If there’s one thing the NFL draft has proven over the last eight-plus decades, it’s that superstars can come from just about any pick available, especially early on. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of mid-to-late round gems that have shocked the world, most notably the No. 199 pick in 2000, Mr. Tom Brady, but when looking at which round has produced the most players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first round takes the cake.
So with that in mind, we decided to take a look at the best players taken with picks 1 to 32, which now make up the first round of the NFL draft. Keep in mind that wasn’t always the case as the league has obviously expanded over the years, which means some of these guys weren’t actually first-round selections. But you see what we’re doing here.
Let’s get to it.
The top players to be taken No. 1 through No. 8 in the NFL draft
- No. 1-Peyton Manning, 1998: The first-ever quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams, Manning was a five-time NFL MVP, a 14-time Pro Bowler, and a 10-time All-Pro selection.
- No. 2-Lawrence Taylor, 1981: Arguably the most dominant defensive player in NFL history, LT is one of just two defensive players to win NFL MVP and was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
- No. 3-Barry Sanders, 1989: An All-Pro selection in each of his 10 seasons, Sanders was a one-time NFL MVP and rushed for 15,269 yards, good for fourth on the all-time list.
- No. 4-Walter Payton, 1975: Payton sits in second place on the all-time rushing yards list with 16,726 yards and was an eight-time All-Pro, a one-time NFL MVP, and a one-time Super Bowl champion.
- No. 5-Deion Sanders, 1989: One of the best shutdown cornerbacks as well as one of the most feared kick returns in league history, “Prime Time” was a two-time Super Bowl champ, an eight-time All-Pro, and a one-time Defensive Player of the Year.
- No. 6-Jim Brown, 1957: Brown won the first of three NFL MVP awards as a rookie and his last in his final season and was the league’s all-time leading rusher when he retired.
- No. 7-Champ Bailey, 1999: One of the best cornerbacks of all time, Bailey earned more Pro Bowl selections (12) than any defensive back in NFL history and was also a seven-time All-Pro selection.
- No. 8-Ronnie Lott, 1981: Arguably the best safety in history, Lott was a four-time Super Bowl champion, a 10-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro, and twice led the league in interceptions.
No. 9 to No. 16
- No. 9-Bruce Matthews, 1983: Currently tied for the most Pro Bowl selections of all time with 14, Matthews played every position on the offensive line over the course of his 19-year career and played the 14th-most games in NFL history (296).
- No. 10-Rod Woodson, 1987: Woodson, an 11-time Pro Bowl cornerback, eight-time All-Pro, one-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a Super Bowl champion, still holds the NFL record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns with 12.
- No. 11-Michael Irvin, 1988: A three-time Super Bowl champion, Irvin was also a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro before his career was cut short due to injury.
- No. 12-Warren Sapp, 1995: In 13 NFL seasons, Sapp was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro, a one-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a one-time Super Bowl champion.
- No. 13-Tony Gonzalez, 1997: A 14-time Pro Bowler and a 10-time All-Pro, Gonzalez leads all tight ends in NFL history in receptions (1,325), receiving yards (15,127), and touchdown catches (111).
- No. 14-Gino Marchetti, 1952: The best defensive end of his era, Marchetti was a two-time NFL champion, an 11-time Pro Bowler, and a 10-time All-Pro selection.
- No. 15-Alan Page, 1967: Page, a nine-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and a nine-time All-Pro selection, was the first defensive player to win NFL MVP and was twice named Defensive Player of the Year.
- No. 16-Jerry Rice, 1985: Rice, considered by most to be the greatest wide receiver in history, was a three-time Super Bowl champion, a 13-time Pro Bowler, an 11-time All-Pro, and leads all wideouts in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197).
No. 17 to No. 24
- No. 17-Emmitt Smith, 1990: The NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards, Smith also leads all rushers with 164 touchdowns and was a three-time Super Bowl champ, an eight-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro, and a one-time NFL MVP.
- No. 18-Paul Krause, 1964: Krause, easily one of the best safeties of all time, was an eight-time Pro Bowler, a seven-time All-Pro, and has the most interceptions in NFL history with 81.
- No. 19-Randall McDaniel, 1988: One of the fastest offensive linemen in NFL history, McDaniel was a 12-time Pro Bowler and a nine-time All-Pro in 14 seasons.
- No. 20-Jack Youngblood, 1971: A seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end and an eight-time All-Pro, Youngblood, also a two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year, played the entire 1979 postseason, including the Super Bowl, with a fractured fibula.
- No. 21-Randy Moss, 1998: Moss is one of just six NFL players to accumulate more than 15,000 receiving yards, also adding 156 receiving touchdowns, and was a six-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro in 14 seasons.
- No. 22-Ernie Stautner, 1950: The only player drafted at No. 22 to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Stautner, a defensive tackle, was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a nine-time All-Pro in 14 seasons.
- No. 23-Bill George, 1951: One of many legendary Chicago Bears linebackers, George was an eight-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro, and a one-time NFL champion.
- No. 24-Ed Reed, 2002: Aaron Rodgers may get this spot at some point but for now it’s Reed, who was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro, a three-time interceptions leader, a one-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a one-time Super Bowl champion.
No. 25 to No. 32
- No. 25-Stanley Morgan, 1977: One of just 49 receivers with more than 10,000 yards, Morgan was a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in 14 seasons.
- No. 26-Ray Lewis, 1996: One of the most fearsome linebackers in NFL history, Lewis accumulated more than 2,000 tackles in his career and was a 13-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time All-Pro, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time Super Bowl champion, and a one-time Super Bowl MVP.
- No. 27-Dan Marino, 1983: One of the greatest quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl, Marino threw for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns in his career and was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro, and a one-time NFL MVP.
- No. 28-Darrell Green, 1983: Arguably the greatest cornerback in NFL history, Green was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro, and a two-time Super Bowl champion in 17 seasons.
- No. 29-Fran Tarkenton, 1961: The owner of just about every major quarterback record when he retired, Tarkenton was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro, and a one-time NFL MVP during his 18-year career.
- No. 30-Sam Huff, 1956: A five-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Huff was also a six-time All-Pro selection and a one-time NFL champion over the course of his 13-year career.
- No. 31-Tommy McDonald, 1957: In 12 NFL seasons, McDonald caught 495 passes for 8,410 yards with 84 touchdowns and was a six-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro.
- No. 32-Drew Brees, 2001: A 13-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All-Pro, one-time Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl MVP, Brees retired as the all-time NFL leader in passing yards (80,358) and completions (7,142) and second in completion percentage (67.7%), attempts (10,551), and touchdown passes (571).
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference