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

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



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 of 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.


Best: DE Bruce Smith, Virginia Tech, 1985

leader and the cornerstone of defense on a team that won four straight AFC championships.

Worst: LB Tom Cousineau, Ohio State, 1979

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


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 Super Bowls as the primary protector for QB Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason.

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

The 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.


Best: RB Jim Brown, Syracuse, 1957

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


Best: S Steve Atwater, Arkansas, 1989

No, not John Elway, who 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 the 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 a Hall of Famer.

Worst: QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis, 2016

A month after Peyton Manning retired following Denver’s Super Bowl 50 triumph, Elway made the biggest blunder of his front-office career. He moved up and selected Lynch with the 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 the Broncos to this day as the team continues to search for a worthy successor to Manning, who enters the Hall of Fame this summer alongside Atwater.


Best DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin 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 three-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man spent a decade with the team after being drafted with 11th overall in 2011. 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 over $40 million for Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017.

Worst: DT Travis Johnson, Florida State, 2005

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


Best: QB Peyton Manning, Tennessee, 1998

The choice between Manning and Ryan Leaf turned out to be a no-brainer. Manning rewarded Indy by helping turn the city into a football town and winning the city’s first Super Bowl. He also played a vital 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. A 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 the 2000 season.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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