5. LB Ray Lewis, Miami
1996, 1st round, 26th pick overall, Baltimore
In his 17 years, Lewis was a key star for two Super Bowl champions – with a Super Bowl MVP – cranked out seven All-Pro seasons, was a 13-time Pro Bowler, was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and finished up as one of the greatest tackling linebackers and leaders of all-time.
Hall of Fame WR Marvin Harrison was selected at the 19. The next six players selected before the Ravens took Lewis were … Daryl Gardener, Pete Kendall, Marcus Jones, Jeff Hartings, Eric Moulds, and Jermane Mayberry. After Lewis, the next eight picks combined to go to two Pro Bowls.
4. QB Joe Montana, Notre Dame
1979, 3rd round, 82nd pick overall, San Francisco
Rick Berns and Mike Wellman. They were taken by Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Rams, respectively.
And then San Francisco was up.
The next 52 players selected after Joe Montana combined to go to Pro Bowls – both by St. Louis WR Roy Green.
A national champion at Notre Dame, Montana was a bit undersized and hardly the prototype when taken by Bill Walsh and the 49ers with the 82nd overall pick. Montana went on to win four Super Bowls, earn a spot on three All-Pro teams, and was named to eight Pro Bowls – one with Kansas City.
Arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time until that Brady guy came along, Montana was a two-time NFL MVP, a three-time Super Bowl MVP, and was forever known as the one who put the West Coast offense into hyperdrive.
3. DE Deacon Jones, Mississippi Valley State
1961, 14th round, 186th pick overall, Los Angeles
Well that’s not bad. All the Rams did was get the Godfather of the Pass Rush – and the head slap – with the 186th overall selection. Jones rewarded the faiths with an 11-year career in LA with five straight All-Pro seasons and seven straight Pro Bowls.
There were a whole lot of good players in the 1961 draft, but just five players ended up in the Hall of Fame. However, just 26 of the 96 players taken after Jones ever saw a professional football game time.
2. WR Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State
1985, 1st round, 16h pick overall, San Francisco
Ethan Horton. The North Carolina tight end went with the 15th pick in the 1985 NFL Draft.
The New York Jets took Wisconsin WR Al Toon with the ten, and Cincinnati selected Miami speedster Eddie Brown at the 13. There at the 16 was Jerry Rice, a statistical superstar from the high-octane Mississippi Valley State passing game.
The numbers are still mind-boggling. In his 16 years at San Francisco, Rice caught 1,549 passes for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns. He was named to ten All-Pro teams in 11 seasons, went to 11 straight Pro Bowls, and 12 in all in the Niner O.
With that 16th pick, San Francisco got the 1987 NFL MVP, the 1988 Super Bowl MVP, a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and, arguably, the greatest football player ever.
1. QB Tom Brady, Michigan
2000, 6th round, 199th pick overall, New England
It’s the all-timer of a trivia question. Who went 198th?
It was Iowa defensive back-turned-scouting star Matt Bowen.
Eight of the next nine players taken after 199 played in five games or fewer, and only San Francisco TE-turned-long snapper Brian Jennings – taken in the seventh round – managed to go to a Pro Bowl out of the 55 remaining picks after 199.
It’s okay to say it. The New England Patriots came up with the biggest dumb-luck draft pick of all-time, and it will forever be the one that gives NFL Draft die-hards a reason to watch until the end and dream the impossible to come true.
In terms of value, talent, and production, getting the greatest quarterback of all-time – with 70,514 yards, 517 touchdowns, six Super Bowls, four Super Bowl MVPs, three NFL MVPs, three All-Pro honors, and 14 Pro Bowl selections – is just plain silly.
But as long as there is an NFL, it will always be the greatest draft pick of all-time.