For the first time in three years and just the second time in the last 11, a defensive player will likely be taken first overall in the upcoming NFL draft.
Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett should hear his name called first on April 27, joining DE Jadeveon Clowney (2013 to Houston) and DE Mario Williams (2006, also to Houston). Since the turn of the century, only five non-quarterbacks have been chosen first overall, evidence that offence has been over prioritized.
The history of the draft started in 1936, when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Heisman Trophy winning running back Jay Berwanger out of the University of Chicago. Berwanger, like many great young football players, demanded the princely sum of $1,000 per game (!) and eventually turned down an offer of $13,500 by Chicago Bears owner George Halas to play for the Bears. He never did play a game in the NFL.
Should the Cleveland Browns select Garrett numero uno, the jury will be out on his future greatness. For that reason, we have picked our top 10 no. 1 overall picks since 1936.
10. Earl Campbell, RB – 1978
When he was with the Texas Longhorns in the 1970s, Earl Campbell was a man among boys. Built like a tank, Campbell rumbled for 4,443 yards and 40 touchdowns in 40 career collegiate games, becoming the first Longhorn ever to win the Heisman Trophy in 1978. Unfortunately for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they traded the rights to their no. 1 pick in ’78 to the Houston Oilers, who were more than happy to snap up Campbell. He immediately set the NFL on fire, rushing for 1,450 yards and 13 TDs in his rookie campaign, easily winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Campbell also earned his first of five Pro Bowl nominations, his first of three First Team All-Pro nods, the NEA and PFWA MVP awards and his first of three rushing yards crowns. In 1979, Campbell was MVP for a 1,697 yard, 19 TD effort, followed up by a massive 1,934 yard, 13 TD campaign in 1980. Campbell would have two more 1,000 yard seasons, but his career was cut way too short by injuries and he retired in 1985. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
9. Chuck Bednarik, C/LB – 1949
Concrete Charlie, as he was known to his friends, was the last of the full-time two way players to lace ’em up in the NFL. He was a classic hard-hitting linebacker who also doubled as a center on offence. The Philadelphia Eagles were defending NFL champions, earning the bonus pick that would land them Bednarik out of the University of Pennsylvania. The hard-hitting native of Bethlehem paid immediate dividends, making the final game-saving tackle against Green Bay to help the Eagles win a second straight championship in 1949. Bednarik had a reputation for being durable, missing just three games in 14 seasons and was bestowed his nickname for his off-season job as a concrete salesman. One of his devastating hits sent the New York Giants Frank Gifford to the sidelines for 18 months and was on the receiving end of a Chuck Noll shiver to the face. Bednarik, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967, won two titles, went to the Pro Bowl eight times and was a 10-time First Team All-Pro.
8. Orlando Pace, OT – 1997
Exactly four offensive tackles have been drafted first overall in the draft and Pace narrowly beats out Ron Yary (the last tackle to be drafted before Pace in 1968) for inclusion here. The Sandusky born giant (6’7″, 324 lbs.) was drafted by the St. Louis Rams out of Ohio State and in his 13-year Hall of Fame career he won a Super Bowl, made the Pro Bowl seven times and was a First Team All-Pro three times. As part of the “Greatest Show On Turf” in St. Louis, Pace blocked for three straight AP NFL MVPs (Kurt Warner in 1999, 2001; and Marshall Faulk in 2000). He was the key cog on a Rams offensive line that helped the offence compile more gross yards than any other team during his 12 years in St. Louis (50,770 in 12 seasons). The team also finished second in completion percentage (61.8 percent) and fifth in touchdown passes (289) over that span. With Pace providing stellar pass protection, the Rams’ compiled more than 3,000 yards in all 12 of his NFL seasons, with seven different QBs eclipsing the 3,000-yard mark in a season (including three times surpassing the 4,000-yard mark) and blocked for seven 1,000-yard rushers.
7. Lee Roy Selmon, DE – 1976
Lee Roy “Gentle Giant” Selmon had the distinction of the being the first ever draft pick in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, when the expansion club selected him first in 1976 out of Oklahoma. Selmon made the most out of playing for a Bucs squad that would go 0-14 in its first season and struggle to seven victories in its first three seasons. In 1979, the Buccaneers finally recorded a winning season at 10-6, with Selmon copping Defensive Player of the Year and earning his first of six Pro Bowl nominations and first of three First Team All-Pro designations. Selmon played nine seasons in the NFL and his sack statistics weren’t tracked until his final three seasons in the league (1982-84). He recorded four sacks the first year the stat was tracked in 1982 and in 1983 he tied three others for 11th in that category with 11. Selmon, who Detroit Lions coach Monte Clark described as “a grown man at work among a bunch of boys” was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.
6. Troy Aikman, QB – 1989
There have been 31 quarterbacks drafted first overall since 1936, with Troy Aikman being the 15th ever in 1989. The ‘Boys were pretty horrible in the latter half of the 80s, going 3-13 in 1988 to qualify for the first pick overall. Aikman originally played for Oklahoma in college, but an ankle injury forced him out and he went across the country to play for UCLA. There he established himself as a premier passer, catching the eye of Tom Landry and the Cowboys while winning the Cotton Bowl. Big D selected him first overall and within four seasons he would win the first of three Super Bowls (in four seasons between 1992 and 1995). Though his passing stats weren’t quite elite level (he had 165 career TDs against 141 interceptions) Aikman was a winner, voted MVP for Super Bowl XXVII. He was a First Team All-Pro just once and went to six Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
5. Bruce Smith, DE – 1985
Bruce Smith was known as “the Sack Man” at Virginia Tech and was the first overall pick in two leagues in 1985, Buffalo selecting him in the NFL draft and the champion Baltimore Stars in the USFL version. He spurned the USFL, but would not have a stellar start to his NFL career. His work ethic during his rookie year lacked and only after some inspiration from veteran Darryl Talley did he change his ways to become a sack specialist in the NFL. In fact, by the time he played his last season with Washington in 2003, Smith had recorded a record 200 sacks. He had a career high 19 during the 1990 season, when he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the first of two occasions. In addition to that, he was the AFC Defensive Player of the Year four times, a First Team All-Pro nine times and a Pro Bowler 11 times. He never did win a Super Bowl with the hard luck Bills, but Smith was a force during their four straight title attempts from 1990 to 1993, recording 8.5 sacks in 13 games combined. He was enshrined at Canton in 2009.
4. John Elway, QB – 1983
Elway’s transition from two-sport star at Stanford to big league QB wasn’t a smooth one. The consensus no. 1 selection in the 1983 draft was taken by Baltimore, but cited a couple of reasons he didn’t want to play there, threatening to join the New York Yankees if the Colts didn’t trade him. The Colts relented and dealt him to Denver, where he would make history. In his first season, the Future Hall of Famer would lead the Broncos to the playoffs and in 1986 and 1987 he was instrumental to back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs, being named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII and MVP of the 1987 season. Elway recorded the most victories by a starting quarterback and statistically was the second most prolific passer in NFL history. He was also a great runner, being one of only two players ever to score a rushing touchdown in four different Super Bowls (the other being Thurman Thomas) and the only quarterback to do so.
3. Paul Hornung, RB – 1957
Notre Dame grad Paul Hornung was called “the Golden Boy” for very good reason. The Hall of Fame running back was the first football player in history to win the Heisman, be the first overall pick in the draft, win the NFL MV and be inducted into the pro and college football halls of fame. A two-sport athlete who also excelled in college basketball for the Irish, Hornung was drafted by Green Bay in 1957 and though his rushing totals were fairly modest by today’s standards (his season high with the Packers was 681 yards in 1960), Hornung was also a place kicker who set a record for points with 176 during the 1960 season, in just 12 games. The Louisville native won four championships in his illustrious career, including Super Bowl I and was the league’s MVP in 1961.
2. Peyton Manning, QB – 1998
The son of NFL quarterback Archie Manning came by his talents honestly and would have a NFL career that far surpassed that of his Dad. Manning was a stud at Tennessee, and even though he never won a Heisman, his exploits would make him the no. 1 overall selection in the 1998 draft. The Indianapolis Colts were coming off a 3-13 campaign in 1997 and needed a pivot. Manning stepped into the breech and after another 3-13 season in 1998, the team improved steadily under his offensive guidance. He recorded the first of 14 4,000+ yards seasons in 1999 and by 2003 he was named MVP, turning the trick again in 2004. In 2006, Manning led the Colts to just their second Super Bowl title and was MVP. In 2013, at the age of 37, Manning threw for the most passing yards ever in a season, an incredible 5,477, winning his fifth and final MVP award. He retired in 2015 as the all-time passing yards leader with 71,940, as well as owning the marks for most passing touchdowns (549) and passing TDs in a season (55).
1. Terry Bradshaw, QB – 1970
Peyton Manning may have set a flurry of records, but for our money, Bradshaw was the top no. 1 overall pick ever in any draft, by Pittsburgh in 1970. Not only did the Blonde Bomber call all his own plays, but he also had one of the most powerful arms in league history, leading the Steelers to four championships in the 1970s (1974-75 and 1978-79). Even though he only threw for 300 or more yards in a game seven times in his 14-year career, three of those performances came in the post-season (two in a Super Bowl). He was a clutch player who passed for 932 yards and nine touchdowns in four Super Bowls, a record at the time of his retirement. Of his individual accomplishments, Bradshaw was a Super Bowl MVP twice, Pro Bowler three times, First Team All-Pro once and NFL MVP in 1978. The affable native of Shreveport, LA was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989, his first year of eligibility.