The best NFL draft picks by round
From Thursday through Saturday, 255 promising athletes will experience the life-changing moment of hearing their name called during the 2020 NFL Draft.
In honor of the 85th edition of the event, let’s look back and pick the best player of all time taken in each round (1-7) of the NFL draft.
Round 1: Jerry Rice, WR
Jerry Rice’s NCAA record-setting campaign at Mississippi Valley State showed just a glimpse of the receiver he’d become in the NFL. Selected 16th overall in the 1985 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, Rice went on to win three Super Bowls with the Niners (1989, 1990, 1995) and earned Super Bowl MVP in his first title run. He was named to the Pro Bowl 13 times (one of those with the Raiders in 2002) and retired as the all-time leader in career receiving yards (22,895), receptions (1,549), touchdown receptions (197), yards from scrimmage (23,540), most seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards (14), and most regular-season games played by a receiver (303).
Round 2: Drew Brees, QB
Out of Purdue, Drew Brees landed at the San Diego Chargers as the first pick in the second round (32nd overall in 2001) and second QB selected, behind Michael Vick. It wasn’t until the New Orleans Saints signed Brees as a free agent in 2006 that the quarterback’s career exploded. The 13-time Pro Bowler led the league in passing seven times from there, won Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2011, and collected a Super Bowl and the game’s MVP in 2010. Heading into his 20th season, he’s already the record-holder for most career regular-season passing TDs (547), most passing yards (77,416), pass completions (6,867) and has the highest career completion percentage (67.6%).
Round 3: Joe Montana, QB
Part of the reason Rice accomplished so much with the 49ers was his quarterback, Joe Montana. Hailing from Notre Dame, Montana entered the league as the 82nd pick in the 1979 NFL Draft. He hit a setback in 1986 with a back injury that almost forced his retirement, but he returned by the end of the season and earned Comeback Player of the Year. By 1990, he’d won four Super Bowl titles and three Super Bowl MVPs. He also received the NFL MVP in 1989 and 1990. One of the most clutch players in history, Montana guided the 49ers and the Chiefs (from 1993-94) to 32 fourth-quarter comeback victories and is best remembered for "The Catch" in the 1981 NFC Championship Game.
Round 4: Charles Haley, LB/DE
As a Division I-AA All-American from James Madison, Charles Haley came off the board as the 96th pick in the 1986 draft. He started at outside linebacker for the 49ers, beginning in 1988, and was named to the Pro Bowl three times. He collected two Super Bowl titles, before the Niners traded him to the Dallas Cowboys. There, Haley played defensive end and added three more Super Bowl victories to his résumé, plus two Pro Bowl nominations. Haley finished his career with 503 tackles, 100.5 sacks, 26 forced fumbles, two interceptions, and was awarded NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1994.
Round 5: Robert Mathis, LB
The Indianapolis Colts drafted Mathis 138th overall in the 2003 draft, after he set an NCAA I-AA record with 20 sacks in his senior season at Alabama A&M. He stepped in immediately for the Colts as a pass rush specialist and recorded 21 solo tackles, 3.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. The defensive stalwart was part of the Super Bowl XLI championship team in 2007 and earned his first of five Pro Bowl nominations the following year. In 2013 he led the league in sacks (19.5) on his way to AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He retired from the Colts in 2016 with 538 tackles, 123 sacks, 17 fumble recoveries, and an NFL record 54 forced fumbles.
Round 6: Tom Brady, QB
Generally regarded as the "biggest steal in NFL history," Tom Brady flew under the radar out of Michigan, but the New England Patriots had the foresight to snag Brady with the 199th pick in 2000. Filling in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady earned his first start in Week 3 of his second season in the league. That year, he became one of only two QBs to win a Super Bowl in their first season as starter. He later became the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl (age 41), when he claimed his record sixth title. The four-time Super Bowl MVP (most by any player) has appeared in the big game nine times, also a record, and has been named to the Pro Bowl 14 times, tied for most in the NFL. Considered by many the greatest of all time, Brady will chase more history in his 21st season, and first season with Tampa Bay, in 2020.
Round 7: Shannon Sharpe, TE
The multi-sport athlete from Savannah State expected to go in the first round of the 1990 draft, but he waited until the seventh to hear his name called by the Denver Broncos, with the 192nd pick. The standout wide receiver converted to tight end his rookie season, and by 1992, he had solidified himself as a steal for his team. Sharpe won two Super Bowls (1998, 1999) with the Broncos and one more with the Ravens (2001). The eight-time Pro Bowler helped redefine the tight end’s role in NFL offenses, as he amassed 10,060 yards and 62 TDs on 815 catches in his career.