Chicago Bears: Top 20 First-Round Picks in Team History

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IMarch 19, 2011

Chicago Bears: Top 20 First-Round Picks in Team History

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    The Bears have taken a beating on the results of their first-round draft selections, especially over recent years, and with good reason. Flops like Cade McNown, Curtis Enis and Stan Thomas litter the Bears' draft landscape.

    Yet even blind squirrels find acorns sometimes, and the Bears certainly have had some great first-round picks over the years.

    In fact, from 1979 through 1986, the Bears had a run of very solid and, in a few cases, even spectacular draft selections. That's eight consecutive drafts without a miss. Talk about impressive!

    Compare those results to the Bears' last eight drafts. Only one spectacular player and one or maybe two other solid contributors among them.

    From 1936 through 2008 (in which they had their last first-round pick), the Bears have selected a total of 86 players in the first round, as some years the team had multiple first-rounders.  Amazingly in both 1941 and 1951, the Bears actually had three first-round picks!  

    So, without further ado, I present the 20 best first-round draft picks in Bears history. Enjoy and feel free to debate.

20. Bobby Layne (1948)

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    Layne was a QB who is in the Hall of Fame. But the reason he is so low on this list is that he played only one season with the Bears.

    Still, a player this good has to be considered a great draft pick, even if he didn't spend his career with Chicago. Unfortunately, when the Bears drafted Layne, they had Sid Luckman. Imagine—an embarrassment of riches for the Bears at the QB position!

    After one season, Papa Bear Halas traded Layne to the New York Bulldogs for their No. 1 draft pick and $50,000 cash.

19. Chuck Howley (1958)

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    Howley wasn't a Hall of Famer like Bobby Layne, but he was a terrific linebacker and since he played two whole seasons with the Bears, he gets ranked one spot higher than the ex-QB.

    Howley retired after what was thought to be a career-ending knee injury suffered in the 1959 training camp. He decided to make a comeback two years later and the Bears traded him to the Cowboys.

    With Dallas, he flashed his tremendous speed and teamed with Dave Edwards and Lee Roy Jordan to form one of the greatest linebacking corps in NFL history. Howley was the MVP of Super Bowl V and, to this day, it is the only time a player from the losing team has ever won the award.

    Howley was a six-time Pro Bowl and five-time AP All-Pro selection.

18. William Perry, aka "The Fridge" (1985)

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    Fridge was more of an icon than he was a great football player, but he is deserving of being on this list.

    Perry was famously used as a blocker and ball-carrier by coach Mike Ditka when defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan wouldn't play Fridge on defense. Ryan didn't like rookies, and he especially didn't want to draft Perry. Still, he went on to become a part of the great Bears defense.

    He played from the Super Bowl year of '85 through '93 with the Bears. Fridge spent the '93-'94 season with the Eagles.

    At the time, he was one of the largest football players, yet was a remarkably gifted athlete for his size. As a player, he was fairly average, but his popularity with fans was as huge as he was.

    He has the largest ring size (25) of any Super Bowl winner. He may be large, but he's no dumb cookie.

17. Mark Carrier (1990)

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    Carrier was a D-back who played six seasons with the Bears and four more with the Lions and Redskins. The sixth overall pick of the '90 draft, he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Carrier led the NFL with 10 interceptions in his rookie season. Always known as a smart player, he was a Pro Bowl alternate from 1997-2000.

    Currently he is a defensive line coach for the Jets.

16. Jim McMahon (1982)

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    Speaking of popular Bears, McMahon may have been hated by the media but he was a fan favorite and probably made a pretty good case for MVP of the Super Bowl in '85.

    If he could have stayed healthy, I truly believe he would have been one of the finest QBs as his leadership and ability to read defenses was terrific. McMahon didn't have the strongest arm but it was plenty strong enough, and his ability to audible was unrivaled at the time.

    He changed the plays he didn't like at the line of scrimmage, which infuriated Ditka. But even Iron Mike has good things to say about the punky QB today.  

15. Neal Anderson (1986)

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    Anderson ran the ball for the Bears from '86 to '93 and was a four-time Pro Bowler. He succeeded the great Walter Payton, which was hardly an easy task. But he did it well.

    Anderson rushed for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. His best season came in 1989, when he rushed for 1,275 yards, had 434 receiving yards and scored 15 touchdowns.

    Although his career was shortened by injuries, Anderson amassed 6,166 rushing yards over eight seasons (a 4.1 yard average) and scored 51 touchdowns rushing and 20 receiving for a total of 71.

    Anderson is the second all-time leading rusher in Bears history. Today, he owns a peanut farm and started a bank in Florida.

14. Keith Van Horne (1981)

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    Van Horne was part of what was a great offensive line during the Bears glory years in the '80s, including the Super Bowl team. The 6'6" tackle was a vastly underrated starter for the Bears from 1981 to 1993.

    He may not hold records like Anderson, but his longevity earns him one spot higher on this list. He never made a Pro Bowl, but that was more of a reflection of the Bears being known as a defensive team and also the fact that he played alongside such staunch linemen as Jay Hilgenberg and Jimbo Covert.

13. Wilber Marshall (1984)

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    Marshall was an unbelievably talented linebacker who would rank higher if he had played longer with the Bears. Talk about a playmaker; he was relentless with great speed and could close on opposing QBs with force.

    Marshall was a big part of the Bears' Super Bowl defense, though he only played for Chicago from 1984 to 1987. After leaving the Bears, he spent some terrific seasons with the Redskins, where he was also a part of a Super Bowl-winning team in 1991.

    A three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro, Marshall was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. He is among the few players who have recorded 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in their career.

    Tragically, Marshall is permanently disabled today.

12. Otis Wilson (1980)

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    He's mama boy Otis, one of a kind, the ladies all love him for his body and his mind. Yep, you just can't get enough of those Super Bowl-shuffling Bears, and Wilson was one of the best linebackers for a period of a few years in the NFL.

    He was a two-time All-Pro selection, and the fact that he played longer for the Bears puts him ahead of Marshall on this list.

    Wilson was the most feared pass rusher in the 46 defense. Injuries cut short his career, and he really wasn't effective after leaving the Bears in 1987.  

11. Bill Osmanski (1939)

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    Another old-timer like Joe Stydahar, Osmanski is a member of the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1940s. He played fullback with the Bears from 1939 to 1947, leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie.

    With Osmanski, the Bears won titles in 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946. He missed the '44 and '45 seasons due to the war.

    Osmanski attended dental school at Northwestern while playing for the Bears and started a practice after his brief college coaching career following his retirement as a player. Osmanski died on Christmas Day in 1996.

10. Joe Stydahar (1936)

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    Stydahar was the very first draft pick of the Bears in 1936 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was an offensive tackle who played with the Bears from 1936 to 1946.

    Stydahar was a six-time All-Pro selection and a four-time NFL champion. He also coached the Rams and Cardinals after his playing days.

9. Jimbo Covert (1983)

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    Sure, Stydahar is a Hall of Famer and Covert is not. So why would I rank Covert ahead of him? Well, for one thing, I believe Covert should be in the Hall of Fame and will be some day.

    But the main thing is Stydahar played such a long time ago and who knows if the game was as fast and had as many great pass rushers as Covert had to face. There were better athletes in the game when Covert played, simply put.

    In just his second season, Covert was named a team captain and was selected as an All-Pro. In fact, he was an All-Pro four straight seasons from 1984 to 1987 and was a first- or second-team All-NFC selection four times (1985-1987, 1990), and a first- or second-team All-NFL selection three times.

    In 1986, Covert was selected as the NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year. 

    In 1990, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Board of Selectors selected Covert to the NFL All-Decade Team. With Covert on the team, the Bears won six NFL Central Division titles and played in three NFC Championship games, along with the Super Bowl win.

    And how about that 'stache?

8. Clyde "Bulldog" Turner (1940)

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    Turner is a Hall of Famer who was a two-way star with the Bears from 1940 to 1952. He was very fast and big for his day at 6'2" and 235 pounds.

    Turner intercepted four passes in five NFL title games. In 1942, he led the league in interceptions (eight). He was an eight-time All-Pro player and a four-time NFL champion as a center and a linebacker.

    As teammate George Musso once said, "Who knows what kind of player he would have been if he ever got to rest during a game?"

7. Sid Luckman (1939)

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    Luckman is the best QB in Bears history. Of course, that isn't saying much. Still, he is a Hall of Famer who led Chicago to four championships in his 12 years.

    He was the first modern T-formation QB and was the NFL's MVP in 1943. While his number don't look all that good compared to today's QBs, you have to remember that the passing game was a lot different back then. His career TD rate is easily the best of all time.

    Luckman threw for seven TDs in a game once and his 13.9 percent touchdown rate in 1943 is still the best ever. He tossed the first 400-yard game in history and his 28 TDs in only 10 games that year was a record that last for a long time.

6. Brian Urlacher (2000)

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    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 23:  Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears smiles while taking on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Urlacher is already one of the best middle linebackers in Bears history and he is still playing.

    Urlacher was Rookie of the Year and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. He's a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a four-time first-team All-Pro.

    He owns Bears records for most tackles in a season (153 in 2002) and is the Bears career leader in tackles with 1,192.

    Urlacher is a future Hall of Famer.

5. Dan Hampton (1979)

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    9 Sep 1990: Defensive lineman Dan Hampton of the Chicago Bears (left) and offensive lineman Andy Heck of the Seattle Seahawks tangle up during a game at the Kingdome in Seattle, Washington. The Bears won the game, 17-0.
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Hampton was the best defensive player on what is perhaps the greatest defense of all time. He played through 10 knee surgeries and it was his inside presence that helped make Richard Dent the Hall of Fame pass rusher that he was.

    "Danimal" played 12 seasons for the Bears and was the 1982 Defensive Player of the Year. His versatility in playing two positions likely prevented him from winning more awards. In 1988, for example, Hampton graded out as the top defender on the Bears that season, even though Mike Singletary was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

    Buddy Ryan, the famed architect of that 46 defense, said that "Hampton was the cornerstone to our 46 defense by drawing constant double teams."

    Consider what Mike Ditka said about him: "A lot of times in football, it's not so much the stat, but how you play the game. If that's the measuring stick, then Dan Hampton played the game as well as anybody."

4. Mike Ditka (1961)

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    Ditka was more than the coach of the Super Bowl Bears and a famous celebrity. Prior to all that, he was a Hall of Fame tight end for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys. It was Ditka who said that George Halas "tossed around nickels like they were manhole covers."

    As a player, Ditka was a Rookie of the Year, a five-time Pro Bowl pick and a three-time Super Bowl champion. He introduced to the game a new weapon as a pass catcher whereas before his arrival, tight ends were known mainly as blockers.

    Ditka was tough as nails as a player. In fact, it's reported that he still eats nails for breakfast. If Ditka were to play the entire '85 Bears team, it would be a draw, my friends.

    Da Coach.

3. Gale Sayers (1965)

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    "The Kansas Comet" was one of the most prolific runners in history. If you watch his moves, even to this day it is stunning. While his career was cut short by injuries, it is a testament to his greatness that he's in the Hall of Fame despite playing only the equivalent of five full seasons.

    He was also a great kick returner. Sayers' records include most touchdowns in a rookie season (22 in 1965), most touchdowns in a game (six, tied with Nevers and Jones), highest career kickoff return average (30.6), and most return touchdowns in a game (two).

    In each of his non-injured seasons, he was an All-Pro. He is still the youngest inductee in the HOF. In 1999, despite the brevity of his career, he was ranked No. 21 on The Sporting News's list of the 100 greatest football players.

2. Dick Butkus (1965)

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    Butkus was simply the meanest, toughest and most feared linebacker in history. He would bite you, hit you and when he brought you down, he showed no mercy. In short, he was the best defensive player I've ever seen.

    He was a Pro Bowler in every full season he played and a six-time first-team All-Pro. He is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

    Imagine picking both Sayers and Butkus in the same round of the same draft! Butkus recovered 27 fumbles in his career, a NFL record at the time of his retirement.

    He became an actor after his playing career and he also sued the Bears.

    Butkus was also selected the 70th greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, the ninth-best player in NFL history by The Sporting News and the fifth-best by the Associated Press.

    He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

1. Walter Payton (1975)

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    6 Nov 1999:  A young fan holds up a sign during Walter Payton's Memorial Service at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Mike Ditka says that Payton is the best all-around football player he has ever seen, and that's saying a lot. But "Sweetness," who died far too young from a rare liver disease, was simply the best running back in NFL history in my opinion.

    Payton, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, once held the league's record for most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards and many other categories.

    Walter won two NFL MVP awards. What I remember most about him was that he could deliver a punishing forearm shot to opposing defenders and when they knocked him down, he always popped right back up.

    He was also a terrific blocker, pass catcher coming out of the backfield and could throw a pass, too. He passed for eight TDs in his career. Heck, he was even an emergency punter.

    He only missed one game in his 13-year career, and he was infuriated that the coaches held him out of that game in his rookie season.

    Payton was more than the Bears' greatest draft pick. He was a legend. RIP Sweetness.