Can NFL Draft history provide any insight on which spots in the first round offer the best chances to land a great player? Draft slot alone is not the only indicator of how good a player will be, but there are definitively trends that point to certain draft slots producing great players.
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Using Sports Reference's Career AV statistic as a guideline, we broke down the best first-round draft picks of all time to see which picks they were selected with.
Of the 131 players in NFL history who have a career AV of 100 or higher, 77 were drafted in the first 32 picks of their respective NFL Draft (Drew Brees was the No. 32 pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, but it was then a 2nd round selection).
If you dive into where those players were selected in their drafts, you'll notice a cluster at the top — eight were the first overall pick in the draft, six more were the second pick and five were the third selection of the draft.
Go one pick further and you'll see that the No. 4 pick in the draft has been especially successful, producing 10 players with a career AV of at least 100. Those players include current and future Hall of Famers: Philip Rivers, Walter Payton, Edgerrin James, Chris Doleman, John Hannah, Derrick Thomas, Charles Woodson, Bob Griese, Mean Joe Greene and Dan Hampton were all No. 4 picks in the draft.
(Reggie White, who has the 6th-highest career AV since 1960, was also a No. 4 pick, but in the 1984 Supplemental Draft, not the 1984 NFL Draft).
MORE: NFL Draft Perfect 1st Round: Best Player Drafted with Picks 1-32 in NFL History
Here's a look at the first 32 picks of the draft, how many players each pick has produced with a Career AV of at least 100, and how many Hall of Fame players were drafted at that spot.
Nine first-round draft slots have produced at least three players with a Career AV of 100 — here are those players:
No. 1: Peyton Manning, Bruce Smith, John Elway, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Terry Bradshaw, Orlando Pace and Drew Bledsoe
No. 2: Lawrence Taylor, Marshall Faulk, Julius Peppers, Randy White, Tony Dorsett and Donovan McNabb
No. 3: Anthony Munoz, Barry Sanders, Matt Ryan, Merlin Olsen and Steve McNair
No. 4: Philip Rivers, Walter Payton, Edgerrin James, Chris Doleman, John Hannah, Derrick Thomas, Charles Woodson, Bob Griese, Mean Joe Greene and Dan Hampton
No. 5: LaDainian Tomlinson, Junior Seau, Carl Eller, Deion Sanders, Len Dawson and Mike Haynes
No. 6: Jim Brown, Tim Brown, James Lofton and Jimmy Johnson
No. 10: Rod Woodson, Terrell Suggs, John Hadl, Marcus Allen and Isaiah Robertson
No. 11: Ben Roethlisberger, Paul Warfield, Michael Irvin and DeMarcus Ware
No. 12: Warren Sapp, Herb Adderly and Haloti Ngata
(Note: Steve Young, Gary Zimmerman and Reggie White were drafted in the supplementary draft (1st, 3rd and 4th pick, respectively), and are not included on these lists though they each have a career AV over 100).[divider]
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10 more first-round draft slots have produced a pair of players with a career AV of 100 or more:
No. 8: Ronnie Lot and Willie Roaf
No. 9: Bruce Matthews and Brian Urlacher
No. 13: Bob Lilly and Franco Harris
No. 16: Jerry Rice and Bobby Bell**
No. 17: Emmitt Smith and Gene Upshaw
No. 19: Marvin Harrison and Randall McDaniel
No. 24: Aaron Rodgers and Ed Reed
No. 26: Ray Lewis and Alan Faneca
No. 28: Derrick Brooks and Darrell Green
No. 32: Drew Brees* and Logan Mankins
*As noted above, Drew Brees was a second-round pick, but in the top 32 picks.
**Bobby Bell was the 16th overall pick in the 1963 NFL Draft, but was a second-round selection.
NEXT: Highest NFL Draft Pick in the History of Each FBS Team