2011 NFL Draft: 32 Best First Round Picks Of All Time

Brian DiTullioSenior Writer IJanuary 5, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: 32 Best 1st-Round Picks Of All Time

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    The 2011 NFL Draft brings with it the usual hopes and dreams. Every fan has their own private Super Bowl victory on draft day, and the hope is that private party becomes the public parade down Main Street.

    First round draft picks bring a higher level of expectation, especially if it's a quarterback. Those picks are expected to start right out of the gate and have a very steep learning curve. However, when those picks perform as expected, it's euphoria on several levels.

    Here is a list of great players playing on great teams who lived up to all the expectations laid on them.

    For those unfamiliar with Tom Brady, he was a sixth-round pick, so you won't see him here.

    For a look at the worst picks of the first round, check out The 32 Worst Picks Of All Time.

32. Ed Reed, S Baltimore Ravens

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    Draft: 24th Pick In 2002

    How Good Is He: Ed Reed is about a dominant a safety as the NFL has ever seen. While the Ravens haven't won a Super Bowl during Reed's tenure, it isn't because Reed was underperforming.

    Reed is a master at breaking down game film and seems to know what the quarterback is going to do before the ball is snapped. Reed anticipates throws, jumps routes, and is one of the biggest threats in the NFL today.

    Even if he doesn't earn a Super Bowl ring in his career, he's already looking like a lock for the Hall of Fame.

31. Marcus Allen, RB, Los Angeles Raiders

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    Draft: 10th Pick In 1982

    How Good Was He: Marcus Allen is a Hall of Fame player, six-time Pro Bowl running back and a Super Bowl MVP for Super Bowl XVIII. Allen ran for more than 12,000 yards in his career, most of those for the Raiders.

    In Super Bowl XVIII, Allen ran for 191 yards, caught two passes for 18 yards, and scored two touchdowns in the Raiders 38-9 victory over the Redskins.

    Allen knew how to find holes and he knew how to play. A bad relationship with Raiders owner Al Davis prompted Allen to depart for Kansas City following the 1992 season.

30. Jerome Bettis, RB Los Angeles Rams

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    Draft: 10th Pick in 1993

    How Good Was He: Bettis ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Rams, but a coaching change prompted less playing time. Bettis was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 1996 season, and the rest is history.

    Bettis was a battering ram of a runner, and injuries would limit his playing time in his later years. However, starting in 2005, Bettis became primarily a short-yardage runner.

    Bettis acquired the nickname "The Bus" for his ability to carry defenders on his back as he fought for more yards.

    Bettis also is a six-time Pro Bowl running back.

29. Deion Sanders, CB Atlanta Falcons

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    Draft: Fifth Pick In 1989

    How Good Was He: Deion Sanders, also known as "Primetime," was an instant hit in the NFL. Sanders was a two-sport athlete, and besides his cornerback duties, he would play wide receiver, kick returner, and punt returner.

    Sanders went to the Pro Bowl eight times, won two Super Bowls with two different teams, the 49ers and Cowboys, and was the NFL Defensive Player Of The Year in 1994.

    His personality was as big as his accomplishments, but he was one of the few athletes that could back up what was coming out of his mouth.

    Sanders bounced around the league with each new contract, but was successful everywhere he went in his 14-year career.

28. Jack Youngblood, DE Los Angeles Rams

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    Draft: 20th Pick In 1971

    How Good Was He: Youngblood would be a great player in today's game as he had the kind of size, strength and speed that was ahead of its time in the 1970s.

    Youngblood was so tough, he played the 1979 postseason and 1980 Super Bowl with a broken leg.

    Youngblood is a Hall of Fame corner, seven time Pro Bowl selection, and two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year, among many other honors.

    Youngblood played in 201 consecutive games, a Rams team record; and only missed one game in his 14-year NFL career. He often was injured, but played through them, as the 1979 season will attest.

27. Art Monk, WR Washington Redskins

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    Draft: 18th Pick in 1980

    How Good Was He: Art Monk is a three-time Super Bowl Champion, and he retired as the league's all-time leader in receptions, single-season catches and consecutive games with a catch. His list of awards and accomplishments are too numerous to list here.

    Despite retiring in 1993, Monk didn't get into the Hall of Fame until 2008, at which time he received one of the longest standing ovations in the history of the induction ceremony.

26. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB San Diego Chargers

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    Draft: Fifth Pick In 2001

    How Good Is He: Tomlinson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his seasons except the last two, and he was de-emphasized in the Chargers offensive scheme in 2009.

    Tomlinson holds the all-time NFL record for single season touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, most points in a single season, most games with two or more rushing touchdowns, most games with three or more rushing touchdowns and most games with more than 200 yards from scrimmage in a season.

    Tomlinson's career may not be over yet, and while he won't finish it with the Chargers, they definitely got their money's worth out of him.

25. Eddie George, RB Houston Oilers

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24. Phill Simms, QB New York Giants

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    Draft: Seventh Pick In 1979

    How Good Was He: Simms struggled early in his career despite having a good rookie season, but he developed and ended up winning two Super Bowls and going to two Pro Bowls. However, the second Super Bowl was won without Simms behind center due to a foot injury, which ended what was becoming one of his best seasons.

    Simms stayed with the Giants until his retirement after the 1993 season, and the Giants since have retired his number.

    Simms threw for more than 33,000 yards during his career and owns many of the Giants' passing records.

23. Champ Bailey, CB Washington Redskins

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    Draft: Seventh Pick In 1999

    How Good Is He: Champ Bailey has become one of the consistently best cornerbacks in the league over the past decade. Bailey is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, winner of th Nagurski Trophy, and been named to the All Decade Team For the 2000s.

    Bailey is a shutdown corner in every sense of the term, and he's not done playing yet.

22. Michael Irvin, WR Dallas Cowboys

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    Draft: 11th Pick In 1988

    How Good Was He: Irvin was an integral part of three Super Bowl teams, a five-time Pro Bowl Selection, a member of the 1990s All Decade Team and a member of the Hall of Fame.

    Irvin had more than 1,000 yards receiving from 1991 through 1998, with 1996 being the only year in that timespan where he missed that mark. He had 962 receiving yards that year.

    Irvin finished his career with 11,904 yards receiving and 65 touchdowns.

21. Rod Woodson, S/CB Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Draft: 10th Pick In 1987

    How Good Was He: Woodson made the Pro Bowl a staggering 11 times, won a Super Bowl while a member of the Baltimore Ravens, is a Hall of Fame inductee, and was the 1993 Defensive Player of the Year, among many other honors.

    Woodson was so good at intercepting the ball and getting yards, he recorded 1,483 interception yards in his career. He had 12 touchdowns out of his 71 interceptions.

    Woodson left Pittsburgh over a contract dispute involving the salary cap, but Steelers fans still love the guy.

20. John Riggins, RB New York Jets

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    Draft: Sixth Pick In 1971

    How Good Was He: Riggins may have been drafted by the Jets, but he'll forever be remembered for his exploits as a member of the Washington Redskins.

    Riggins became the fourth leading rusher in Jets history after only four years on the team, running for 2,875 yards during that span.

    Riggins became a free agent after the 1975 season and signed with the Redskins. Riggins would hobnob with politicians and won a Super Bowl while there. Riggins rushed for a then-Super Bowl record 166 yards on 38 carries.

    Riggins retired with more than 11,000 yards rushing and 116 total touchdowns.

    He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992

19. Ray Lewis, LB Baltimore Ravens

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    Draft: 26th Pick In 1996

    How Good Is He: Ray Lewis has won a Super Bowl, been to 12 Pro Bowls, and has become one of the most feared linebackers in the history of the NFL.

    His is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winner and has a list of other awards and honors that are a mile long.

    Lewis' real power is his intimidation factor, his ability to find the ball, and just the way he makes game-changing plays.

18. Troy Polamalu, S Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Draft: 16th Pick In 2003

    How Good Is He: Troy Polamalu is so good, teams circle Steelers games on their schedules as one to fear and hope Polamalu isn't playing in.

    Polamalu's absence from the Steeler's defense only highlights just how good he is. Polamalu is a playmaker in every sense of the word. He's a six-time Pro Bowl pick, two-time Super Bowl champion, and he is on the All decade team for the 2000's.

    Polamalu, like Ed Reed, is one of the best defenders in the game in the secondary, breaking up passes, getting interceptions, and having an uncanny ability to find where the ball is and make the play.

17. Jim Kelly, QB Buffalo Bills

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    Draft: 14th Pick In 1983

    How Good Was He: Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls, but he never was able to lead the team to a victory in any of them.

    This was after the Bills drafted him in 1983, but he decided to go play in the USFL rather than Buffalo. After the USFL folded, Kelly returned to the BIlls, who still had his NFL rights.

    Kelly is in the Hall of Fame, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, a USFL MVP and Rookie of the Year, and the Bills career passing yards leader.

16. Lynn Swann, WR Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Draft: 21st Pick In 1974

    How Good Was He: Swann helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls and was MVP in Super Bowl X.

    Swann was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and was named to the All Decade Team for the 1970's.

    Swann had 5,462 yards receiving in an era where passing the ball wasn't as common as it is today and retired after the 1982 season.

15. Emmit Smith, RB Dallas Cowboys

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    Draft: 17th Pick In 1990

    How Good Was He: Emmit Smith, along with Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman, was one of the three key pieces of the Cowboys offense in the 1990s that brought the city three Super Bowl championships.

    Smith broke Walter Payton's all-time rushing yards record, finishing his career with 18,355 yards. He was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and is a member of the 1990's All Decade Team.

    In 1993, Smith became the only running back to ever win a Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown, and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.

    Smith is in the Hall of Fame and, most importantly, is a Dancing With the Stars Champion.

14. Warren Sapp, DT Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Draft: 12th Pick In 1995

    How Good Was He: Sapp was known as a very tough player, and his big hits sometimes resulted in penalties and fines, but his 96.5 career sacks are the second-highest career total sacks for a defensive tackle.

    Sapp was named to seven Pro Bowls, is a part of two All Decade Teams and won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers.

    His hard-hitting play resulted in a rules change for unnecessary roughness calls, and Sapp's presence on the field could cause major disruptions.

13. Ozzie Newsome, TE Cleveland Browns

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    Draft: 23rd Pick in 1978

    How Good Was He: Ozzie Newsome is one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. He since has evolved into one of the best general managers in the league, but that's a different list.

    On the field, Newsome was known for playing hard and catching the ball. Newsome played in 198 consecutive games and caught at least one pass in 150 consecutive games, which was the second longest streak in the NFL when he retired.

    Newsome is a three-time Pro Bowl tight end, a Hall of Fame inductee, and a member of the 1980's All Decade Team.

12. Ronnie Lott, S San Francisco 49ers

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    Draft: Eighth Pick In 1981

    How Good Was He: Ronnie Lott is widely considered one of the best defensive backs to ever put on a uniform. Lott was built like a modern-day safety and had the ballhawking skills to match an Ed Reed.

    Lott won four Super Bowls, was elected to 10 Pro Bowls, and is a part of two All Decade Teams plus the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team.

    Lott was known for his hard hits and his awareness of the field, the play, and what was going on. Lott was the kind of player who anticipated what was going to happen and put himself in a position to make the play.

11. Franco Harris, RB Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Draft: 13th Pick In 1972

    How Good Was He: Franco Harris was a big part of four Super Bowl Championship teams, was elected to nine Pro Bowls, and was the 1972 Rookie Of The Year.

    In his 13 seasons, Harris gained 12,120 yards on 2,949 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and scoring 91 touchdowns. He had 2,287 yards receiving and nine receiving touchdowns.

10. Barry Sanders, RB Lions

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    Draft: Third Pick In 1989

    How Good Was He: Barry Sanders may very well have eclipsed Jim Brown as the greatest running back in the history of the NFL if he hadn't retired abruptly after the 1998 season.

    Sanders was fast and he was quick, evading and eluding tacklers as he rushed his way to a career total of 15,269 yards and 99 rushing touchdowns.

    Sanders had his best season in 1997, rushing for more than 2,000 yards and sharing the MVP trophy with Brett Favre.

    Sanders was elected to the Pro Bowl 10 times.

9. Dan Marino, QB Miami Dolphins

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    Draft: 27th Pick In 1983

    How Good Was He: Dan Marino is considered the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl.

    Marino retired holding the records in almost every major passing category. He was elected to nine Pro Bowls and was the NFL MVP in 1984.

    Marino holds more records than anyone would want to count, and the only thing missing from his Hall of Fame resume is a Super Bowl victory.

8. Bruce Matthews, OT Houston Oilers

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    Draft: Ninth Pick In 1983

    How Good Was He: Bruce Matthews played just about every position on the offensive line, and he did it all well, playing an astonishing 19 years, not retiring until after the 2001 season.

    Matthews is a 14-time Pro Bowl selection and a member of the 1990's All Decade Team.

    Matthews never missed a game due to injury and was one of the most reliable linemen in the history of the game.

7. Jerry Rice, WR San Francisco 49ers

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    Draft: 16th Pick In 1985

    How Good Was He: Jerry Rice is widely considered the best wide receiver to ever play the game.

    Rice won three Super Bowls, was elected to 13 Pro Bowls, and besides being in the NFL Hall of Fame, holds a dictionary's worth of awards in honors in the receiving field.

    Just scratching the surface, Rice is the all-time leader in most major statistical categories for wide receivers and the all-time NFL leader in touchdowns scored with 208. He retired with 22,895 receiving yards.

    To list all of Rice's accomplishments would be futile and still wouldn't encompass just how good of a player he was.

6. Walter Payton, RB Chicago Bears

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    Draft: Fourth Pick In 1975

    How Good Was He: Payton broke Jim Brown's all-time rushing record; that's how good he was.

    Payton went to nine Pro Bowls, was the NFL's MVP in 1977, and was elected to the NFL's 75th Anniversary team. Payton won a Super Bowl during his time with the Bears.

    Payton was a very fluid runner who was hard to tackle, and he only missed one game in his 13-year career.

5. Lawrence Taylor, LB New York Giants

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    Draft: Second Pick In 1981

    How Good Was He: While Taylor's off-field problems during and after his career have been well documented, Taylor was one of the most feared players in the league.

    Taylor was a two-time Super Bowl champ, 10-time Pro Bowl selection, a member of the 1980's All Decade team, named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, and many other honors.

    Taylor's playing style was what distinguished him, and he became one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. Taylor always was making the highlight reel for his unbelievable ability to get to the quarterback, the running back, or anyone else who had the ball.

    His role in ending Joe Theisman's career has become one of the most gruesome replays in the history of modern sports.

4. Troy Aikman, QB Dallas Cowboys

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    Draft: First Pick In 1989

    How Good Was He: Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls, was elected to six Pro Bowls, and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Aikman would've played longer, but 10 concussions cut his career short.

    But during his career, Aikman threw for almost 33,000 yards, 165 touchdowns, and a career 81.6 QB rating.

    Aikman had three straight seasons of more than 3,000 yards passing and broke Joe Montana's record in 1992 of passes thrown without an interception in the playoffs with 89.

3. Terry Bradshaw, QB Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Draft: First Pick In 1970

    How Good Was He: Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was elected to three Pro Bowls, was the 1978 NFL MVP, and was the Super Bowl MVP two times.

    Bradshaw was a great quarterback in an era of having a good ground game and played through pain and injuries.

    He retired after injuring his throwing elbow during the 1983 season. 

2. Peyton Manning, QB Indianapolis Colts

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    Draft: First Pick In 1998

    How Good Is He: Very Good. Manning is so good that when he had a three-game stretch of bad play this year, people acted like the sky was falling.

    Manning only has one Super Bowl to his credit so far in his career, but the Colts are in the postseason, and Manning has several productive years left in him

    His biggest nemesis has been Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but outside of them, Manning has dominated almost every opponent hes' faced.

    Manning has been elected to 11 Pro Bowls so far and been named the AP NFL MVP four times to date.

    Manning has broken records Dan Marino set and has been the fastest quarterback to reach several milestones for the position in the history of the game, including the fastest to throw for 50,000 yards.

    Manning isn't done yet, so he might surpass the No. 1 name on this list.

1. John Elway, QB Denver Broncos

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    Draft: First Pick In 1983

    How Good Was He: John Elway's list of accomplishments is as thick as a phone book, but he's been to five Super Bowls and won two of them.

    Elway engineered "The Drive" against the Cleveland Browns and was a master of fourth quarter comebacks.

    He was elected to the Pro Bowl nine times, was the 1987 MVP, and is a member of the 1990's All Decade Team.

    Elway threw for more than 51,000 yards in his career and had 300 touchdown passes.

    Elway had 148 victories as a starter and has taken the snap on the most total plays, 8,027.