The best picks ever made by each franchise in the draft.
By Charlie Campbell.
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Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis - 26th-Overall Pick, 1996
Over the past 20 years, the Ravens have been among the best drafting teams in the NFL. They've landed at least three future Hall of Famers in Lewis, left tackle Jonathan Ogden and safety Ed Reed. Ogden was taken with the fourth-overall pick, and 22 spots later the Ravens landed one of the best linebackers in NFL history. Lewis was playing at a level rarely seen when he led the Ravens' defense to a historic season and Super Bowl Championship in 2000. After many playoff appearances came up short, in his final NFL season, he pushed the Ravens to their second Super Bowl victory. Lewis was a three-down linebacker who was a feared hitter and exceptional leader. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when eligible.
Cleveland Browns: Jim Brown - 6th-Overall Pick, 1957
Even though the Browns have been bad at drafting in recent decades, that wasn't always the case. In fact, Jim Brown is the headliner in one of the best drafts in NFL history as Cleveland landed three Hall of Famers in its 1957 class. Along with Brown, Cleveland selected defensive tackle Henry Jordan and guard Gene Hickerson in the mid-rounds. Brown was the NFL's all-time leading rusher until Walter Payton broke his total, but Brown ran for 12,312 yards with 106 touchdowns and an average of 5.2 yards per carry. He could have racked up more yardage, but retired early. The dominant runner Brown had one of the greatest combinations of size, speed and physicality.
Cincinnati Bengals: Anthony Muñoz - 3rd-Overall Pick, 1980
The Bengals' best draft pick is one of the best, if not the best, offensive linemen in NFL history. Muñoz went to 11 Pro Bowls and was big part of Cincinnati winning the AFC to make two Super Bowl appearances in 1981 and 1988. Muñoz was a dominating run- and pass-blocker who did a great job of protecting quarterback Boomer Esaison. Muñoz was selected as a nine-time All Pro and was part of the NFL's 1980s All-Decade Team. Muñoz also was a star off the field and won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 1991.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Franco Harris - 13th-Overall Pick, 1972
This was extremely hard as the Steelers also had the greatest draft class in NFL history when they landed four Hall of Famers in Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in 1974. However without Harris running the ball and making one of the greatest plays in NFL history, the group would not have four Super Bowl rings to show in their first six years in the league. Harris was a nine-time Pro Bowler, and when he finished his career, he was second in rushing yards in NFL history with 12,120. Harris was the engine of the Steelers' offense in their dominant decade and helped Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl Championships.
Houston Texans: J.J. Watt - 11th-Overall Pick, 2011
Even though the Texans are a young franchise, they have been one of the better drafting teams in recent years. Andre Johnson is a future Hall of Famer, while Duane Brown had become one of the top left tackles in the NFL. However, Watt is already the best pick in franchise history and currently is the best player in the NFL. He is the only player in NFL history to register a 20+-sack season twice and has three straight Pro Bowl and All-Pro appearances. Watt was the 2014 MVP runner-up and already has totaled 57 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, five touchdowns and almost 300 tackles in his NFL career. He is on pace to make a serious run at the NFL's career sack total. To make matters even better for Houston, Watt was taken one pick after the Jaguars selected Blaine Gabbert and one pick in front of the Titans' selection of Jake Locker, two monumental busts for the Texans' division rivals.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning - 1st-Overall Pick, 1998
Perhaps Andrew Luck will one day replace Manning for this designation, but Manning had a prolific run in Indianapolis, leading the Colts to a Super Bowl Championship, and racking up four MVP awards, and 11 Pro Bowl selections. He rewrote the record books during his run with the Colts. While the No.1-overall pick is typically a no-brainer, it wasn't in Manning's draft class as there was a vigorous debate that Ryan Leaf should go first overall. The Colts were wise enough to avoid Leaf and take one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Fred Taylor - 9th-Overall Pick, 1998
If Tony Boselli and Taylor had managed to stay healthy, they could have rewritten record books. Taylor ran for 11,271 yards as a Jaguar, including 1,572-yard season in 2003. Taylor had a serious combination of size and speed to dominate defenses. Aside from those two, the Jaguars had some other great draft picks in Maurice Jones-Drew, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
Tennessee Titans: Bruce Matthews - 9th-Overall Pick, 1983
This award came down to Matthews and Earl Campbell. Other players worth considering included Eddie George and Steve McNair, but they aren't among the greatest ever at their positions like the top two. Matthews' career spanned three decades, and he made 14-straight Pro Bowls while playing every position on the offensive line. He was a 10-time All-Pro and part of the 1990's All-Decade Team. Matthews retired after the 2001 season having been a dominant blocker for McNair, George, Warren Moon and Campbell.
Buffalo Bills: Jim Kelly - 14th-Overall Pick, 1984
In the 1980s, the Bills went on a prolific streak of nailing their first-round picks to set up one of the best runs in league history. Kelly was the first of them in 1983, although he played in the USFL until 1986. Kelly was a five-time Pro Bowler and led Buffalo to four-straight Super Bowl appearances. With a powerful arm and excellent accuracy, Kelly and the Bills changed the NFL with their fast-paced K-Gun offense. Kelly's ability to audible and run the offense was a thing of beauty. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 35,467 yards with 237 touchdowns in his career. The Hall of Famer Kelly was a model of consistency in his great career.
Miami Dolphins: Dan Marino - 27th-Overall Pick, 1983
Marino was a steal at the end of the first round in the best quarterback draft class in NFL history as he became the all-time leader in passing yards. Marino was a nine-time Pro Bowl and put up earth-shattering numbers during his prolific career. He was the first player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a single season and the first to throw for 40 touchdowns in a single season. Marino totaled 61,361 yards with 420 touchdown passes in his great career. There is no doubt that Marino's rocket arm was one of the best to ever spin a football, and he was a truly dominant player with the ability to lead comeback wins late in games. Marino was a championship level quarterback who just never had a good enough team around him to win a Super Bowl.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady - 199th-Overall Pick, 2000
This is a no-doubter as Brady is the biggest steal in the history of the NFL draft. With Brady at quarterback, coach Bill Belichick has put together a dynasty in New England with four Super Bowl championships and two other appearances in the Super Bowl. Brady also led the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 record during the 2007 regular season. Former New England personnel boss Scott Pioli admits the Patriots got lucky when they drafted Brady, but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and that was the case with the Patriots getting a Super Bowl and Hall of Fame quarterback in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
New York Jets: Joe Namath - 1st-Overall Pick, 1965
This was a tough call between Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau and Namath. However, the former two had each other to form the "New York Sack Exchange" that terrorized quarterbacks in the 1980s. Namath led the Jets to their only Super Bowl Championship with a mega upset over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. Namath was an icon in New York and NFL history who also was a five-time Pro Bowler and is a member of the Hall of Fame.
Denver Broncos: Terrell Davis - 196th-Overall Pick, 1995
It wasn't a long career, but Davis went on a prolific run that led the Broncos franchise to new heights. Davis was the workhorse who led Denver to repeat as Super Bowl champions in XXXII and XXXIII. He had a 2,000-yard rushing season in 1998 coming off of 1,750 yards in 1997. Davis and the Broncos also changed the NFL with the success of their zone-blocking scheme, and now, those plays are a staple in every NFL offense. Injuries cut Davis' career short, but he was the catalyst for two championships and is one of the biggest late-round steals in NFL history.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tony Gonzalez - 13th-Overall Pick, 1997
Gonzalez will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in a few years. He holds all the records for most receiving yards, catches and scores. Not only did Gonzalez prove to be an elite receiver, he was a superb blocker and a true three-down tight end. Even in his late years, Gonzalez provided the Atlanta Falcons with a high level of play as he helped the Falcons to the most-sustained success the franchise ever had while helping Matt Ryan become a franchise quarterback. Gonzalez was also a pro off the field and in the community. It was tough to choose between him and Derrick Thomas, but Gonzalez is probably the best tight end in NFL history, so he gets the nod.
Oakland Raiders: Fred Biletnikoff - 11th-Overall Pick, 1965 AFL Draft
Biletnikoff was the MVP of Super Bowl XI and had 14 great seasons for the Silver and Black. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and had 10 straight years with over 40 receptions. The running era hurt what Biletnikoff could have produced if he played in today's NFL, but he is considered one of the best wide receivers in the history of the NFL and college football.
San Diego Chargers: Dan Fouts - 64th-Overall Pick, 1973
This was a hard choice to make between Fouts, Rodney Harrison, Kellen Winslow, Junior Seau, Drew Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson. However, Fouts was a third-round steal as he became a prolific passer with three straight seasons of topping 4,000 yards in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fouts had the single-season highest total with 4,802 yards before Dan Marino broke the record in 1984. Fouts was a six-time Pro Bowler in his 14-year career and totaled 43,040 yards passing with 254 career touchdown passes.
Chicago Bears: Walter Payton - 4th-Overall Pick, 1975
There were some other great Chicago draft picks like Dan Hamton, Richard Dent and Mike Singletary, but you can't go against Sweetness. Payton spent 13 seasons as one of the best players in the history of the NFL and was the league's all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards. He also was the offensive engineer for the Bears' only Super Bowl Championship in 1985, perhaps the greatest team in the history of the NFL. Payton went to nine Pro Bowls and dominated defenses with highlight-reel runs that are truly breathtaking. He was also a superstar off the field with his charitable work, friendly manner to all fans and prankster in the locker room. For that, the NFL's Man of the Year award is named after him. In a city of great sports heroes, Payton sits at the top of the mountain.
Detroit Lions: Barry Sanders - 3rd-Overall Pick, 1989
This was a very difficult decision. The Lions have made some great picks like Chris Spielman, Lomas Brown, Jason Hanson and Herman Moore. But the most dominant players Detroit has drafted are Sanders and Calvin Johnson. Calvin Johnson was the clear-cut best player in his draft class, so I went with Sanders. Detroit had other good options in Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders, who went with the next two picks, but the Lions wisely passed on the likes of Broderick Thomas. Sanders is one of the best backs in NFL history. He ripped off 10 straight Pro Bowl appearances and could have probably broken Walter Payton's rushing record had he not retired early. Sanders ran for 15,269 yards with 99 touchdowns in his career as an ankle-breaking runner who was a threat to score on any carry. He ran for over 1,100 yards in every season with only one below 1,300 yards. It is amazing what Sanders did considering he didn't have great offensive lines or supporting cast. Sanders is also one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers - 24th-Overall Pick, 2005
Over the past 20 years, the Packers have been superb in the NFL draft with first-rounders like Clay Matthews and Rodgers. But also a lot of great mid-round picks like Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and more. Rodgers gets the nod after falling to the 24th-overall pick. After sitting behind Brett Favre for a few years, Rodgers has become the best quarterback in the NFL and lofted Green Bay to a Super Bowl Championship in 2010. He also has guided the Packers to being a perennial playoff team with a few MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP. Rodgers looks poised to get the Packers another Lombardi Trophy and could end up being the greatest quarterback in Green Bay history. As long as he stays healthy, he should rewrite record books. Not bad for a player who so many teams passed on.
Minnesota Vikings: Alan Page - 15th-Overall Pick, 1967
This came down to Randy Moss and Page. I went with Page because he led the Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances, while Minnesota never got that far with Moss. Page won the MVP Award in 1971, and it marked the first time a defensive player was able to accomplish that feat. He also had some insane production with 173.5 sacks and 28 blocked kicks in his career. That is tremendous value out of the 15th-overall pick. The Hall of Famer is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play the game.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan - 3rd-Overall Pick, 2008
The Falcons don't have a rich draft history, and this came down to Jamal Anderson and Deion Sanders to go with Ryan. However, Sanders played great years in San Francisco and Dallas, while Anderson had a brilliant season but didn't produce the amount of playoff appearances that Ryan has. The greatest stretch of consistent winning in franchise history has come under Ryan. Matty Ice has guided the Falcons to four playoff appearances, and they came insanely close to the Super Bowl in 2012. Ryan has produced victories despite not always having a very good offensive line, running game or defense. It looks very likely that Ryan will go down as the best player in Falcons history.
Carolina Panthers: Julius Peppers - 2nd-Overall Pick, 2002
Cam Newton may end up being the best pick in franchise history before his career is done, but right now, this comes down to Steve Smith and Peppers. On a game-by-game basis, Peppers was more consistent and should end up in the Hall of Fame, while Smith could be the subject of a debate for the Hall. Peppers has 125.5 sacks in his career and was the defensive catalyst for Carolina reaching the Super Bowl in 2003 and coming close in 2005. Peppers was a dominant force for the Panthers with the ability to take over games. Many fans wanted the Panthers to draft Joey Harrington, but Carolina wisely passed on him for Peppers.
New Orleans Saints: Jahri Evans - 108th-Overall Pick, 2006
This was probably going to end up being Jimmy Graham, but with his Saints' career over, Evans would deserve this designation. He has been one of the best guards in the NFL over the last decade as a steady All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection. Evans has been a huge factor in the success of Drew Brees and allowing the short Brees to step up in the pocket to burn defenses downfield. New Orleans' offense led the team to a Super Bowl Championship in 2009, and the Saints have had the best run in franchise history since Brees, Evans and Marques Colston arrived in 2006. Other players worth considering included Colston, Willie Roaf and George Rogers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derrick Brooks - 28th-Overall Pick, 1995
Warren Sapp was the first selection of Tampa Bay in 1995, but Brooks was the player who became Mr. Buccaneer. Brooks redefined the Will linebacker position in the Tampa 2 with his sideline-to-sideline speed, great pass coverage and superb tackling that led to 11 Pro Bowl appearances and the Hall of Fame. Brooks was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 when the Bucs' defense led the franchise to a Super Bowl championship. Lee Roy Selmon, Sapp, Ronde Barber and John Lynch also were brilliant draft picks. Brooks however is the greatest player in franchise history with Selmon a close second.
Dallas Cowboys: Roger Staubach - 129th-Overall Pick, 1964
With the Cowboys' storied history, you could pick a lot of names and be right. Bob Lilly, Herschel Walker, Ed 'too tall' Jones, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Larry Allen and Troy Aikman would all be valid choices. However in the history of Cowboys football, Staubach stands out. He missed five years honoring his Navy commitment, but he went on to lead Dallas to its first Super Bowl Championship in 1971 and tacked on another later six years later. Staubach went to six Pro Bowls and is in the Hall of Fame. He was an icon for the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys era that earned them the nickname of America's team. Quite the steal for a mid-round pick.
New York Giants: Lawrence Taylor - 2nd-Overall Pick, 1981
The Giants have a history of a lot of great draft picks, but Taylor stands out as the best of the bunch. He was the 1986 MVP of the NFL as he led the Giants to a Super Bowl Championship and helped them to another Championship a few years later. Taylor changed the way rush linebacker was played as he was a pure terror off the edge. Taylor intimidated offensive linemen and quarterbacks en route to ripping off 132.5 career sacks. He had seven straight double-digit sack seasons, including 20.5 in 1986. Taylor is hands down one of the best players in NFL history.
Philadelphia Eagles: Reggie White - 4th-Overall Pick, Supplemental Draft 1984
White was in the Supplemental Draft after playing for the USFL Memphis Showboats. Following joining the NFL, White went on a tear of dominance with a double-digit sack season in all of his eight years with the Eagles. White had three seasons of 18 or more sacks, with 21 in 1987. He totaled 124 sacks before signing with the Packers in free agency. White finished his career two short of 200 sacks and was one of the best defensive linemen in the history of the NFL with sheer power and speed that made him impossible to block. Brian Dawkins, Cylde Simmons, Wil Montgomery and Donovan McNabb also deserve praise behind White.
Washington Redskins: Sammy Baugh - 6th-Overall Pick, 1937
The Redskins have a lot of great picks in the history of their franchise, but Baugh stands out among the best. At the time he retired, he had rewritten the record books for quarterbacks and was the NFL's all-time best punter. His 51.4 average in 1940 is still the record for a single season. Baugh led the Redskins to a Championship in 1942 and played 16 seasons for the team. In Baugh's running era, he was a prolific quarterback and is one of the best punters in NFL history. Baugh did it all for Washington. The 1981 draft class from the Redskins is legendary, and they made some other legendary picks in Darrell Green and Art Monk.
Arizona Cardinals: Aeneas Williams - 59th-Overall Pick, 1991
The Cardinals landed a future Hall of Famer and one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history with this second-round pick. Williams set the team record with 46 interceptions while going to six Pro Bowls. Williams was a true shutdown corner in his 14-year career and ended up being a huge steal coming out of Southern University. Other great picks include Larry Wilson, Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson.
St. Louis Rams: Deacon Jones - 14th-Overall Pick, 1961
If the NFL had been keeping track of sacks as a statistic before 1982, most believe that Jones would be the NFL's all-time leader with a total somewhere in the 200s. He was a quarterback-killer who dominated in the backfield. Jones was the headliner in the "Fearsome Foursome" and is in the Hall of Fame as one of the best defensive players in the history of the NFL. Other great picks from the Rams include Jack Youngblood, Kevin Greene, Eric Dickerson, Flipper Anderson and Tory Holt.
San Francisco 49ers: Jerry Rice - 16th-Overall Pick, 1985
Rice beats out other great picks like Joe Montana, Charles Haley, Ronnie Lott, Terrell Owens and many other great players because Rice was the engine of the 49ers' dynasty leading the franchise to three Super Bowl Championships. He also was a big part of the Raiders getting to the Super Bowl in 2002. Rice rewrote the record books in a 20-year career and is the best receiver in NFL history. He has the records for yards, receptions, touchdown receptions, yards from scrimmage, touchdowns from scrimmage and many more. With his electric run-after-the-catch skills, Rice made the West Coast offense the predominant offensive system in the NFL, and that holds to this day. Rice was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and is one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Seattle Seahawks: Walter Jones - 6th-Overall Pick, 1997
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Before long this could be Russell Wilson, but it's too early in his career to say that over a Hall of Famer like Jones. He played 13 seasons for Seattle and was a seven-time All-Pro. Jones started all of his 180 games for the Seahawks. Even more impressive, he only gave up 23 sacks in his entire career. Jones was also a bull in the ground game, opening up a lot of holes for Shaun Alexander. Jones was on the 2000s NFL all-decade team and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
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