Skip to content
GO TO bet365 Sports
  1. NFL
  2. NFL Draft

NFL Draft: Best No. 1 picks in history

We look at some of the most successful players to have been selected first overall in the NFL Draft.

Read more: Every NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick

Terry Bradshaw

Pro Bowl (1975, 1978, 1979)
Pro Football Hall of Fame (1989)
NFL Championship Game winner (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
NFL Championship Game MVP (XIII, XIV)
NFL MVP (1978)

Terry Bradshaw tops this list over Peyton Manning because NFL fans value championships over stats and the story of how he became a Pittsburgh Steelers player now being part of draft folklore.

After both the Steelers and the Chicago Bears finished the 1969 season with a 1-13 record, the team that picked first in the 1970 NFL Draft was decided by a coin flip.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle used a silver dollar to determine the order as both teams wanted Bradshaw, the Louisiana Tech quarterback who was deemed to be the consensus number one choice.

Bears' owner George Halas called heads and the coin landed on tails, so Bradshaw was on his way to Pittsburgh, where he went on to lead the Steelers to four NFL Championship Game wins in the following decade.

He struggled through the first five years of his career, finishing only one of those seasons with over 2,000 passing yards and a completion ratio of greater than 50%.

But things really came together after his first title game success in 1974 as he added four more rings and three Pro Bowl appearances in the next four years, establishing the Steelers' dynasty.

His downfield passing often compensated for an aging 'Steel Curtain' defense later in that era and Pittsburgh probably would not have won the last two NFL Championship Games of the 1970s without his 300-yard passing performances that led to two MVP awards.

Peyton Manning

Pro Bowl (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014)
Pro Football Hall of Fame (2021)
NFL Championship Game winner (XLI, 50)
NFL Championship Game MVP (XLI)
NFL MVP (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013)

You can certainly make a solid argument that Peyton Manning, the only quarterback to win the NFL Championship Game with two different teams, should be top of this list.

When he retired, he was the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes, had authored the most fourth-quarter game winning-drives and had put up the most games with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

The story of how he ended up in Indianapolis is an interesting one too.

Manning and Ryan Leaf were vying to be the first overall pick out of college in 1998, but Leaf reportedly did not want to go to the Colts and preferred the San Diego lifestyle that awaited him if he slipped to the Chargers at pick number two.

His agent allegedly cooked up a plan for Leaf to annoy Colts head coach Jim Mora enough to ensure Manning became their certain choice, although no one in Indy would ever admit to wanting anyone other than the Hall of Famer.

Famously, he threw 28 interceptions as a rookie, but he was already starting to look like a star by the end of that year.

He took the Colts to the playoffs and earned a Pro Bowl invite in his second year and began the dominate the MVP voting by year six, being named the league's best player five times in total.

A seven-time First Team All-Pro and 14-time Pro Bowler, Manning led the league in every meaningful statistic for quarterbacks at least twice, while Leaf threw a mere 14 touchdowns in his brief NFL career that lasted just four years, one of which he missed entirely through injury.

Read more: NFL Draft dates, schedule, venue, history and more

John Elway

Pro Bowl (1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998)
Pro Football Hall of Fame (2004)
NFL Championship Game winner (XXXII, XXXIII)
NFL Championship Game MVP (XXXIII)
NFL MVP (1987)

John Elway never played a down for the team that originally drafted him - the Baltimore Colts - effectively forcing the franchise to trade him to the Denver Broncos for OT Chris Hinton, backup QB Mark Herrmann and a 1984 first-round pick.

He started in five NFL Championship Games for the Broncos, winning two rings at the back end of his career to earn legendary status.

He also won the league MVP in only his fifth year, becoming one of the youngest quarterbacks to ever accomplish that feat.

Troy Aikman

Pro Bowl (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996)
Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006)
NFL Championship Game winner (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX)
NFL Championship Game MVP (XXVII)

Troy Aikman was seen as a sure-fire first overall pick and the next big thing in the NFL going into the 1989 draft.

So much so, that the Dallas Cowboys resisted some tempting trade offers from the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears to make him their franchise QB.

After beginning his career with 11 straight losses, Aikman would eventually start (and win) three NFL Championship Games for the team of the 1990s.

He won 11 of his 16 postseason appearances and one NFL Championship Game MVP award together with six straight Pro Bowl nominations.

Read more: NFL Draft best steals

Bruce Smith

Pro Bowl (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
Pro Football Hall of Fame (2009)

Although like the other Buffalo Bills greats he played alongside, Bruce Smith finished his career without an NFL Championship ring, he deserves his place in history.

The 11-time Pro Bowler is the NFL's sack king with 200 to his name - a feat made even more remarkable because he played in a 3-4 defensive scheme that is not as conducive to defensive ends getting to the quarterback.

Related Articles

bet365 uses cookies

We use cookies to deliver a better and more personalized service. For more information, see our Cookie Policy

New to bet365? Bet $1 & Get $365 in Bonus Bets Join Now

Deposit required. Bonus Bet winnings are added to Bonus Bets balance. Bonus Bet wager excluded from returns. T&Cs, time limits and exclusions apply.