NFL All Time Greats: Where Were They Drafted?


A little while ago, I took a look at some of the best players in the NFL right now and where they were drafted. You can check out part one here, and read part two here. What we found out was this – players that are currently at the top of their game were drafted very high; either in the first or second round. Looking forward to this year’s draft, we should be safe to assume that a lot of the players taken early on will go on to become elite players in years to come.

But what about some of the NFL’s all-time great players? Where were they drafted? Well, let’s take a look.

(Disclaimer: Obviously, the following names are not all-inclusive, but I think it’s fair to say that they are some of the best players to ever play the game.)


  • Brett Favre – drafted round 2
  • Dan Marino – drafted round 1
  • Joe Montana – drafted round 3
  • Johnny Unitas – drafted round 9
  • Steve Young – drafted round 1 of the 1984 USFL supplemental draft

Running Backs

  • Walter Payton – drafted round 1
  • Emmitt Smith – drafted round 1
  • Jim Brown – drafted round 1
  • LaDainian Tomlinson – drafted round 1
  • O.J Simpson – drafted round 1 

Wide Receivers

  • Jerry Rice – drafted round 1
  • Marvin Harrison – drafted round 1
  • Cris Carter – drafted round 4 of the 1987 supplemental draft
  • Terrell Owens – drafted round 3
  • Randy Moss – drafted round 1

Defensive Stars

  • Dick Butkus – drafted round 1
  • Reggie White – drafted round1 of the 1985 supplemental draft
  • Bruce Smith – drafted round 1
  • Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane – undrafted
  • Lawrence Taylor – drafted round 1

The names above are unquestionably some of the greatest players to ever strap on a helmet. And as you can see, the majority of these players were drafted very highly. You will always get cases of players going undrafted, but then ending up as an all time great, but that is most definitely the exception, rather than the rule.

As we have found throughout this process, what teams hope to happen is usually what will happen. You should be able to feel very confident that your first or second round pick will go on to be an excellent player in the NFL, and perhaps one day find themselves mentioned in the same breath as some of the league’s best ever players.

There will always be diamonds in the rough – players that go very late on the draft but turn into something special – but predicting this is more luck than judgement. Scouts and analysts seem to get the job right for the most part in predicting what players will go where when it comes to the draft. There always seems to be a pretty general consensus, and then it’s down to the individual to prove they are worth the high draft pick.

Let’s not forget the obligatory NFL draft ‘bust’. Throughout the years we have seen number one draft picks just fail to make the transition form college to the pro level, for whatever reasons. These days, with the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), it’s not as costly financially, to totally miss on a high draft pick. Gone are the days where high draft rookies get super big contracts, but no team wants to waste a number one pick, regardless of how much or how little it costs them.

So, only time will tell whether the young players drafted in the last few years will end up being elite players. Certainly, the future is bright for players such as RG3 and Andrew Luck, to name but two. And I am sure this year’s crop will throw out a star or two. That’s the beauty of the NFL draft – even though everybody thinks they know, nobody can say for certain who will be the future superstars of the NFL.