I love the draft, but instead of posting a 2013 mock draft like the rest of the world, I'm going in a more interesting direction - a mock draft that ranks the best draft picks of all-time. And by "all-time" I mean the last thirty years. Why thirty? Because thirty years ago marks what is widely considered the best draft ever - 1983 - and is arguably a starting point for the modern NFL. Obviously there are hundreds of guys drafted after #32 that become great players (Brady), but I'm looking at just the first round. The criteria is as follows: how great of a career the player had, the player's value at the position he was drafted and the overall impact on his franchise. Feel free to tell me if you disagree! : )
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee -- Indianapolis Colts, 1998 -- In a position where you'd assume the biggest debate would be, Manning trumps the field relatively easily. John Elway, Bo Jackson, and Eli Manning are disqualified because they never played with the team they were drafted by. Bruce Smith and Troy Aikman are first ballot Hall of Famers, but no one would argue they were better players or meant more to their franchise than Peyton. Cam Newton and Andrew Luck are potentially the league's next great superstars, but it's hard to say either of them are in, or will ever be in, Manning's territory.
2. Eric Dickerson, RB, Southern Methodist -- Los Angeles Rams, 1983 -- If the first pick was simple, the second pick is impossible. You could debate for days who was better: Dickerson, Marshall Faulk ('94), Donovan McNabb ('99), Calvin Johnson ('07), RGIII ('12). They all have a case, but it's hard to ignore Dickerson's crazy stat sheet (remember, this was back when 1,000 yards was hard to get).
3. Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State -- Detroit Lions, 1989
4. Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama -- Kansas City Chiefs, 1989
5. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State -- Atlanta Falcons, 1989 -- Even though he won Super Bowls with the 49ers and Cowboys, Deion's years as a Falcon were statistically his best. He had 24 interceptions and 3 touchdowns in just 5 years. It's tough to overlook the two Chargers - Junior Seau ('90) and LaDainian Tomlinson ('01) - but Prime Time was not only a great player for Atlanta, but gave the team a personality. Exhibit A below...
6. Tim Brown, WR, Notre Dame -- Los Angeles Raiders, 1988
7. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma -- Minnesota Vikings, 2007 -- Sterling Sharpe in '89 and Champ Bailey in '99 are great candidates, but All-Day takes it. He's just so money.
8. Willie Roaf, T, Louisiana Tech -- New Orleans Saints, 1993
9. Bruce Matthews, G, USC -- Houston Oilers, 1983 -- Matthews played for the Houston/Tennessee franchise from 1983-2001. In those 19 seasons he played all 16 games every time except once! He went to the Hall of Fame in 2007. Matthews beats out Brian Urlacher and my homeboy C.J. Spiller (yea...I'm a homer).
10. Rod Woodson, CB, Purdue -- Pittsburgh Steelers, 1987
11. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami (OH) -- Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004 -- This might be the toughest call of all 32. I'm picking Big Ben, but you could also go with Michael Irvin ('88), Dwight Freeney ('02), Patrick Willis ('07) or J.J. Watt ('11). Keep an eye on the 11 spot in this year's draft - it will likely produce a big time player!
12. Warren Sapp, DT, Miami (FL) -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995
13. Tony Gonzalez, TE, California -- Kansas City Chiefs, 1997
14. Jim Kelly, QB, Miami (FL) -- Buffalo Bills, 1983
15. Mike Pouncey, C, Florida -- Miami Dolphins, 2011 -- If #11 is usually a baller, #15 is usually a disappointment. Pouncey is a good player and should anchor the Miami offensive line for years to come, but his best competition at 15 was Jason Pierre-Paul (who has only had one great year) and Lamar Lathon (an above average linebacker for the Oilers and Panthers).
16. Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State -- San Francisco 49ers -- The best receiver ever looks like a steal at 16.
17. Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida -- Dallas Cowboys, 1990
18. Joe Flacco, QB, Delaware -- Baltimore Ravens, 2008
19. Marvin Harrison, WR, Syracuse -- Indianapolis Colts, 1996
20. Steve Atwater, S, Arkansas -- Denver Broncos, 1989 -- Atwater beats out every other #20 pick by miles (Will Wolford, Haywood Jefferies, Dwayne Rudd). He kind of flies under the radar now that it's been 14 years since he retired, but Atwater was a 2-time first team All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler and was the leader of the Denver defense his entire career.
21. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall -- Minnesota Vikings, 1998
22. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech -- Denver Broncos, 2010 -- I'm a fan...check it out.
23. Ty Law, CB, Michigan -- New England Patriots, 1995 -- The 23 spot is a pick 'em. I'm going with Law, but Dwayne Bowe ('07), Steven Jackson ('04), Antoine Winfield ('99) or Jim Jeffcoat ('83) could all be reasonable here.
24. Aaron Rodgers, QB, California -- Green Bay Packers, 2005 -- Rodgers takes #24, but there are some serious playmakers in this lineup: Dez Bryant, Chris Johnson, Ed Reed, Eric Moulds.
25. Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State -- Pittsburgh Steelers, 2006 -- Flat out the worst number on the list. I'm not much of a Holmes fan, although he clearly has had success in the league (Super Bowl MVP, etc.). Other candidates were Dont'a Hightower ('12), Vontae Davis ('09), Jason Campbell ('05), Ted Washington ('91), Louis Oliver ('89), and...saving the best for last...Tim Tebow ('10). Maybe the Seahawks knew what they were doing when they traded the 25th pick in this year's draft to the Vikings. Good luck, Minnesota. You'll need it.
26. Ray Lewis, LB, Miami (FL) -- Baltimore Ravens, 1996
27. Dan Marino, QB, Pittsburgh -- Miami Dolphins, 1983
28. Darrell Green, CB, Texas A&M-Kingsville -- Washington Redskins, 1983 -- I told you '83 was the best.
29. Chris Spielman, LB, Ohio State -- Detroit Lions, 1988
30. Reggie Wayne, WR, Miami (FL) -- Indianapolis Colts, 2001
31. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, California -- Oakland Raiders, 2003 -- People forget, but Asomugha was considered the shut-down corner in the league before Revis came along. He's a 4-time All-Pro and 3-time Pro Bowler. Side note: How do get awarded All-Pro, but not make the Pro Bowl? Reason #143 why the Pro Bowl is lame.
32. Henry Ellard, WR, Fresno State -- Los Angeles Rams, 1983 -- One more time for 1983. Ellard is a 2-time All-Pro and is currently 10th all-time in receiving yards. There's a strong case to be made for Drew Brees, but San Diego bailed on him and handed the ball to Phillip Rivers instead. It's hard to say he was a great pick when they moved on after 4 years as a starter. San Diego's loss was New Orleans' gain.