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


NFL Draft: How often do certain positions get taken with the No. 1 pick?

The first round of the 2018 NFL draft takes place this Thursday. Cleveland holds the first pick in the draft, with mock projections either having them take one of the top quarterbacks or running back Saquon Barkley. However, which positions get selected with the top pick in the draft the most and how has this changed over time?

Positions to be taken with the 1st pick

Quarterbacks have dominated the top spot in the NFL draft, being selected 31 times in the previous 82 NFL drafts (37.80%). After this is running back/fullback, which has been picked 20 times (24.39%). Rounding out the top three spots are the guys who get after the quarterback, as defensive lineman have been selected 14 times (17.07%).

Positions pie

*The only DB selected 1st overall was Gary Glick in the 1956 draft by the Steelers.

Timeline of each position being taken

Here is a chart that shows how often each position has been taken with the first pick. The start of the chart is the 1936 draft and the end is 2017 draft. Each high point means that a position was selected with that year’s top pick. I excluded DB from the chart since only one has ever been taken.

Time - Copy.png


Positions taken in NFL draft by era

Over time the NFL has changed and evolved. Teams have come and gone, rules have been changed and more games are being played. With these changes has come a change in philosophy, especially on offense, as teams have transitioned emphasizing the running game to a modern, high-powered passing attack.

Old school era (1936-1966): Before the first Superbowl takes place

This period saw the most HB/FB get taken, as 13 of the 20 (65%) backs taken first overall were selected during this time. Out of the first eight NFL drafts, seven of them saw a back get taken with the top pick. This included four backs being selected first from 1940-43. (George Cafego, Tom Harmon, Bill Dudley and Frankie Sinkwich)


*Only OL taken was Ki Aldrich in the 1939 draft

Modern era (1967-1992): Prior to free agency being implemented

The modern era saw a slow change in NFL philosophy, as there was an almost equal emphasis on the passing and running game. There was also a focus on getting to the quarterback as 9 of the 14 DE/DT (64.28%) drafted first overall were taken during this period.


This period saw the most consecutive defensive lineman picks first overall. From 1972 to 1974, defensive ends Walt Patulski, John Matuszak and Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones was taken with the top pick.

*Only WR/End/TE/SE taken was Irving Fryar in the 1984 draft

*Only OL taken was Ron Yary in the 1968 draft

Post-modern era (1993-present): After free agency, higher emphasis on passing game

The post-modern era has seen total dominance by quarterbacks at the top spot of the draft. This is due to how dominant the passing game has become and rule changes to favor throwing the ball have been implemented.

Post Modern

Starting with Peyton Manning being taken first in the 1998 draft, 14 of the last 20 (70%) of top picks have been quarterbacks. From 2001 to 2005, five quarterbacks (Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, and Alex Smith) were taken with the first pick in consecutive years. This is the longest streak of quarterbacks taken with the top pick.

*Only RB/FB taken was Ki-Jana Carter in the 1995 draft

*Only WR/End/TE/SE taken was Keyshawn Johnson in the 1997 draft

First player taken at each position

Let’s take a look at the first player ever taken first overall at each position.

Position Year drafted Player
QB 1944 Angelo Bertelli
HB/FB 1936 Jay Berwanger
WR/End/SE 1950 *Leon Hart
TE 1960 *Billy Cannon
OL (Tackle) 1968 Ron Yary
OL (Center) 1939 *Ki Aldrich
DE 1967 Bubba Smith
DT 1991 Russell Maryland
LB 1949 *Chuck Bednarik
DB 1956 *Gary Glick

*Hart also played FB and DE

*Cannon also played HB and FB

*Aldrich also played LB

*Bednarik also played center

*Glick was also the kicker in his first two seasons

Last player taken at each position 

Finally, let’s end with seeing the last player who was taken first overall at each position with the top pick.

Position Year drafted Player
QB 2016 Jared Goff
HB/FB 1995 Ki-Jana Carter
WR/End/SE 1996 Keyshawn Johnson
TE 1960 Billy Cannon
OL (Tackle) 2013  Eric Fisher
OL (Center) 1939 Ki Aldrich
DE 2017 Myles Garrett
DT  1994  Dan Wilkinson
LB  1988  Aundray Bruce
DB 1956 Gary Glick

Info and sources:

Featured Image: “NFL Draft 2010 Set at Radio City Music Hall” by Marianne O’Leary is licensed under CC BY-2.0 (Use to take note of each player’s listed position)

All charts and graphs made using Google Spreadsheet in Google Docs

NFL Draft: Who selects the #1 pick and from where?

The 83rd NFL Draft is taking place next week and for the second consecutive year, the Cleveland Browns are on the clock. However, what does history have to say about who most often selects the first overall pick and from where?

Which teams have most often had the #1 pick?

The Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams have both selected the top pick in the NFL draft seven times in their franchises histories. Indianapolis last used the first pick to take Andrew Luck in 2012, while Los Angeles took Jared Goff in 2016.

The 2018 draft will see the Browns select the #1 pick for the fifth time, tying them with the Buccaneers for second place.


*Titans made all their #1 picks as the Oilers

*The Boston Yanks were active from 1944-48

Teams to have the #1 pick once: Chargers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Panthers, Raiders, and Saints

Team to never have the #1 pick: Broncos, Jaguars, Ravens, and Seahawks

What colleges have produced the most #1 picks?

Over the last 82 NFL drafts, five colleges have produced 22 (26.82%) of the #1 overall picks. There have been 16 colleges to have at least 2 players taken with the top selection, with Notre Dame and USC tied at the top. However, USC can be in first place all by themselves if quarterback Sam Darnold is taken by the Browns next Thursday.


The last Notre Dame player taken #1 was defensive end Walt Patulski in 1972, while the last USC player taken first was quarterback Carson Palmer in 2003.

Schools to have one player taken #1 include: Alabama, Central Michigan, Chicago, Colorado State, Florida State, Fresno State, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisana Tech, Michigan State, Mississippi, NC State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Pennsylvania, Rice, SMU, South Carolina, Syracuse, *Tampa, Tennessee State, Texas A&M, Tulane, UCLA, Utah, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Washington and Washington State.

*The University of Tampa discontinued its football program in 1974

Where are #1 picks born?

Out of the 82 players that have been selected #1 in the NFL draft, 18 (21.95%) of them were born in Texas or California. 21 of the 50 states (42%) have never produced a player who was selected with the top pick in the NFL draft.

Number of #1 picks born in state.png

Same map but in gradient colors

# of players taken 1st in draft born in state.png

Only two players selected first overall was not born in one of the 50 states. 2012’s top pick Andrew Luck was born in Washington, D.C., while 1943’s top pick Frank Sinkwich was born in Starjak, Croatia.

Info and sources:

Featured Image: “2011 NFL Draft stage” by Marianne O’Leary is licensed under CC BY-2.0 (Use to note team and college player was drafted from, clicked on each player to find place of birth)

Map of player’s place of birth made using

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