Larry Fitzgerald was the No. 3 overall pick by the Cardinals in 2004 after Eli Manning and Robert Gallery were the first two picks. Fitzgerald was one of five receivers taken in the first 15 picks that year and one of seven first rounders at the position, joining Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Michael Jenkins and Rashaun Woods.
The decision was an easy one for head coach Dennis Green to make despite taking receiver Bryant Johnson in the first round the year before and Anquan Boldin having a record-breaking rookie season. Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings when Green was the team’s head coach in the 90s and their history opened the door for Fitzgerald to be the team’s best receiver in franchise history.
After winning the Biletnikoff and finishing second in the Heisman in his last year at Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald has been one of the best players at his position the last decade with eight trips to the Pro Bowl. He has 909 receptions, 12,151 yards and 89 touchdowns to rank fifth, sixth and second among active NFL players.
Imagine how much better those numbers would look if he had a serviceable quarterback throwing him the ball his entire career.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Anthony Munoz - OT
Anthony Munoz was the No. 3 pick in 1980 but at the time it was a risky choice considering injuries limited the USC tackle to a total of eight games in his junior and senior years with the Trojans. The reward outweighed the risk considering Munoz missed only 23 games in his 13-year career and is in the Hall of Fame as one of, if not the greatest, offensive tackle in NFL history.
The 6-6, 280-pound left tackle was the first great athlete to play the position and today’s NFL is looking for players like Munoz to protect the quarterback’s blind side. A college baseball pitcher who won a national championship in 1978, Munoz also combined strength training and distance running to become the prototype for the position.
He played for two Cincinnati teams that went to the Super Bowl, was an 11-time Pro Bowler and a nine-time first-team All-Pro. As great as he was on the field, he was just as great off it, winning the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award in 1989 and the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 1991.
Inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1998, Munoz was also named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary all-time team.
(Photo by: Tony Tomsic/Getty Images)
Jim Brown - RB
The Browns may be known more their misses on draft day, but this one is easy as Jim Brown is easily the team’s best draft pick, with Ozzie Newsome a distant second. Brown may be the greatest football player to ever play the game so it’s a no-brainer to have him as the Browns best pick after they took the Syracuse back with the No. 6 pick in 1957.
Brown lost the Heisman to Paul Hornung and saw the Golden Boy go first overall in the draft that saw nine Hall of Fame players taken in the first 109 picks, but none who had the career of Brown.
The 6-2, 232-pound Brown was an unstoppable force who was the biggest, fastest, strongest and toughest guy on the field. He led the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine seasons, including the first five of his career, and was the league’s all-time leading rusher with 12,312 yards at the time of his retirement at 29. He led the league with 289 carries for 1,584 yards and matched his career-high with 17 touchdowns in his last year.
Can you imagine how ridiculous his numbers would be if he didn’t pursue a career in Hollywood?
The Hall of Famer still holds the record for 104.3 rushing yards per game which likely will never be broken.
(Photo by: Tony Tomsic/Getty Images)
Emmitt Smith - RB
The Dallas Cowboys “triplets” were completed in 1990 when Emmitt Smith was the No. 17 pick and joined Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman in Big D. The trio won three Super Bowl’s together but head coach Jimmy Johnson had his sights set on improving the defense and tried to trade up for Junior Seau, according to Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report.
Johnson wasn’t able to trade up for Seau but he was able to trade up for Smith who Johnson rated as the No. 4 player in the draft. All Smith would do was rush for at least 1,000 yards in 11 straight seasons from 1991-2001, including four years he was the rushing champion and three times he led the league in touchdowns, including a then-record 25 in 1995.
Smith is the NFL’s all-time rushing leader with 18,355 yards with 17,162 yards coming with the Cowboys. He also leads all players in carries with 4,409, touchdowns with 164 and only trails Jerry Rice for total touchdowns and yards from scrimmage.
(PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images)
Terrell Davis - RB
Terrell Davis isn’t the best sixth-round pick in NFL history, but he’s got a case for second after three All-Pro seasons with the Broncos and a pair of Super Bowl’s. The No. 196 pick in the 1995 draft was the 17th running back taken, but none of the 16 backs taken before him, including Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, had the a season like Davis did in 1998.
Davis rushed for 2,008 yards and an NFL-high 21 rushing touchdowns that year to lead John Elway and the Broncos to a second straight Super Bowl. He won the MVP that year to add to the Super Bowl MVP he won the year before after the Broncos beat the Packers and the AP Offensive Player of the Year he won in his second season.
Injuries derailed his career after that season and he only played 17 games after that magical 1998 season, but on a per-game basis few running backs had the type of impact TD had in his career. Davis finished his career with an average of 97.5 yards per game, which ranks in NFL history behind Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson.
Davis was one of 15 modern-day finalists for the Hall in 2015 but didn’t make the cut down to 10 finalists.
(Photo by Allen Kee/Getty Images)
Barry Sanders - RB
The most electrifying running back to ever play the game was he No. 3 pick in the star-studded 1989 draft that featured Aikman, Sanders and Thomas in the top-five. Sanders went third, one pick after division rival Green Bay took Mandarich. He was great from the start, rushing for 1,470 yards as a rookie, his first of 10 straight seasons with at least 1,100 yards.
Sanders led the NFL in rushing four times, including in 1997 when he joined the exclusive 2,000-yard club when he ran for 2,053, including a remarkable 2,000 yards in the last 14 games. He shared MVP honors with Brett Favre that year to go with a pair of Offensive Player of the Year Awards and a Rookie of the Year already on his resume.
He abruptly retired after the 1998 season when he ran for 1,491 yards and likely would have broken Walter Payton’s record for most rushing yards in a career, but he finished with 15,269 yards, the third most in league history. He is second 99.8 yards per game and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2004.
(BRIAN BAHR/AFP/Getty Images)
Tony Gonzalez - TE
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs presented another tough call for the best draft pick of all-time. Derrick Thomas is in the Hall of Fame as one of the best pass rushers of all-time and spent all 11 years in Kansas City, but I went with a future Hall of Famer in Tony Gonzalez who played 12 of 17 seasons with the Chiefs.
Gonzalez was the No. 13 pick in 1997 and ushered in a new era of athletic tight ends who were glorified receivers as opposed to a sixth offensive lineman as many teams wanted from the position.
During his 12 years with the Chiefs, Gonzalez had 916 receptions, 10,940 yards and 76 touchdowns. Four times he had more than 1,000 yards and he led the NFL in receptions with a career-high 102 in 2004.
He didn’t have much playoff success with a 1-6 record in five appearances, but the former college basketball player at Cal, Gonzalez revolutionized the position and retired with 1,325 receptions, trailing only Jerry Rice for the most all-time. His 15,257 yards rank fifth and his 111 touchdowns rank sixth all-time and is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history.
(Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
Dan Marino - QB
The 1983 draft was one of the best for quarterbacks with John Elway going first overall and Jim Kelly going 14th before Dan Marino went to the Miami Dolphins with the No. 27 pick. All three are in the Hall of Fame, but Marino slide to the second-to-last pick with Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien drafted before the former Pitt signal-caller.
Marino made the teams who passed on him in the draft immediately regret the decision when he threw for a record 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in his second year and led the Dolphins to a 14-2 record and led the team to the Super Bowl while capturing the MVP.
He would lead the NFL in completions, yards and touchdowns for the next three seasons and was a first-team All-Pro in all of those years. He even led the Dolphins to an upset over the eventual Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears on Monday night in 1985 to hand them their lone loss of the year.
Marino spent his entire 17-year career with the Dolphins, compiling a 147-93 record, 61,361 yards and a then-NFL record 420 touchdowns. He currently ranks third in NFL history in completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns and is second to Peyton Manning with game-winning drives and comebacks.
(Photo by Sylvia Allen/Getty Images)
Willie Roaf - OT
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have had recent success in finding late-round gems like Jahri Evans in the fourth, Marques Colston in the seventh and nabbed the NFL’s all-time leading scorer in the third in kicker Morten Andersen.
But a kicker can’t be the best pick and as great as the value was on Evans and Colston, they aren’t all-timers so I went with one who is in Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf.
New Orleans didn’t have to go too far to find the 6-5, 320-pound Roaf from nearby Louisiana Tech and made him the No. 8 pick in the 1993 draft and the first offensive lineman taken. They chose wisely too because Lincoln Kennedy and Brad Hopkins who were chosen one and five picks after Roaf didn’t end up in Canton like he did in 2012.
He made the first seven of 11 Pro Bowl appearances with the Saints before he finished his career with the Chiefs and put the finishing touches on his Hall of Fame career in Kansas City. He was a mainstay on the Saints line where the left tackle only missed four games in his first eight years before he was limited to seven games in his last year in the Crescent City.
(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
Lawrence Taylor - OLB
New York Giants
Lawrence Taylor is arguably the greatest defender to ever lace up the cleats and the transcendent outside linebacker is easily the Giants best draft pick. There were four linebackers taken in the first nine picks in 1981, including Hugh Green who should have won the Heisman at Pitt, but the Giants made the right pick in taking Taylor with the No. 2 pick after the Saints made Heisman winner George Rogers the top pick.
Taylor made an impact unlike any rookie in league history when he recorded 9.5 sacks en route to winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and the Defensive Player of the Year becoming the first and only rookie to accomplish such a feat. He also helped lead the turnaround for the Giants who lost in the divisional playoffs that year.
He would add two more Defensive Player of the Year Award’s to his resume, the last coming in 1986 when he had a career-high 20.5 sacks in the Super Bowl winning season in 1986 when he also won the NFL MVP. No defensive player has won the MVP since Taylor revolutionized the outside linebacker position. He was a terror on and off the field, but with 132.5 career sacks and a pair of rings, he was worth the risk for the Giants.
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Joe Namath - QB
New York Jets
Joe Namath was the No. 12 pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1965 NFL Draft and the No. 1 pick by the Jets in the AFL Draft and his signing with New York helped lead to the merger between the AFL and the NFL. Namath may still be the most popular Jets play today.
The five-time Pro Bowlers is a member of the Hall of Fame and is known for his guarantee that the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. He did that in what is still considered one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
Namath led the NFL in completions, attempts and yard in 1966-1967 as well as interceptions, but the game’s most marketable player helped usher in a new era for pro football and opened the door to a whole new base of fans as women became fans like never before.
In his 12 years with the Jets, Namath was 60-61-4 and threw 220 interceptions to 173 touchdowns, but because of the Super Bowl win and the impact he had on the merger, Namath is the Jets best pick over the likes of Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold.
(Photo by Dan Farrell/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Art Shell - OT
The Raiders have drafted their fair share of great players with the likes of Jim Otto, Fred Biletnikoff, Gene Upshaw and Howie Long all in the Hall of Fame and turned a seventh round pick into 38 games of Bo Jackson, but I think their best pick was Hall of Fame offensive tackle Art Shell.
Shell was the No. 80 selection in 1968 out of Maryland-Eastern Shore and the 14th tackle picked that year and blossomed into an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro and is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Upshaw and Otto may have been better players at left guard and center, respectively, but the value in taking Shell out of a small school like Maryland-Eastern Shore in the third round gives him the edge.
We may never see an offensive line with three future Hall of Famers playing alongside each other like we did in the early 70s with Shell, Upshaw and Otto.
(Photo by Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Reggie White - DL
This comes with an asterisk because Reggie White was taken with the fourth pick in the 1984 supplemental draft after playing for the Memphis Showboats of the USFL. The supplemental draft at that time isn’t what we think of it today where it’s player(s) who aren’t top prospects and are generally ones who were dismissed from their team.
White’s supplemental draft class was better than the actual draft with a pair of Hall of Famers in Steve Young and Gary Zimmerman who went first and third, respectively, and former Heisman winner Mike Rozier going second.
White went on to a Hall of Fame career himself with the Philadelphia Eagles where he played the first eight of his 16 years in the NFL. White was a force at defensive tackle and later at end. The Minister of Defense had at least 11 sacks in every season with the Eagles.
He was a 13-time Pro Bowler and made the first seven of his eight first-team All-Pro teams with the Eagles, including the 1987 season when he won his first of two Defensive Player of the Year Awards when he led the NFL with a career-high 21 sacks.
White finished his Eagles career with 124 sacks in eight years and retired as the all-time sack leader with 198, but is now second to Bruce Smith who has 200.
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
1974 Draft Class
The Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of worthy candidates from Mean Joe Greene to Franco Harris to Mel Blount to Ben Roethlisberger but what they did in the 1974 draft is something that will never be done again. Four of the first five picks for the team that Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster who all made the Hall of Fame. Good luck finding one Hall of Famer in one year, let alone an inconceivable four.
By this time the Steelers had most of the pieces needed to contend for a Super Bowl with Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Harris, Blount and Terry Bradshaw, among others, but this class put them over the top to win the Super Bowl that year and three of the next five years.
It’s tough to single out a single player from that class so I’ll bend the rules and pick the entire class to represent the best of the Steelers draft picks. Sure, Greene is the best player in franchise history, Roethlisberger won two Super Bowls and Blount revolutionized the cornerback position, but without the 1974 class they may not win one Super Bowl, let alone four.
(Photo by: Bill Amatucci Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
I love the NFL Draft and the thought of adding that one player in the first round to push your team over the top into a Super Bowl contender or the fantasy of a sixth-round pick becoming the next Tom Brady or Terrell Davis is as exciting as you can get without actually playing football.
The draft may be the greatest sporting event that doesn't actually involve any sports being played but we scour the Internet for mock drafts, scouting reports, highlights on YouTube and spend way too much time dreaming up half-baked trade proposals.
Over 250 names will be called in the 2015 draft and many of them will never come close to a starting job, let alone a Pro Bowl appearance of Super Bowl MVP, but we can dream, right?
Sometimes general managers, coaches and scouts must feel like they are dreaming when they see a small school prospect blossom into a Pro Football Hall of Famer. I picked the best draft pick for every team in the NFL and some were absolute no-brainers while some teams have had a nightmare of a time finding talent in the draft.
In total, there are six players still active, 21 players in the Hall of Fame and a few recently retired players who will soon join them in Canton.
After reading through the list of the best draft picks for each team, please leave your thoughts and make your own suggestion for your team in the comments section below and continue the conversation.