NFL Draft History: The 10 Most Productive First Rounds Since 1980
Only time determines whether a draft class truly pans out.
When it comes to the total quality, the following 10 first rounds were pure gold.
As NFL fans and draft pundits purse the opening 32 picks of the class of 2011, the possibilities of Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green becoming elite players and franchise changers will begin a process that—in time—could determine if they will fall into the hallowed class of greatness or a buffet table of flops and misguided assessments.
Of the 10 classes, three stand out as first rounds that helped change the course of NFL history, including one that had six Hall of Famers and at least two other players who could eventually reach Canton.
Honorable Mention...2003: Troy, Oh Troy...
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Head of the Class: S Troy Polamalu (Steelers, 16th overall): With two Super Bowl rings, the three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler has established a foundation that has him well on the path to a potential Hall of Fame career.
*DT Kevin Williams (Vikings, ninth): Five-time All-Pro remains one of the premier players at his position.
*CB Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders, 31st): Lockdown corner who could cash in huge once free agency opens.
*QB Carson Palmer (Bengals, first): Revived Bengals franchise but not the same QB since knee injury in '05 AFC Wild Card.
*LB Terrell Suggs: (Ravens, 10th) Has recorded 68.5 sacks as a stalwart of Baltimore's defense.
*RB Willis McGahee (Ravens, 23rd): Productive at times, but injuries hampered his promise.
*RB Larry Johnson (Chiefs, 27th): Over 3,300 yards, 37 TDs in 2004-05.
*DT Ty Warren (Patriots, 11th): Anchored front for two Super Bowl winners.
10. 1995: Bucs Build a Winner
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Head of the Class: DT Warren Sapp (Buccaneers, 12th overall): Bypassed because of questions regarding his off-field issues, Sapp made Tampa Bay look brilliant when they took the Miami (FL) star. The jovial Sapp was no laughing matter on the field, as the four-time All-Pro helped turn the Bucs from league-laughing stock to Super Bowl champion in his nine seasons with the franchise.
Saludictorian: LB Derrick Brooks (Buccaneers, 25th): On the heels of Sapp, Tampa Bay grabbed another steal in Brooks, who emerged as one of the game's greatest outside linebackers, reaching the Pro Bowl 11 times and making five All-Pro teams. His career approximate value of 187 is 15th all time and third only to fellow future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Junior Seau.
*QB Steve McNair (Oilers, third): Led the Titans to an AFC title in 1999 while becoming one of the toughest field generals to ever suit up.
*OT Tony Boselli (Jaguars, second): Three-time All-Pro was on fast track to Canton before knee injuries derailed his career in 2001.
*DE Kevin Carter (Rams, sixth): Recorded 104.5 sacks in 14-year career that was highlighted by 17 sacks during St. Louis' Super Bowl 33 title run.
*WR Joey Galloway (Seahawks, eighth): Versatile performer pulled in 701 passes and 77 touchdowns and was still active last season.
9. 1999: Bailey's a Champ
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Head of the Class: CB Champ Bailey (Redskins, seventh): The much-ballyhooed run on quarterbacks was offset by Bailey, who took the mantle of game's best pass defender from Deion Sanders and has established his credentials for a bust in Canton. In his 13 seasons with the Redskins and Broncos, Bailey has been to 10 Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro three times while recording 48 interceptions.
Saludictorian: QB Donovan McNabb (Eagles, second): Perhaps the most unappreciated players in NFL history, McNabb's star-crossed career began when Philly's rabid fans booed him when the Eagles chose McNabb over RB Ricky Williams. Despite an 11-year run that saw him take the franchise to five NFC title games, McNabb (who was 1-4 in those contests) never won the complete respect of the city before he was traded to Washington in April 2010.
*RB Edgerrin James (Colts, fourth): Tremendous all-purpose back who made four Pro Bowls while leading the NFL in rushing twice in a career that saw him score 91 touchdowns with the Colts and Cardinals. His 12,246 yards is 11th on the all-time rushing list.
*WR Torry Holt (Rams, sixth): A charter member of "The Greatest Show on Turf," Holt reeled in 869 of his 920 career receptions in St. Louis, where he also scored 74 touchdowns while earning seven Pro Bowl nods.
*RB Ricky Williams (Saints, fifth): The former Heisman winner has rushed for 9,565 yards and 64 touchdowns in a unique career that saw him leave for a season in search of himself. Led the league with 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first season with the Dolphins in 2002.
*DE Jevon Kearse (Titans, 16th): "The Freak" had 36 sacks in his first three seasons, but a 2002 injury began to whittle away at Kearse's skills. He had 7.5 sacks with the Eagles in 2004 as he helped Philly capture the NFC crown.
*CB Chris McAlister (Ravens, 10th): A top-shelf defender who was part of Baltimore's famed 2000 unit, McAlister returned five of his 26 career picks for scores.
*QB Daunte Culpepper (Vikings, 11th): Impressive stats with Minnesota covered the fact he was 38-42 as a starter with the Vikes, but his size (6'4", 264) and speed helped pave the way for big, mobile quarterbacks.
8. 2001: Tomlinson, Vick Change Course of Chargers, Falcons
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Head of the Class: RB LaDanian Tomlinson (Chargers fifth overall): San Diego knew it would be getting a productive back when they traded first rounders with Atlanta but had no idea Tomlinson would emerge as one of the greatest runners in NFL history. In nine seasons, LT produced 16,445 yards from scrimmage to go along with 159 touchdowns. A three-time All-Pro, Tomlinson also has five Pro Bowl trips and is a mortal lock to reach Canton when he retires.
*WR Reggie Wayne (Colts, 30th): Paired with Marvin Harrison to form one of the most lethal pass-catching duos in history. Has 787 receptions and 69 touchdowns.
*QB Michael Vick (Falcons, first): Controversial career seems to be back on track after totaling 30 touchdowns while leading Eagles to NFC East crown last season.
*DE Richard Seymour (Patriots, sixth): Helped lead New England to three Super Bowl titles while being named All-Pro three times and six trips to the Pro Bowl.
*OG Steve Hutchinson (Seahawks, 17th): The best at his position, Hutchinson has opened holes for record-setting backs Shaun Alexander and Adrian Peterson en route to five All-Pro nods and seven trips to the Pro Bowl.
*DT Casey Hampton (Steelers, 19th): Five-time Pro Bowler has clogged running lanes while helping Pittsburgh reach five AFC titles and a pair of Super Bowl crowns.
*RB Duce McAlister (Saints, 23rd): Underrated back ran for 6,090 yards and 49 touchdowns before injuries slowed him down.
*TE Todd Heap (Ravens, 31st): The one constant for an erratic Baltimore passing game, Heap has 467 receptions and two Pro Bowls in his decade of play.
*OT Leonard Davis (Cardinals, second): Three-time Pro Bowler has started in each of his 155 career outings.
*WR Santana Moss (Jets, 16th): Pulled in 593 passes and 52 touchdowns while splitting time with Jets and Redskins.
7. 2004: Steelers Hit It Big with Ben
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Head of the Class: QB Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers, 11th overall): Not quite a schoolboy off the field, there's no question about Big Ben's production on it. In seven seasons, Roethlisberger has led Pittsburgh to a pair of Super Bowl victories and four AFC title games. Only 29 and with a great foundation in place, he could equal or surpass Terry Bradshaw's four Super Bowl wins en route to joining his fellow Steel City alum into the Hall of Fame.
*WR Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals, third): Perhaps the most sure-handed wideout in the game, Fitzgerald already has 613 receptions and 65 touchdowns.
*QB Phillip Rivers (Chargers via Giants, fourth): Smack-running field general has an impressive 136-58 TD-INT margin. Has done everything except reach a Super Bowl.
*RB Steven Jackson (Rams, 24th): One of the last every-down backs in the game has three Pro Bowl trips while rushing for nearly 8,000 yards behind subpar offensive lines.
*S Sean Taylor (Redskins, fifth): Was on his way to superstardom before his tragic murder in December 2007.
*LB Jonathan Vilma (Jets, 12th): Run-stopping demon starred in New York before being one of the final pieces to the Saints' Super Bowl team in 2009; three-time Pro Bowler.
*CB DeAngelo Hall (Falcons, 7th): Has 32 career interceptions; three-time Pro Bowler also has six returns for touchdowns.
*DT Tommie Harris (Bears, 14th): Remains one of the better interior linemen despite being released by the Bears. Has three Pro Bowls to offer his next club.
*DT Vince Wilfork (Patriots, 21st): Standout defender remains a constant for New England's D.
6. 1985: 49ers Cash in on Potential of Rice
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Head of the Class: WR Jerry Rice (49ers, 16th overall): San Francisco leapfrogged Dallas to grab the player considered the best ever. There's not enough space to cover Rice's accomplishments. Three Super Bowl rings, virtually every career record for a receiver and 208 total touchdowns should suffice for now.
Saludictorian: DE Bruce Smith (Bills, first): Like Rice, Smith rewrote record books by tallying 200 career sacks in a 17-year run that featured four AFC titles, 11 Pro Bowls and eight nods to the first team All-Pro squad. Smith had a 13-season stretch which saw him finish with at least 10 sacks in 12 of those campaigns. Like Rice, it was a slam dunk that Smith would reach the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
*DE Chris Doleman (Vikings, fourth): He'll eventually join Rice and Smith in Canton on the basis of a 15-year career that saw Doleman record 150.5 sacks (fourth all-time), including 21 in 1989 (third highest in one season). A two-time All-Pro, Doleman reached the Pro Bowl eight times during his stint with Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco.
*OG Bruce Fralic (Falcons, second): Twice an All-Pro, Fralic also made four Pro Bowls despite spending much of his career with lousy Atlanta squads.
*DE/DT Ray Childress (Oilers, third): He began his career outside, but Childress had his best success as an outstanding interior pass rusher who started in 160 of his 163 career games. Finished with 76.5 sacks, including a career-high 13.5 in 1992.
*WR Al Toon (Jets, 10th): Had 517 receptions in a career that was halted due to a series of concussions. Led the NFL with 93 catches in 1988.
*OT Jim Lachey (Chargers 12th): First team All-Pro three times, Lachey also earned three trips to the Pro Bowl. Anchored the left side as a member of Washington's "Hogs" when they captured Super Bowl 26.
*OT Lomas Brown (Lions, seventh): Seventh in career starts (251), Brown spent the bulk of his time with the Lions but ended his 18-year career as a reserve for the Super Bowl 37 champion Buccaneers.
*DT William Perry (Bears, 22nd): "The Fridge" became a pop icon as a rookie with the fabled Super Bowl 20 champs, but his career never reached the plateau he set in his first year. Injuries and weight issues kept him from achieving his potential, but Perry still managed a respectable 11 seasons with Chicago and Philadelphia.
5. 1988: A Receiver's Market
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Head of the Class: WR Michael Irvin (Cowboys, 11th): The last first-round pick of the Tom Landry era was the first piece of the puzzle that resulted in Dallas' resurgence in the 1990s. The emotional leader of the Cowboys was filled with his share of off-field issues, but there was no denying his passion and talent, which culminated with 750 catches, 65 touchdowns and three Super Bowl rings that helped propel him to Canton in 2010.
*OG Randall McDaniel (Vikings, 19th): In a long line of great Minnesota lineman, McDaniel reached the top of the class by being named All-Pro seven times while making 12 Pro Bowls in a 14-year career that saw him reach the Hall of Fame in 2009.
*WR Tim Brown (Raiders, sixth): A sure-handed possession receiver, Brown 1,094 passes and scored 100 times while earning nine trips to the Pro Bowl.
*WR Sterling Sharpe (Packers, seventh): A severe neck injury forced Sharpe to retire in 1994, crashing what appeared to be a Hall of Fame career in the making. A three-time All-Pro, Sharpe led the league in receptions three times and was the first player to record consecutive 100-catch seasons.
*DE Neil Smith (Chiefs second): Made six Pro Bowls in a 13-year career that saw him record 104.5 sacks and a pair of Super Bowl rings when he joined the Broncos in 1997.
*TE Keith Jackson (Eagles, 13th): Game-changing Jackson earned three All-Pro nods and five Pro Bowls in nine years with Philadelphia and Green Bay. Caught 441 passes and helped the Packers capture Super Bowl 31.
*WR Anthony Miller (Chargers, 1997): A big-play threat for both San Diego and Denver, Miller caught 595 passes and had five 1,000-yard seasons to go along with 63 touchdowns.
4. 1996: Ravens Strike Twice with Lewis, Ogden
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Head of the Class: LB Ray Lewis (Ravens, 26th overall): Vicious, hard-hitting Lewis may have surpassed Lawrence Taylor as the greatest at the position. In 15 seasons, Lewis has earned seven All-Pro nods and 12 Pro Bowls while punishing ballcarriers at will. Those who bypassed him because he was regarded as undersized have spent nearly three decades ruing their shortsightedness.
*OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens, fourth): Prototype lineman reached 11 Pro Bowls while gaining four All-Pro selections during a career that will culminate in Canton in three years.
*WR Marvin Harrison (Colts, 19th): Replaced Jerry Rice as the game's best receiver in 1999; paired with Peyton Manning, who tossed Harrison the bulk of his 1,102 receptions and 128 touchdowns.
*WR Keyshawn Johnson (Jets, first): Starred for the Jets, Bucs and Cowboys in colorful career that resulted in 814 receptions and 64 touchdowns.
*DE Simeon Rice (Cardinals, third): Best years were in Tampa Bay, where he had six straight seasons of at least 10 sacks (2001-05). Is 13th all time with 122 sacks.
*RB Eddie George (Oilers, 14th): At his best from 1997-2000, when he made four Pro Bowls and led Titans to an AFC title. Was never the same after a 405-carry season in 2000 but still managed two more 1,000-yard seasons.
*WR Eric Moulds (Bills, 24th): Three-time Pro Bowler had four 1,000-yard seasons; career-high 100 receptions and 10 touchdowns in 2002.
*OT Willie Anderson (Bengals, 10th): Cincinnati's struggles overshadowed the fact he was one of the game's best bodyguards; was named All-Pro three times and made four Pro Bowls.
*OG Pete Kendall (Seahawks, 21st): Steady performer for the Seahawks, Jets, Redskins and Cardinals.
3. 1998: Peyton Place Debuts in Indy
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Head of the Class: QB Peyton Manning (Colts, first overall): The man who has redefined the phrase "franchise quarterback" hasn't skipped a beat going into his 14th season. He's started every game since arriving in Indianapolis and has guided the Colts to 11 trips to the postseason, including a Super Bowl after the 2006 campaign. Manning is well within striking distance of passing Brett Favre's career marks in completions, yards and touchdown passes before the countdown formally begins on his induction to the Hall of Fame.
*WR Randy Moss (Vikings, 21st): When it's all said and done, Moss will be considered one of the five greatest wideouts ever. His career has been a roller coaster, but Moss' 954-14,858-153 line is rivaled only by Jerry Rice, whom he'll eventually join in Canton.
*OG Alan Faneca (Steelers, 26th): One of the most dominant linemen of his era, Faneca is at his best when clearing running lanes. His six All-Pro nods and nine Pro Bowls make Faneca a strong candidate to arrive in Canton when he's done.
*CB Charles Woodson (Raiders, fourth): The 1997 Heisman winner was a solid cover corner in Oakland, but his career hit full stride in Green Bay, where his named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year before helping the Packers capture Super Bowl 45 earlier this year.
*RB Fred Taylor (Jaguars, ninth): Seven 1,000-yard seasons are just the tip of the iceberg for Taylor, who became more durable after injuries threatened to ruin his career. Enters 2011 just short of 12,000 career rushing yards and is 15th all time in that department.
*DE Grant Wistrom (Rams, sixth): Appeared in three Super Bowls with St. Louis and Seattle, recording 53 sacks before injuries shortened his career.
*OT Tra Thomas (Eagles, 11th): Three-time Pro Bowler anchored Philly's line during period in which they appeared in five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl.
*LB Keith Brooking (Falcons, 12th): Reached the Super Bowl as a rookie; five-time Pro Bowler has recorded over 1,300 tackles and 13 interceptions with Atlanta and Dallas.
*DE Greg Ellis (Cowboys, eighth): Dependable pass rusher who recorded 77 of his 84 career sacks with the Cowboys.
*LB Takeo Spikes (Bengals, 13th): A bright spot during Cincy's Dark Ages, Spikes was a feared hitter that earned two Pro Bowls and was named to the All-Pro team as a Bill in 2004.
*CB Duane Starks (Ravens, 10th): Intercepted 25 passes in nine seasons with Baltimore and Arizona.
2. 1989: Immortality in First Five Picks
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Head of the Class: CB Deion Sanders (Falcons, fifth overall): A tough call, but Sanders made receivers disappear during a remarkable 13-year career with Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, Washington and Baltimore. A threat to score any time he touched the ball, "Prime Time" holds the record with 19 non-offensive touchdowns while intercepting 53 passes. Six times an All-Pro, Sanders also reached eight Pro Bowls in a career that culminates with his induction to the Hall of Fame this summer.
*QB Troy Aikman (Cowboys, first): Three Super Bowl wins and 90 regular season victories in the 1990s were the highlight of the field general who helped pave the way for the return of "America's Team." Was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
*RB Barry Sanders (Lions, third): The 2004 Hall of Famer never ran for less than 1,115 yards in a career that saw him lead the NFL in rushing four times, including a personal-best 2,053 in 1997.
*LB Derrick Thomas (Chiefs, fourth): Still holds the single-game record with seven sacks in 1990. Had at least seven sacks in each of his 10 years, which came to a tragic end in a fatal car accident in January 2000. Nine-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro was named to the Hall of Fame in 2009.
*S Steve Atwater (Broncos, 20th): Brutal hitter left opposing receivers hearing footsteps in an 11-year career that saw him win a pair of Super Bowls while achieving a pair of All-Pro honors and eight Pro Bowls.
*WR Andre Rison (Colts, 22nd): Controversial but productive, Rison's best years were in Atlanta (1990-94) where he had four 1,000-yard seasons. Played a key role in Green Bay's run to Super Bowl 31 title.
*RB/WR Eric Metcalf (Browns, 13th): Ranks 13th in career all-purpose yards and accounted for 55 touchdowns in his 13-year career with Cleveland, Atlanta, San Diego, Arizona, Carolina, Washington and Green Bay. Was a two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler.
*DE Trace Armstrong (Bears, 12th): Feared pass rush specialist who had 106 sacks with Chicago, Miami and Oakland. Had a career-best 16.5 as a 35-year-old with the Dolphins in 2000.
*DE Wayne Martin (Saints, 19th): Versatile enough to play inside when needed, Martin had 82.5 sacks in his 11 years with New Orleans, including four straight seasons (1994-97) with at least 10.5.
*LB Broderick Thomas (Buccaneers, sixth): Spent the bulk of his career with Tampa Bay as a tackling machine, recording 174 stops in 1991, the same year he added a personal-best 11 sacks.
1. 1983: Elway, Marino, Kelly, Dickerson. Enough Said
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Head of the Class: QB John Elway (Broncos via Colts, first overall): No one won more games under center than Elway, who was worth the ransom Denver paid to extract him out of Baltimore. One of six future Hall of Famers selected in the first round of this draft, Elway took the Broncos to five Super Bowls and was finally able to erase the "choke" stigma that came with his first three January failures by closing out his 16-year career with a pair of Lombardi Trophies before heading to the Hall of Fame in 2004.
*QB Dan Marino (Dolphins, 27th): It didn't take long for coach Don Shula to revert from pounding the ball on the ground to a pure vertical strike attack once Marino entrenched himself in the lineup early in 1983. The nine-time Pro Bowler also made the All-Pro team three times in a career that saw him launch 420 career touchdowns and 61,367 yards while finishing second only to Elway with 147 regular season wins. Like Elway, he breezed into Canton in his first year of eligibility in 2005.
*QB Jim Kelly (Bills, 14th): After strafing United States Football League secondaries with the Houston Gamblers, Kelly continued his air assault in Buffalo, where he took the Bills to four straight AFC titles while firing for 35,467 yards and 237 touchdowns in his 11 years with the Bills. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
*RB Eric Dickerson (Rams, second): One of the most prolific runners of all time, Dickerson still holds the single-season record with 2,105 yards in 1984. He led the NFL in rushing four times in a career that saw him reach six Pro Bowls and five All-Pro squads with the Rams, Colts, Raiders and Falcons. The Hall of Famer is seventh with 13,259 yards.
*OL Bruce Matthews (Oilers, ninth): Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, Matthews excelled at all three line positions while earning 14 trips to the Pro Bowl and seven first team All-Pro honors.
*CB Darrell Green (Redskins, 28th): Intercepted 54 passes in a career than ended in 2002. Green is sixth in career starts (258) and was named to seven Pro Bowls en route to his induction to Canton in 2008.
*OT Chris Hinton (Colts via Broncos, fourth): The centerpiece for the trade of Elway, Hinton made seven Pro Bowls in a 13-year career with Baltimore/Indianapolis, Atlanta and Minnesota.
*OT Jimbo Covert (Bears, 6th): Two-time All-Pro who anchored Chicago's line in an eight-year run cut short by injuries.
*DB Joey Browner (Vikings, 19th): Ballhawk who had 37 interceptions in 10-year career that was highlighted by three first team All-Pro visits and six trips to the Pro Bowl.
*RB Curt Warner (Seahawks, third): As a rookie, he ran for 1,449 yards and 13 touchdowns to lead Seattle to its first playoff berth, but a knee injury in the 1984 opener took much of his explosiveness. He did rebound to record three more 1,000-yard seasons before Warner's knees finally gave out in 1990.