Which player was the greatest first-round draft value?


Jerry Rice photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Hall-of-Fame coach Paul Brown had his heart set on drafting a quarterback in the 1957 NFL draft. Hall-of-Fame quarterback Otto Graham had retired after the 1955 season, and his departure ended Cleveland’s run of championships.

So, after a disappointing 5-7 1956 season in an unsuccessful defense of an NFL title by his Browns, Brown was looking for his next championship quarterback with the sixth overall pick of the 1957 draft. But three quarterbacks were selected in the Top 5 picks – Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, John Brodie and Len Dawson – forcing Brown to look in a different direction.

He took fullback Jim Brown.

By default, Brown wound up with arguably the greatest player in NFL history – a player who would win eight rushing titles in his nine seasons and retire as the league’s all-time leading rusher.

Was Brown the greatest value pick in the first round of an NFL draft? In honor of the NFL draft this week, we’re asking our listeners and readers in our Talk of Fame Network poll which player became the best value pick in the first round? We’re offering up eight quality options – seven Hall of Famers and an eighth player who should have a bust in his future.

So which player represented the best value?

Jim Brown, FB, Cleveland. The 6th pick of the 1957 draft. Paul Hornung, halfback Jon Arnett, John Brodie, tight end Ron Kramer and Len Dawson all were drafted ahead of Brown. He went on to rush for 12,312 yards in his career, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, 104 yards per game and 1,368 yards per season. And that was during an era of 12-and-14-game seasons.

Gene Upshaw, G, Oakland.  The 17th pick of the 1967 draft. The fourth offensive lineman drafted after Bob Hyland (9 to Green Bay), Cas Banaszek (11 to the 49ers) and Paul Seiler (12 to the Jets). Three Hall of Famers were selected before Upshaw: Bob Griese (4 to the Dolphins), Floyd Little (6 to the Broncos) and Alan Page (15 to the Vikings). Like Brown, Upshaw became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1970s and also the 75th anniversary team. He was a six-time Pro Bowler, and his blocking helped the Raiders win two Super Bowls.

Dan Marino, QB, Miami.  The 27th pick of the 1983 draft. Five quarterbacks went ahead of Marino – John Elway first overall, Todd Blackledge at 7, Jim Kelly at 14, Tony Eason at 15 and Ken O’Brien at 24. Elway and Kelly were two of four Hall of Famers selected ahead of Marino in this draft, with Eric Dickerson chosen second overall by the Rams and Bruce Matthews ninth overall by the Oilers. Marino passed for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns on his way to first-ballot Hall-of-Fame election. He was voted to nine Pro Bowls and was the NFL MVP in 1984.

Darrell Green, CB, Washington. The 28th pick of the 1983 draft.  The sixth defensive back to go in the draft after Terry Kinard (10 to the Giants), Tim Lewis (11 to the Packers), Leonard Smith (17 to the Cardinals), Joey Browner (19 to the Vikings) and Gill Byrd (22 to the Chargers). Green went on to set records for longevity at his position, playing 20 seasons and 295 games. He also was a great player, intercepting 54 career passes, going to seven Pro Bowls and helping the Redskins win two Super Bowls.

Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco.  The 16th pick of the 1985 draft. Two wide receivers went ahead of Rice – Al Toon to the Jets at 10 and Eddie Brown to the Bengals at 13. Two Hall of Famers also were selected before Rice, pass rushers Bruce Smith with the first pick by the Bills and Chris Doleman with the fourth by the Vikings. But Rice became the most prolific receiver in NFL history, playing 20 seasons and catching 1,549 passes for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns. He went to 13 Pro Bowls and was the NFL MVP in 1987. He helped the 49ers win Super Bowls and was the MVP of the 1989 game.

Emmitt Smith, HB, Dallas.  The 17th pick of the 1990 draft. One running back was drafted ahead of Smith, Penn State’s Blair Thomas second overall to the Jets. Heisman Trophy-winning QB Andre Ware also went at seven to the Lions. Two Hall of Famers went before Smith, Cortez Kennedy at 3 to the Seahawks and Junior Seau at 5 to the Chargers. Smith became the most prolific running back in NFL history, rushing for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns.  He went to eight Pro Bowls and won four rushing titles and three Super Bowl rings. He was both the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in 1993.

Derrick Brooks, OLB, Tampa Bay.  The 28th pick of the 1995 draft. One other linebacker went ahead of Brooks, Mark Fields to the Saints at 13. But the likes of Mike Mamula (7 to the Eagles), J.J. Stokes (10 to the 49ers), Rashaan Salaam (21 to the Bears) and Billy Milner (26 to the Dolphins) all pushed Brooks down the board.  Brooks went to 11 Pro Bowls in his 14 NFL seasons and was selected to the NFL’s 2000 all-decade team. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, the season the Bucs won their only Super Bowl.

Ed Reed, S, Baltimore. The 24th pick of the 2002 draft. The only safety drafted ahead of Reed was Oklahoma’s Roy Williams at 8 by the Cowboys. But there were several forgettable picks before the Ravens went on the clock. Kansas City took DT Ryan Sims at 6, Cleveland took HB William Green at 16 and the Jets DE Bryan Thomas at 22. Reed intercepted 64 passes in his 12-year career. Only six players in NFL history intercepted more. He went to nine Pro Bowls and led the NFL in interceptions a record-tying three times. Reed joined Brooks on the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2000 and was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.

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