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Bernie rates the all-time No. 1 NFL draft picks from best to worst

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  • Bernie rates the all-time No. 1 NFL draft picks from best to worst

    By Bernie Miklasz

    In a few days the Rams will officially go on the clock with the first overall selection in the NFL draft.

    A team that has lost 42 of its last 48 games will command the spotlight for a brief, shining moment. And it's an exciting but nervous time for all involved.

    This will be an incredibly high-stakes pick that could transform a chronic loser into a upward-bound winner. But if the Rams screw up, the franchise will slide deeper into the void.

    Can the Rams find the next John Elway?

    That's asking for a lot.

    In my study of every player picked No. 1 overall in 74 years of drafting, Elway came out on top. The Denver Broncos' Hall of Fame quarterback is my choice as the best No. 1 overall pick in NFL history. The reasons should be obvious. In 1982, the Broncos went 2-7 and averaged 16 points per game. Elway took over as a rookie starter in 1983, and over the next 16 seasons he led the high-scoring Broncos to a regular-season record of 148-82-1, five AFC championships and two Super Bowl titles.

    A key figure in the NFL's evolution into a passing league, Elway threw for 51,475 yards and 300 touchdowns and also rushed for 3,407 yards and 33 TDs. As soon as Elway began ripping defenses apart, NFL coaches and GMs knew they had to upgrade at the quarterback position.

    Elway was a master of the dramatic rally, leading the Broncos to 47 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.

    At the time of Elway's retirement in early 1999, he had the most wins by a quarterback in NFL history, had the most comeback wins by a QB in league history, had the most career passing yards and was the only quarterback to take his team to five Super Bowls.

    In terms of physical profile and ability, Elway was the model quarterback: big, athletic and equipped with the strongest arm of any quarterback to stand and deliver a football.

    "When you played against John, the game was never over," said Ronnie Lott, the Hall of Fame defensive back. "He could make plays with his arm. He could beat you by escaping pressure, buying time for his receivers to get open, and firing the ball downfield. He was creative and confident and never backed off. You never felt that you had him down for the count. He'd get back up and come at you again."

    Elway also represents what can go wrong in a draft.

    The Baltimore Colts made him the No. 1 overall pick in '83. When Elway balked at signing, Colts owner Bob Irsay overreacted, lost his temper and traded Elway's rights to Denver. The Broncos began going to Super Bowls; the increasingly unpopular Irsay took the Colts and bolted to Indianapolis in 1984.

    And what about our selection for the worst No. 1 overall pick of all time? That would be halfback Jay Berwanger, the first player chosen in the first NFL draft in 1936.

    Berwanger, the 1935 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Chicago, was chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded his negotiating rights to the Chicago Bears. Berwanger asked Bears coach George Halas for a two-year contract worth $25,000. When the gruff Papa Bear refused, Berwanger opted to become a sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News and never played a down in the NFL.

    A sportswriter?

    Drafted first overall?

    My gosh. That makes Berwanger an easy call for the all-time worst No. 1.

    Here are a few notes on the selection process:

    — I took into account a player's individual career achievements, with extra value added if he played a major role in shaping his team's success.

    — Of the many players chosen No. 1 overall, only 14 are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At least one active player on this list, Peyton Manning, is destined for the Hall.

    — The AFL had a sketchy draft history and is included here on a very limited basis.

    — As you will see, Joe Namath is high on this list. But was he really a No. 1 overall pick? Perhaps not in the traditional sense. The AFL wisely wanted to place Namath in New York to maximize his star power and give a boost to the upstart league. So Namath was basically assigned to the Jets as a de facto No. 1 overall choice. That's good enough for me; I didn't need to seek a Supreme Court ruling on this.

    — I did not include Ernie Davis on the list. The Syracuse running back and 1961 Heisman Trophy winner was drafted No. 1 overall in 1962 by the Washington Redskins, who traded his rights to the Cleveland Browns. Sadly, Davis would never play in the NFL. No one, including Davis, knew that he was stricken with leukemia at the time of the draft. The disease quickly consumed him, and Davis died on May 18, 1963, at age 23.

    Without further delay, here are our rankings of the 75 players drafted No. 1 overall, from best to worst:

    1. John Elway

    QB — Stanford — 1983 — Baltimore

    In addition to the achievements previously cited, he went to nine Pro Bowls and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    2. Peyton Manning

    QB — Tennessee — 1998 — Indianapolis

    A four-time league MVP for the Colts; likely will own every meaningful NFL passing record when he retires.

    3. Terry Bradshaw

    QB — La. Tech — 1970 — Pittsburgh

    In the six seasons before Bradshaw arrived the Steelers went 19-62; the Hall of Famer became an important piece of a dynasty that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s.

    4. Joe Namath

    QB — Alabama — 1965 — NY Jets (AFL)

    As a QB Namath was overrated, with more career interceptions than touchdowns, but he made a powerful historical impact by accelerating the AFL into parity with the established NFL.

    5. Bruce Smith

    DE — Virginia Tech — 1985 — Buffalo

    Buffalo's Hall of Famer became one of the dominant pass rushers in league history, with 200 sacks and 11 Pro Bowls for a four-time AFC champion.

    6. Chuck Bednarik

    LB-C — Penn — 1949 — Philadelphia

    One of the toughest men in NFL history and a star on both sides of the ball, Bednarik was a nine-time All-Pro and Hall of Famer for the Eagles.

    7. Troy Aikman

    QB — UCLA — 1989 — Dallas

    A six-time Pro Bowl choice who teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin to lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles.

    8. Orlando Pace

    OT — Ohio State — 1997 — St. Louis Rams

    The ideal left offensive tackle who protected Kurt Warner's blind side for the "Greatest Show on Turf" attack as the Rams became the only team in NFL history to score 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons.

    9. "Bullet" Bill Dudley

    RB-DB — Virginia — 1942 — Pittsburgh

    In starring for the Steelers and two other teams over nine seasons, the Hall of Famer played halfback and DB and was a kicking specialist who rushed for 3,057 yards, caught 123 passes, scored 484 points and intercepted 23 passes.

    10. O.J. Simpson

    RB — USC — 1969 — Buffalo

    The Hall of Famer became the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and ended his career with 11,236 yards.

    11. Earl Campbell

    RB — Texas — 1978 — Houston Oilers

    At his peak, the Hall of Famer was as imposing as any runner in NFL history; he finished with 9,407 yards and 74 TDs before fading due to his punishing style.

    12. Buck Buchanan

    DT — Grambling — 1963 — Kan. City (AFL)

    The first overall pick of the AFL in '63, Buchanan became a dominant, Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the KC Chiefs.

    13. Paul Hornung

    RB — Notre Dame — 1957 — Green Bay

    The "Golden Boy" had a knack for finding the end zone for Vince Lombardi's dynasty in Green Bay, scoring 760 points in a Hall of Fame career.

    14. Lee Roy Selmon

    DE — Oklahoma — 1976 — Tampa Bay

    The Tampa Bay defensive end was named to six consecutive Pro Bowls and was a member of the All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

    15. Ron Yary

    OT — USC — 1968 — Minnesota

    During a 15-season Hall of Fame career for Minnesota, he was an O-line fixture on four NFC champions.

    16. Charley Trippi

    RB-QB — Georgia — 1945 — Chi. Cardinals

    The Hall of Famer was a runner, passer, punter and breakaway talent who piled up 206 all-purpose yards and two long TDs for the victorious Chicago Cardinals in the 1947 NFL Championship.

    17. Billy Sims

    RB — Oklahoma — 1980 — Detroit

    Had 5,106 yards rushing in only five seasons; potential Hall of Fame career was cut short by a devastating knee injury.

    18. Tommy Nobis

    MLB — Texas — 1966 — Atlanta

    Among the most underrated players of the modern era, Nobis made five Pro Bowls in 11 seasons for the mediocre Falcons.

    19. Frank Sinkwich

    QB-RB — Georgia — 1943 — Detroit

    The league MVP in 1944 and two-time All-Pro.

    20. Jim Plunkett

    QB — Stanford — 1971 — New England

    He absorbed frequent beatings as a young QB for a poor New England team but recovered to lead the Raiders to two Super Bowl championships.

    21. Irving Fryar

    WR — Nebraska — 1984 — New England

    An underrated producer who had 12,785 receiving yards, 84 TDs and five Pro Bowl honors in a 17-season career for the Patriots and others.

    22. Kyle Rote

    RB — SMU — 1951 — NY Giants

    An outstanding back and flanker for the 1956 NFL champion Giants, the four-time Pro Bowler caught 300 passes, rushed for nearly 5,000 yards and scored 51 TDs in 11 seasons.

    23. Ki Aldrich

    C-LB — TCU — 1939 — Chicago Cardinals

    A tenacious two-way player who made two Pro Bowls in seven seasons with the Cardinals and Redskins; career interrupted by World War II.

    24. Drew Bledsoe

    QB — Wash. St. — 1993 — New England

    No, he never won a Super Bowl — but what a fine career, with 44,611 yards, 251 TDs, four Pro Bowls and multiple division titles for the Patriots and others.

    25. Ed "Too Tall" Jones

    DE — Tennessee State — 1974 — Dallas

    The towering 6-9 Jones played 16 seasons and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection for multiple Dallas Super Bowl teams.

    26. Mario Williams

    DE — N.C. State — 2006 — Houston Texans

    A controversial pick (over Reggie Bush), Williams already is a two-time All-Pro selection, with 40 sacks and many outstanding seasons in front of him.

    27. Eli Manning

    QB — Mississippi — 2004 — San Diego

    He's been somewhat disappointing but lived up to the hype in 2007, leading the Giants to four postseason wins including the stunning upset of the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

    28. Vinny Testaverde

    QB — Miami — 1987 — Tampa Bay

    Though never a transcendent performer, he had a good 21-season career that ended with 46,223 passing yards and 275 TDs.

    29. Carson Palmer

    QB — USC — 2003 — Cincinnati

    Injuries have been a problem, but he has two Pro Bowls and two division titles for Cincinnati in five full seasons.

    30. Jake Long

    OT — Michigan — 2008 — Miami

    Two seasons, two Pro Bowls for the Dolphins and is on track for a special career.

    31. Dave Parks

    WR — Texas Tech — 1964 — San Francisco

    His 10-year career as a hybrid tight end-wideout for the ***** and Saints offered a glimpse of the future; averaged 15.6 yards a catch with 44 TDs.

    32. Steve Bartkowski

    QB — Cal — 1975 — Atlanta

    It wasn't his fault that the Falcons drafted him instead of Randy White or Walter Payton; he rolled up 24,124 yards and 156 TDs in 11 seasons.

    33. Bubba Smith

    DE — Michigan State — 1967 — Baltimore

    A huge, intimidating figure on a Colts team that went 53-13 and played in two Super Bowls (winning one) from 1967-71.

    34. Keyshawn Johnson

    WR — USC — 1996 — NY Jets

    Three Pro Bowls, 10,571 receiving yards and 64 TDs as a physical target for the Jets and others in 11 seasons.

    35. Billy Wade

    QB — Vanderbilt — 1952 — LA Rams

    Traded by the Rams to Chicago and starred for a 1963 Bears team that went 11-1-2 and won the NFL championship.

    36. George Rogers

    RB — So. Carolina — 1981 — New Orleans

    Two Pro Bowls and four 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Saints and Redskins, but was overshadowed by No. 2 overall pick Lawrence Taylor.

    37. Corby Davis

    FB — Indiana — 1938 — Cleveland Rams

    A respected fullback for five seasons with the Cleveland Rams; his career ended because of wounds sustained in World War II.

    38. Billy Cannon

    RB — LSU — 1960 — LA Rams

    An early star for Houston of the AFL after spurning the Rams, he played RB and TE, rushing for 2,455 yards, catching 236 passes as a two-time All-Pro choice.

    39. Leon Hart

    TE — Notre Dame — 1950 — Detroit

    A versatile performer at tight end, fullback and defensive end; he had 2,499 yards receiving, 612 yards rushing, two interceptions and some sacks in eight seasons with the Lions.

    40. Tommy Mason

    RB — Tulane — 1961 — Minnesota

    An effective runner and a third-down back for the Vikings; in his first six seasons accumulated 6,527 yards from scrimmage, with 45 TDs.

    41. Russell Maryland

    DT — Miami — 1991 — Dallas

    A solid, steady DT for nine seasons who played at his best in 1992-93 when the Cowboys won consecutive Super Bowls.

    42. Sam Francis

    FB — Nebraska — 1937 — Philadelphia

    Finished fourth in the shot put in the 1936 Olympics; played four seasons (Eagles) as a hard-nosed FB; career ended by World War II.

    43. Michael Vick

    QB — Virginia Tech — 2001 — Atlanta

    His career was detoured by scandal, but was a three-time Pro Bowl pick in six seasons with Atlanta, and no QB could run the ball like Vick.

    44. John Matuszak

    DL — Tampa — 1973 — Houston Oilers

    His personal life was a mess, but the hard-partying 'Tooz helped the Raiders win two Super Bowls.

    45. Ricky Bell

    RB — USC — 1977 — Tampa Bay

    Tampa Bay passed up Tony Dorsett, but Bell rushed for 1,263 yards in 1979 to help win a division title; tragic figure who died of a rare heart disease in 1984.

    46. Harry Gilmer

    QB-RB — Alabama — 1948 — Washington

    In eight seasons for the Redskins and Lions he made the Pro Bowl at two positions, QB and RB, but 'Skins should have drafted Bobby Layne.

    47. Tom Cousineau

    LB — Ohio State — 1979 — Buffalo

    He shunned Buffalo and wasted three years in Canada but was an All-AFC selection in 1983 and '84 with Cleveland.

    48. Dan Wilkinson

    DT — Ohio State — 1994 — Cincinnati

    Never emerged as a game-changer for the Bengals, but let's not overlook that he was a solid DT for 12 seasons.

    49. Jeff George

    QB — Illinois — 1990 — Indianapolis

    A disappointment, but he did have 12,602 passing yards and 154 TDs in 124 starts with the Colts and others.

    50. Bo Jackson

    RB — Auburn — 1986 — Tampa Bay

    I'm overrating him; played in only 38 games because of baseball and a career-ending hip injury — but what a dynamic talent.

    51. Aundray Bruce

    LB — Auburn — 1988 — Atlanta

    Never reached his vast potential with the Falcons and Raiders but did play 11 seasons.

    52. Matthew Stafford

    QB — Georgia — 2009 — Detroit

    Consider this a vote of confidence; he had a promising rookie season with the Lions in '09.

    53. Tucker Frederickson

    RB — Auburn — 1965 — NY Giants

    One Pro Bowl in six seasons with the Giants but was drafted ahead of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers (yikes.)

    54. George Cafego

    HB — Tenn. — 1940 — Chicago Cardinals

    Career was interrupted by World War II; played QB, HB, FB, DB and was a punter and return man for five seasons with Brooklyn and two others.

    55. Kenneth Sims

    DE — Texas — 1982 — New England

    A disappointment; injuries were a factor; did start for seven seasons in New England.

    56. Alex Smith

    QB — Utah — 2005 — San Francisco

    Still finding his way with the *****; sidetracked by injuries but showing progress.

    57. King Hill

    QB — Rice — 1958 — Chicago Cardinals

    Not a star but had a 12-year career as a backup and occasional starter with the Cardinals and Eagles.

    58. David Carr

    QB — Fresno St. — 2002 — Houston Texans

    Was pummeled unmercifully as the starter on Houston's expansion team, but still coveted as a backup.

    59. Courtney Brown

    DE — Penn State — 2000 — Cleveland

    Never put it together for the Browns, but did start 60 games with 19 sacks in six seasons.

    60. Tim Couch

    QB — Kentucky — 1999 — Cleveland

    Passed for 3,040 yards and 17 TDs for the 2001 Browns, but a shoulder injury wrecked his career after five seasons.

    61. Steve Emtman

    DL — Washington — 1992 — Indianapolis

    Injuries destroyed his tremendous potential for the Colts; lasted five seasons.

    62. Ki-Jana Carter

    RB — Penn State — 1995 — Cincinnati

    Never the same after a knee injury as rookie in Cincinnati; 747 yards and 16 TDs in five seasons.

    63. George Shaw

    QB — Oregon — 1955 — Baltimore

    In Baltimore his season-ending knee injury gave an opening to a backup named Unitas.

    64. Gary Glick

    DB — Colorado State — 1956 — Pittsburgh

    Started only nine games at safety in seven seasons with the Steelers and others, but had 14 interceptions in 71 games.

    65. Walt Patulski

    DT — Notre Dame — 1972 — Buffalo

    Played 70 games for Buffalo; didn't do much.

    66. JaMarcus Russell

    QB — LSU — 2007 — Oakland

    After three shaky seasons and poor work habits, it isn't looking good.

    67. Tom Harmon

    RB — Michigan — 1941 — Chicago Bears

    Drafted by the Bears, he opted to sign with a rival league but had two ordinary seasons (1946-47) for the Rams.

    68. Boley Dancewicz

    QB — Notre Dame — 1946 — Boston

    Three seasons with the Boston Yanks.

    69. Angelo Bertelli

    QB — Notre Dame — 1944 — Boston

    The Yanks drafted him instead of Otto Graham (ouch); but hey, his son played in the seminal rock band Sonic Youth.

    70. Rob Fenimore

    RB — Oklahoma A&M — 1947 — Chicago

    The Bears ignored his injury-plagued 1946 senior year, and he lasted only one season.

    71. Harry Babcock

    E-DE — Georgia — 1953 — San Francisco

    Had 16 catches and one forced fumble in three seasons with the *****.

    72. Bobby Garrett

    QB — Stanford — 1954 — Cleveland

    The Browns drafted him and discovered he had a stuttering problem and couldn't call plays in the huddle. One season.

    73. Randy Duncan

    QB — Iowa — 1959 — Green Bay

    Drafted by Green Bay; played in Canada; one season in the AFL.

    74. Terry Baker

    QB — Oregon State — 1963 — LA Rams

    Total bust; the LA Rams moved him to halfback in '64. An all-time bust.

    75. Jay Berwanger

    RB — U. of Chicago — 1936 — Philadelphia

    After sportswriting, he went into the foam-rubber manufacturing business and did well financially.

  • #2
    Re: Bernie rates the all-time No. 1 NFL draft picks from best to worst

    Elway better than Manning? Ok I think I won't bother with the rest of the list.


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      Also played for the Philadelphia Eagles and then the London Monarchs in the World League of American Football at the end of his career. Nickname came about because he was as large as refrigerator and could probably hold a lot more food!

      Jack ‘The Assassin’ Tatum

      As one of the most intimidating and hardest-hitting defenders of his era, Tatum had the perfect nickname to strike fear into the heart of every opponent he faced. Once branded part of the NFL’s “criminal element” by Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, Tatum played for the Oakland Raiders from 1971 to 1979 and left a trail of bruised and battered receivers in his wake.

      Sadly, Tatum crippled New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley with a vicious hit during a 1978 preseason friendly. It was a legal tackle on Tatum’s part but he was heavily criticised, especially as he has never apologised to Stingley or even spoken to the man who remains in a wheelchair to this day.

      Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch

      Wide receiver Elroy Hirsch starred for the Chicago Rockets from 1946 to 1948 and the Los Angeles Rams from 1949 until 1957. During that time, he earned the nickname ‘Crazy Legs’ for his zig-zag running style that made him so elusive. Crazy Legs averaged 18 yards per catch during his spell with the Rams and his best season came in 1951, when he caught 66 passes for 1,495 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.

      Hirsch announced his retirement at the end of the 1954 season and was honoured at halftime of a Rams game against the Green Bay Packers on December 12, 1954. During the ceremony, hundreds of fans came out of the stands and began tearing the uniform of their hero. They grabbed his shirt, shoulder pads and every piece of uniform, leaving Hirsch at midfield wearing just his hip pads and undershorts. Crazy Legs was so moved by the ceremony he changed his mind about quitting and played for another three years.

      Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane
      Another of the more famous NFL nicknames. This one was so well known that the player became known as Night Train Lane, dispensing of his first name all together.

      Lane earned his nickname as a rookie during training camp with the Los Angeles Rams. Trying out as a receiver, the youngster turned to veteran stars Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch and Tom Fears for guidance.

      Fears was constantly...
      -09-05-2004, 05:46 AM