Best NFL Draft Picks from Each Round
For nearly 90 years, the NFL Draft has welcomed game-changing players into the league, and we’re listing the best of all time from each round.
The NFL Draft is the most critical off-season event in U.S. sports. What transpires during the three-day, seven-round event can set the stage for collegiate athletes hoping to leap into professional football. The draft can even influence the success or failure of NFL teams for years to come.
But we’ll not dwell on any negatives. Instead, we’re looking at the best NFL Draft picks of all time from each of the draft’s seven rounds.
Before we continue, be sure to check our How to Watch the NFL Draft guide to find the best ways to watch this year’s event.
Round 7: Larry Wilson (1960)
With so much emphasis on the early rounds of the NFL Draft, it’s easy to forget that several legends of the game have come from the draft’s later rounds. Larry Wilson is a prime example of a seventh-round pick that went on to have a storied NFL career.
Wilson was a University of Utah graduate considered too small by NFL standards for his natural halfback and cornerback positions. Once drafted by the Chicago Cardinals—who moved to St. Louis several months later—Wilson took up the free safety position and redefined the modern blitz.
Though he never played an NFL postseason game, Wilson made eight Pro Bowl appearances and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.
Round 6: Tom Brady (2000)
For those not paying attention back in 2000, quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t a highly valuable prospect heading into the NFL Draft. His time at the University of Michigan wasn’t super astonishing, and his NFL Scouting Combine performance was simply uninspiring.
The fact that Brady has since become one of the most celebrated football players in all of NFL history proves his unmatched endurance and tenacity. Luckily for fans, the New England Patriots organization took a chance on Brady—selecting him as the draft’s 199th overall pick.
Throughout his 23 NFL seasons, Brady won seven Super Bowl titles and three NFL MVP awards.
Round 5: Mike Webster (1974)
The 1974 NFL Draft class was crucial for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Four of the team’s selected players from that year were later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of those four, center Mike Webster is perhaps one of the most important players in Pittsburgh’s history.
Before joining the NFL, Webster had already established a level of recognition for his inner toughness at the University of Wisconsin. He took things to the next level in Pittsburgh and earned the nickname “Iron Mike”—quite an honor considering Pittsburgh is known as Steel City.
Webster won four Super Bowl championships with the Steelers and concluded his 17-year pro career in 1990.
Round 4: Harry Carson (1976)
Another prolific player drafted in the 1970s was linebacker Harry Carson.
In college, the South Carolina native made a name for himself by captaining the South Carolina State University defense to many record-setting performances. His defensive leadership carried into the NFL after the New York Giants selected him in the fourth round of the 1976 draft.
Improving year over year, Carson eventually captained the Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 1987—the team’s first league title in over 30 years. He retired two seasons later with two first-team All-Pro honors and nine Pro Bowl appearances to his name.
Round 3: Russell Wilson (2012)
As the most recent draftee featured on this list, quarterback Russell Wilson might not be as celebrated as the other players, but the Denver Bronco still has a well-decorated resume.
Like Mike Webster, Wilson came to the NFL via the University of Wisconsin. He joined the Seattle Seahawks after leading the Badgers to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance. Despite losing the 2012 Rose Bowl, Wilson quickly redeemed himself when leading the Seahawks to a 2014 Super Bowl victory.
Now in his 12th NFL season, Wilson has his sights set on claiming the Vince Lombardi Trophy with the Broncos—much like Peyton Manning did several years prior.
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Round 2: Drew Brees (2001)
Drew Brees wasn’t the most prolific quarterback heading into the 2001 NFL Draft. That year, all eyes were on Michael Vick, who was selected first overall by the Atlanta Falcons. Brees was the second quarterback to be chosen, but he had to wait until the first selection of the second round.
Drafted by the San Diego Chargers, Brees never really settled in with the Bolts. There’s more to it than that, but the Purdue graduate found a much-needed change in setting when he signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2006.
Immediately, Brees found success with the Saints and eventually helped the then-42-year-old franchise win its first Super Bowl title. He even won the Super Bowl MVP award—one of many accolades that summarized his on-field proficiency.
Round 1: Peyton Manning (1998)
If there’s any NFL player that perfectly encapsulates the ideal first-round pick, it’s Peyton Manning. The Indianapolis Colts scooped up the University of Tennessee quarterback as the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, and we doubt they had any regrets about that.
Manning took the hit-or-miss Colts to a level of playoff consistency that the team had never seen before. In 2006, “the Sheriff” helped end Indianapolis’ 36-year Super Bowl drought. He then signed with the Denver Broncos in 2012 and later ended his 18-season career after winning Super Bowl 50.
With two Super Bowl championship rings and five NFL MVP awards, nobody has lived up to their draft pick status like Manning.