Although savvy NFL teams can find talent anywhere in the NFL Draft, there’s still something to be said for having the number one overall pick. If the importance of the first selection seems overrated, recall how upset New York Jets fans were this past season after winning games to take them out of contention to draft in that slot. Having the number one overall pick is about as bright a light a team can shine into promising a better future for their fans.
However, just like with most things in life, having the number one overall pick doesn’t guarantee that the player chosen there will have an amazing career. Just ask the Oakland Raiders, who selected quarterback JaMarcus Russell there in 2007. The Houston Texans drafted signal caller David Carr with the first overall pick in 2002, and it also did not change their fortunes. In 1999, the Cleveland Browns took quarterback Tim Couch, and they still had many difficult seasons that followed.
The 5 best No.1 NFL Draft picks of all time
In a perfect world though, teams strike pure gold with their selection with the number one overall draft pick and that has happened quite a few times in NFL history. Let’s take a look at the first greatest No.1 overall picks of all time in the NFL Draft.
We have to go all the way back to 1970 for our first selection, but the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly capitalized on their opportunity to change the franchise. The team drafted Louisiana Tech quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who many fans know today from the NFL on FOX pregame show. Before he became a star on television, Bradshaw played in some of the biggest games early on in the Super Bowl era.
Although Bradshaw’s numbers may not seem that impressive compared to the statistics today’s quarterbacks record, his impact and presence was undeniable in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won four Super Bowls with Bradshaw under center, who is forever linked to some of the greatest plays of all time.
While he’s perhaps more well known now as being an executive for the Denver Broncos by a younger generation, John Elway had a career that ranks him right up there with some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. After being drafted number one overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1983, Elway made it very clear that he did not want to play for the franchise. As a result, they traded him to Denver, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Elway played 16 seasons for the Broncos, and was named to the Pro Bowl in 9 of those campaigns. Remarkably, the Broncos finished .500 or better in games Elway started in 14 out of those 16 years.
To put the cherry on top of his career, Elway delivered back-to-back Super Bowl championships in the final two years of his career, in 1997 and 1998.
Breaking up the run on quarterbacks, we have a standout player who made his name on defense. With the first pick in the 1985 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills took Bruce Smith out of Virginia Tech. The Bills didn’t know it at the time, but they would find the leader and lynchpin of their defense for the next 15 seasons.
Smith went on to play the final four seasons of his career with Washington, but will be forever remembered as a member of the Bills. He played in 4 straight Super Bowls with the team in the 1990’s. The former Virginia Tech star is also the career leader in sacks in NFL history.
We return to the theme of successful quarterbacks taken number one overall with Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys. Looking to establish a new winning culture, new head coach Jimmy Johnson needed a new face of the franchise, and tabbed Aikman as his man with the first overall selection in the 1989 NFL Draft.
Things did not get off to a fantastic start for Aikman, as Dallas lost all 11 games he started in his rookie season. However, things would turn around for him and the team a few short years later. The Cowboys won three Super Bowl championships in the 1990’s, and re-established their credibility as America’s team.
Finally, we take a look at one of the most prolific passers in NFL history in Peyton Manning. It was apparent from his very first game in the NFL that Manning had the skills to become one of the very best quarterbacks in league history. He went toe-to-toe with legendary veteran Dan Marino, and almost led the Indianapolis Colts to a shocking upset in the first game of his professional career.
Manning won two Super Bowls; one with the Colts, and one in his final NFL season with the Denver Broncos. He’s also the holder of two prodigious passing records. Manning has thrown for the most touchdowns in a season, with 55. He also thrown for the most yards in a single campaign, with 5,477.