The NFL draft is largely a crap shoot. Teams do their research, scrutinize each player thoroughly, do their scouting evaluations, and even after all that and more, sometimes they still miss.
Nowhere is the risk/reward factor greater than with the team holding the No. 1 overall selection. That's the position the St. Louis Rams are in this year.
While Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is regarded by most as the best, and safest, player in this year's draft class, all signs point to the Rams' selecting Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the top pick.
Will this move pan out for the Rams? Time will only tell—a story that has already played out several times in the 75-year history of the draft. There have been some great ones selected No. 1, and some really bad choices made.
Players don't live up to the hype, whether it be due to injury or illness, or simply a lack of talent or mental toughness.
There will be no Ernie Davis—the top pick in the 1962 NFL draft who never played a down in the NFL because of leukemia. I just don't think it's fair to do. Illnesses unrelated to football are unforeseen, and not what I'm basing this list on.
Ironically, the first-ever player selected in the 1936 draft, Jay Berwanger, by the Chicago Bears, chose not to play football. Instead he worked as a sportswriter and later opened his own car parts store. It was different era of professional football, and that is why Berwanger is not on my list.
Also not appearing on the list will be players like George Cafego, Tom Harmon, Sam Francis, and Corbett Davis, whose playing careers were interrupted by World War II.
Nor will there be Ryan Leaf—he was the second player taken in the 1998 draft, and this list is for only the top picks.
This is also restricted to the NFL draft, so although Buck Buchanan had a Hall of Fame career, he was the top pick of the 1963 AFL draft. Same goes for Larry Elkins, who played just two seasons after being selected No. 1 by the Houston Oilers in 1965.
Following a stellar career at Alabama, and still regarded as one of the best players the Crimson Tide has ever had, Gilmer played eight average seasons in the NFL.
Playing quarterback, halfback and defensive back, Gilmer was versatile, but not great at any one position. He did popularize the "jump pass" (shown) but threw for just 3,786 yards, rushed for a career total of 923 yards, and intercepted five passes.
He did go to the Pro Bowl in 1950 and 1952. But he has a career passer rating of 48.0 with 23 touchdown passes and 45 interceptions.
Narrowing down the 10 best No. 1 overall picks was more difficult that finding the 10 worst.
Hall of Fame players like OJ Simpson and Paul Hornung didn't quite make the cut. Ed "Too Tall" Jones was a difficult scratch, and only one active player made the list.
But we begin with one of the NFL's unsung legends, and probably the greatest player in Tampa Bay history.
Lee Roy Selmon was the cornerstone of the franchise in its infancy. In just their fourth year of existence, Selmon led the Bucs to the NFC championship game, losing to the Los Angeles Rams. Selmon was the NFL defensive player of the year in 1979, and was six-time Pro Bowler in his nine-year career.
Drafted out of Oklahoma, Selmon led the Sooners to two national championships. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, had his No. 63 retired by the Bucs in 1986, and entered Tampa's Ring of Honor in 2009.
After being selected by the Bengals as the top pick of the 1995 draft, Carter bounced around with four teams over an injury-plagued and unproductive 10-year career.
He was out of football completely in 2000 and 2002, spending some time on the Packers practice squad in 2002.
At Penn State, Carter was dynamic, durable, and reliable, while leading the Nittany Lions to an unbeaten season in 1994.
In the pros, he signed the richest rookie contract ever at the time, tore a knee ligament on his third carry of the first preseason game, and never thoroughly recovered.
With just 464 yards as a career high, Carter finished his lackluster career with 1,144 yards and 20 touchdowns.
After being selected by the Chicago Cardinals in 1945, Charley Trippi did not play a down in the NFL until 1947 because of a dispute with the All-America Football Conference.
But when he finally got to the Cardinals, the former Georgia star led the team to an NFL championship in his first season.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Trippi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. As part of Charles Bidwill's vision of a "Dream Backfield," Trippi was the key playmaker needed to complement a group that already included Paul Christman, Pat Harder, and Marshall Goldberg.
In his career, Trippi accounted for 50 touchdowns and never lost a fumble.
Thought to be the impact defensive tackle the Indianapolis Colts were craving, Steve Emtman's career quickly went downhill after his rookie season of 1992.
His most memorable play was a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown against Miami that year, the only interception of his eight-year career.
Hampered by injuries, Emtman managed just eight sacks in eight seasons.
A dominant player in college, Emtman finished fourth in the Heisman voting as a junior, his final college season after leading the Washington Huskies to a Rose Bowl title and national championship.
A 2001 Hall of Fame inductee, Ron Yary was the anchor of the Minnesota Vikings offensive line that protected Fran Tarkenton on the way to four Super Bowls.
Yary was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection at right tackle, and was thrice named the offensive lineman of the year.
A Chicago native, Yary was the 1967 Outland Trophy winner at USC before his NFL career. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
It's not too early to throw Russell on this list.
A one-year wonder at LSU, Russell impressed Oakland scouts, and owner Al Davis, enough to make him the top overall pick in 2007.
Rumored as undisciplined in college, Russell has done nothing but prove critics right time and again.
He has repeatedly shown up to camps and practices overweight, out of shape, and unprepared. With the "lazy" tag firmly in place, Russell has time to right the ship, but the overwhelming opinion is that ship has long-since sailed away.
Russell led LSU to a Sugar Bowl title in 2006, by far the best game of his career. He parlayed that into being the top pick, then held out until September. The holdout retarded his development, and he has been a disappointment ever since.
In today's pass-happy NFL, Russell has just 4,083 passing yards with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in three seasons.
Dominant at Virginia Tech, and dominant in the NFL, Bruce Smith is one of the greatest defensive ends the game has ever known.
In 18 NFL seasons, Smith played in four Super Bowls, was voted to 11 Pro Bowls, and retired as the NFL's all-time sack leader.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
While with the Buffalo Bills, Smith led the team to four straight Super Bowls. He spent 14 years with the Bills before signing as a free agent with the Washington Redskins in 2000.
Smith retired following the 2003 season with 200 career sacks and 15 fumble recoveries to go with more than 1,200 tackles in 279 games. Twice he was named the NFL's defensive player of the year.
Never playing a down for the Boston Yanks, Angelo Bertelli instead opted for the All-America Football Conference.
Even there he lasted just three combined seasons with the Los Angeles Dons and the Chicago Rockets.
A former Marine, Bertelli was the 1943 Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, where he became one of the first true forward passers in American football.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972, but as a pro had a passer rating of just 41.1 with only 972 yards, eight touchdowns, and 19 interceptions.
Without question the nation's best college lineman while at Ohio State, Orlando Pace became a stalwart for the St. Louis Rams on their way to a pair of Super Bowls.
Protecting Kurt Warner's blind side, Pace bolstered the line for a team that won Super Bowl XXXIV and played in Super Bowl XXXVI.
So dominant in college, the term "pancake block" was created to describe Pace's play. Pace is one of just three offensive tackles to be selected with the top overall pick—the other two are Hall of Famer Ron Yary and 2008 top pick Jake Long.
The latter part of Pace's 14-year career has been plagued by various injuries. He spent last year with the Chicago Bears after being released by the Rams. He is contemplating retirement, but is a sure-fire Hall of Famer with seven Pro Bowls on his resume.
Terry Baker is the only Heisman Trophy winner in Oregon State history. He was the first player to win the Heisman from a school west of Texas. He was a multiple cover boy for Sports Illustrated.
All of that didn't amount to a hill of beans for a player who had just three disappointing NFL seasons.
Baker was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982, but from 1963 to 1965, he was the bane of the Los Angeles Rams' existence.
A poor choice for the Rams' offensive system, Baker never threw an NFL touchdown, but did have four interceptions. His 154 career passing yards and 40.7 passer rating are among the worst ever.
He spent 1966 with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League.
One of the true bruising running backs in the NFL, Campbell punished would-be tacklers with a style that would later take its toll on his aging body.
But in his prime, there was no more feared running back than The Tyler Rose.
A native of Tyler, Texas, Campbell starred at the University of Texas, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1977.
Drafted by the Oilers the following spring, Campbell instantly became a star, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. A year later he was named league MVP.
Campbell was voted to five Pro Bowls, and ended his eight-year career with more than 9,400 rushing yards and 74 touchdowns. He missed just six games in his career, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
Following a stellar college career at the University of Kentucky, Couch was supposed to be the face of a reborn franchise.
Selected by the Browns in 1999 as the top pick, the Browns were essentially an expansion team starting over after owner Art Modell moved the original team to become the Baltimore Ravens in 1995.
Things didn't exactly go according to plan, as Couch struggled mightily. He took over the starting job in his second NFL game. He started 14 games that year, finishing with modest numbers: 2,447 yards with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
But lackluster play over the next four years led to a falling out with fans. Couch tried to resurrect his career with the Packers and Jaguars, and even in the CFL, but to no avail.
Couch's numbers aren't that bad, with a career QB rating of 75.1. What makes him an epic draft bust is the situation and hype around a player who was supposed to be a future Hall of Famer.
If there was a more feared player in the NFL in the 1950s than Chuck Bednarik, then I don't know who.
Bednarik, shown in the picture wearing his No. 60 for the Philadelphia Eagles following a devastating clothes-line tackle of the New York Giant's Frank Gifford, was a two-way star for the Eagles.
Playing both center and linebacker, the former University of Pennsylvania star—yes, that's right, Bednarik was an Ivy Leaguer—simply dominated in the NFL.
He was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time NFL champion, and 1967 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. He had his No. 60 retired by the Eagles, honoring a 13-year career, all spent in Philadelphia.
Seeking a replacement for the retiring Otto Graham, the Cleveland Browns thought they had their guy with former Stanford star Bobby Garrett.
What the team quickly found out was that play-calling was made difficult with a stuttering quarterback.
So Garrett never played for the Browns, who instead made him the centerpiece of one of the worst trades in NFL history. Without disclosing his stuttering problem, the Browns packaged Garrett with Don Miller, Johnny Bauer, and Chet Gierula to the Green Bay Packers for quarterback Babe Parilli and offensive tackle Bob Fleck.
The Packers wanted a backup for starting QB Tobin Rote, but discarded Garrett after just nine games. He never played again in the NFL, attempting just 30 passes with nine completions for 143 yards and an interception. He also had two fumbles.
The guy who ran the show for 13 years in Pittsburgh, Terry Bradshaw became the "Steel Arm" and four-time Super Bowl champion.
While the Steelers were led by their "Steel Curtain" defense, Bradshaw managed the game better than most QBs in league history.
He never had the flashy numbers, but was a three-time Pro Bowler after being selected out of Louisiana Tech. The Steelers only got the top choice because of a coin flip. Both Pittsburgh and the Chicago Bears finished the 1969 seasons with identical 1-13 records.
Dubbed a dumb hick early in his career, Bradshaw struggled with his accuracy. But what came after were eight division titles, four Super Bowl victories, 212 touchdown passes and nearly 28,000 passing yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
Selected by the Green Bay Packers with the top pick in the 1959 draft, the Iowa quarterback played just one season in the NFL.
After leading Iowa to three Top 10 finishes in college, Duncan turned his back on new Packers coach Vince Lombardi and grabbed a big-money contract with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.
After that venture failed after just two years, Duncan tried, and failed, to land a roster spot with the American Football League's Dallas Texans, now the Kansas City Chiefs.
His career numbers: a 37.3 completion percentage, 361 passing yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 41.9.
Twelve seasons, all with the Dallas Cowboys, six Pro Bowls, three Super Bowl titles, and nearly 33,000 yards with 165 touchdowns all lead to a Hall of Fame career.
Troy Aikman was inducted into the Hall in 2006 after being selected with the first pick in 1989.
One of the best at his position during the 1990s, Aikman's beginnings were rough. The Cowboys won just one game that season, and Aikman went 0-11 as a starter.
But coupled with the infamous Herschel Walker trade, Dallas put players like Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin around Aikman, and he flourished.
Now an analyst for Fox Sports, Aikman began his college career at the University of Oklahoma. Not a good fit for Oklahoma's wishbone offense, Aikman transferred to UCLA and became a star under Terry Donahue's pass-heavy offense. Aikman finished his college career as the No. 2 passer in UCLA history.
In the pros, Aikman will always be remembered as one of the league's most accurate passers, and the first piece laid in the foundation of rebuilding the Dallas Cowboys as one of the NFL's elite franchises.
Although a two-time All-American during his sophomore and juniors seasons at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State, Fenimore had an injury-plagued senior year for the Cowboys.
Despite the risks, the Chicago Bears still made him the top pick in the 1947 draft.
Yeah, bad move.
Fenimore played in just 10 games with the Bears. The halfback amassed just 435 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in his only NFL season.
When Peyton Manning eventually retires, he will most likely hold every NFL passing record there is. He is currently chasing Brett Favre in most.
Manning is already the NFL record holder for most 4,000-yard seasons and has held the Colts to two Super Bowl appearances, including a championship in 2006.
The top pick in the 1998 draft following a superb career at the University of Tennessee, Manning's rookie season didn't exactly paint a successful future.
While setting several rookie passing records, Manning also threw a league-high 28 interceptions and the Colts went 3-13.
The Colts quickly bounced back in 1999 with 13 wins, an AFC East division title and first playoff berth in four years. The 1999 season was also his first of 10 4,000-yard passing seasons, and he set a passer rating record in 2004 by posting a mark of 121.1.
Manning is the only active player on this list, and for good reason. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Manning has never missed a game in his 12-year career, and trails only Favre on the list of consecutive starts made by a quarterback.
He is a nine-time Pro Bowler, and was the MVP of Super Bowl XLI.
Manning, 34, has amassed more than 50,000 passing yards, fourth all-time, has thrown for 366 touchdowns to just 181 interceptions. He ranks third all-time in TD passes and his career passer rating of 95.2 is fourth-best in NFL history.
A serious oversight on my part initially, John Elway belongs at the top of this list.
One of the gems of the quarterback-rich 1983 draft, the former Stanford quarterback became the first player off the board.
A bit cocky and having leverage with a possible pro baseball career in his future, Elway refused to play for Baltimore, which traded him to the Denver Broncos for quarterback Mark Hermann, offensive lineman Chris Hinton and a first-round draft choice in 1984.
Elway joined Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman in 2004 as the only quarterbacks to be selected No. 1 overall to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the College Hall in 2000.
Until Brett Favre passed him a few years ago, Elway was the winningest quarterback in NFL history. He led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two in his final two seasons. He retired almost immediately after being named the MVP of Super Bowl XXXII, when the Broncos defeated Favre and the then defending Super Bowl champion Packers.
Elway threw for 51,475 yards, 300 touchdowns, accounted for 34 more and won 148 games.