The NFL Draft is just about a month away and there are countless mock drafts that will speculate where certain players will fall. Some people concern themselves with the top of the draft most years, thinking that the only potentially great players are selected in the top 10, while the others are often seen as developmental prospects. That hasn’t been the case throughout the years, though.
Even if your team is drafting a little farther down the board in the first round, there is still a chance of getting a Hall of Fame or Pro Bowl player. Today we want to take a look at the best players that were drafted with each slot in the first 32 overall picks.
There have only been 32 picks in the first round since 2002 (and there are only 31 this year thanks to the Patriots), so there are technically some second rounders at the bottom of the list. Regardless here are the best players for each draft position, starting with a certain Sheriff that just hung up his cleats.
32 Peyton Manning
There are an awful lot of busts at the top of the draft, but there have also been a lot of legends, making it hard to pick from. Out of all of them, though, Peyton Manning has to be the best top overall pick in 1998 with Indianapolis. Manning has 14 Pro Bowls selections, five MVP Awards and leads the NFL in touchdown passes, passing yards and wins. Manning just added a second Super Bowl title as well, before retiring after the 2015 season.
31 Lawrence Taylor
Often regarded as one of the best defensive players of all-time, Lawrence Taylor was drafted second overall by the Giants in 1981 and spent his entire career with the team. The linebacker was named an All-Pro 10 times, winning two Super Bowls along the way, as well as the 1986 MVP award and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
30 Barry Sanders
Regarded by some as the greatest running back to ever play, Barry Sanders was taken third overall by the Lions in 1989 out of Oklahoma State and spent his entire career in Detroit. Sanders made the Pro Bowl in all 10 of his NFL seasons, as well as six All-Pro teams. Sanders was likely on his way to becoming the leagues leading rusher, but retired young. Still, Sanders was able to rush for more than 15,000 yards averaging five yards per carry.
29 Walter Payton
Another player in the ‘greatest running back’ discussion, Walter Payton was the fourth pick out of Jackson State in 1975 by the Bears, and he played with the team till 1987. Payton won a Super Bowl with Chicago and was named MVP in three different years while also being named to two All-Decade teams. Payton is also a Pro Football Hall of Fame member after being inducted in 1993.
28 LaDainian Tomlinson
A standout at TCU, LaDainian Tomlinson was selected fifth by the Chargers in 2001. In his NFL career, Tomlinson finished fifth in career rushing yards while setting the record for most rushing touchdowns in a season and was named to six All-Pro teams. Tomlinson never won a Super Bowl, but did win the 2006 MVP Award.
27 Jim Brown
The legendary running backs keep coming, this time with Jim Brown, the sixth overall pick by the Browns from Syracuse in 1957. Brown led the NFL in rushing in all but one of his nine seasons in the league, and was also an All-Pro in those seasons where he led the league. Brown finished his career with 12,312 rushing yards and a record 5.2 yards per carry to go along with 106 touchdowns, making the Hall of Fame in 1971.
26 Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson has the distinguishment of being the most recent player taken on the entire list. Peterson was the seventh pick in 2007 out of Oklahoma and has been the best running back of the past 10 years. Peterson has made seven All-Pro teams while winning the 2012 MVP Award and has led the league in rushing three times, including the 2015 season.
25 Ronnie Lott
Known as one of the toughest defensive players to ever take the field, Ronnie Lott is still one of the players that current defensive backs are compared to. Lott was drafted in 1981 out of USC by the 49ers while also playing for the Raiders, Jets and Chiefs in his career. Lott was a 10-time Pro Bowler that was named to two All-Decade teams and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
24 Bruce Matthews
The Matthews family has made a big mark on the NFL, and the best of them all was Bruce Matthews, a tackle out of USC that was taken ninth overall in 1983 by the Houston Oilers. Matthews remained with the team all the way through 2001 when they became the Tennessee Titans, making 14 Pro Bowls and being named to 10 All-Pro teams. Matthews was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
23 Marcus Allen
Our third straight player out of USC, Marcus Allen was selected 10th by the Raiders in 1982 and also had solid seasons for the Chiefs at the end of his career. Allen was a dynamic player that was named to six Pro Bowls while also winning the 1985 MVP Award in addition to dominating Super Bowl XVIII. Allen finished with 12,243 rushing yards and became a Hall of Fame member in 2003.
22 Michael Irvin
Our first player from Miami (FL), Michael Irvin became part of the Cowboys three headed monster with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith when he was drafted 11th overall in 1988. Irvin was known as "The Playmaker" in his career, winning three Super Bowls with Dallas while being named to three All-Pro teams. Irvin still holds the record for most receiving yards by a Cowboy and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
21 Warren Sapp
A second Miami (FL) player, Warren Sapp was one of the best defensive linemen of the recent era after being taken 12th in 1995 by Tampa Bay. Sapp was named to six All-Pro teams, two All-Decade teams and had nearly 100 career sacks out of the defensive tackle position. Sapp became a member of the Hall of Fame in 2013 and had his jersey retired by the Buccaneers.
20 Tony Gonzalez
The 13th overall pick out of Cal in 1997 by the Chiefs, Tony Gonzalez has just about every tight end record out there. Gonzalez played till the 2013 season and currently holds the record for most receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end while also being fifth on the list for receiving yards and second in receptions. Gonzalez is the only tight end to ever catch more than 1,000 passes.
19 Jim Kelly
Coming out of Miami in 1983, Jim Kelly was taken 14th by the Bills, but did not suit up for the team until the 1986 season. Kelly would end up spending his entire career in the NFL with Buffalo while being named to five Pro Bowl teams. Kelly was able to lead the Bills to four Super Bowls, and he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
18 Alan Page
The first Notre Dame player on our list, Alan Page was taken 15th in 1967 by the Vikings and was one of the most feared defensive tackles of the 1970’s. Page was named to nine All-Pro teams while registering 173 career sacks. Page made it to four Super Bowls, and was then elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988.
17 Jerry Rice
After coming out of Mississippi Valley State, Jerry Rice was selected in 1985 by the 49ers and would go on to become the greatest wide receiver to play in the NFL. Rice’s receiving records seem nearly untouchable with 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards and 208 touchdowns. Rice also won three Super Bowls while being named to 13 Pro Bowls. He also spent time with the Raiders, Seahawks and a brief period with the Broncos.
16 Emmitt Smith
Jerry Rice holds all of the major receiving records, while the 17th overall pick in 1990 out of Florida holds the rushing records. Emmitt Smith spent 14 years in the NFL with Dallas (and then Arizona), reaching eight Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl championships. Smith ended his career with 18,355 rushing yards and 164 touchdowns, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
15 Art Monk
The 18th overall pick in 1980 by the Redskins out of Syracuse, Art Monk ended his career after the 1995 season with the record for most receptions and receiving yards until Jerry Rice and others came along. Monk won three Super Bowls with the Redskins and is a member of the Ring of Fame. Monk was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after a long waiting period that upset some fans.
14 Marvin Harrison
A second straight receiver out of Syracuse, Marvin Harrison was the 19th pick in 1996 by the Colts. Harrison and Peyton Manning had a fantastic career together, and Harrison spent his entire career with Indianapolis. Harrison was an eight time Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl Champion and finished with 14,580 receiving yards on 1,102 receptions. Harrison was named to the 2016 class of the Hall of Fame.
13 Jack Youngblood
Drafted 20th overall in 1971 by the Rams, Jack Youngblood (out of Florida) became one of the best defensive players of the 1970s. Youngblood was named to eight All-Pro teams and won two NFC Defensive Player of the Year awards while gathering 151.5 sacks in 188 starts. Youngblood was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
12 Randy Moss
Randy Moss would have gone higher than 21st in 1998 if it weren’t for a few character concerns, but the Vikings took a chance and it paid off. Moss (who also played for the Raiders, Patriots, Titans and 49ers) was named to seven Pro Bowls in his career and led the league in touchdowns five times. Moss has the record for most receiving touchdowns in a season with 23 and he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2017.
11 Andre Rison
Michigan State alum Andre Rison was taken 22nd in 1989 by the Colts, but was traded to the Falcons the next season. Rison played for seven teams in his 12 seasons, racking up five Pro Bowl appearances. He also won a Super Bowl with Green Bay and finished his career with 743 receptions, 10,205 receiving yards and 84 touchdown catches.
10 Ozzie Newsome
Now the General Manager for the Ravens, Ozzie Newsome was once a great tight end for the Cleveland Browns after being drafted 23rd out of Alabama in 1978. Newsome had 7,980 receiving yards and 47 touchdowns, and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1999 after five All-Pro selections and an All-Decade team nod in the 1980’s. While he never did so as a player, Newsome has won two Super Bowls as a member of the Ravens front office.
9 Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers had to wait a long time to be drafted out of Cal in 2005 and then had to wait years to become the starter in Green Bay at quarterback. Rodgers is considered by many to be the best quarterback in the NFL currently, as he has been named to five Pro Bowls and has added a Super Bowl title to his resume. Rodgers has an insane touchdown to interception ratio which is 257 to 65 after the 2015 season.
8 Ted Washington
Ted Washington was taken 25th overall by the 49ers out of Louisville, but the nose tackle would play for seven teams in his 16 year career. Washington was a four time Pro Bowler and three time All-Pro, winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots along the way. Washington had 603 tackles and 34.5 sacks, calling it a career after spending the 2007 season with the Cleveland Browns.
7 Ray Lewis
Perhaps the best linebacker of the past 20 years, Ray Lewis was a staple for the Ravens out of Miami (FL) starting in 1996. Lewis played with Baltimore throughout his entire career that lasted until he finished with a Super Bowl ring in 2012. Lewis was a 13-time Pro Bowler, and his 10 All-Pro selections are tied with Lawrence Taylor for most by a linebacker. Lewis will likely be heading to the Hall of Fame when he is eligible in 2017.
6 Dan Marino
Dan Marino slid pretty far down the draft board in 1983 out of Pitt before finally being selected 27th by the Dolphins. Marino spent all 17 seasons of his career there, becoming a six time All-Pro and one time MVP. Marino led the league in passing yards five times and held the single season passing yardage record for more than 20 years. Marino finished with 420 touchdowns, which is now fifth all-time.
5 Darrell Green
One of the finest cornerbacks to ever play in the NFL, Darrell Green was selected 28th out of Texas A&I (now Texas A&M Kingsville) by the Redskins in 1983. Green played with Washington all the way through the 2002 season, making it to seven Pro Bowls and winning two Super Bowl titles. Green finished his career with 54 interceptions, and was one of the fastest players to ever make it to the NFL.
4 Steve Wisniewski
Steve “The Wiz” Wisniewski was technically drafted in the second round, but was taken 29th overall by the Cowboys (and subsequently traded to the Raiders) out of Penn State in 1989 (there were no Jaguars, Panthers or Texans at the time). Wisniewski was an eight time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection, being named to the 1990's All-Decade team. Wisniewski also coached the offensive line for the Raiders in 2011, 10 years after ending his career.
3 Reggie Wayne
Alongside Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne was a big part of the 2000s Colts offense. Wayne was taken 30th overall by the Colts in 2001 from Miami (FL) ,and he reached six Pro Bowls with 14,345 career receiving yards and 82 touchdowns. Wayne has been named to three All-Pro teams as well, and he announced his retirement in 2015 after a very brief period of time spent with the Patriots.
2 Tommy McDonald
It wasn’t until the third round that Tommy McDonald was drafted, but he was 31st overall in 1957 from Oklahoma by the Eagles. McDonald, a wide receiver, was named to six Pro Bowls after 8,410 career receiving yards and 84 touchdowns, helping the team to win the 1960 NFL Championship. McDonald was also named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 after a very long wait.
1 Drew Brees
In the final year before there were 32 selections in the first round, Drew Brees was taken with the first pick of the second round by the Chargers in 2001 out of Purdue. Brees has been with the Saints since 2006, helping the team win their first Super Bowl championship. Brees has been a nine-time Pro Bowler that has led the league in passing yards six times, racking up 428 passing touchdowns and more than 60,000 yards.