NFL Draft: Comparing the careers of each No. 1 pick

The NFL Draft is tomorrow and the Cleveland Browns have the first pick for the second year in a row. Once again a quarterback will likely get taken at the top of the draft but regardless the ripple effect that the selected player’s career has will be large on the franchise. With that being said, how have past No. 1 picks compare to each other in terms of their careers?

Games played

First, let’s take a look at how many games each player taken first in the NFL Draft has played. It is important to note that the current 16 game schedule did not start until the 1978 season. From 1961-1977, they only played 14 games and before that played between 10-12 games depending on the year.


Click this link to view above chart closer up: //

*I did count games played in the rival AFL and AAFC, as they are listed on Pro Football Reference.

Top 10 in terms of games played by 1st round picks

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Playing career Player Games played
1985-2003 Bruce Smith 279
1998-2015 Peyton Manning 266
1984-2000 Irving Fryar 255
1983-1998 John Elway 234
1987-2007 Vinny Testaverde 233
1974-1989 Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones 224
2004-present Eli Manning 216
1968-1982 Ron Yary 207
1994-2006 Dan Wilkinson 195
1993-2006 Drew Bledsoe 194

*Chuck Bednarik was the first top pick (1949) to reach 100 and 150 games played, finishing with 169. It wasn’t until Ron Yary that a 1st overall pick surpassed these marks. Bednarik is still T-12 in terms of games played by a top pick, with Orlando Pace.

Bottom 10 in terms of games played by 1st round picks

This is not counting the last two overall picks (Jared Goff 22GP and Myles Garrett 11GP), since neither has played three seasons in the NFL.

Playing career Player Games played
N/A (Drafted 1936) *Jay Berwanger 0
N/A (Drafted 1962) *Ernie Davis 0
1954 Bobby Garrett 9
1947 Bob Fenimore 10
1961 (Drafted in 1959) *Randy Duncan 14
1946-1948 (Drafted in 1944) *Angelo Bertelli 16
1963-1965 Terry Baker 18
1946-1947 (Drafted in 1941) *Tom Harmon 22
1946-1948 Boley Dancewicz 23
1953-1955 Harry Babcock 30
2007-2009 JaMarcus Russell 31

*Berwanger never played due to a dispute over money with the Eagles and later Bears.

*Davis never played due to leukemia, which took his life just over a year after he was drafted. 

*Duncan never played in the NFL, but played one season in the rival AFL. 

*Bertelli was selected in 1944 while on active duty with the Marine Corps. After serving in the Pacific Theatre, he played three seasons in the rival AAFC following a court case between the AAFC’s L.A. Dons and the NFL’s Boston Yanks over who he could play for.

*Harmon declined to sign with the Bears after being drafted, Instead, signing with Columbia Pictures to make the film “Harmon of Michigan.” He then enlisted in the Army Air Corps and would eventually play two seasons with the L.A. Rams after the war.


Pro Bowls

The 82 players to have been selected with the 1st pick have made a combined 175 Pro Bowl appearances. Out of these 35 never made a Pro Bowl, while 47 went to at least one.

Pro Bowls

The first player taken with the top pick to make a Pro Bowl was Ki Aldrich in 1939.

Players selected 1st overall with the most Pro Bowl appearances

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Player Pro Bowls made Career length
Peyton Manning 14 1998-2015
Bruce Smith 11 1985-2003 
John Elway 9 1983-1998 
Chuck Bednarik 8 1949-1962 
Ron Yary 7 1968-1982
Orlando Pace 7 1997-2009 

All-Pro teams

For All-Pro teams, I only counted those who made a UPI team (1936-39) or an Associated Press (AP) All-Pro team (1940-present), as these are the main ones Pro Football Reference uses. Out of the 82 players taken with the top pick, 50 never made an All-Pro 1st or 2nd team.


Most All-Pro appearances by 1st overall picks 

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Player Total All-Pro app. All-Pro 1st All-Pro 2nd
Bruce Smith 11 8 3
Peyton Manning 10 7 3
Chuck Bednarik 9 6 3
Ron Yary 7 6 1
OJ Simpson 5 5 0


Since 1967, the AP has given out awards for Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) and  Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY). Only five top picks have ever won either of these awards.

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Award (Year won) Player
OROY (1978) Earl Campbell
OROY (1980) Billy Sims
OROY (1981) George Rogers
OROY (2010) Sam Bradford
OROY (2011) Cam Newton

Starting in 1971, the AP has given out a Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award. Their annual Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY) was first awarded the following year. Since then only six top picks have taken home one of these awards.

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Player Times winning OPOY/DPOY
Earl Campbell 3 (OPOY)
Bruce Smith 2 (DPOY)
Peyton Manning 2 (OPOY)
OJ Simpson 1 (OPOY)
Lee Roy Selmon 1 (DPOY)
Cam Newton 1 (OPOY)


Only nine players selected with the top pick in the draft have ever won the league’s MVP award. I used the Joe F. Carr (MVP) (1938-46),  the UPI MVP/POY (1948-1956) and the AP MVP award (1957-present) as the benchmark for MVP winners.

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Player MVP (Year won)
Peyton Manning 5 (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013)
Frankie Sinkwich 1 (1944)
Bill Dudley 1 (1946)
Paul Hornung 1 (1961)
OJ Simpson 1 (1973)
Terry Bradshaw 1 (1978)
Earl Campbell 1 (1979)
John Elway 1 (1987)
Cam Newton 1 (2011)

*Campbell and Newton are the only top picks to win OROY, OPOY, and MVP

Championships and Super Bowl MVPs

Out of the 82 players taken with the first pick in the NFL draft, 24 (29.26%) of them have either won an NFL Championship, AFL Championship or Super Bowl. Twelve of these players have at least two.

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Players with a least 2 championships
Championships won
Paul Hornung 5 (1 Super Bowl, 4 NFL Champ)
Terry Bradshaw 4 Super Bowls
Leon Hart 3 NFL Championships
Troy Aikman 3 Super Bowls
Billy Cannon *3 AFL Championships
Chuck Bednarik 2 NFL Championships
Bubba Smith 2 (1 Super Bowl, 1 NFL Champ)
Jim Plunkett 2 Super Bowls
John Matuszak 2 Super Bowls
John Elway 2 Super Bowls
Peyton Manning 2 Super Bowls
Eli Manning 2 Super Bowls

*Gary Glick (1 AFL Championship) is the only other No. 1 pick to have one.

Of course, the group of players gets even smaller when just looking at Super Bowl MVPs. Only six players taken with the first overall pick have been named Super Bowl MVP.

Bolded players are in Hall of Fame

Player Super Bowl MVPs
Terry Bradshaw 2
Eli Manning 2
Peyton Manning 1
John Elway 1
Troy Aikman 1
Jim Plunkett 1

Info and Notes:

Featured Image: “Peyton Manning” by Jeffrey Beall is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (used to take note of games played and honors for each player taken with the 1st pick)

Games played chart made using Datawrapper

All other charts and graphs made using Google Spreadsheet in Google Docs


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