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The famous and the flops: best and worst NFL 1st-round picks

The Associated Press looks at the best and worst first-round draft picks for each NFL team. The players were chosen by AP sports writers who regularly cover the 32 teams.

AFC

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Best: T Jonathan Ogden, UCLA, 1996

Selected with the team’s first-ever pick after the move from Cleveland, Ogden held down the left tackle spot through 2006, was selected to 11 Pro Bowls and was a star on 2000 Super Bowl champions.

Worst: WR Travis Taylor, Florida, 2000

Taken 10th overall, Taylor battled injuries and never became the big-play wideout Ravens envisioned in five seasons in Baltimore.

BUFFALO BILLS

Best: DE Bruce Smith, Virginia Tech, 1985

With some question whether Smith or Ray Childress was worthy of the No. 1 pick, the Bills went with Smith. He became the NFL’s sack leader and cornerstone of a defense on a team that won four straight AFC championships.

Worst: LB Tom Cousineau, Ohio State, 1979

Touted linebacker selected first overall who never played a game for the Bills because of a contract squabble and better offer from the CFL. He played seven NFL seasons elsewhere and was never selected to the Pro Bowl.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Best: T Anthony Munoz, Southern California, 1980

Chosen third overall, Munoz ended up in the Hall of Fame as one of the top offensive linemen ever. He made 11 Pro Bowls from 1980-92 and helped the Bengals reach both of their Super Bowls as the main protector for QBs Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason.

Worst: RB Ki-Jana Carter, Penn State, 1995

Bengals moved up to take him first overall and gave him a then-record $7.1 million signing bonus. Owner Mike Brown called him the team’s “bell cow.” Tore ACL in his left knee on his third preseason carry in Detroit, ending the season and starting a career cut short by injuries at every turn. Brown also mispronounced his name as “Ji-Kana” at the team’s preseason luncheon that year.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Best: RB Jim Brown, Syracuse, 1957

He might be the greatest running back in NFL history. The sixth pick overall, Brown rushed for 12,312 yards and 126 touchdowns before retiring at the peak of career to pursue acting. A powerful runner with breakaway speed, Brown was rookie of the year, three-time player of the year and nine-time Pro Bowler as well as first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Worst: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M/CB Justin Gilbert, 2014

Enamored of his success in college as an electrifying Heisman Trophy winner, the Browns selected “Johnny Football. He was released after two troublesome seasons marred by off-field incidents, including a domestic violence investigation. The terrible pick was compounded by the Browns selecting Gilbert the same year. He was traded to Pittsburgh after two awful seasons.

DENVER BRONCOS

Best: S Steve Atwater, Arkansas, 1989

No, not John Elway, who actually was selected by Indianapolis and traded to Denver. Eight-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time Super Bowl champion Atwater was chosen 20th overall. Considered one of the hardest hitters in NFL and one of the more versatile safeties, he also was a leader on defense on a team that featured Elway on offense, and now is Hall of Famer.

Worst: QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis, 2016

A month after Peyton Manning retired following Denver’s Super Bowl 50 triumph, Elway made biggest blunder of his front office career. He moved up and selected Lynch with 26th overall pick. Lynch would go 1-3 in two seasons and twice got beaten out by a seventh-round draft pick. His selection haunts Elway and Broncos to this day as the team continues to search for worthy successor to Manning, who enters Hall of Fame this summer alongside Atwater.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Best DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin 2011

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year spent a decade with the team after being drafted with 11th overall in 2011. Watt was booed by Texans fans on draft night. It didn’t take him long to win over the fan base and become the most beloved Texan. The fearsome pass rusher was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, 2014 and 2015. He led the NFL in sacks and tackles for losses in 2012 (20½ and 39) and 2015 (17½ and 29). He was also lauded for his humanitarian efforts after raising more than $40 million for Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017.

Worst: DT Travis Johnson, Florida State, 2005

At 16th overall pick underachieved and was plagued by injuries in four seasons, then Houston traded him to San Diego in 2009. Started 38 games in four seasons and had only two sacks. Drew 15-yard penalty for taunting Dolphins QB Trent Green after Green went low to block him.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Best: QB Peyton Manning, Tennessee, 1998

The choice between Manning and Ryan Leaf turned out a no-brainer. Manning rewarded Indy by helping turn the city into a football town and winning city’s first Super Bowl. He also played key role in generating support from local and state officials to build Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning retired with two Super Bowl rings, a record five MVP awards, and as NFL’s career leader in yards passing and TD passes. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer this year.

Worst: LB Trev Alberts, Nebraska, 1994

He played only three seasons, finishing his career with four sacks and one interception after going fifth overall. Memorable flare-up between Colts GM Bill Tobin and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper came after Kiper faulted Indianapolis for taking Alberts instead of QB Trent Dilfer, who started 113 games in 13 NFL seasons and helped lead Ravens to their first Super Bowl title following 2000 season.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Best: T Tony Boselli, Southern California, 1995

The franchise’s inaugural draft pick made the Pro Bowl in five of his first six seasons and was a three-time All-Pro selection. Injuries shortened his career to eight years, but he’s likely to become the team’s first Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.

Worst: DE Derrick Harvey, Florida, 2008

Jacksonville gave up four picks (No. 26 overall, two third-rounders and a fourth) to move up 18 spots and draft Harvey eighth overall. The Ravens, meanwhile, used those extra picks to move up and grab franchise quarterback Joe Flacco at No. 18. Harvey had eight sacks in 47 games, a lackluster career that ended with his release after just three seasons.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Best: QB Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech, 2017

Chiefs traded up to No. 10 overall to take Mahomes, even though they already had veteran Alex Smith. After season learning the ropes, Mahomes took over as starter and led Chiefs to AFC title game while earning league MVP award. Year 2 brought Super Bowl MVP honors and the Chiefs’ first title in 50 years, so he edges TE Tony Gonzalez as the best.

Worst: QB Todd Blackledge, Penn State, 1983

First player drafted by first-year coach John Mackovic, who was hired to replace Marv Levy specifically because of expertise in passing game. Seventh overall selection, Blackledge spent five years in KC, went to Pittsburgh for two years and retired to the broadcast booth with overall passer rating of 60.2.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Best: QB Dan Marino, Pittsburgh, 1983

Taken with the 27th pick, became a starter as a rookie, led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl in 1984 and retired after the 1999 season as the most prolific passer in NFL history. Marino was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Worst: DE-LB Eric Kumerow, Ohio State, 1988. The 16th pick, choice was panned from the start, and Kumerow was out of the NFL after three seasons.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Best: G John Hannah, Alabama, 1973

Hannah, taken fourth overall, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991 and voted to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team after a 13-year pro career spent entirely with the Patriots. He was chosen for nine Pro Bowls.

Worst: DE Kenneth Sims, Texas, 1982

Plagued by injuries, Sims started all 16 games just once and played in only 74 games over his eight NFL seasons with Patriots. Had just 16 sacks and Patriots released him in 1990 after he reported out of shape.

NEW YORK JETS

Best: QB Joe Namath, Alabama, 1965

Hard to argue with the greatest player in franchise history. Broadway Joe was the No. 1 overall pick in the AFL draft in 1965 and delivered on the most famous guarantee in sports history, leading the Jets to their only Super Bowl victory. And it’s still New York’s only appearance in the big game. Namath was a Hall of Fame performer on the field and became a pop culture icon off it.

Worst: WR Johnny “Lam” Jones, Texas, 1980

Jets have quite a few candidates for this dubious distinction, with Blair Thomas (No. 2, 1990) and Vernon Gholston (No. 6, 2008) among draft-day clunkers. But New York traded up to No. 2 to select Jones, a speedy but raw Olympic gold medal sprinter, and doled out the NFL’s first deal over $1 million. It never worked out for either side. Jones finished with just 138 catches and 13 TDs in seven seasons, sitting out all of the last two with injuries.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Best: G Gene Upshaw, Texas A&M-Kingsville, 1967

Raiders found Upshaw out of NAIA school in the first common draft and he quickly became an anchor on one of top offensive lines. Upshaw became first exclusive guard to make Hall of Fame, winning two of his three Super Bowl appearances, playing in 10 AFL or AFC title games, and seven Pro Bowls during 15-year career.

Worst: QB JaMarcus Russell, LSU, 2007

One of the all-time draft busts, Russell got paid more than $39 million before being cut after three seasons in Oakland. He held out of his first training camp, was out of shape and won only seven of 25 starts. Threw 23 interceptions, lost 15 fumbles, completed 52.1% of passes and had a passer rating of 65.2.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Best: QB Terry Bradshaw, Louisiana Tech, 1970

Bradshaw barely edges Joe Greene, the 1969 pick and cornerstone of the Steel Curtain defense. The top overall pick after a decent but not spectacular college career, Bradshaw became the first quarterback to win four Super Bowls, and was the MVP of two of them. He turned the Steelers from a run-oriented team to a balanced attack and entered the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Worst: LB Huey Richardson, Florida, 1991

Expected to be next in a long line of dominant Steelers linebackers, but played in only five games and had no statistics after being chosen 15th. He was traded to Washington the following offseason and was out of the NFL after two years.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Best: RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU, 2001

No. 5 overall pick after Chargers traded top pick to Atlanta, which used it on Michael Vick. Tomlinson was 2006 NFL MVP after setting league records with 31 touchdowns, including 28 rushing, and 186 points. Was eighth-leading career rusher when released after 2009 season, now with Jets.

Worst: QB Ryan Leaf, Washington State, 1998

No. 2 overall pick after Indianapolis took Peyton Manning. Leaf won only four of 14 starts during his messy three-year stay. Hurled 33 interceptions — compared to 13 TD passes — and lots of obscenities. Career began melting down after just three games, when he was caught on camera berating a reporter. Later that season, he was suspended four games for cursing at GM Bobby Beathard.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Best: RB Earl Campbell, Texas, 1978

Then the Houston Oilers, the team traded three picks and tight end Jimmie Giles to Tampa Bay for the right to pick the All-American back. Campbell helped Oilers reach AFC championship game in 1978 and 1979, earning league MVP honors in 1979. He was a three-time Offensive Player of the Year and is a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Worst: OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia, 2020

Yes, Tennessee’s most recent first-rounder. The Titans at least won games with Adam “Pacman” Jones, who intercepted four passes and scored four touchdowns on punt returns in his two seasons with the franchise. They got only four whole snaps out of Wilson, who was drafted at No. 29 overall to provide immediate depth and compete to start at right tackle. Wilson spent two stints on the COVID-19 list; was arrested on a drunken driving charge in September; suspended for a game; then placed on injured reserve/non-football illness list Dec. 9. They traded him to Miami in March, and the Dolphins released Wilson a few days after trade became official.

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NFC

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Best: WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh, 2004.

It’s hard to argue with Larry Legend, who has turned into one of the most productive receivers in NFL history and is beloved in the desert. He’s played all 17 of his seasons with the Cardinals, been selected for 11 Pro Bowls and led the franchise to its lone Super Bowl appearance in 2008. His 17,492 yards receiving rank second behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.

Worst: DT Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin, 2002

Taken 12th overall, Bryant played in 29 games over three seasons before he was released after team learned he would be suspended for a year for substance abuse violations. He had 28 career tackles and 1½ sacks. After battles with drugs and alcohol, Bryant eventually got into a 12-step recovery program and played for Las Vegas and Omaha of the UFL over two seasons.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Best: QB Matt Ryan, Boston College, 2008

Hard to go with anyone other than Matty Ice, who restored some credibility for the franchise in 2008 as the No. 3 pick from Boston College on the heels of Michael Vick going to prison for dogfighting. Ryan has started all but three games over his 12-year career, earning four Pro Bowl appearances and the NFL’s MVP award in 2016, when he led the Falcons to only the second Super Bowl appearance in team history.

Worst: DE Aundray Bruce, Auburn, 1988

Top overall choice lasted 11 years in league, but made only 42 starts. Hyped as next Lawrence Taylor, but at best was only serviceable, never impact player. Had no more than six sacks in a season. He was arrested for pointing pellet gun at pizza deliveryman in 1990.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Best: DE Julius Peppers, North Carolina, 2002

Second overall pick immediately became one of most dominating defensive ends in NFL. Helped Panthers reach their first Super Bowl after 2003 season and amassed franchise-record 97 sacks in 10 seasons with the team. Also spent seven seasons with Chicago and Green Bay, finishing with 159½ career sacks.

Worst: WR Rae Carruth, Colorado, 1997

The 27th overall pick had a mediocre three seasons until his career abruptly ended with Thanksgiving arrest in 1999. Carruth was later convicted of conspiracy to commit murder of his pregnant girlfriend. He served nearly 19 years in prison before being released in 2018.

CHICAGO BEARS

Best: RB Walter Payton, Jackson State, 1975

Drafted fourth overall, Payton retired after 1987 season as NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards. Helped 1985 Bears win the championship, running for 1,551 yards, and made nine Pro Bowls during his career. The league’s Man of the Year award is named after Payton, who made the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Worst: WR Kevin White, West Virginia, 2015

Ryan Pace envisioned White forming dynamic tandem with Alshon Jeffery when he drafted West Virginia product with No. 7 overall pick. Instead, his first selection as Bears GM is his biggest bust. White missed his rookie season because of a stress fracture in left shin. Injuries limited him to 14 games from 2016 to 2018 before Chicago let him go. White was ineffective when healthy, catching 25 passes for 285 yards and no touchdowns.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Best: RB Emmitt Smith, Florida, 1990

Smith went from being No. 17 in the draft and the second running back taken that year to being the leading rusher in NFL history. He helped the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span, was the MVP of the 1994 game, and also MVP of the 1993 season. He finished with 18,355 yards rushing and 175 total TDs.

Worst: LB Billy Cannon Jr., Texas A&M, 1984

Son of 1959 Heisman Trophy winner — one of college football’s greatest players — the younger Cannon was the 25th overall pick in 1984, played eight games, got hurt and never played again.

DETROIT LIONS

Best: RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State, 1989

Hall of Fame running back was first player to run for 1,000 yards in each of first 10 seasons and helped Detroit to its only playoff win — in 1992 over Dallas — since its 1957 NFL title. Shockingly retired just before training camp in 1999 with 15,269 yards rushing, within one of his average seasons of surpassing Walter Payton’s record.

Worst: WR Charles Rogers, Michigan State, 2003

After scoring twice in his debut, a broken collarbone ended his rookie season and same injury set him back in the 2004 opener. Detroit cut Rogers entering his fourth season — with just 36 career receptions for 440 yards and four TDs in 15 games — following four-game suspension for violating substance abuse policy.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Best: RB Paul Hornung, Notre Dame, 1957

Heisman Trophy winner went to Green Bay after it won a lottery for the top pick. Won four championships with the Packers, won scoring title three straight seasons (1959-61) with league- record 176 points in 1960 — which stood until LaDainian Tomlinson broke it in 2006. Career was marred by gambling suspension in 1963, made Hall of Fame in 1986.

Worst: OL Tony Mandarich, Michigan State, 1989

Considered one of best offensive line prospects in history, lasted only three seasons in Green Bay and is considered one of biggest first-round busts ever. Later would admit to using steroids in college and battling drug and alcohol problems in Green Bay. Packers could have had Barry or Deion Sanders.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Best: WR Randy Moss, West Virginia, 1998

Character concerns, which continued to play out during his mostly spectacular 13-year career, led to freakishly talented Moss going 21st. Moss led Vikings to a 15-1 record that season and a painful three points away from Super Bowl. He’s been a dynamic receiver until recently, helping the Patriots go 16-0 in 2007 before a Super Bowl loss.

Worst: QB, Christian Ponder, 2011.

After banged-up, 41-year-old Brett Favre retired following rough 2010 season, Vikings reached for Ponder with No. 12 overall selection. He was the fourth quarterback off the board in what appeared to be a rich class that did not pan out. Premier pass rushers picked in first round after Ponder that year included Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Jordan and Cameron Heyward. Stalwart offensive linemen Mike Pouncey, Nate Solder and Anthony Castonzo were available, too. Instead, Ponder had only one decent season, went 14-21-1 as a starter, threw 36 interceptions against 38 touchdown passes and lasted four years in league.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Best: T William Roaf, Louisiana Tech, 1993

Was a franchise-high seven-time Pro Bowl player with the Saints, 11 times in his career, including four with KC. Inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2008 and was a 2011 finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame. Started every game his rookie season at RT before moving to LT in second season.

Worst: PK Russell Erxleben, Texas, 1979.

Saints used 11th overall pick on punter, as if in those days they didn’t have many other needs. Lasted five seasons in New Orleans, where his net punting average was never higher than 35.2 for a single season. Was rarely used on field goals.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Best: LB Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina, 1981

Second pick became the prototype for the modern linebacker. Taylor revolutionized the sack with his arm chop that stripped the ball. A 10-time Pro Bowl selection, won two Super Bowls, was NFL MVP in 1986 and three-time Defensive Player of Year (1981, 1982, 1986). Also was Defensive Rookie of Year (1981).

Worst: RB Rocky Thompson, West Texas State, 1971

Chosen 17th overall when some projected him to go in third round. Played two-plus years, 29 games, 68 carries, 217 yards, one TD, with 16 receptions for 85 yards and 65 kick returns for two TDs.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Best: LB-C Chuck Bednarik, Penn, 1949

No. 1 overall pick — from Ivy League school, no less — Bednarik is considered the last of the NFL’s great two-way players. He starred at center and linebacker, was a 10-time All-Pro, eight-time Pro-Bowl pick and helped the Eagles win two of their three NFL titles. Was elected to Hall of Fame in first year of eligibility, 1967.

Worst: T Kevin Allen, Indiana, 1985

Played one season for the Eagles. Tested positive for cocaine after reporting to training camp in 1986, then was charged with sexual assault and spent three years in prison. Never played again in the NFL.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Best: DT Merlin Olsen, Utah State, 1962. The No. 3 overall pick the Fearsome Foursome and defined brute excellence on NFL defensive lines for 15 years, making 14 consecutive Pro Bowls and becoming possibly the greatest lineman of the 1960s. Olsen gets this narrow nod because record-setting running back Eric Dickerson (No. 2, 1983) played only 65 games for the Rams, and the full legacy of Aaron Donald (No. 13, 2014) is still being written.

Worst: RB Lawrence Phillips, Nebraska, 1996

Coming off a troubled college career, was a pro bust, totaling 1,453 yards in three seasons with three teams while trying the patience of coach Dick Vermeil and others. Rams released him for insubordination in 1997. Was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2008 after a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Best: WR Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State, 1985

Rice’s No. 80 now hangs from the upper deck at Candlestick Park. Hall of Fame receiver played first 16 of 21 NFL seasons with San Francisco. Known for tireless work ethic even in late stages of career, Rice holds virtually every significant receiving mark, including most career receptions (1,549); yards receiving (22,895); total touchdowns (208); and combined net yards (23,546).

Worst: WR A.J. Jenkins, Illinois, 2012

After going to NFC title game in 2011 season, the 49ers were looking to add a receiver who could take them over the hump. Jenkins proved to be far from that after being drafted 30th overall. He played just 35 snaps in three games as a rookie and didn’t catch a single pass. The Niners quickly realized their mistake and dealt Jenkins to Kansas City after that season for another failed first-round receiver. Jonathan Baldwin didn’t fare much better in San Francisco with three catches in his only season.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Best: T Walter Jones, Florida State, 1997

An All-Pro selection four times and made nine Pro Bowls. Jones was called for holding just nine times in 5,703 pass attempts, and allowed only 23 sacks. Was the measuring stick at his position after being sixth overall pick.

Worst: QB Rick Mirer, Notre Dame, 1993

Taken second overall, played four seasons in Seattle and went 20-31 with 41 touchdowns to 56 interceptions. Never became franchise QB while player taken ahead of him by Patriots, Drew Bledsoe, took New England to a Super Bowl.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Best: DE Lee Roy Selmon, Oklahoma, 1976

Team’s first-ever draft pick and is franchise’s only Hall of Famer. Selmon-led Bucs rebounded from losing first 26 games in team’s history to reach NFC title game in 1979, franchise’s fourth season. Was versatile and dynamic player and team leader.

Worst: DE Eric Curry, Alabama, 1993

Bucs envisioned Curry being becoming the dominant pass rusher they lacked since Selmon’s retirement in 1984. Never played up to expectations. Had 12 sacks in five seasons with the Bucs, then closed his career with a half-sack in two seasons with Jaguars.

WASHINGTON

Best: QB Sammy Baugh, TCU, 1937

Greatest player in franchise history, No. 6 overall pick, Baugh arrived the same year franchise relocated from Boston and led Redskins to titles in ’37 and ’42, revolutionizing passing game along the way. As three-way player, he led the league in passing, punting and interceptions in 1943 and was part of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1963.

Worst: T Andre Johnson, Penn State, 1996; QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor, 2012

Washington traded up to nab Johnson out of Penn State and 16 years later gave up three first-round picks to move up to No. 2 for Griffin. Johnson was so inept he never even got onto the field, riding the bench his entire rookie season and until he was cut at the end of training camp the next year. Griffin was Offensive Rookie of the Year and led Washington to a division title in 2012 before a knee injury and squabbles with the coaching staff contributed to him flaming out.

(Copyright (c) 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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