Hall of Famers, busts and everything in between, here’s how we ranked the last 41 players to be the first name called on draft night.
41. JaMarcus Russell (2007, Oakland Raiders)
One of the biggest busts in NFL history, Russell lasted just three seasons in Oakland, committing 38 total turnovers across 25 starts while dealing with criticisms over his lack of conditioning and weight (he once came to camp weighing 290 pounds). Oakland released him during the 2010 offseason and two months later he was arrested for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription. He never played another down in the NFL.
40. Ki-Jana Carter (1995, Cincinnati Bengals)
When you take a running back with the top pick of the draft, you expect someone who is a do-it-all player who will basically never get off the field on offense. Injuries doomed Carter's career. He tore a ligament in the preseason of his rookie year that ended his season before it began, while a rotator cuff tear in 1997 and a broken wrist in 1999 also ended his seasons prematurely. Carter recorded just 1,144 rushing yards in his career. What makes this selection worse for the Bengals is that they traded up to acquire Carter, surrendering the No. 5 and No. 36 picks in the process.
39. Kenneth Sims (1982, New England Patriots)
Sims would play his entire eight-year career in New England, but never amassed more than 5.5 sacks in a season (and just 17 in his career). Things weren't all bad for the Patriots, however, as one of their second-round selections was used on outside linebacker Andre Tippett, who, after 11 season in New England, ended his career with 100 sacks, four All-Pro nods, a Defensive Player of the Year award and, most importantly, enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
38. Courtney Brown (2000, Cleveland Browns)
Brown showed some promise early in his career, including tallying 4.5 sacks in five games in 2001, but injuries sapped his development. After five seasons in Cleveland in which he missed 33 games, he spent his final season in Denver.
37. Steve Emtman (1992, Indianapolis Colts)
Another player whose career was hit hard with injuries, especially on the AstroTurf field in Indianapolis. He would play just three seasons for the Colts, each of them ending with a trip to injured reserve. After stops in Miami and Washington, he would retire at age 27.
36. Aundray Bruce (1988, Atlanta Falcons)
The most recent linebacker to be selected first overall, Bruce was just never able to shake the expectations that he would be the next Lawrence Taylor and failed to crack the starting lineup either with the Falcons or the Raiders, starting just 42 games across 11 seasons. After recording 12 sacks in his first two seasons, Bruce would only take down the opposing quarterback 20 more times across nine seasons. In three of those seasons, he failed to even record a sack.
35. David Carr (2002, Houston Texans)
Carr was a victim of a terrible situation above all else. He was sacked 76 times his rookie year, then an NFL record. Poor pass protection was a recurring theme as he was sacked 268 times during his five years in Houston. He would emerge as one of the league's better backups, ultimately winning a Super Bowl with the Giants as Eli Manning's backup in 2011. He did not play a single snap that season.
34. Tim Couch (1999, Cleveland Browns)
Like Carr, Couch was the inaugural draft selection of an expansion team who was just placed in a bad situation. Injuries plagued his career, but he was the starter for Cleveland in 2002 as the qualified for the playoffs, their only appearance since 1994, but a broken leg in the season finale prevented him from playing in the postseason game, a loss to divisional rival Pittsburgh in a game where Pittsburgh did not even lead until the final minute. Couch was released in 2004 and never made a regular season roster for another team.
33. Jeff George (1990, Indianapolis Colts)
Indianapolis traded up with Atlanta to select George, the hometown product with a cannon for an arm. George would never live up to the billing in Indianapolis, winning just 14 games across four seasons before becoming a journey man with pit stops with six other teams. There were some highs - he led the NFL in passing yards with Oakland in 1997 - but they were heavily outweighed by the lows, including his infamous stint with Oakland in 1998 in which he would ignore play calls from head coach Jon Gruden and call his own plays from his wristband (usually just chucking it to Tim Brown).
32. Sam Bradford (2010, St. Louis Rams)
While Bradford may have been a bust, his bank account sure isn't as he was paid nearly $130 million in his career. He had some highlights, including winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, but the injury concerns he had in college carried over into the NFL as he struggled to stay on the field, missing 61 career games. He was traded by St. Louis to Philadelphia in a swap for quarterbacks (St. Louis received Nick Foles in the deal). Philadelphia flipped him a year later to Minnesota for a first-round pick following an injury to Teddy Bridgewater. In 2018, Bradford signed a two-year deal, which included $15 million guaranteed in the first season. Arizona would soon regret the deal as Bradford was woefully ineffective in three games before getting the plug pulled in favor of rookie Josh Rosen. Bradford was also the last No. 1 pick before the new collective bargaining agreement set a rookie salary cap. Bradford signed a six-year $78 million contract before ever stepping on the field.
Too Soon to Tell
31. Joe Burrow (2020, Cincinnati Bengals)
The most recent player selected first overall, I don't doubt that Burrow will be successful in the NFL, but with a blank resume, I simply can't stack him up with everyone else.
30.Baker Mayfield (2018, Cleveland Browns)
While Mayfield was stellar in 13 starts for Cleveland as a rookie, the Browns loaded up on talent to try and make a playoff push in 2019 and he struggled mightily, throwing 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Mayfield needs to rebound in a big way this season.
29. Kyler Murray (2019, Arizona Cardinals)
Murray was an outside-the-box selection for Arizona at the time of the draft. He was taken in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics in 2018 and was considered a top prospect by them. Not to mention the concerns about his size (5-foot-10) and the fact that Arizona traded up to select Josh Rosen 10th overall the year before. New Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, however, wanted Murray since Day One and was able to clear the hurdles, getting Murray to forgo his MLB career and trading Rosen to Miami. Murray paid immediate dividens as he won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Now, with DeAndre Hopkins in town, the expectations have been raised.
28. Dan Wilkinson (1994, Cincinnati Bengals)
Cincinnati botching this selection would cost them in 1995 too. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk was taken second overall after Wilkinson. Has the Bengals selected Faulk, they would have opted not to trade up to select Ki-Jana Carter with the top pick in 1995, or use the selection on either Steve McNair or Tony Boselli and we could have seen a very different Bengals team in the late 90s. But alas, hindsight is 20/20. Wilkinson played just four seasons in Cincinnati and was a pretty good player for the Bengals (albeit, not first-overall good) until he clashed with not only the Bengals ownership, but the city too, referring to Cincinnati as a "racist city". He was traded to Washington and spent time with Detroit and Miami before hanging up his cleats. Had he been selected in the latter half of the first round, he likely wouldn't be referred to as a bust.
27. Jameis Winston (2015, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
While Winston has shown flashes of talent, ball security has always been his Achilles heel. In 2019, Winston joined the rare 30-30 club after tossing 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Now signed as a backup in New Orleans, he is working on rehabilitating his career, but if it doesn't improve, he will quickly find himself in the bust category.
26. Eric Fisher (2013, Kansas City Chiefs)
Fisher isn't a bad football player, but he hasn't been appreciated since he hasn't live up to his draft status despite being in what was a poor draft class. Fisher just won a Super Bowl with the Chiefs and made his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2018.
25. Vinny Testaverde (1987, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
While Testaverde didn't work out in Tampa Bay, he wound up playing 21 seasons in the NFL, making his final appearance with Carolina in 2007 where, at age 43, he became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a game. Testaverde would make two Pro Bowl appearances, once with Baltimore and another with the Jets.
24. Matthew Stafford (2009, Detroit Lions)
While Stafford has cemented his legacy as the great quarterback in Lions history, the fact that he never won a playoff game (and made just three appearances) will be what he is remembered for most. Stafford has made the Pro Bowl once in his career.
23. Alex Smith (2005, San Francisco 49ers)
The 49ers opted to take Smith over the homegrown Aaron Rodgers, who slipped to 24th until being selected by Green Bay. Although the 49ers would certainly like a re-do, Smith had built a pretty fine career for himself, especially after Jim Harbaugh arrived in town and revived Smith's career, which was plagued by bad coaching and high turnover. Although Smith was ultimately unseated by Colin Kaepernick, he would land in Kansas City where he was named to the Pro Bowl three times. With Patrick Mahomes ready to take over as the starting quarterback, Smith was again traded, this time to Washington, where he was 6-3 through his first nine games before a leg fracture threatened his NFL career. While he is still currently on the Redskins roster, it is unknown if or when he will return to the field.
22. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams, 2016)
Goff's rookie season was one to forget, but once Sean McVay came to town, we began to see Goff's potential as he became a two-time Pro Bowl selection and helped lead one of the most dynamic offenses in the league to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, it has been downhill since then as the Rams mustered just three points in a loss to the Patriots and failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2019 as many players, including Goff, regressed.
21. Michael Vick (2001, Atlanta Falcons)
With a powerful arm combined with lethal speed, Vick was one of the most highly touted prospects in NFL history due to his dual threat capability. Atlanta eventually traded up to acquire Vick, but the Chargers had the last laugh as they used Atlanta's first-round pick to select Hall of Fame running back LaDanian Tomlinson at No. 5 before taking a future Hall of Fame quartetrback in Drew Brees with the first pick of the second round. Vick was never really able to fulfill the hype, thought admittedly maybe the bar was set a bit too high. At just 6-feet tall, 215, pounds, Vick was also a bit undersized and due to his penchant for leaving the pocket, he struggled to stay healthy in the NFL. Of course, there is also the dogfighting incident which led to him serving a prison sentence, but Vick would return to the NFL with Philadelphia, where he won Comeback Player of the Year and was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl. Talent-wise, Vick will always be a fan favorite, but the talent didn't translate as well as everyone had hoped.
20. Keyshawn Johnson (1996, New York Jets)
The first of the "diva" wide receivers, Johnson made three Pro Bowls in four years while splitting time with the Jets and Buccaneers. Johnson has 10,000 career receiving yards, but the Jets may have been better off not selecting Johnson as they selected him over four-time All-Pro Simeon Rice and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.
19. Russell Maryland (1991, Dallas Cowboys)
While underappreciated, Maryland was a key player in the resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys. Especially stout against the run, Maryland would make his only Pro Bowl in 1993 and helped Dallas win three Super Bowls in the 90s.
Garrett is just 24 and still has time to improve and move up this list. So far, Garrett has made one second-team All-Pro appearance and has established himself as one of the leagues better pass rushers, putting up a pressure score of 113 in 2018. He was on his way to his second consecutive 100-plus pressure score season in 2019 until his altercation with Mason Rudolph resulted in him being suspended for the remainder of the year.
17. Jadeveon Clowney (2014, Houston Texans)
Coming out of South Carolina, Clowney had sky-high expectations that he may not have reached in the NFL, but he has been a good player in his career, earning an All-Pro nod in 2016 along with three Pro Bowl selections. Unhappy with his franchise tag status, Clowney would force his way out of Houston, landing in Seattle. He is currently a free agent, due partially to the pandemic and more to his steep contract demands.
16. Carson Palmer (2003, Cincinnati Bengals)
After making two Super Bowl appearances in the 80s, the Bengals lived in the basemen of the NFL in the 90s. Between 1991-2002, the only had one non-losing season, and they went 8-8. Palmer helped usher in change to the organization and was one of the faces of the franchise, including head coach Marvin Lewis and wide receive Chad Johnson. Palmer made a pair of Pro Bowls with the Bengals, but an elbow injury and dissatisfaction with the organization led Palmer to request a trade. When his request was denied, he threatened to retire and sat out until he was ultimately traded to Oakland. He would be traded again, this time to Arizona, where he revitalized his career and made his only All-Pro appearance in 2015, a season in which he led Arizona to the NFC Conference Championship Game.
15. Drew Bledsoe (1993, New England Patriots)
A four time Pro-Bowler, Bledsoe struggled in his first three seasons before finally putting it together in 1996 as he led New England to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Green Bay. His best season came in 1997, when he accumulated 3,706 passing yards and 28 touchdowns before he began to decline statistically. He will be forever remembered for being sacked by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis early in 2001, opening the door for Tom Brady to become the starting quarterback for the Patriots for 19 years. Bledsoe was eventually traded to Buffalo and spent two seasons in Dallas, where he warmed the seat for future starter Tony Romo.
14. Bo Jackson (1986, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
A selection I truly struggled with, if we were looking solely at the player's performance with the team who drafted him, Jackson would be 41st on this list as he never played a down with the Buccaneers after their deception cost him his baseball eligibility. Jackson was a star athlete who excelled on the football field (with the Los Angeles Raiders) and the baseball diamond, making the MLB All-Star team and the NFL's Pro Bowl before a hip injury ended his career. With Jackson, it's basically a matter of speculation of what could have been.
13. Billy Sims (1980, Detroit Lions)
A Heisman Trophy winner in college, Sims hit the ground running in the NFL, making the All-Pro team in 1980 and 1981. His career, however, was cut short due to a devastating knee injury in 1984. In 2004, the Lions honored Sims along with Barry Sanders and Lem Barney by retiring No. 20 in honor of the three players.
12. George Rogers (1981, New Orleans Saints)
While Rogers wasn't a bad player, he will be forever remembered as the guy New Orleans selected ahead of Lawrence Taylor. In his rookie season, Rogers led the NFL in rushing, setting the rookie rushing record in the process. Rogers would spend three more years in the Big Easy before being traded to Washington, where he rushed for 18 touchdowns in 1986, earning his second first-team All-Pro selection. After winning the Super Bowl with Washington in 1988, Rogers retired due to nagging injuries.
The Very Good
11. Andrew Luck (2012, Indianapolis Colts)
Touted as the great quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, the Colts picks the right year to go 2-14 as a neck injury to Manning shelved him for the season. Luck helped the Colts immediately bounce back, making the playoffs as a rookie. Luck engineered a brilliant comeback in the playoffs against the Chiefs in 2013, erasing a 28 point deficit as Indianapolis won 45-44. New England, however was the thorn in his side as they not only knocked out Indianapolis in the 2013 playoffs, but in the 2014 AFC Conference Championship Game as well. Health, however, was an issue for Luck who took some beatings on the football field that led to lost seasons in 2015 (missed nine games) and 2017 (missed the season). In August 2019, Luck shocked the world by retiring at age 29 due to his continuous injuries.
10. Jake Long (2008, Miami Dolphins)
From the moment Jake Long was drafted, he was one of the game's best pass protectors. He made four consecutive Pro Bowls to start his career and was named to the All-Pro team in 2009-10, but injuries began to take their toll in 2011, beginning with torn triceps. Long would tear his ACL in back-to-back seasons with the Rams and tore his Achilles while playing with Minnesota in 2016, his final season.
9. Irving Fryar (1984, New England Patriots)
A beloved played in New England, Fryar would play 17 seasons between the Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles and Redskins, amassing 12,785 yards and 84 touchdowns. He made five Pro Bowls and a pair of All-Pro teams and was responsible for the lone touchdown scored in the Patriots pummeling loss to the Bears in Super Bowl XX. Some have called for Fryar's induction into the Hall of Fame, but he should ultimately be one of the players who was very good, just not good enough for enshrinement.
8. Mario Williams (2006, Houston Texans)
The player nobody in Houston wanted (most wanted Vince Young, who was from Houston, or USC running back Reggie Bush), Williams proved his doubter wrong and became one of the better pass rushers in the league by his second season, making his first of three All-Pro teams in the process. After six seasons in Houston, Williams would sign with Buffalo, where he would play four seasons (and make his third and fourth Pro Bowl appearance). Williams began to decline in 2015 and called it a career after one season with Miami in 2016. Williams ended his career with 97.5 sacks.
7. Cam Newton (2011, Carolina Panthers)
With the size of Ben Roethlisberger and mobility of Michael Vick, Newton was expected to be a force in the NFL, and he was in many ways. He owns two seasons with double-digit rushing touchdowns while spreading the ball around, but he also struggled with accuracy and turnovers. His best season came in 2015 when Carolina surprised everyone by having the league's highest-scoring offense, due much in part to Newton, who won league MVP and led Carolina to their second Super Bowl appearance, a loss to Denver. Newton has taken some big hits in his career and it is one of the reasons as to why he is currently unsigned, since the pandemic has prevented teams from bringing him in for a physical.
6. Troy Aikman (1989, Dallas Cowboys)
One of the key cogs to the resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys, Aikman helped Dallas win three Super Bowls, including being named MVP of Super Bowl XXVII. He would make six Pro Bowls in his career. Concussions would cut his career short and he now broadcasts games on Sundays.
5. Eli Manning (2004, San Diego Chargers)
The second of three people who will appear on this list who never played a down for the team who drafted him, Manning was drafted by San Diego, who ultimately traded him to New York. Manning spent much of his career as the media punching bag, which has made him underappreciated, but his star shone brightest when it mattered most - in the postseason. In two magical seasons, Manning put the Eli in "elite", defeating New England in the Super Bowl twice, most notably in Super Bowl XLII, where the Giants stunning victory spoiled the Patriots undefeated season. Eli would be named MVP of both of those Super Bowls and make for Pro Bowl squads. Recently retired, Manning should receive his gold jacket soon.
4. Orlando Pace (1997, St. Louis Rams)
While Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt got all of the attention for the Greatest Show on Turf, Pace was the linchpin for their success, adequately protecting Warner's blind side and opening up running lanes for Faulk as both won MVP at the turn of the century. A four-time All-Pro, Pace is a Super Bowl champion, member of the 2000s All-Decade team and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2016.
3. John Elway (1983, Baltimore Colts)
Unwilling to play for Frank Kush, Elways threatened to play baseball instead of football if the Colts did not trade him after selecting him first overall in 1983. They obliged him, sending him to Denver where he has become an icon, leading some bad Broncos teams to places they had nowhere being specifically three Super Bowls in the 80s where Denver lost by an average of 32 points per game. Finally armed with surrounding talent in the 90s, Elway would return to the big game twice, upending defending champion Green Bay and Cinderella squad Atlanta before retiring on top. Along with his two Super Bowl rings, Elway won Super Bowl MVP, league MVP, was twice named AFC Offensive Player of the Year, made three All-Pro squads, nine Pro Bowls and the 1990s All-Decade team. Elway was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, his first year of eligibility.
2. Bruce Smith (1985, Buffalo Bills)
One of the most feared defenders in the league, Smith routinely terrorized opposing quarterbacks, ending his career as the only player in NFL history to record 200 sacks. Smith has made 11 Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro teams, won Defensive Player of the Year twice, was named to the 80s and 90s All-Decade team and the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time team. After spending 15 seasons in Buffalo, including four consecutive appearances in the Super Bowl, he finished his career with a four-year stint in Washington.
1. Peyton Manning (1998, Indianapolis Colts)
The funny thing is, Manning wasn't even the consensus No. 1 draft pick in 1998 as many favored Ryan Leaf. The career paths of Manning and Leaf could not have gone in more of an opposite direction as Leaf is one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history while Manning went on to win five MVP awards. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Manning would make four appearances in the big game, twice with Indianapolis and twice with Denver, in a career that saw him re-write the record books at quarterback. Along with his five MVP awards, Manning was named MVP of Super Bowl XLI, made 14 Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro teams, won NFL Offensive Player of the Year twice and was named to both the 2000s All-Decades team and the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time team. Like Elway, Manning retired after winning his second Super Bowl