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Top 5 NFL Draft prospects of all time

John Elway was one of the best college prospects in NFL Draft history
John Elway was one of the best college prospects in NFL Draft history
Modified 31 Mar 2021

There’s nothing quite like the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. Opinions are tweaked, narratives are drafted and storylines grab hold of players who have not played a single game since January.

Pundits, analysts and fans alike dissect players on their recent quotes, injury history, Pro Day performances, and in regular years, their combined metrics.

Heading into this year's NFL Draft, everyone thinks they know who the next great NFL player will be.

There are guys who put on a show in the weight room who could be unblockable at the line of scrimmage. There are quarterbacks who routinely hit receivers in stride indoors wearing T-shirts and shorts, which we think are destined to win multiple Super Bowls. There are wide receivers who run like the wind in a straight line without having to face press coverage. But every college prospect heading into the NFL Draft isn’t going to be a brand name.

Top five NFL Draft prospects in history:

Before we move forward into the high tide of the NFL Draft season in April, let’s look back at the top five Draft prospects of all time.

#1 Brian Bosworth

In the mid-1980s, there was no more menacing player who epitomized defensive football than the University of Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth.


Bosworth was about as decorated a player as there was at the time. He was a two time All-American and a two time Dick Butkus award winner (bestowed on the best linebacker in college football). He was also a part of the 1985 national championship team and was front and center in TV sets around the country.

Not only was Bosworth noticed for his play—but he also had a larger than life personality. Coming into the 1987 NFL Draft, it seemed all but certain that he would make a big difference on the field (although there was a lot of controversy about which teams he would actually play for).

As it turned out, 'The Boz' only ended up playing three seasons in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks before flaming out.

#2 Todd Marinovich

The plan for Todd Marinovich, seemingly since he was born, was for him to be a star NFL quarterback. His father, Marv, desperately wanted his son to excel on this career track and was intent on having Todd perfect his craft during his childhood and teenage years.

The younger Marinovich ended up playing quarterback at the University of Southern California and showed flashes of promise while playing with the Trojans.

He finished first in the Pac 10 in completion percentage in his first year with the team in 1989. He showed enough skills to be drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1991. Unfortunately, Todd Marinovich flamed out of the NFL in two years after playing only eight games.


#3 Ryan Leaf

Another prime-time prospect at the quarterback position, who came into the Pac 10 a few years after Marinovich, was Washington State signal-caller Ryan Leaf. Leaf looked every bit the part of a future star in college, with a prototypical 6’ 5” frame and a cannon of an arm.

In 1997, Leaf set the college football world on fire, throwing for 34 touchdowns and posting a sparkling 158.7 passer rating. He would go on to be named Pac 10 offensive player of the year in 1997.

Heading into the NFL Draft that year, there was a legitimate debate about whether he or Tennesee Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning should be drafted first overall. Luckily for the Colts, they took the latter, and Leaf was never quite able to stick around in the NFL.


#4 Peyton Manning

As we’ve traversed a few sad stories on this list, let’s change things up a bit by looking at one of the more uplifting narratives as it relates to NFL Draft prospects.

As the eldest son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, Peyton Manning had the bloodlines, stature and talent to become the league’s next greatest player. As a four-year starter at Tennessee, Manning continued to get better and better, culminating with several awards such as the 1997 SEC Player of the Year and the 1997 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Manning’s career in the NFL was nothing short of special, as he spearheaded some of the most potent offensive attacks in recent NFL history. He went on to win two Super Bowls and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this year.

#5 John Elway


Another can’t-miss prospect who actually went on to have a great NFL career was John Elway.

In fact, Elway’s future athletic prospects were so bright, he was in high demand both as a quarterback and as a baseball player. It was apparent that Elway’s right arm and evident moxy in the pocket would leave him destined for great things.

While at Stanford, Elway was the Pac 10 player of the year in both the 1980 and 1982 seasons. He was the number one overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts, but his camp forced a trade to the Denver Broncos. He spent his entire professional career there, winning Super Bowls in both his final two seasons.

Published 31 Mar 2021, 02:32 IST
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