From JJ Watt to Dan Marino: Best all-time draft picks for each AFC team

With the 2018 NFL draft coming in April, FTW looked back at every draft since the beginning of the Super Bowl era to find each franchise’s greatest first-round pick. (Teams are listed by division.) For the NFC’s best picks, click here.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills – Bruce Smith, DE (No. 1, 1985).

AP Photo/John Hickey.

Smith retired with exactly 200 sacks, two more than his 1985 draft-class partner Reggie White. (Coincidentally, four of the top five sackers in NFL history all came out of that draft. Kevin Greene and Chris Doleman are third and fifth, respectively.).

How big a number is 200? Julius Peppers is fourth on the career sack list. He’s still a monster at 38 years old, has played 16 seasons, has rarely missed time and has had double-digit sacks in 10 seasons. And Peppers is still 45.5 sacks away from tying Smith.

Miami Dolphins – Dan Marino, QB (No. 27, 1983).

The last of the famed QB class of 1983, Marino saw the following players taken before him in the first round: John Elway (okay), Todd Blackledge (it backfired, but I see their point), Jim Kelly (totally fine), Tony Eason (they’re losing me) and Ken O’Brien (to the Jets, of course). Rumored drug use was thought to be the reason for Marino’s fall but every team’s loss was Miami’s gain, as the Dolphins took Marino with the second-to-last pick of the first round.

He wouldn’t have slipped to the second round: Bobby Beathard, the general manager of the Washington Redskins at the time, said he’d have taken Marino at No. 28, a move which would have had major ripple effects in NFL history. The Redskins instead took their best first-round player at No. 28 – cornerback Darrell Green.

New England Patriots – John Hannah, G (No. 4, 1973).

Who would have thought the Pats’ top first-round pick would have come from the years when the team was as much of a laughingstock as the Browns are today. (Okay, maybe not that much of a laughingstock.) That’s not to say the Belichick-era Pats have been entirely striking out in the first round: They selected Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins over that time.

But the track record isn’t great, something that’s probably due, in part, to the team’s success. Since 2004, the Pats have only had two picks higher than No. 21.

New York Jets – Darrelle Revis, CB (No. 14, 2007).

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Oh, you poor, poor Jets fans. This one was as rough as you’d expect.

The two best first-round players taken by the Jets – Revis and John Riggins – only played seven and six seasons, respectively, in New York after being drafted. (Though Revis did come back for two mostly unproductive years at the end of his career.).

But the sole proprietor of Revis Island gets this honor anyway, as he’s likely to be the only player drafted by the Jets to make the Hall of Fame based on what he did in New York. (Riggins made it thanks to his second life in Washington.).

Yes, being a Jets fan is as bad as imagined.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens – Ray Lewis, LB (No. 26, 1996).

AP Photo/Jeffrey Boan.

Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Jonathan Ogden – each might have been the best first-round draft choice for another team, but they don’t come close to topping the list for the Ravens. Ray Lewis earned that spot, obviously. He was the Ravens’ second-ever draft pick (Ogden was the first, going 22 spots ahead of Lewis in the same ’96 draft) and finished his career with two Super Bowl titles, seven first-team All-Pro honors and a statue outside the team’s stadium in downtown Baltimore.

Cincinnati Bengals – Anthony Munoz, LT (No. 3, 1980).

From 1981 through 1990, Anthony Munoz was named first-team All-Pro in all but one season. In other words, Munoz was totally slacking in 1984. (He made second-team All-Pro that year.) The dominant tackle is the only Hall of Famer ever drafted by the Bengals. Though, in my humble opinion, Peter Warrick got robbed.

Cleveland Browns – Ozzie Newsome, TE (No. 23, 1978).

Put me on the spot and I’ll say Joe Thomas is the best player drafted by the Browns. But Thomas has played for a franchise that’s had all the stability of Bitcoin with none of the unsustainable success. Ozzie Newsome was a Hall of Famer who served as the offensive anchor of a Browns team that was within a few plays of making back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1980s.

He would go on to have a Hall of Fame worthy career as a general manager with the franchise.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, that franchise moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger, QB (No. 11, 2004).

AP Photo/Michael Conroy..

Rod Woodson is one of the great defensive backs in NFL history but only played six full seasons in the Steel City. Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris won four Super Bowls. Troy Polamalu made four All-Pro teams. So why Big Ben? He’s not one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. He’s “only” won two Super Bowls. He’s never made an All-Pro team.

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But Roethlisberger’s presence goes beyond stats. He’s been the team’s anchor for more than a decade, playing through injury every year but never missing more than five games. He’s the rock of the most consistent franchise in football history.

AFC South

Houston Texans – J.J. Watt, DE (No. 11, 2011).

Watt is a two-time defensive player of the year and came in second in the 2014 MVP voting, an impressive feat for an award that’s only twice before been given to a defender. Watt at No. 11 seems like a case of an all-time great falling in the draft and, to a point, it is.

But it’s not like bust after bust went before him. Of the top 10 picks from the 2011 draft, every one, with the exception of Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert, has made a Pro Bowl. Only one of those eight – A.J. Green – hasn’t landed on an All-Pro team. That’s a stacked draft.

Indianapolis Colts – Peyton Manning, QB (No. 1, 1998).

AP Photo/Michael Conroy..

This wasn’t as much of a slam dunk as you’d think. Okay, it was, but there are three other first-round picks that could have topped the list for other teams. Marshall Faulk and Marvin Harrison are two of the all-time greats at their positions and then there’s another No. 1 QB who entered the league with great expectations and soon lived up to them. No, not Andrew Luck. Some guy named Elway.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Tony Boselli, LT (No. 2, 1995).

Boselli was the Jags’ first-ever draft pick and though he only played six full years in the league due to injuries, he lived up to his billing. The tackle made three All-Pro teams, five Pro Bowls and played in six playoff games, including an unlikely AFC championship in the team’s second year of existence. Boselli would later be the first pick for another team as well. He was left unprotected for Houston’s 2002 expansion draft and was taken No. 1. But he never played because of the shoulder injury that led Jacksonville to let him go. Boselli retired after missing every game in the team’s first season.

Tennessee Titans – Bruce Matthews, G (No. 9, 1983).

The former Oilers and Titans guard played more games than any offensive lineman in history and is No. 3 on a list of games played by non-kickers. All those 295 games came for the same franchise, something no other position player can boast. Matthews is also fourth on the list of consecutive games started with 229. And, it might go without saying, but he was pretty good too.

AFC West

Denver Broncos – Von Miller, LB (No. 2, 2011).


For such a decorated franchise, the Broncos first-round history is anything but impressive. (Remember, they didn’t draft John Elway, Baltimore did before Elway petulantly demanded a trade.) The three Hall of Famers drafted by the Broncos all came during the team’s AFL days and, even then, only Merlin Olsen is considered one of the all-time greats. In the modern era, we’re left to debate between Randy Gradishar, Jay Cutler, Trevor Pryce and Steve Atwater – all fine players but hardly what you’d expect from a team with eight Super Bowl appearances. We’ll go with Miller, the MVP from Super Bowl 50.

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Kansas City Chiefs – Derrick Thomas, LB (No. 4, 1989).

Thomas was a lynchpin of the Chiefs defense for 11 seasons, having double-digit sacks in seven seasons and landing in the Pro Bowl nine times. He was as stellar off the field as he was on it (he received the NFL’s 1993 Walter Payton Man of the Year award) before his life was cut short.

While still in the prime of his career, Thomas was paralyzed in a 2000 car crash. His football days were done, but he was expected to survive and even had hopes of walking again. However, 16 days after the accident, he suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism while being moved from his hospital bed to a wheelchair.

Los Angeles Chargers – Junior Seau, LB (No. 5, 1990).

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic.

The late Seau was a six-time first-team All Pro and made the Pro Bowl in all but his first of 13 seasons in San Diego. He was as synonymous with San Diego and the Chargers as any player before or after.

Oakland Raiders – Tim Brown, WR (No. 6, 1988).

Charles Woodson and Marcus Allen may have been the better players but Brown was the greatest Raider, playing 16 of his 17 seasons in Oakland/Los Angeles. Woodson and Allen starred with the Raiders but did so elsewhere too. Brown was the stereotypical Al Davis pick (a speedy receiver) and didn’t disappoint.

He retired as the third-most prolific pass catcher in NFL history and even now still sits at No. 7, with no active player within shouting distance. He never made an All-Pro team with the Raiders (Allen and Woodson had two and one, respectively) but his nine Pro Bowls are a franchise high (and came in an era in which Pro Bowl bids meant more than today).


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