The 2022 NFL Draft is right around the corner. In the spirit of another rookie class entering the league, we decided to take a dive through history to identify the best picks at every first-round selection. Starting with the No. 32 pick and working our way all the way to No. 1 ahead of the 2022 draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 28, at 8 p.m. ET, we're identifying the five best all-time picks at each spot.
Here, we'll be exploring the best of the best to go No. 12 overall. This year, the Minnesota Vikings hold the pick. But who struck gold using it in years past? Check it out below.
Note: Some picks that were not originally first-rounders may be included, as the NFL has expanded since the draft began in 1936. For example, the 32nd overall pick was considered a second-rounder until 2002.
- RB Chuck Foreman (1973-1980)
- RB Warrick Dunn (1997-2008)
- DT Fletcher Cox (2012-present)
- LB Keith Brooking (1998-2012)
- CB Aaron Glenn (1994-2008)
5. RB Marshawn Lynch
2007 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 12 (California, Berkeley)
Team(s): Bills (2007-10), Seahawks (2010-15, 2019), Raiders (2017-18)
Three seasons into his NFL career, Lynch looked like he may be on his way out of stardom. Despite two straight 1,000-yard seasons as a young workhorse for the Bills, the Cali product opened 2009 with a suspension stemming from an offseason arrest, then averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry before being traded midseason in 2010. It turns out the relocation boosted Lynch's revival, and the hard-nosed running back went on to become an all-time Seahawk, not to mention one of the most revered players of his time.
A five-time Pro Bowler and 2012 All-Pro, Lynch wasted no time winning over Seattle, unleashing a monster touchdown run in his first career playoff game during his debut half-season with the Seahawks. In fact, he came to be known for those big-stage takeovers as much as his gaudy numbers. His 10,413 career rushing yards rank 29th all time, ahead of greats like Earl Campbell and Terrell Davis; and he twice led the NFL in rushing scores; but he's best known for highlight-reel bulldozing. Few, if any, players were harder to bring down than Lynch in his prime.
A 2010s All-Decade selection who won a Super Bowl with Seattle in 2013 and could've helped the club win another the following year, Lynch will forever be remembered for the undying physicality he brought to the field.
4. DT Haloti Ngata
2006 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 12 (Oregon)
Team(s): Ravens (2006-14), Lions (2015-17), Eagles (2018)
When you think of the Ravens' fierce defense of the 2000s-2010s, you probably think of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. But Ngata was just as much a cog of that fearsome unit. What he lacks in monstrous sack numbers (32.5 for his career), the big man more than made up for in long-term reliability. A five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Ngata was considered one of the top defensive linemen in the league during his peak, on par with interior freaks like Ndamukong Suh and Richard Seymour.
One of the top 3-4 defensive ends of his time, Ngata helped anchor Baltimore's run "D," especially during the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run, when the club claimed its second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. With at least 50 tackles in six of his first eight seasons, he was a model of consistency, even if injuries hampered his impact after his late-career move to Detroit.
His best work in the trenches may have gone underrated, but it was a tangible key to the Ravens' title-winning efforts.
3. LB Clay Matthews
1978 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 12 (USC)
Team(s): Browns (1978-93), Falcons (1994-96)
The brother of 14-time Pro Bowl lineman Bruce Matthews and father of longtime Packers pass rusher Clay Matthews III, he was just this year named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But his historical impact has been obvious since his days in the NFL decades earlier. A four-time Pro Bowler, Matthews was a tackle machine even before tackles were an official statistic, racking up an unofficial 1,595 takedowns during his career -- a total that would rank among the top five of all time.
Matthews wasn't just a steady tackler, either. He also logged 62 career sacks, still the most in Browns history despite sacks not being recorded until his fifth NFL season, including a career-high 12 in 1984. His 27 forced fumbles added to his play-making reputation, which helped Cleveland to eight playoff appearances, including three AFC title games, over the course of his career. Matthews was also a model of durability, missing more than two games just twice in 19 years and becoming the oldest player to log a sack, recording one at age 40 with the Falcons.
Though Matthews' production never earned his team a title, he was one of the longest-tenured defensive centerpieces of his era, leaving one of the greatest imprints at the linebacker position.
2. DT Warren Sapp
1995 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 12 (Miami)
Team(s): Buccaneers (1995-2003), Raiders (2004-07)
Few players defined their position as prominently as Sapp in the early 2000s. A seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year, the massive interior presence racked up 96.5 career sacks -- a top 45 mark of all time -- to become the prototype 4-3 defensive tackle. Instrumental to the Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl victory, Sapp was everything you could want in a defensive lineman during his prime: big and strong enough to clog the interior, but fast and aggressive enough to penetrate pockets.
Ahead of great pass rushers like Howie Long and James Harrison on the all-time sack leader board, Sapp retired as one of just 12 defenders to go to the Pro Bowl, win a Super Bowl and claim a DPOY award. With four double-digit sack seasons, including a career-best 16.5-sack campaign in 2000, he wreaked havoc for the better part of a decade in Tampa Bay, where he anchored a defense that also included stars like Simeon Rice and Derrick Brooks. He was also very durable, only missing 10 games in 13 seasons.
Sapp wasn't nearly as much of a superstar during his sendoff with the Raiders, but he'll always be an all-time Buc, hence Tampa Bay retiring his No. 99 jersey and recognizing him as one of the most disruptive linemen of his day.
1. CB Herb Adderley
1961 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 12 (Michigan State)
Team(s): Packers (1961-69), Cowboys (1970-72)
If you want a clinic on championship-caliber coverage, look no further than Herb Adderley. Originally a running back who was converted to the secondary because of injuries, Adderley quickly became a favorite of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. It's no wonder: The cornerback quickly became an interception magnet, logging at least four picks in eight of his 12 seasons, including a career-best seven in 1962. A five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, his big-play ability helped propel the Packers to five championships, including three Super Bowl wins, before he relocated to the Cowboys' famous "Doomsday Defense" of the '70s.
Credited with the first pick-six in Super Bowl history, Adderley's 48 career interceptions rank in the top 50 all time, ahead of pick artists like Ronde Barber, Troy Vincent and DeAngelo Hall. More importantly, his game-changing coverage was essential for a dynasty, helping make the Packers an early NFL powerhouse in the 1960s. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his move to Dallas from Green Bay wasn't exactly ceremonious, but he'll always be remembered as one of the best Packers to ever play the game.
More than that, he'll always have a place among the best corners to ever do it, setting an early example for how to change the game with ball-hawking coverage on the outside.