The 2022 NFL Draft is right around the corner. In the spirit of another rookie class entering the league, we here at CBS Sports 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 2021 draft, we’re identifying the five best all-time picks at each spot.
You can find our entire rundown of picks at our hub of all-time selections, but right here, we’ll be exploring the best of the best to go No. 2 overall. This year, the Detroit Lions 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.
- OLB Von Miller (2011-present)
- WR Calvin Johnson (2007-2015)
- QB Donovan McNabb (1999-2011)
- OT Tony Boselli (1995-2002)
- DE Neil Smith (1988-2000)
- RB Eric Dickerson (1983-1993)
- RB Tony Dorsett (1977-1988)
- OT George Kunz (1969-1980)
- OG Tom Mack (1966-1978)
- OT Bob Brown (1964-1973)
- QB Roman Gabriel (1962-1977)
- LB Les Richter (1954-1962)
- RB George McAfee (1940-1941, 1945-1950)
5. RB Marshall Faulk
A bunch of Hall of Fame-caliber running backs have come from the No. 2 spot, be it Cowboys great Tony Dorsett, three-time Bears champion George McAfee or electrifying Rams legend Eric Dickerson. None of them, however, produced quite like Faulk. There’s a case to be made that Dickerson was the superior Ram, what with his better pure running abilities, but Faulk’s heyday as a multi-purpose nightmare directly contributed to the “Greatest Show on Turf” that brought the franchise two Super Bowl bids and one trophy.
An instant star with the Colts, Faulk transformed Indianapolis’ run game in 1994, totaling more than 1,800 yards from scrimmage en route to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, then topping 1,000 yards rushing in three of his next four seasons. Hungry for a new contract, he was traded to the Rams in his sixth season, only to take his game to new heights after the relocation to St. Louis. With an NFL-record 1,048 receiving yards — to go along with 1,381 on the ground — in his Rams debut, Faulk immediately proved to be a top weapon for Kurt Warner during the club’s Super Bowl run, not to mention one of the most versatile play-makers in football.
Faulk’s 19,154 career yards from scrimmage rank fifth all time, behind just Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Frank Gore. His 12,279 career rushing yards rank 12th all time. And his 136 career touchdowns rank seventh. In other words, he was easily one of the best to ever do it. A 2000 NFL MVP award, rare for a non-quarterback; three Offensive Player of the Year awards; seven Pro Bowls; and, most importantly, a Lombardi Trophy are all bonuses on a resume that got him a 2011 Hall of Fame induction.
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4. DT Randy White
1975 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 2 (Maryland)
Team(s): Cowboys (1975-1988)
Before the days of Vince Wilfork and Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald, there was Randy White. Originally drafted to play linebacker for the Cowboys, the big man spent two seasons as a miscast backup before unleashing terror in the trenches. An anchor of Dallas’ defensive line during one of the most prolific eras in team history, White quickly became known as “The Manster” for his monstrous tenacity up front, and his numbers backed up the hype, confirming him as one of the best interior defenders of his time.
A nine-time Pro Bowler and nine-time first-team All-Pro, White’s first snaps as a starter coincided with the start of a six-season stretch that saw the Cowboys appear in five NFC Championships. His debut season as a first-teamer ended with co-Super Bowl MVP honors thanks to his efforts in Dallas’ Super Bowl XII victory over the Broncos. And things only got better from there: White missed more than one game just once over the ensuing 11 seasons, appearing in two more Super Bowls and unofficially racking up more than 100 sacks. (Even though sacks weren’t officially recorded until 1982, he totaled nearly 50 just between the ages of 30-35.)
A member of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, the NFL’s 100th Anniversary team and a 1994 inductee into the Hall of Fame, he’ll always be remembered as the powerhouse up front in a “Doomsday Defense” that won it all.
3. QB Sid Luckman
1939 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 2 (Columbia)
Team(s): Bears (1939-1950)
The Bears may be flailing as they try to pin down a franchise quarterback these days, but long before Jay Cutler, Rex Grossman, Jim Harbaugh and even Jim McMahon, Chicago boasted one of the NFL’s most transcendent arms. In retrospect, Luckman possessed neither superstar size (6-0, 197) nor comparatively gaudy numbers (137 career touchdowns vs. 132 career interceptions). But what if we told you he was also an NFL MVP, six-time All-Pro and, best of all, brought four different championships to Chicago?
Much like the 1985 Bears, the club’s 1940s teams “had it all,” as The Athletic profiled, and Luckman was at the center of the dynasty. The first T-formation QB to take the NFL by storm, he started just seven games in each of his first two seasons, then became a league-wide sensation with an NFL-best completion percentage (1941) and three years each of leading the NFL in yards and touchdown passes, including a career-best 28 in 1943. All this — as well as pre-Super Bowl titles in 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946 — despite off-field service with the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.
He threw a lot of picks, yes, but he also outpaced almost every other QB of his time in other major categories, all while collecting championships like a 1940s version of Tom Brady. If that’s not worth the No. 2 pick, then what is?
2. DE Julius Peppers
The most recent pick on this list, Peppers is only a few years removed from his NFL career. And that speaks volumes about not only the production but durability he modeled for well over a decade. A freak of nature at 6-foot-7 and nearly 300 pounds coming out of school, the longtime Panthers star is also the only player on this list to retire without a championship. Why? For one, his elite pass rushing still gave his teams legitimate chances to win it all. More so, his resume is simply too ridiculous to discard.
Only three other players in NFL history have logged more sacks than Peppers: Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Kevin Greene. With 159.5 for his career, he still stands tall above icons like Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor, DeMarcus Ware, Richard Dent, Jared Allen and even the No. 1 player on this same list. That’s partly because he was so good for so long. A six-time All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Decade honoree, Peppers hit double-digit sacks six times in Carolina before totaling 37.5 take-downs in four years with Chicago, 25.5 in three years with Green Bay, and another 16 in his final two years back with the Panthers, well into his late 30s.
At his peak, Peppers was a physical nightmare — a hulking quarterback magnet with a Pro Bowl floor. This helped his Panthers contend for a Super Bowl in 2003 and an NFC title in 2004. But it also made him one of the most feared defenders of his time.
1. LB Lawrence Taylor
1981 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 2 (North Carolina)
Team(s): Giants (1981-1993)
Where do we even begin? You don’t even have to be a die-hard NFL fan to recognize Taylor’s name. “L.T.” is a defining figure of the 1980s in the NFL, as well as Giants history in general. His unhinged play style sometimes seeped into real life, with Taylor drawing headlines for both drug use and off-field arrests during and after his career, but as purely a specimen of football, it’s hard to find many players who single-handedly changed the game as much as he did.
The first NFL player to ever win Defensive Player of the Year honors as a rookie, Taylor came raging out of the gate in 1981, establishing himself as the “animal” of Bill Parcells’ improved Giants defense. More than hordes of sacks, Taylor offered a kind of aggressive, attacking physicality that had rarely been seen from the linebacker position — and especially not at his level. L.T. went seven straight seasons from 1984-1990 with double-digit sacks, including a career-high 20.5 in 1986, but it was the way he produced — with size, speed and brutal hits — that prompted opposing coaches to literally change game plans, blocking schemes and position assignments just to account for his havoc.
Two more DPOY honors, as well as 10 Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro honors, a 1986 MVP award and two Super Bowl titles confirmed him as a legend not only in New York but across NFL history. But Taylor is the best No. 2 pick of all time not solely because of his production in “The Big Blue Wrecking Crew,” which secured a pair of Lombardi trophies. He’s the best No. 2 pick of all time because he affected the whole league. He redefined what an outside linebacker could be. He set a standard for imposing play-making. He owned the game.