The Greatest Player Ever Selected at Each Spot in the NFL Draft
You know everything about the 2013 NFL draft, from the sleepers to the late bloomers, and every medical condition in between. But what do you know of the draft’s history? Can you name the best player taken in each slot of the first round?
Of course, you think you can. Until you recognize the sheer volume of players that you’d have to sort through.
And besides, you lack my forum. There is no outlet for you to disagree with any of these selections so you’ll just have to accept it as gospel!
(What? Comments section? What’s a “twitter?”)
Scratch that. Apparently you’re free to quibble with anything you don’t agree with.
So click through and see who I entertained as the best player at each spot, and who I ultimately decided gets the crown.
All draft information is courtesy of drafthistory.com. The site is awesome. Check it out.
No. 32: Logan Mankins
There really isn’t much to discuss when it comes to the last pick of the first round. How much argument can you have when there are only 11 players to choose from?
Logan Mankins is easily the best of the bunch. He’s been a dominant guard for one of the consistently best offenses in the league.
Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that his only real competition is Ziggy Hood.
No. 31: Nnamdi Asomugha
There are a few more contenders in the pool at the second-to-last spot, but only two emerge as real contenders.
Nnamdi Asomugha's reputation has been humbled by his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, his complete body of work outshines recent history. This is a guy who was the most publicized free agent in 2011 and it was for a legitimate reason: he was that good.
Todd Heap has a solid claim, as his 499 career receptions and 42 touchdowns would attest. If he was a member of the 500 club, then maybe he’d get the nod, but it’s Nnamdi, and it isn’t that close.
No. 30: Reggie Wayne
At No. 30, the pickings are slim. However, the shining jewel of this class is outstanding.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Reggie Wayne, the guy who flawlessly took the mantle of game’s best receiver from Marvin Harrison and ran with it.
Playing with Peyton Manning was a boon for his career, but even when the Indianapolis Colts struggled in 2011, Wayne caught 75 balls for four touchdowns. Not too shabby.
No. 29: Nick Mangold
At least there are a couple of interesting prospects at No. 29. Finally, let’s let our biases shine!
First, we have to dispense with Hakeem Nicks. He’s a fine receiver with two good seasons under his belt, and that’s it.
Next, Nick Barnett warrants some consideration. He’s another fine player, but the fact that I’ve now used fine twice in this slide shouldn’t be lost on you.
Neither of the above men is on Nick Mangold’s level. In the chaos that surrounds the New York Jets, he’s been an anchor in the middle. Just last year he ranked as the sixth best center in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That will get you to the top of this list.
No. 28: Darrell Green
I can already hear the old timers getting testy with me, wondering why I haven’t picked anyone who wasn’t selected in the new millennium.
Well, to recap, there weren’t a lot of possible choices for the last four slides since expansion didn’t occur until a little over a decade ago.
And now I make my penance by acknowledging that Darrell Green is the premier player at this spot.
He’s a Hall of Famer who could probably still beat you in the 40-yard dash. His speed was only matched by his constancy and longevity.
No. 27: Dan Marino
Before we get to the cream of the crop, it’s notable how many players picked at No. 29 were busts of one sort or another. From mammoth offensive tackle Aaron Gibson, to the up-then-down-then-down-some-more Larry Johnson to the reprehensible Rae Carruth, this class had all manner of failures.
But the top dog can save them all, at least from a football standpoint.
Dan Marino, regardless of rings, is deservedly considered one of the best quarterbacks of all time. That type of hype means he’s probably a shoe-in as the best player drafted at No. 27.
He retired as the most prolific passer in NFL history. Many of his records have either fallen or are in serious danger, but he didn’t play in today’s passer friendly league.
No. 26: Ray Lewis
Defense dominates at No. 26.
The first player to be recognized is Robert Porcher. I’m positive that spending my childhood watching him terrorize quarterbacks for the Detroit Lions has given me a bias, but he did finish his career with 95.5 sacks and 18 forced fumbles.
Next, we give some love to a guy who will spend the next seven or eight years trying to claim the top spot. Clay Matthews already has 42.5 sacks in four years and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy. He’s well on his way.
But neither player can touch Ray Lewis. The king of Baltimore is in the best-middle-linebacker-ever argument and walked off with last year’s Super Bowl trophy. He wins.
No. 25: Santonio Holmes
Spare me any and all Tim Tebow comments. I’m good.
Surprisingly, the 25 spot is pretty weak. There are some potential-laden players who never reached their peak (Jon Beason), but not much else.
So the belt goes to Santonio Holmes. He isn’t the worst choice ever; he did win a Super Bowl MVP. But doesn’t it feel underwhelming?
No. 24: Ed Reed
Things start to get fun now. How do we measure current and future greatness against past glories?
I’m sure Nate Silver could develop an algorithm that would be spot on, but he said he’s too busy worrying about such trivial events like Presidential elections.
The “bottom” tier of this discussion centers on Dallas Clark and Steven Jackson. Two productive offensive players, who deserve a mention, but remain on the undercard.
As for the real argument, it comes down to Aaron Rodgers’ future versus Ed Reed’s resume. Reed was (Yes, I said was. Sorry, Houston.) one of the top five safeties of all time, and Rodgers is building his case as an all-time great at quarterback.
For now, I’ll play it safe and use the data already accumulated. But it’s close.
No. 23: Ray Guy
If the last slide was fun, this one is just odd. We are going to debate the fringe Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy versus talented cornerback Ty Law.
Considering I never saw Guy play, it’s hard for me not to lean towards Law. I can remember him torturing Peyton Manning in the playoffs en route to championships with the New England Patriots.
But if so many people are outraged that Guy isn’t in the Hall of Fame, that puts him above a good contributor to a few outstanding teams.
No. 22: Andre Rison
I’m bringing up Tebucky Jones solely because I love his name. And because this class is weak.
That’s also why I’m bringing up William Perry. The “Fridge” was a talented and large man, but his defining legacy is scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl that should have been reserved for Sweetness.
The man of this group is Andre Rison. He was a smooth, natural athlete who made the game look effortless on his way to over 10,000 receiving yards and 84 touchdowns.
No. 21: Lynn Swann
Your father, uncle or just the dude at the bus stop has surely regaled you with stories of Lynn Swann’s performances in Super Bowls, where he was the first wide receiver to ever win an MVP.
And you will likely tell stories about the athletic freak that was Randy Moss. Watching him tear apart defenses for the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots was a thing of beauty.
When it comes to numbers, Moss triples Swann in every major way. However, this is about greatness, and putting together such dominant performances in multiple Super Bowls is the very definition of the word.
No. 20: Jack Youngblood
This one is pretty easy.
Steve Atwater was a very good player. His play for the Denver Broncos earned him a spot in their ring of fame and has him under consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately for Atwater, Jack Youngblood was much more than very good. He was great.
He devastated offenses for the St. Louis Rams, earning five All-Pro nods and a place in the Hall of Fame. This one isn’t really up for debate.
No. 19: Marvin Harrison
Slot No. 19 is home to a couple timeless players and the most prolific baby maker in NFL history.
Okay, that may be a stretch, but Antonio Cromartie is certainly in the running. And if you think I’m above finding any way to link to the Hard Knocks video, you’re wrong.
As for the real debate, it pits Marvin Harrison’s ridiculous production versus Jack Tatum’s ferocity. While I respect (fear) Tatum and his style of play, it’s hard to measure up to over 13,000 receiving yards.
No. 18: Art Monk
Finally, we can build a little continuity here. Art Monk was only a few hundred yards short of Marvin Harrison overall and played in more defensive era.
It’s Monk’s consistency that earns him this honor. He caught a pass in 183 straight games.
I was only 11 years old when it happened, but I remember it clearly for some reason. I remember being in awe of it then, and I didn’t even understand the half of it yet.
No. 17: Emmitt Smith
I want to be sure to pay the proper respect here.
Gene Upshaw was a stud. The dearly departed de-cleated many would-be tacklers while contributing to three different Super Bowl teams. He also faithfully served the NFLPA for years and would be a deserving candidate.
He just happens to be in the same class as Emmitt Smith.
Believe me, the Detroit Lions fan in me wants to discredit Smith whenever I can in an attempt to get Barry Sanders recognized as the greatest running back of all time. But even I can’t deny the all-time rushing champ.
No. 16: Jerry Rice
Troy Polamalu has helped reshape the game. He, along with Ed Reed, has brought the position of safety to the forefront in terms of defensive playmakers.
But he ultimately suffers the same fate as Gene Upshaw. Polamalu finds himself in the company of all-time greatness.
Jerry Rice is Jerry Rice. I can speak about all of his records, his relentless drive or all the team success that the San Francisco 49ers enjoyed during his career. But you already know it all, as you should.
No. 15: Alan Page
The merits of the No. 15 spot are best illustrated by the mention of a kicker. Yes, Steve Little, a kicker, was the third highest drafted kicker in NFL history. And his appearance here means there is little else to discuss in this slot.
However, don’t allow that to diminish the greatness of Alan Page. He is an impressive man, as well as an amazing football player.
During his career, he earned his Hall of Fame spot as a member of the Purple People Eaters in Minnesota and added another gaggle of sacks with the Chicago Bears.
Oh, and then he went on to become a Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
No. 14: Darrelle Revis
We have plenty of contenders for the title here and I’m positive that many are going to disagree with my selection. But, like I intimated in the intro, that’s the whole point.
I’m picking Darrelle Revis over the likes of Jim Kelly and Eddie George.
Both of the “losers” have great resumes. They’ve collectively been to five Super Bowls and were great numbers-wise.
But Darrelle Revis is one of those rare players. He might go down as the best cornerback of all time, but he will have to seize that crown going forward. I believe he will after this tumultuous offseason of being dangled as trade bait. That’s called motivation.
No. 13: Tony Gonzalez
Fred Dryer would be a solid choice. The former St. Louis Rams and New York Giants defensive end had somewhere around 100 sacks (sacks weren’t an official statistic until 1982 and I pulled that from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt).
Frankly, Dryer was a stud. And, yet again, that isn’t enough because stud is only the beginning of the description for Tony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, like Polamalu, has redefined his position. The tight end isn’t a blocker who occasionally catches passes anymore, and Gonzalez’ basketball background is a big reason for the evolution.
Gonzalez will end his career as the most productive tight end of all time. And he has at least one more year to add to his 1,242 career receptions and 14,268 yards.
No. 12: Warren Sapp
Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t want to hear anything about Joe Namath. He had a moment of greatness. That doesn’t make him the greatest to ever be chosen twelfth overall.
Alvin Harper and Warrick Dunn get a mention for their impressive careers. But they can’t take home the title here either.
So that leaves a new school versus old school debate: Warren Sapp against Haloti Ngata. Both have anchored Super Bowl champions, but the winner here is Sapp. He secured a Defensive Player of the Year Award with a 16.5-sack season in 2000.
No. 11: Frank Gifford
With all condolences to Ben Roethlisberger, this is a three-man race.
First up is Michael Irvin. His three Super Bowl rings, almost 12,000 yards and 65 touchdowns secure the Playmaker’s legacy, but he isn’t the one.
J.J. Watt could eventually overtake the leader if he continues his incredible career trajectory. In 2012 alone, he earned a 101.6 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). For context, the next closest 3-4 defensive end was Muhammad Wilkerson at 49.1.
However, nobody is topping Frank Gifford. He excelled at three different positions, was named an All Pro six times and won a title. Watt still has some work to do to best Gifford.
No. 10: Marcus Allen
Again, for the sake of brevity, let’s mention and discard with Jerome Bettis, Terrell Suggs and Herman Moore. All amazing players but none were the greatest ever chosen tenth.
That honor is reserved for either Marcus Allen or Rod Woodson, and the competition is fierce.
On the one hand, Woodson created a template for future defensive backs. He won the 1993 Defensive POY, recorded 71 interceptions and seamlessly transitioned from cornerback to safety.
But, on the other hand, is Allen’s ridiculous career. He not only ran for over 12,000 yards and added over 5,000 receiving, but he also threw for over 500 yards and six touchdowns. Add those scores to his 145 other scores, and you have a winner.
No. 9: Bruce Matthews
The nine spot provides a lot of solid depth, but that isn’t what we’re after here.
Despite the recent press and injuries, Brian Urlacher has put together a great resume. He brought home his own Defensive POY in 2005 and led the Bears to a Super Bowl, where they attempted to crash Peyton Manning’s date with destiny.
It’s hard to fault Urlacher for that. Chicago’s offense didn’t give him much help that season.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to elevate him over Bruce Matthews. The man is the model of consistent greatness. He played every position along the line on his way to earning First Team All-Pro honors nine times.
No. 8: Ronnie Lott
Larry Csonka was a beast. He bullied his way to 5.4 yards per carry in 1971 and brought home a Super Bowl MVP. Very impressive.
Willie Roaf was a monster. He garnered nine All-Pro nods and was named to two All-Decade teams. Even more impressive.
Ronnie Lott was a monstrous beast. He set the tone early in his career by notching seven interceptions and contributing to the San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl run. The tough word-I-can’t-use-here had the end of his finger amputated instead of missing any games.
To further his legacy, he led the league with 10 interceptions in 1986 despite missing two games. Then turned around and led the league again five years later. He dominated in the beginning and kept it going throughout his Hall of Fame career.
No. 7: Adrian Peterson
With such a high pick, it seems ludicrous that the debate would only center around three players, but that’s how it all worked out.
The first contender is Champ Bailey. The play-making cornerback was the standard until the last couple years, but his recent resurgence has cemented his legacy. He finished 2012 as the tenth best cornerback according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The other man in this fight is Sterling Sharpe. In just seven years, he caught 595 passes for 8,134 yards and 65 touchdowns.
And as a Lions fan, I still remember his game winner against the Detroit Lions in the playoffs. But that doesn't reach the standard set by Adrian Peterson.
Peterson is a medical marvel who recovered from an ACL injury by falling just nine yards short of the single-season rushing record. He's a man-beast at the height of his powers and watching him run is a privilege we all get to enjoy.
No. 6: Jim Brown
Now that the number of names per slide is getting prohibitive, we need to weed out a few pretenders.
Julio Jones could end up in this discussion, but it’s too early for that.
Lomas Brown was a fixture along offensive lines in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but that isn’t enough for this fight.
John Riggins rushed for over 10,000 yards, but only had one All-Pro selection. And, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the same case keeps Tim Brown from getting out of the first round or arguments.
That leaves Walter Jones and Jim Brown. I’m betting you know where this is headed.
Jones was a seven-time All Pro and was so good that the Seattle Seahawks didn’t make him come to training camp.
But Jim Brown is Jim freaking Brown. He’s the original best running back of all time. In just nine years, he rushed for 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns while earning eight All Pro selections.
No. 5: Deion Sanders
Buckle in. If you thought pick No. 6 brought a lot of worthy candidates, watch how quickly we dispense with some big names.
Mike Ditka, of Mike Ditka fame, brought home five All-Pro selections. Sorry coach, that isn’t enough.
Len Dawson won four championships and a Super Bowl MVP. That isn’t going to get it done either.
The same goes for LaDainian Tomlinson and his 18,456 yards and 162 touchdowns.
This fight is between Junior Seau and Deion Sanders.
Seau’s story might have had a sad ending, but his legacy on the field is untouched. He went to 12 straight Pro Bowls, earned 10 different All-Pro honors and was named to the 1990s All-Decade team.
However, Deion Sanders was an athletic revelation. His coverage skills helped the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys win Super Bowls. And that doesn’t even include his scoring prowess (NFL record 19 non-offensive touchdowns), which is what pushes him over the top.
No. 4: Walter Payton
Anytime I debate the greatness of football players and Walter Payton’s name comes up, he’s going to win. After 13 years with the Chicago Bears, he ended his career with every meaningful record for a running back.
Otto Graham and his nine All-Pro selections would have been fine, but let’s not act like the competition was the same. And Derrick Thomas was a phenomenal player (six sacks in one game), but tragedy stole his chance.
Two ex-Green Bay Packers, Charles Woodson and Reggie White, also have arguments. They were defenders that kept offensive coordinators running to the kitchen for more coffee because there was never enough time to prepare.
And Gale Sayers, Payton’s forefather in a way, deserves some love too. But this party is for Sweetness, and you can’t convince me otherwise.
No. 3: Barry Sanders
The first player ever selected with the third overall pick was Bill Shakespeare. That’s just an interesting tidbit , it isn’t relevant to anything else here.
Anyways, Doak Walker is the first here under consideration. The guy was a five-time All Pro and led the Detroit Lions to championships! Read that last part again.
But that isn’t even close.
Anthony Munoz was the epitome of a NFL offensive tackle. He was a nine-time All-Pro selection and was an instant Hall of Fame inductee.
And still, we move on to Dick Butkus. He’s another Hall of Famer with a well-earned reputation for devastation.
However, this all comes down to the grace that was Barry Sanders. I already let on earlier that I have a bias, but the pick is warranted.
Sanders’ list of accomplishments is ridiculously long, from All-Pro nods (10 in 10 years) to an MVP award to retiring as the third-leading rusher of all time. But the accompanying video will do him more justice than I could with this keyboard.
No. 2: Lawrence Taylor
The second slot has the clearest structure out of all 32 picks. There’s a lead dog, a few lieutenants, and a couple of young pups that are gunning for the crown.
The unquestioned king is Lawrence Taylor. He strung together 10 years of domination from the defensive end spot that included an MVP, a Defensive POY and a two Super Bowl wins.
Standing to the left and right but distinctly behind him are Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson.
Faulk brought home an MVP, a ring and was arguably the most dynamic and diverse running back ever.
Thanks to the last nine yards Dickerson gained in 1984, he is still the single-season record holder for rushing yards, as well as a four-time rushing champion.
Taylor may need the help of his henchmen if he is going to ward off the challengers. Calvin Johnson just set the single-season receiving record and Robert Griffin III is already a problem for the league as a rookie. They aren’t in Mr. Taylor’s city yet, but they’re certainly in the right state.
No. 1: Peyton Manning
There are so many names that have been announced by an NFL commissioner that warrant mention here. From Bo Jackson to Terry Bradshaw to Troy Aikman, we have to move on without further examination because I have things to do this month.
John Elway would be a great pick, as would Steve Young. However, nine All-Pro selections and five Super Bowl rings between the two isn’t enough for this discussion.
Earl Campbell was a shooting star disguised as a wrecking ball. He was absolutely amazing, but his career only lasted seven years.
This argument is a title bout that pits two heavyweights of the NFL record books: O.J. Simpson vs. Peyton Manning.
Simpson’s football accomplishments have been tarnished by more recent history, but his 1973 season (and the rest of his career) demonstrate how great of a running back he truly was. He was the first to break the 2,000-rushing-yards barrier, grabbing an MVP trophy in the process. He ultimately ended with five All-Pro nods and was a four-time rushing champ.
However (we’ve used that word a lot today), Manning is the mold for making an NFL quarterback. He might only have one Super Bowl, but (another word used a lot) you can’t overlook the rest of his lengthy resume because of that fact alone. He’s still adding to his numbers that currently include four MVPs, almost 60,000 yards passing and 436 touchdown passes.
He’ll likely retire with every significant passing record under his belt, and very well could add another ring before it’s all over. That’s what the best first overall pick does.