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Ranking all 52 No. 1 overall picks of the NFL's common-draft era

If you're scoring at home, the 2019 NFL Draft will be the league's 53rd since the great college marketplace was turned into a single venture. Prior to 1967, the NFL and the AFL were employing their own drafts. That lasted until bidding wars for prospects with two suitors got too pricey. Thus, we now have one prime, combined NFL draft.

A couple years ago, I went through every draft since the two leagues merged this process, assessing the value of all the top overall picks ... a perfect 50 to go through. The list, and each player's journey, sparked much conversation. We now have 52 careers to document, as well as an update as to where many players stand. Why not reassess?

One note: More value was placed on those who paid off for their original franchises, as opposed to journeymen who produced a solid career with other outfits. Your thoughts are always valuable ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Drafted by: Oakland Raiders, 2007.

Does anyone remember Russell completing 72 percent of his passes with a 128.1 passer rating in a win over the Texans, or going 15-for-22 against the Dolphins earlier in that 2008 season? I remember the latter, as I wrote about it for There was a time, in Russell's second season, when it looked like he would and could be a player. It was mostly downhill from there, as he was less ready to be a franchise leader off the field than on it. His "want to" was questioned. His passer rating plummeted. And so did Oakland's hopes of not having to lean on guys like Andrew Walter.

Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 1992.

Like several of the players coming up on this list, Emtman's career was ravaged by injury. Through nine games of his rookie year with the Colts, Emtman displayed moments where it looked like he could be the dominant force Ted Marchibroda's Colts desperately needed. He even took a Dan Marino pass 90 yards to the house to beat the 6-0 Dolphins. It was all downhill from there, whether because of his patellar tendon or a neck injury suffered in 1994. Fun fact: The Colts owned the top two picks in 1992, selecting linebacker Quentin Coryatt one spot after Emtman.

Drafted by: Cleveland Browns, 2000.

Brown's career didn't go the way media or the fans expected, but the man himself accepted. A quiet player, Brown maybe didn't take his on-field struggles in stride internally, but he kept plugging away through several injury setbacks. His career as a pass rusher (17 sacks in five years with Cleveland) and a first-round pick was one of many developments to set the Browns back. What was known then but not remembered now is that this guy flashed serious potential before suffering ankle and knee injuries. He had microfracture surgery in the early 2000s when that wasn't really a thing yet. It wrecked his career. This was a defensive end who ran a 4.52. Think about that.

Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals, 1995.

Carter was the most talented running back in the top conference in college football, but he's remembered for being a mediocre NFL running back. The bridge -- the broken bridge -- between the two is what happened on Aug. 17, 1995: Carter made a cut in the Pontiac Silverdome on his third professional carry, tearing a ligament in his knee, which set him on the path to what he would become with the Bengals. He was never the same explosive (but still powerful) back again. Talk to any evaluator or anyone covering the Big Ten at the time, and they will tell you how unique this guy was. Despite a myriad of injuries and comebacks, Carter scratched out seven years and 1,144 yards in the league.

Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1982.

A big defensive lineman taken first overall from the University of Texas was supposed to be dominant. Yeah, it didn't really work out that way for Sims, who stumbled out of the blocks in a rookie season interrupted by a players' strike. Sims was hurt in Year 2, and by Year 3 was considered a bust with all of 6.5 sacks to his name. He stuck with it through off-the-field ups and downs, enjoying his finest season in 1985 with 5.5 sacks and a Super Bowl berth for the upstart Patriots. By his final season, he had worked himself into a decent player ... for a 5-11 team.

Drafted by: Cleveland Browns, 1999.

Loved what Bruce Arians said a few years ago about Couch to Peter King, and it bears repeating: "Tim Couch. Hell of a player. Tim was no bust. It kills me when people call him a bust. His arm was just so torn up, couldn't play anymore. He would have been a real good one." The problem, specifically? A torn labrum suffered in 2000. That, and taking a pounding as a rookie (56 sacks to lead the league). Couch led the Browns to a playoff berth in 2002, but got injured, giving way to Kelly Holcomb. The arm problems took care of the rest.

Drafted by: Atlanta Falcons, 1988.

Bruce was the tall, athletic linebacker every team wanted in 1988. Or, in other words, the Lawrence Taylor they were all trying to get. Fresh off an awful 1987 season, the Falcons thought Bruce would spruce up their defense. His play was worse than that rhyme. After a promising rookie campaign with 70 tackles and six sacks, Bruce could never take the next step ... either toward the quarterback or in his career in Atlanta. Bruce became a situational rusher for the Raiders and ended up logging 11 seasons in the league.

Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1972.

Would you believe the first Notre Dame player to go No. 1 overall was Walt Patulski? Feel free to use that bit of trivia at the sports bar. Patulski started in Buffalo for four seasons before putting in a final year with Don Coryell and the 1977 St. Louis Cardinals. Patulski never lived up to his draft status, unfairly described as not being mean enough. His intellectual approach didn't mesh with Bills head coach Lou Saban.

Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1979.

What a ride for Cousineau. Drafted first overall by the Bills in 1979, he jumped to Montreal of the CFL to make double the cash. He was the Grey Cup MVP in 1979, but before too long looked to get back into the NFL. Art Modell ponied up big money at the time, as well as a first-, second-, and third-round pick for a linebacker in Cousineau. He was a decent player in Cleveland, leading the team in tackles multiple times. Ah, but that first-round pick ... can you say Jim Kelly?

Drafted by: Kansas City Chiefs, 2013.

Fisher has evolved into a reliable, durable starter in Kansas City, even if he hasn't been the sort of All-Pro-level player most offensive linemen taken that high are expected to be (think: Joe Thomas). Fisher has only missed six starts since being tabbed as the top prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft. He made his first Pro Bowl last season, allowing Patrick Mahomes to throw, and sometimes heave, 50 touchdown passes. Those vertical throws where Mahomes shows off his cannon require additional time -- thus, Fisher and the rest of the Chiefs' offensive linemen deserve credit. Fisher is easily the most anonymous No. 1 overall pick since Y2K.

Drafted by: Cleveland Browns, 2018.

Between Mayfield's precocious attitude, his late-season icing out of Hue Jackson and the Browns' return to viability, it felt like no one talked enough about the progressive development of Baker Mayfield throughout the 2018 season. The former Heisman Trophy winner showed he could get the ball out quickly while often displaying tremendous accuracy. Mayfield still has a long way to go to truly become a franchise quarterback, but going 6-7 as a starter for a team that went 1-31 the previous two seasons bears noticing. Moreover, the gutsy rookie logged three fourth-quarter comebacks.

Drafted by: Houston Oilers, 1973.

John Matuszak -- a.k.a. "Tooz" -- is as well known for his acting roles as his playing career, which ... wasn't bad. The first overall pick of the Oilers in 1973 was traded to the Chiefs in the deal that landed Hall of Famer Curley Culp in Houston. Two years later, Matuszak landed in Oakland, where he won two Super Bowls and was a starter five of six seasons for the Silver and Black. Hey, the dude, was Sloth in "The Goonies" and played Killjoy in "The Ice Pirates." He probably deserves to be higher than a few more peeps on this list.

Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals, 1994.

Wilkinson never played to the level of the game-changer he was purported to be. In fact, he was one of several top draft picks that didn't quite pan out for the Bengals in their putrid decade of the '90s. "Big Daddy" was far from a bust, though, ultimately playing 13 years in the league and racking up 54.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position. That ain't bad.

Drafted by: Cleveland Browns, 2017.

Garrett went first overall in 2017, then we didn't hear about him much. That's what happens when you don't have "QB" listed on your draft card, apparently. The Browns going 0-16 didn't really push Garrett's decent rookie season to the forefront of greater foodballdom's consciousness, either. Decent, only because the top overall pick was not able to play a full schedule -- ankle injuries have been around even longer than the NFL draft. Last season, Garrett transformed from player-with-promise to problem, as Cleveland's edge rusher amassed 13.5 sacks and forced left tackles to adjust their games to handle him. That gives Garrett 20.5 sacks in less than two full seasons in the bigs. The only reason he isn't higher on this list is lack of service.

Drafted by: Houston Texans, 2002.

The first thing that comes to anyone's mind regarding Carr's career is how much he was annihilated. No one -- from the fans to assorted media members -- can get past the constant barrage of pressure the elder Carr was under early in his days with the Texans. Which means that we all miss the outstanding talent he possessed. Carr's arm strength was fantastic, as was his overall athletic ability. He made plenty of big plays, too, be it to Corey Bradford, Andre Johnson or Billy Miller. You've probably never heard of two of those guys, which is another reason Carr led the league in being sacked three of his five seasons as a starting QB.

Drafted by: St. Louis Rams, 2010.

Bradford might be the most difficult player on this list to evaluate. He's enjoyed two nice seasons in the NFL, although neither came with the franchise that drafted him first overall, or even with the same team. While Bradford set a temporary NFL record for completion percentage in 2016 with Minnesota (which Drew Brees reset in each of the next two seasons), his yards per attempt still ranked below the league average. Which means that too many of those throws were 2-yard dump-offs to Jerick McKinnon. Even though his statistics weren't as impressive, Bradford's best work might have come down the stretch of his lone season in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Howie Roseman dumped him off to the Vikings to make way for a No. 2 overall pick ... Carson Wentz. Bradford just authored the worst year of his career, losing the Cardinals' starting job to rookie first-rounder Josh Rosen in the third game of the season after posting 62.5 passer rating.

Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1977.

Bell was a workhorse back. He could flat out play. But many people didn't see it that way after his production slowed down severely in 1980, and he was out of the league in 1982. What they didn't know was that Bell was suffering from heart failure caused by dermatomyositis. Prior to that, Bell had been an ascending player on an ascending expansion team, culminating with a 1,263-yard season and an appearance in the 1979 NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, Bell would be out of football within three years and die two years later from heart failure. A tragedy in every sense of the word.

Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2015.

Winston has often carried Tampa Bay, or tried to, during his four years as the franchise's starting quarterback. Off-the-field problems have existed going back to his college days. Those issues -- and being outproduced by Ryan Fitzpatrick at times -- have made it difficult to put Winston's career in context. Have the Buccaneers failed because Winston lacks support or has his play failed to elevate that of his teammates? If a rising tide lifts all boats, Winston's product under Bruce Arians could be raising a young nucleus. The Bucs are likely to draft a running back. Look for them to reinvigorate the receiver room, too, after losing the reliable Adam Humphries in free agency and dealing deep threat DeSean Jackson to Philly.

Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 1990.

The Jay Cutler of his day. (In fact, the Bears were the last team to take a look at George.) Like the much-maligned Cutler, George's attitude, or perceived attitude, had him looking for a job at 34 when his arm was still stronger than that of anyone in the league. It was also the reason he played for five teams (and was on the roster of seven) in his career. There were highlights along the way, however, like in 1995, when he threw for 4,143 yards and led the Falcons to the playoffs. Or 1999, when he went 8-2 with the Vikings, taking them to the postseason, as well.

Drafted by: Los Angeles Rams, 2016.

Goff more than displayed his long-term potential in 2017 by leading the Rams to the playoffs, or at least becoming a major part of the equation. He tossed 28 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions while pacing the entire league in yards per completion at a robust 12.9. In Year 3, Goff equaled that sterling yards-per-completion figure, threw for more yards and more touchdowns, completed a higher percentage of passes and helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl. Two Rams moves carry huge weight in Goff's development: The hiring of head coach Sean McVay and the signing of left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Drafted by: Miami Dolphins, 2008.

Long was a top performer at left tackle early in his NFL run, even making first-team All-Pro in only his third season with the Dolphins. Shortly thereafter, injuries and a general decline in play saw Long play for four teams in five years. Otherwise, he would be higher on this list. Still, people forget he made four Pro Bowls right out of the gate.

Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys, 1991.

Maryland might have been the oddest No. 1 overall pick of the last 52 years. In 1991, the consensus top player in the country was Rocket Ismail. The speedster flew north to the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, leaving Jimmy Johnson to take someone he was comfortable with in Maryland (his former player at Miami). Maryland was a fine defensive tackle in the NFL, winning three Super Bowl rings and making a Pro Bowl in a 10-year NFL career.

Drafted by: Houston Texans, 2014.

Clowney didn't take over the league last year, as some predicted, but he has performed at a high level in various seasons. His most impressive showing came when J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus went down with injuries in 2017, as Clowney made the Pro Bowl with 9.5 sacks despite all the added attention. All those who bet on Clowney being a bust went bust with that prediction, as the rangy edge rusher has now made the Pro Bowl three years in a row and increased his career sack total to 29. That's why Clowney continues to ascend past solid No. 1 picks.

Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1986.

While many people will want to see Bo much higher on this list, reality versus myth comes into play. Was Jackson an exceptional athlete? Absolutely. But splitting time with MLB meant that the RB never even rushed for 1,000 yards (he came quite close in 1989 in only 11 games). Incidentally, Jackson did not play at all the year he was taken No. 1, passing on suiting up for the Bucs to play for the Memphis Chicks in the Kansas City Royals' farm system.

Drafted by: New York Jets, 1996.

Often discussed more for his mouth than his play, Keyshawn accomplished much during a noteworthy 11-year career with the Jets, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Panthers. He caught 814 balls, posted four 1,000-yard seasons and won a Super Bowl while in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, Johnson was often seen as a bit of a blowhard. But that didn't make him a bad player.

Drafted by: Atlanta Falcons, 2001.

Like Eli Manning, Vick's selection as the top overall pick involved his future team making a trade with the Chargers. Soon thereafter, the speedy lefty became the most exciting player in football, leading the Falcons to a win at Lambeau in the playoffs in 2002 (the first-ever postseason loss for the Packers there), then the 2004 NFC Championship Game. Off-the-field decisions affected Vick's career from there, although he experienced a nice renaissance with Philly in 2010.

Drafted by: Houston Texans, 2006.

Much debate came with Williams going ahead of Reggie Bush, but now there is little doubt that it was the right choice. For all the criticism of Williams by various media members and fans, the guy who never seemed to do enough accomplished much in his 11 years in the league. That included 97.5 sacks and four Pro Bowls. The one-year stint in Miami? Not as memorable.

Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1987.

Quarterbacks drafted before everyone else always get saddled with the most pressure, which is compounded by the fact that they are usually joining a lousy football team. Case in point: Vinny Testaverde, who suffered through six tough years in Tampa Bay before turning into a solid veteran QB for the Browns, Ravens and Jets. Testaverde not only played until he was 44, but he threw for 46,233 yards and 275 touchdowns. Wow.

Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1984.

Fryar struggled early in his career, especially with the incredible expectations of being the top overall pick a year after so many rookies made a huge impact (1983). Over time, though, Fryar developed into a reliable possession receiver who was better in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Fryar played until he was 38 years old -- at wide receiver, no less -- posting 851 career catches and 85 total touchdowns (84 receiving).

Drafted by: New Orleans Saints, 1981.

You won't find too many No. 1 overall picks who paid more immediate dividends than Rogers, who led the NFL in rushing with a whopping 1,674 yards as a rookie. Rogers ran for 1,000 yards twice for the Saints and twice for the Redskins, and he even won a Super Bowl ring with Washington in his final season. Oh, and Rogers' rookie rushing total still ranks second all time.

Drafted by: San Francisco 49ers, 2005.

Once plagued by instability at offensive coordinator and head coach early in his career, Smith evolved into a steady performer when he enjoyed more stability around him. But he faces a much different challenge now, as he fights to continue his career after complications from a leg injury he suffered last season have left him sidelined indefinitely. Before last year's abbreviated campaign in Washington, Smith altered the perception that he was ineffective throwing the long ball, as he excelled in that area in 2017 with the Chiefs. Not to mention, he led the league in passer rating.

Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals, 2003.

Palmer sat his entire rookie season to learn, but by Year 3, he had the Bengals in the playoffs, with the promise of much more to come. However, injuries and inconsistent play marred much of Palmer's time in Cincy, which was followed by a sub-.500 two-year stint in Oakland (Palmer went 8-16 with the Raiders in 2011 and '12). He managed to be a more effective player under Bruce Arians in Arizona. Palmer's ability to throw a nice deep ball dovetailed with Arians' belief that routine checkdowns are as enjoyable as routine enemas.

Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1971.

Plunkett won two Super Bowls for the Raiders, and he might be one of the least-talked-about successful quarterbacks in NFL history. Unfortunately, at least for the Patriots, Plunkett endured plenty of growing pains early in his career. A promising rookie campaign was followed by years of struggle -- including a trade to San Francisco -- before Oakland owner Al Davis brought Plunkett into the fold in 1979.

Drafted by: Baltimore Colts, 1967.

Bubba was a monster to play against when healthy. A better athlete than almost anyone he lined up against, Smith was a major force on the Colts' Super Bowl teams in 1968 and 1970. Unfortunately, knee problems limited Smith's long-term effectiveness; otherwise, he'd be higher on this list. Still, he managed to play nine years in the league while winning a ring in Super Bowl V.

Drafted by: Atlanta Falcons, 1975.

Bartkowski played 11 seasons in Atlanta, taking the Falcons to the playoffs three times. His finest campaign came in 1980, when he led the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. He also paced all passers with a sterling 97.6 passer rating in 1983. Bad knees, not an inability to play quarterback, shortened Bartkowski's career.

Drafted by: New England Patriots, 1993.

Despite being largely known as the man replaced by Tom Brady in New England, Bledsoe should be remembered for being a fine passer in the 1990s. In fact, Bledsoe led the NFL with 4,555 yards in only his second season. He also led New England to Super Bowl XXXI. While his stints with the Bills and Cowboys were often underwhelming, he did throw for over 4,000 yards in his first year in Buffalo while putting together five game-winning drives in his only full season as a starter in Dallas.

Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 2012.

Luck moves into the top 20 mostly due to a prove-it season in which the Colts quarterback, well, proved it. After missing the entire 2017 campaign, and hearing all of the doubters during the following offseason, all Luck did was lead the most surprising team in the league back into the playoffs -- even advancing to the Divisional Round. He set career highs in completion percentage and passer rating along the way, after being questioned about the health of his shoulder ad nauseum for months. Since entering the league in 2012, Luck has led Indy to the postseason four times and is 20 games over .500 as a starter.

Drafted by: Detroit Lions, 1980.

Another first overall pick whose career was derailed by a knee injury, Sims was simply brilliant in four-and-a-half seasons with the Lions. He rushed for 1,303 yards as a rookie, then followed up with 1,437 the next season. He was both explosive and shifty. He was on his way to easily topping 1,000 yards again in 1984 when disaster struck. In Week 8 against the Vikings, Sims tore up his knee on the Metrodome turf and would never play again.

Drafted by: Carolina Panthers, 2011.

The 2018 campaign was such a disappointment for Newton -- who struggled through shoulder woes -- and the Panthers, especially coming off an 11-win season the year before. In 2017, Newton ran the ball more, to great effect. By the end of the regular season, he had tallied 754 rushing yards and six TDs, then capped it off with an excellent performance in the Wild Card Round. Newton is still a more effective player when he runs, yet now he is coming off shoulder surgery and is entering Year 9. Will he be forced to change his style of play? While most QBs shy away from contact, Newton uses his unique rushing skill set as a complement to his effectiveness throwing downfield. The only thing that keeps him from being higher on this list is consistency.

Drafted by: Detroit Lions, 2009.

Stafford resides just ahead of another Lions great (and a favorite) on this list in Billy Sims. That's because the latter's career was cut short by injury. Stafford has endured his own share of issues in that regard, but mostly early in his career. The franchise quarterback hasn't missed a start since 2010. Since that time, Stafford has evolved from an exciting young player to the rock of Detroit's franchise. Although his numbers were down last year, as the team embraced a new approach under head coach Matt Patricia (and eventually shipped off Stafford's favorite target, Golden Tate). Stafford's only shortcoming thus far is a lack of playoff success (he is 0-3). Yet, he sits higher than Jim Plunkett or Bubba Smith here because of the value he has provided for the organization that made him a top overall pick.

Drafted by: San Diego Chargers, 2004.

Not wanting to play for San Diego, Manning was part of a draft-day trade with the Giants that included Philip Rivers. So while he never succeeded for the original franchise that drafted him, no one was expecting him to compete for the Chargers anyway. He also wasn't a player who enjoyed an improved Act II with another team, a la Jim Plunkett or Carson Palmer (Act III) or Vinny Testaverde ( too many Acts). Thus, Manning is only like one other player on this list in that regard: John Elway. Manning has been much-maligned over the last few seasons, but critics would do right to recall that 2019 will be his 16th NFL campaign. Not every player can still play at his highest level after taking that many hits. Manning is partly responsible for that, due to one of the real feathers in his cap: He's always been available. Only Brett Favre started more consecutive games at QB. Those two rings (one more than Favre) aren't bad, either.

Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys, 1974.

Not many people were scouting Tennessee State back in 1974, but former Cowboys personnel czar (and my colleague) Gil Brandt was. Dallas was rewarded for its interest in the 6-foot-9 Jones with 15 fine years. No player was ever better at anticipating and swatting down passes. Despite being overshadowed by Hall of Fame teammate Randy White, Jones made three straight Pro Bowls from 1981 to '83.

Drafted by: St. Louis Rams, 1997.

Pace was maybe the best player at his job on the 1999 Rams, a.k.a. "The Greatest Show on Turf." When he entered the NFL, Pace joined a terrible football team in need of an identity. But that was not the case for long. Pace made seven straight Pro Bowls, quietly and consistently performing his role so that the Rams' offense under Kurt Warner -- and, later on, Marc Bulger -- could thrive.

Drafted by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1976.

The Bucs' first real star, Selmon came out of Oklahoma ready to play in 1976 -- and by 1979, he was making the Pro Bowl every year. Selmon would make six straight Pro Bowls before a bad back forced him to retire prior to the 1985 season. Selmon was the best player the Bucs ever had prior to the Tony Dungy teams.

Drafted by: Minnesota Vikings, 1968.

The Hall of Fame tackle was as steady a player as there was in the 1970s -- a six-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. While you hear so much about the Vikings' defense from Yary's era -- "The Purple People Eaters" -- Yary was the most consistent offensive performer on Minnesota's four Super Bowl teams.

Drafted by: Houston Oilers, 1978.

Quite simply the greatest power back in NFL history. Campbell pummeled his way through the league, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,450 yards as a rookie, 1,697 in Year 2 and a staggering 1,934 yards in 1980. Think about those numbers, then realize he did it all while running through people. Like, plowing them over, often 30 times a game.

Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1969.

Simpson didn't hit his stride with the Bills until Lou Saban took over head-coaching duties in 1972. Simpson led the NFL in rushing in four of the next five seasons, with a career-high 2,003 yards in 1973.

Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys, 1989.

Hard to believe that it was 30 years ago when Aikman was drafted first overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Aikman was the first-ever draft pick by Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones. After beginning his career with 11 straight losses, Aikman would eventually start (and win) three Super Bowls. He also posted an 11-5 playoff record in the process. Many league observers consider him the most accurate intermediate thrower they've ever seen. His leadership? Off the charts.

Drafted by: Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970.

One of only three quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls, Bradshaw did it first. Though Bradshaw struggled the first five years of his career, the Steelers' draft investment paid major dividends in the late 1970s. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, partially because he was a highly successful game manager. Not later in his career, though, when his downfield passing often compensated for a defense that wasn't as strong as it had been. Pittsburgh doesn't win Super Bowl XIII and XIV without his 300-yard passing performances in each game. His 64-yard moon shot to Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X is one of the best big-game throws ever.

Drafted by: Baltimore Colts, 1983.

You could make the argument that Elway belongs even higher, but given that he never played a down for the team that originally drafted him, third seems right. Elway refused to play in Baltimore, so in May 1983, the Colts traded him to the Denver Broncos for Chris Hinton (a fantastic offensive tackle), backup QB Mark Herrmann and a 1984 first-round pick. Of course, Elway wound up starting five Super Bowls for the Broncos. The two Super Bowl wins at the end of his career pushed him into legendary status, but fans should remember that Elway won the league MVP in only his fifth year, becoming one of the youngest quarterbacks to ever accomplish that feat. (Of course, Patrick Mahomes just upped the ante by doing so in Year 2.)

Drafted by: Buffalo Bills, 1985.

The NFL's sack king deserves this high ranking, especially because Smith provided 15 Hall of Fame seasons for the team that drafted him. Hard to believe now, but people questioned the Bills' decision back in 1985. Smith's 200 sacks are beyond question, as are his eight first-team All-Pro selections and 11 Pro Bowl nods. Oh, he also was Defensive Player of the Year twice and was named to two different All-Decade teams by the Hall of Fame. So basically, he deserves to be above all the quarterbacks on this list. Except one.

Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts, 1998.

Easy choice at the top of the list. Not only is Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he remains at the top of the charts in most major passing stats. Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie, but started picking things up over the back half of his debut season. By Year 2, he was a Pro Bowler and had the Colts in the playoffs. Manning's total of five MVPs continues to boggle the mind. How many players, in any sport, can lay claim to being the best of the best in five different years?

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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