All-Time First Round Mock Draft
Chuck Noll & Terry Bradshaw
Chuck Noll & Terry Bradshaw
Campus Insiders & CFN
Posted May 7, 2014

Who were the greatest first round picks in each draft slot? Who were the biggest busts? Was Louisiana Tech's Terry Bradshaw the greatest No. 1 overall pick ever? Here's the annual update of the best and worst first rounders of all-time.

Ultimate First Round

Best & Worst First Picks

It's been well established that finding quality in a draft pick after the first round is an exercise in futility, but the top picks aren't always sure things, either. Teams invest/blow tens of millions of dollars every year on first round picks expecting them to be franchise cornerstones, but more often than not they drain money and dreams.

Here are the best, and worst, first round picks of all-time with a very subjective look at the Ultimate NFL Draft First Round with the best player ever taken at each first round slot. It's far more difficult than you might think to find a sure-thing, Hall of Fame star for each first round pick. However, it's easy to find the epic misses that might set teams back years. 

What's most stunning was how horrible the picks were to choose from in certain spots. The fifth pick, the 15th and 18th have been traditional wastelands, while the late 20s are utterly worthless. Learn from this you NFL teams; late first round draft picks aren't necessarily worth the money. History says they just don't work out - look at the "stars" to choose from at No. 22 & 24.

Keep in mind that there were only more than 30 picks in the draft (at least regularly) from 1995 on. One more rule: A great pick is based on what the player did for the team that drafted him. John Elway might be the greatest player of all-time, but not for Baltimore, so the Colts, in effect, blew the pick.

Let the debate begin. 


 Pick The Greatest Pick The Worst Pick


Peyton Manning, QB Tenn.
taken by Indianapolis, 1998
Tom Cousineau, LB Ohio State 
taken by Buffalo, 1979
Also considered: O.J. Simpson, RB USC (1969), Terry Bradshaw, QB Louisiana Tech (1970), Troy Aikman, QB UCLA (1988), Orlando Pace, OT, St. Louis (1997)
Once again, Elway would be the choice except he didn't play for Baltimore. Simpson, Aikman, Earl Campbell and Bruce Smith are all fantastic choices for the greatest number one pick of all-time, but Bradshaw's four championships trumps anything most other players accomplished. Would you rather have Bradshaw's career with the Steelers or Peyton Manning's with Indianapolis? Obviously the 4-1 Super Bowl count is a factor, but those championship Steeler teams won on running game and defense - Manning was simply better, and he led the franchise to a title.

Bo Jackson wasn't a bust of a player, but Tampa Bay completely blew it by alienating the Heisman winner so much that he chose to play baseball instead suiting up for the Bucs. He would've been the choice for the worst pick if Buffalo didn't have the Tom Cousineau experience. The Ohio State star didn't sign with the Bills playing for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes where he was a marginal player at best. He came back to the NFL and played for Cleveland and San Francisco. At least JaMarcus Russell played a little bit for Oakland.


Lawrence Taylor, LB UNC
taken by NY Giants, 1981 
Tony Mandarich, OT Michigan State 
taken by Green Bay, 1989
Also considered: Randy White, DT Maryland (1975), Tony Dorsett, RB Pittsburgh (1977), Marshall Faulk, San Diego State (1994), Donovan McNabb, QB Philadelphia (1999), Julius Peppers, DE North Carolina (2002), Calvin Johnson, WR Georgia Tech (2007)

White, Dorsett, Johnson, Peppers, Faulk, Tony Boselli and Eric Dickerson were all worthy and McNabb deserves a bit of consideration, but L.T. is the obvious choice. There have been some tremendous busts at number two over the years and there's certainly an argument for Johnny "Lam" Jones, Charles Rogers, Blair Thomas, Jason Smith and Rick Mirer, but Ryan Leaf is the only real challenger to Mandarich. The whiny brat from Washington State set San Diego back years after Bobby Beathard traded away a ton to get him. However, Mandarich gets the nod because of the all-timer talents selected after him. The next three picks after The Incredible Bulk? Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Deion Sanders. Oops 


Barry Sanders, RB Ok State
taken by Detroit Lions, 1989
Akili Smith, QB Oregon 
taken by Cincinnati, 1999
Also considered: Anthony Munoz, OT USC (1980), Steve McNair, QB Alcorn State (1995), Larry Fitzgerald, WR Pitt (2004)

If there could be a tie, there would be one here between Munoz and Sanders. Do you take the greatest offensive tackle in NFL history over, perhaps, the greatest running back? No argument if you say yes. Larry Fitzgerald was a fantastic pick in 2004, but there weren't too many top choices. Michigan State LB Carl Banks in 1988 and Penn State RB Curt Warner in 1983 are some of the main notables for the top No. 3 pick, but they weren't that great.

Surprisingly, the third pick has been a traditional dud as players like Nebraska CB Bruce Pickens, Miami RB Alonzo Highsmith, Detroit QB Joey Harrington, Florida State DE Andre Wadsworth and Tennessee QB Heath Shuler were just a few of the busts. Trent Richardson was a disastrous pick in 2012, considering Cleveland had to trade up to get him, but he just misses out on the all-time bust nod. Akili Smith finished his Cincinnati career with five touchdown passes and 13 interceptions forcing Cincinnati to make Carson Palmer the first overall pick in 2003. The next four picks after Smith? Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Torry Holt, Champ Bailey. Daunte Culpepper went 11th. Ouch. 


Walter Payton, RB Jackson St
taken by Chicago, 1975 
Keith McCants, DL Alabama
taken by Tampa Bay, 1990
Also considered: Joe Greene, DT North Texas State (1969), John Hannah, OG Alabama, Jonathan Odgen, OT UCLA (1996)

Payton isn't the lock you might think he considering how good Hannah was. It could also be argued that as the cornerstone of the Steel Curtain, Greene was a more important player on a championship level than Sweetness was to Chicago. McCants was Tampa Bay's worst draft pick ever, which is saying a lot. He set the standard for looking like Tarzan, but playing like Jane. The next pick after him? Junior Seau. Auburn RB Brent Fullwood, Ohio State QB Art Schlichter and Michigan WR Desmond Howard were also in the running for worst pick.


LaDanian Tomlinson, RB TCU
taken by San Diego, 2000 
Mike Junkin, LB Duke
taken by Cleveland, 1987
Also considered: Junior Seau, LB USC (1990), Mike Haynes, CB Arizona State (1975) 

Mark it down; every ten years San Diego should get the fifth pick. Deion Sanders would be the slam-dunk choice for the greatest No. 5 pick if he didn't have his Hall-of-Fame years with San Francisco and Dallas instead of Atlanta. Even though the late Seau might be among the greatest linebackers of all-time, Tomlinson was better. (Had there ever been a player that danced more after making a tackle nine yards down the field than Seau?)  Penn State RB Curtis Enis, Nebraska LB Trev Alberts and Oklahoma LB Cedric Jones didn't work out at the five, but Junkin was a legendarily bad pick. Cleveland traded draft positions with San Diego for two rounds and gave away LB Chip Banks to get the five taking Junkin at least two rounds too early. Penn State LB Shane Conlan went two picks later.


Tim Brown, WR Notre Dame 
taken by Oakland, 1988
Rich Campbell, QB California
taken by Green Bay, 1981
Also considered: Jimbo Covert, OT Pittsburgh (1983), Walter Jones, Florida State (1997), Torry Holt, WR NC State (1999)

Brown is the pick for his Hall-of-Fame-caliber career scoring points for so many years of solid play. However, Covert probably still deserves the all-time slot. Campbell beat out Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston (but barely), Houston QB David Klingler and Nebraska RB Lawrence Phillips for the worst pick, but it's close. Campbell's career in Green Bay? Three years, 386 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions. Brett who?


Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
taken by Minnesota, 2007
Andre Ware, QB Houston
taken by Detroit, 1990 
Also considered: Phil Simms, QB Morehead State (1979), Champ Bailey, CB Georgia (1999), Troy Vincent, CB Wisconsin (1992), Sterling Sharpe, WR South Carolina (1988)

Like the third pick, the seventh has been a historic graveyard of mediocre selections. Phil Simms was the choice almost by default after winning a Super Bowl and taking the Giants to another - won by Jeff Hostetler. Of course, Peterson became something special ranking among the best running backs ever. There are some fantastic, legendary dogs with the seven from Boston College DE Mike Mamula to Tennessee OL Charles McRae to Penn State QB Todd Blackledge, but Ware is the biggest bust of the bunch throwing for 1,112 yards and five touchdowns with eight interceptions in his four years.


Ronnie Lott, S USC
taken by San Francisco, 1981 
Larry Stegent, RB Texas A&M
taken by St. Louis, (1970)
Also considered: Willie Roaf, OT Louisiana Tech (1993), Shane Conlan, LB Penn State (1987)

It's an obvious no doubter on the greatest No. 8 of all-time, but there are plenty of old-timers in the hunt for the worst pick, led by
Mississippi State RB Michael Haddix, who had a mediocre career with Philadelphia after being taken one pick ahead of Bruce Matthews. Larry Stegent's career was brutally unfair. Expected to become a star, he made one catch for 12 yards before suffering a career-ending injury.


Bruce Matthews, G USC
taken by Houston, 1983
Kevin Allen, T Indiana 
taken by Philadelphia, 1985
Also considered: Brian Urlacher, LB New Mexico (2000), Richmond Webb, OT Texas A&M (1990) 

Matthews was one of the NFL's all-time rocks on the offensive line, playing from 1983 to 2001, but it's a really, really close call over Urlacher - Luke Kuechly could enter the discussion in the near future. Kevin Allen was the opposite, holding the unofficial distinction of being Buddy Ryan's least favorite player of all-time in his total bust of a career. He was later arrested and sent to prison on sexual assault charges. 


Rod Woodson, DB Purdue 
taken by Pittsburgh, 1987 
David Verser, WR Kansas
taken by Cincinnati, 1981
Also considered: Marcus Allen, RB USC (1982), Al Toon, WR Wisconsin (1985), Herman Moore, WR Virginia (1991), Jerod Mayo (2008)

How do you possibly choose between Allen and Woodson? Had Al Davis actually used Allen for his whole career, and if a ton of the production didn't come for Kansas City, it wouldn't be a debate. Woodson was one of the true greats, making the NFL's All-Time team. Florida WR Travis Taylor, USC QB Matt Leinart, USC WR Mike Williams and Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert can thank their lucky stars for David Verser, who caught 23 passes for 454 yards and three touchdowns in his four year career, taken one pick ahead of Keith Van Horne.


Michael Irvin, WR Miami 
taken by Dallas, 1988 
Jerry Tagge, QB Nebraska
taken by Green Bay, 1972 
Also considered: Daunte Culpepper, QB UCF (1999), Wilber Marshall, LB Florida (1983), Dwight Freeney, DE Syracuse (2002), Ben Roethlisberger, QB Miami Univ. (2004), Demarcus Ware, DE Troy (2005), Patrick Willis, LB Ole Miss (2007), J.J. Watt, DE Wisconsin (2011)

This is one of the most debatable choices in the first round, with Ware, Freeney, Willis and Roethliberger all possible choices. However, The Playmaker barely gets the nod after catching 750 passes for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns in his Hall of Fame career. Alcorn State LB John Thierry and Penn State DE Aaron Mayben were in the running for the worst pick, but Tagge blows him away. In three years, the former Husker quarterback threw three touchdown passes and 17 interceptions for the Packers.


Warren Sapp, DT Miami
taken by Tampa Bay, 1995
Cade McNown, QB UCLA 
taken by Chicago, 1999 
Also considered: Chuck Foreman, RB Miami (1967), Warrick Dunn, RB Florida State (1997), Shawne Merriman, LB Maryland (2005), Haloti Ngata, DT Oregon (2006)

No argument if you want to call Ngata a better defensive tackle than Sapp. Drug rumors dropped Sapp from being a sure-thing top five pick down to 12, and he made everyone pay as the cornerstone of one of the NFL's most dominant defenses. Where would Minnesota had been if Dennis Green had taken Sapp instead of Florida State's Derrick Alexander? McNown was thrown to the wolves too early in Chicago and got eaten alive throwing 16 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions.


Tony Gonzalez, TE Cal
taken by Kansas City, 1997
Leon Burns, RB Cal-State Long Beach
taken by San Diego, 1971
Also considered: Franco Harris, RB Penn State (1972), Kellen Winslow, TE Missouri (1979), Keith Jackson, TE Oklahoma (1988)

Harris and his 12,120 career rushing yards and 100 total touchdowns makes him a close call, but Gonzalez, even before going to Atlanta, was among the greatest tight ends ever. Burns gave the Chargers 223 yards and one touchdown.


Jim Kelly, QB Miami
taken by Buffalo, 1983 
Derek Brown, TE Notre Dame
taken by NY Giants, 1992 
Also considered: Randy Gradishar, LB Ohio State (1974), Eddie George, RB Ohio State (1996), Tommie Harris, DT Oklahoma (2004), Derrelle Revis, CB Pitt (2007), Earl Thomas, S Texas (2010)

After a stint with the Houston Gamblers, Kelly turned in a Hall of Fame career leading Buffalo to four Super Bowls. Think of it this way; would Kelly be considered a greater quarterback if Scott Norwood had pushed his kick two feet the other way? Derek Brown gave New York 11 catches for 87 yards for their 14th pick investment, but Chicago's 2008 pick, Chris Williams out of Vanderbilt, was really, really close considering he was injured when he was drafted and couldn't get healthy.


Alan Page, DL Notre Dame
taken by Minnesota, 1967 
Ethan Horton, RB North Carolina 
taken by Kansas City, 1985 
Also considered: Dennis Smith, DB USC (1981), Albert Haynesworth, DT Tennessee (2002)

Possibly the worst of all the first round draft slots, the 15th pick is littered with various take-a-flier picks that didn't come close to working out. Alan Page was the obvious exception.  It took something special to be the worst 15th pick of all-time and Ethan Horton was up the challenge. Converted to tight end, he ended up being a Pro Bowl player ... for the Raiders. He caught 28 passes for 185 yards and one touchdown for the Chiefs before going to the archrival. The player taken with the 16th pick in the 1985 draft: Jerry Rice.


Jerry Rice, WR Miss Valley St
taken by San Francisco, 1985 
Dan McGwire, QB San Diego St
taken by Seattle, 1991 
Also considered: Russ Francis, TE Oregon (1975), Jevon Kearse, LB/DE Florida (1999), Troy Polamalu, S USC (2003)

The gap between Rice and the second-best receiver of all-time is possibly greater than any position in any sport. Polamalu would've been the choice if it was almost anyone else but Rice. Dan McGwire threw for 745 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions for the Seahawks.


Emmitt Smith, RB Florida
taken by Dallas, 1990 
Clyde Duncan, WR Tennessee
taken by St. Louis, 1984  
Also considered: Gene Upshaw, OL Texas A&I (1967), Doug Williams, QB Grambling (1978)

Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher. The pick before him? Fresno State DB James Williams to Buffalo, and don't forget that Blair Thomas went second overall to the Jets. Clyde Duncan gave St. Louis four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown in his two years. Used as a kickoff returner, he lost three fumbles.


Art Monk, WR Syracuse
taken by Washington, 1980
Don Rogers, DB UCLA
taken by Cleveland, 1984 
Also considered: Will Smith, DE Ohio State (2003), Joe Flacco, QB Delaware (2008)

Another total wasteland of picks, Monk and his 12,721 receiving yards and 68 touchdowns makes this the among the easiest picks on the board, even with Joe Flacco winning a Super Bowl. It took something out of the ordinary to be the biggest bust at the 18. Don Rogers died of a cocaine overdose in 1986.


Marvin Harrison, WR Syracuse
taken by Indianapolis, 1996 
Steve Pisarkiewicz, QB Missouri 
taken by St. Louis, 1977 
Also considered: Jack Tatum, Ohio State (1971), Randall McDaniel, OL Arizona State (1988)

Tatum was great, but Harrison is the easy choice finishing his 13-year career for Indy with 1,102 catches for 14,580 yards and 128 scores. Southern Miss RB Tony Smith should've been a lock for the worst pick, but Missouri QB Steve Pisarkiewicz made this a no-brainer throwing for 785 career yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions.


Jack Youngblood, DL Florida 
taken by Los Angeles, 1971 
Darryl Sims, DE Wisconsin
taken by Pittsburgh, 1985 
Also considered: Mark May, OL Pittsburgh (1981), Steve Atwater, S Arkansas (1989), Tamba Hali, DE Penn State (2006)

There haven't been many superstars selected with the 20th pick, but it has historically been among the most consistently solid slots. Youngblood's Hall of Fame nod gave him a slight edge over May and the underappreciated Atwater. Darryl Sims came to Pittsburgh, stunk for two years, made three sacks, and moved on. 


Randy Moss, WR Marshall
taken by Minnesota, 1998
Vaughn Dunbar, RB Indiana 
taken by New Orleans, 1992
Also considered: Lynn Swann, WR USC (1974), Robert Smith, RB Ohio State (1993)

Yes, you take Randy Moss over Lynn Swann in a non-debatable heartbeat. Over his nine-year career, Swann caught 336 passes for 5,461 yards and 51 touchdowns. Moss caught 525 passes for 8,375 yards and 77 touchdowns over his first six seasons. Dunbar ran for 574 yards and three touchdowns for the Saints. 2005 Jacksonville pick Matt Jones, the converted quarterback-turned-receiver, was a really, really close call for the all-bust spot.


Harris Barton, OL UNC
taken by San Francisco, 1987
Stan Thomas, OT Texas
taken by Chicago, 1991
Also considered: Andre Rison, WR Michigan State (1989), Demaryius Thomas, WR Georgia Tech (2010)

Welcome to another traditionally lean draft slot. Barton was a yearly Pro Bowl player but if he's your best choice, you know the 22nd pick has stunk. Several players gave it a good run to be the worst No. 22 of all-time, but Stan Thomas takes the prize. Mike Ditka bitched and moaned about the pick, and then Thomas banged up his shoulder. The Bears were planning on him taking over for the aging veterans. Instead, this pick set the Chicago line back a few years.


Ozzie Newsome, TE Alabama
taken by Cleveland, 1978 
Mike Schad, T Queens University
taken by LA Rams, 1986 
Also considered: Ray Guy, P Southern Miss (1973), Deuce McAllister, RB Ole Miss (2001)

Do you take the greatest punter of all-time over, perhaps, the greatest tight end? Schad played seven games for the Rams.


Ed Reed, S Miami
taken by Baltimore, 2002
Leonard Renfro, DT Colorado
taken by Philadelphia, 1993 
Also considered: Rodney Hampton, RB Georgia (1990), Steven Jackson, RB Oregon State (2004), Aaron Rodgers, QB California (2005), Chris Johnson, RB East Carolina (2008), Dez Bryant, WR Oklahoma State (2010)

Now this is a lost pick - at least before 2002 - and then came Jackson, Rodgers, Johnson and Bryant. Reed redefined the safety position, battling Ronnie Lott for the honor of being the greatest of all time. However, Rodgers has to be considered pick No. 1A. Leonard Renfro was a major-league bust for an Eagle D hoping to replenish the defensive line.


Stanley Morgan, WR Tenn.
taken by New England, 1977  
Terrence Flagler, RB Clemson
taken by San Francisco, 1987 
Also considered: Louis Oliver, S Florida (1989), Santonio Holmes, WR Ohio State (2006), Jon Beason LB Miami (2007)

Louis Oliver? Late first round draft picks just don't become stars - this is the Tebow spot. Stanley Morgan caught 174 passes for 10,352 yards and 68 touchdown passes for the Patriots. Tommy Maddox was worthy of worst No. 25 pick status, proving to be used as a power play between Dan Reeves and John Elway while only throwing for 758 yards, six touchdown passes and nine interceptions in his Bronco career. Flagler was even worse rushing for 145 yards and one touchdown for the Niners.


Ray Lewis, LB Miami
taken by Baltimore, 1996 
Reggie Dupard, RB SMU
taken by New England, 1986
Also considered: Joe Delamielleure, OL Michigan State (1973), Clay Matthews Jr., LB USC (2009)

Lewis might be the greatest linebacker of all-time - no other No. 26 pick comes within 100 miles of getting the nod. Reggie Dupard ran for 574 yards and four touchdowns for the Patriots. Chicago took Neal Anderson with the next pick. However, Jonathan Baldwin gives Dupard a run, catching 44 passes for 607 yards and two scores for Kansas City.


Dan Marino, QB Pittsburgh
taken by Miami, 1983 
Todd Kelly, DE Tennessee
taken by San Francisco, 1993
Also considered: Neal Anderson, RB Florida (1986), Larry Johnson, RB Penn State (2003), DeAngelo Williams, RB Memphis (2006)

Marino is the all-time first round value pick after bizarre and unfounded drug rumors caused him to slip. Just when San Francisco needed to boost up the defense in the arms race with Dallas, Todd Kelly came in and provided two mediocre years of service with 22 tackles and 4.5 sacks.


Darrell Green, CB Texas A&I
taken by Washington, 1983 
Andy Katzenmoyer, LB Ohio State
taken by New England, 1999
Also considered: Derrick Brooks, LB Florida State (1985), Joe Staley, OT Central Michigan (2007)

Green is the gold standard for cornerback consistency for one team. He'll always be considered among the fastest defensive backs to ever play. Even so, Brooks was really, really close to getting the spot. Katzenmoyer was considered a bit of a risk going in the first round. After a few years of undistinguished play, a neck injury knocked him out of football.


Nick Mangold, C Ohio State
taken by NY Jets, 2006
Dimitrius Underwood, DL Michigan State
taken by Minnesota, 1999 
Also considered: Derrick Alexander, WR Michigan (1994), Nick Barnett, LB Oregon State (2003) Nick Mangold, C Ohio State (2006)

Remembering that there haven't always been No. 29 picks, there aren't many great players to choose from. Barnett and his 574 career tackles for Green Bay was good, but Mangold turned in to a perennial Pro Bowl performer.  USC WR R. Jay Soward would be a lock as the worst 29 of all-time, with Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi pushing for consideration, if it weren't for the bizarre and sad case of Dimitrius Underwood, who was considered a flier at best in the mid-rounds. Minnesota head coach Dennis Green and staff didn't do their research to realize Underwood was battling depression, among other things, and got 15 tackles and four sacks in 19 games.


Heath Miller, TE Virginia
taken by Pittsburgh, 2005
Marcus Nash, WR Tennessee
taken by Denver, 1998
Also considered: Keith Bulluck, LB Syracuse (2000), Joseph Addai, RB LSU (2006)

There's only been a 30th overall pick in the first round since 1995. Detroit RB Kevin Jones looked like he'd be the top choice for a while before getting hurt, and the Lions didn't have any more luck with Jahvid Best in 2010, who suffered from concussion problems. Bulluck made 770 career tackles in a strong career for Tennessee, but Miller turned into a key part of a championship passing game. Marcus Nash caught four passes for 76 yards for the Broncos.


Todd Heap, TE Arizona St
taken by Baltimore, 2001
Rashaun Woods, WR Oklahoma State
taken by San Francisco, 2004 
Also considered: Al Wilson, LB Tennessee (1999), Nnamdi Asomugha, CB California (2003)

Trained well by Ozzie Newsome and Shannon Sharpe, Heap was only been limited by bad quarterback play until Joe Flacco came along - he beats out Asomugha by a hair. Trezelle Jenkins stunk from day one getting cut in 1997 after two years of service, but Rashaun Woods was next-level awful catching seven passes for 160 yards and a score in his one year in the league.


Logan Mankins, G Fresno St
taken by New England, 2005
Patrick Ramsey, QB Tulane
taken by Washington, 2002
Also considered: Ben Watson, TE Georgia (2004), Mathias Kiwanuka, DE Boston College (2006)

There's only a few No. 32 first round picks to choose from since the spot was created 2002. Mankins started right off the bat and turned into a Pro Bowl superstar for one of the NFL's best offenses.