In six of the last 10 NFL entry drafts, a quarterback has been taken first overall.
This year’s draft class might see four pivots, including Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen go in the top 5.
The last pivot to go no. 1 was Jared Goff to the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, followed by Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett who was selected numero uno by Cleveland in 2017.
Since the turn of the century, only five non-quarterbacks have been chosen first overall, evidence that offence has been heavily 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.
The Browns, again, have the first overall pick in 2018 and if they take one of the Fab Four QBs, their future greatness is still to be determined. With that in mind, we have selected our top 20 no. 1 overall picks since 1936.
20. O.J. Simpson, RB – 1969
This is not a popular pick, that much is certain. However, putting his sordid post-football history aside, Simpson was an excellent no. 1 overall selection and worthy of inclusion here. The Juice was a stud at USC for two seasons, racking up 3,423 yards on the ground, 320 in the air and scoring 36 touchdowns. In 1969, the AFL and NFL conducted the final joint draft of college players and the AFL’s Buffalo Bills were only too happy to select the fleet Heisman Trophy winner. He didn’t disappoint in his rookie season, rolling up 1,040 combined yards in 13 games and scoring five TDs for the 4-10 Bills. Simpson had a breakthrough season in 1972, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,251 yards rushing and six touchdowns in 14 games. Between 1972 and 1976, Simpson was the league’s rushing leader four times, including a massive 2,003 yards in 1973 (seventh most all-time, but in just 14 games). A Hall of Famer, Simpson was a five-time All-Pro and the 1973 MVP. Despite his prowess, though, he played in just one playoff game with Buffalo in 1974.
19. Mario Williams, DE – 2006
There were more popular selections projected to go no. 1 in 2006, including USC running back Reggie Bush and Texas QB Vince Young. In the end, though, the Houston Texans made the right choice by tabbing NC State defensive end Mario Williams. A North Carolina native, Williams had one huge season with the Wolfpack before the draft, recording 62 tackles and 14.5 sacks in 12 games. He started all 16 games his rookie season with the Texans and had 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks. For the next three seasons, the durable Williams started all 48 games and had 35 sacks. However, in 2010 he finally missed three games due to a hernia and in 2011 he played in just five games after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. He was a free agent after 2011 and got picked up by Buffalo, where he had a career revival. Between 2012 and 2014 with the Bills, Williams had 126 tackles and 38 sacks. He was voted First Team All-Pro for the first time in 2014. He ended his career with Miami in 2016 having gone to four Pro Bowls and also garnering two Second Team All-Pro nominations.
18. Ron Yary, T – 1968
One year before O.J. Simpson was taken no. 1 overall, the Minnesota Vikings made a decidedly unsexy selection with their first pick, taking USC offensive tackle Ron Yary. However, the Chicago native, originally a defensive lineman, quickly made the transition and won the Outland Trophy as the NCAA’s top offensive lineman in 1967. The Vikings added fuel for criticism with Yary’s pick, as they had earlier traded QB Fran Tarkenton to the New York Giants (1966) to obtain that no. 1 pick. Yary proved the Vikes right, playing 14 seasons in a Vikings uniform and winning a NFL championship with the club in 1969 (though they would lose the Super Bowl to Kansas City). Yary would later be integral to protecting Tarkenton, who Minnesota reacquired in 1972. Yary went to three Super Bowls with the Vikings, as well as six Pro Bowls. He was also a six-time First Team All-Pro and two-time Second Team All-Pro and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
17. George Rogers, RB – 1981
The South Carolina Gamecocks have had two alumni taken first overall, the last being DE Jadeveon Clowney by Houston in 2014 (he may yet make this list). The first was huge tailback George Rogers, who only attended South Carolina because the coach told him he’d start in his freshman year. Start he did and by his sophomore year Rogers eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing. In 1980, his senior year, Rogers rumbled for 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns, beating out Georgia RB Herschel Walker for the Heisman Trophy. New Orleans, which had its worst season ever in 1980 at 1-15, took Rogers first in 1981. He wasn’t able to get the Saints to a winning record (they finished 4-12 in ’81), but he did lead the NFL in rushing with 1,674 yards, while scoring 13 TDs. He was Offensive Rookie of the Year and a First Team All-Pro, too. Over his brief seven-season career, Rogers amassed 7,176 yards in 92 games, scoring 54 touchdowns. He won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1987 and also went to the Pro Bowl twice.
16. Jim Plunkett, QB – 1971
The 1971 draft held a virtual smorgasbord of top college quarterbacks destined to go in the first round. The trio of Jim Plunkett, Dan Pastorini and Archie Manning (Peyton and Eli’s Dad) were all vying to go no. 1. Plunkett, the Heisman Trophy winner from Stanford, won out going first to New England. Of note, the ’71 draft also produced great future NFL pivots in Lynn Dickey, Ken Anderson (both third round) and Joe Theismann (4th round). Plunkett pretty much struggled for five years with New England, throwing for 9,932 yards and 62 TDs, but tossing 87 interceptions. It was much of the same for two seasons with San Francisco before he was released by the 49ers in 1978. He signed with Oakland and after occupying a reserve role behind Kenny Stabler and then, ironically, Dan Pastorini, he caught a break in 1980. Pastorini went down to injury and Plunkett ably filled in, leading the Raiders to the Super Bowl. The Raiders beat Philadelphia in XV and Plunkett was named MVP, throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns in Oakland’s 27-10 victory. He would win another title with the Raiders at XVIII and retired after the 1986 season.
15. Irving Fryar, WR – 1984
Off the field and post-football career, Irving Fryar hasn’t done all that well, convicted of mortgage fraud and serving time in prison. On the field, though, New England’s first overall pick in 1984 turned out to be a heck of a pass-catcher. Part of a great Nebraska team in the early 1980s that featured Heisman Trophy winning RB Mike Rozier and QB Turner Gill, Fryar had a huge senior year in 1983. He caught 40 passes in 12 games for 780 yards and eight TDs, while adding 318 rushing yards and another two scores. The Patriots, who obtained the pick from Cincinnati, were happy to take him no. 1. He was a Pro Bowler his second season with the Pats (1985) but didn’t break the 1,000-yard barrier until 1991, when he had 1,014 receiving yards and three TDs. He went to Miami in 1993 and enjoyed his most success after the age of 30. He was named to four more Pro Bowls and had four more seasons of 1,000+ receiving yards, setting a personal best with 1,315 yards in 1997 with Philadelphia, when he was 35.
14. Eli Manning, QB – 2004
It had to be just a little tough in the Manning household for young Eli. He grew up in the immense shadows of his quarterback Dad Archie (who was selected second overall in 1971 and had a long NFL career) and big brother Peyton, a star at Tennessee, a no. 1 overall selection in 1998 and a surefire NFL Hall of Famer. Eli opted to go to Ole Miss like his Daddy and in 2004, after finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting, he was picked no. 1 by the San Diego Chargers, who flipped him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers. We think, after matching the post-draft careers of Manning and Rivers, the Chargers might want a do-over. Manning has established himself among the game’s elite, despite the lack of regular season individual accolades. He has won two Super Bowls (XLII and XLVI) and was named MVP of both. Otherwise, he’s been to four Pro Bowls and thrown for over 4,000 yards six times, four of those 4,000-yards+ seasons after the age of 30.
13. Ed Jones, DE – 1974
For the record, Edward Lee Jones, a defensive end from Jackson, TN, was never known in NFL circles as Ed, or Eddie. Nope, his forever name is ‘Too Tall’ and for 15 years he was a superstar in Dallas. At 6’9″ he earned his handle honestly and in 1974, he was hard to miss as the no. 1 overall selection in the draft. He almost didn’t play college football at all, going to Tennessee State in Nashville to play basketball. He left college hoops behind after two seasons to concentrate on football and at his first practice got his famous alias when a teammate remarked that his ill-fitting pants were due to the fact that he was “too tall to play football.” He had 38 sacks at Tennessee State and during his illustrious career with Dallas, he logged 57.5 sacks — a number which is misleading, as sacks weren’t recorded during his first seven seasons in the league (they were tracked starting in 1982). Dallas kept its own sack stats pre-1982 and Jones is unofficially credited with 106, third most in team history. Jones won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys in 1977 and was also a three-time All-Pro.
12. Cam Newton, QB – 2011
It really was a no-brainer in 2011 for the Carolina Panthers to pick Auburn QB and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton first overall. Even though the next six picks in the draft, including Von Miller, Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson all turned out to be great players, Newton has lived up to his top billing. After leading Auburn to a national title in 2010, Newton moved fairly seamlessly into being a pro pivot, throwing for over 4,000 yards in his rookie season and being named Offensive Rookie of the Year. In that great freshman year, he threw for 21 TDs and rumbled another 706 yards and a whopping 14 rushing TDs. He has been an outstanding and durable dual threat passer in his seven seasons, throwing for 25,074 yards and 158 touchdowns (94 INTs) and scampering for 4,320 yards and recording 54 TDs. Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP and First Team All-Pro, has been pretty good in the playoffs, too, leading the Cats to the Super Bowl in 2015.
11. Bubba Smith, DE – 1967
The late Bubba Smith parlayed a great college football career at Michigan State into a great nine-year NFL career and then a pretty good living as a Hollywood actor. Hailing from Nacogdoches County, TX, the giant 6’7″ Smith was a two-time All American with the Spartans and played in the famous “Game of the Century” against Notre Dame in 1966. The Baltimore Colts who could have taken three other Spartans first overall, chose Smith. Despite his massive frame (he weighed 265 lbs, too), Smith was fast and usually drew two blockers. In his fairly brief career, Bubba went to two Pro Bowls, was a First Team All-Pro and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 1970. He retired after an injury-shortened season with Houston in 1976 and a few years later got into film. His claim to fame was playing Office Moses Hightower in the popular “Police Academy” movie series.
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. In the 1997 and 1998 seasons, he was instrumental to back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs, being named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII and MVP of the 1987 regular 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.