 Lloyd Mumphord, Dolphins

    P/K 1966 David Ray, K Browns

Round 17

18 of 21

    Who can beat out Jack Kemp or Bob Lee for the QB spot? Harper gained his fame by opening holes for Walter Payton.

    QB 1956 Bart Starr, Packers HOF 1977

    RB 1971 Don Nottingham, Colts

    FB 1975 Roland Harper, Bears

    OL 1974 Lawrie Skolrood, OT Cowboys

    WR 1971 Randy Vataha, Rams

    TE 1947 Elbie Nickel, Steelers

    DL 1945 Arnie Weinmeister, Brooklyn Tigers HOF 1984

    LB 1953 Harland Svare, Rams

    DB 1960 Goose Gonsoulin, 49ers

    P/K 1972 David Green, P Bengals

Round 18

19 of 21

    Two future NFL coaches were selected in this round.

    QB 1964 George Mira, Broncos

    RB 1966 Charlie Harraway, Browns

    FB 1964 Sherm Lewis, Browns

    OL 1963 Dave O’Brien, OT Patriots

    WR 1945 Jim Keane, Bears

    TE 1965 Rich Kotite, Vikings

    DL 1965 Ed McQuarters, Cardinals

    LB 1965 Chris Hanburger, Redskins

    DB 1964 Alvin Hammond, Colts

    P/K 1965 David Lee, P Patriots

Round 19

20 of 21

    Triplett was the first black player to be drafted and play for an NFL team. Osbourne gained famed as head coach of Nebraska for 25 seasons and then served six years in the House of Representatives. Ettinger is the inventor of the blitz, which he called the “red dog.”

    QB 1965 Billy Anderson, Rams

    RB 1949 Wallace Triplett, Lions

    FB 1965 Jim Nance, Patriots

    OL 1964 Bob Young, OT Cardinals

    WR 1958 Tom Osbourne, 49ers

    TE 1961 Tony Romeo, Redskins

    DL 1951 Andy Robustelli, Rams HOF 1971

    LB 1949 Don Ettinger, Giants

    DB 1963 Eugene Sykes, Bills

    P/K1963 Jim Turner, K Redskins

Round 20

21 of 21

    Two future NFL coaching greats are included in this list. Berry is the third-greatest WR in NFL history and invented a drill that is still used today, called the “bad ball drill.”

    QB 1964 Dick Shiner, Jets

    RB 1948 Cloyce Box, Redskins

    FB 1965 Bo Scott, Raiders

    OL 1964 Bill Curry, OC Packers

    WR 1954 Raymond Berry, Colts HOF 1973

    TE 1961 Jacque MacKinnon, Eagles

    DL 1944 Ray Kuffel, Cardinals

    LB 1953 Chuck Noll, Browns

    DB 1947 Tom Landry, Giants

    P/K 1960 Don Flynn, P Texans