5 best first-round draft picks in NFL history

Franchises scored with these top picks
Peyton Manning and Lawrence Taylor
Posted at 8:54 AM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 08:24:14-04

With the first round of the NFL Draft set to begin Thursday, takes a look back at the five most impactful picks for the franchises that selected them in modern NFL history.

Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, No. 1, 1970

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw in Super Bowl III
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw turns around with the ball after the snap to hand the ball to an open receiver against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, Jan. 21, 1979, in Miami. The Steelers went on to defeat the Cowboys 35-31. (AP Photo)

Before he became an occasional actor and co-host of "FOX NFL Sunday," Bradshaw was a four-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers in the 1970s. The No. 1 overall pick from Louisiana Tech in the 1970 NFL Draft spent 14 seasons in Pittsburgh, leading the Steelers to four Super Bowls in a six-year period. He retired after the 1983 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts, No. 1, 1998

Peyton Manning, Super Bowl XLIV
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning prepares to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of Super Bowl XLIV, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010, in Miami Gardens, Florida.

The son of NFL legend Archie Manning, this Manning fulfilled what the Colts had set out to accomplish when they moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and made the former Tennessee quarterback the top pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. After struggling through his rookie season and tossing a league-high 28 interceptions, Manning led the Colts to the playoffs in 1999 and transformed them into perennial contenders, winning eight division titles, two conference championships and a Super Bowl. Manning started 227 consecutive games for the Colts from 1998 through the 2010 playoffs, but he missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing neck surgery and was released in 2012. He went on to win another Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos before retiring after the 2015 season. The 14-time Pro Bowl player set several records during his career, including winning five NFL MVP awards (four of them with Indianapolis) and throwing a single-season record 55 touchdown passes in 2013.

RELATED: 5 biggest draft day blunders in NFL history

Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas Cowboys, No. 17, 1990

Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys, after setting NFL all-time rushing record in 2002
Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith celebrates breaking the all-time rushing record in a game against the Seattle Seahawks in Irving, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 27. 2002. Smith became the NFL's career rusher with an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter.The run gave the 33-year-old Smith 16,728 career yards, passing Walter Payton's mark of 16,726 yards.

Smith took advantage of a then-new rule allowing juniors to declare for the NFL Draft and left Florida early for greener pastures. It paid off for him. The NFL's all-time rushing leader spent the first 13 of his 15 seasons with the Cowboys, helping Dallas to win three Super Bowls in four years in the 1990s. Smith was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, including in each of his first six seasons, was named NFL MVP after the 1993 season and was the NFL rushing leader on four different occasions. He also became the first player to win the NFL rushing title and a Super Bowl in the same season. After breaking the NFL career rushing record in 2002, Smith was released by the Cowboys the next year and spent his final two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. He retired having amassed 18,355 rushing yards and 164 rushing touchdowns in his NFL career.

Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers, No. 16, 1985

Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers at Super Bowl XXIII
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice is surrounded by Cincinnati Bengals defenders as he pulls in a long pass during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII at Joe Robbie Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 22, 1989. Rice was named most valuable player after the 49ers won 20-16.

This small-school receiver from Mississippi Valley State went on to become a three-time Super Bowl champion with the 49ers. Rice, who was scooped up by San Francisco with the 16th pick in the 1985 draft, twice led the NFL in receiving yards and was the NFL's receiving yards leader six times. The 13-time Pro Bowl player and MVP of Super Bowl XXIII in South Florida spent 16 seasons in San Francisco before signing with the Oakland Raiders in 2001. He was traded to the Seattle Seahawks six games into the 2004 season before calling it quits after 20 years. He still holds NFL records for career receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), receiving touchdowns (197), total touchdowns (208) and all-purpose yards (23,546).

Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants, No. 2, 1981

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants in January 1986
New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor (56) is congregated by Mark Collins (25) and Carl Banks (58) after his interception and touchdown run on a Joe Montana pass in the second quarter of an NFL playoff game, Sunday, Jan. 4, 1986, in East Rutherford, N.J. at Giants Stadium. The interception helped the Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers 49-3.

Arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history, Taylor made an immediate impact when the Giants made him the second overall pick in 1981. The former North Carolina sack master didn't disappoint during his 13-year NFL career, producing double-digit sacks each season from 1984 through 1990, including a career-high 20.5 in 1986, and becoming the only person to win three NFL defensive player of the year awards. The cornerstone of the Giants' defense during two Super Bowl victories, Taylor retired after the 1993 season. The 10-time Pro Bowl player finished with 1,089 tackles and 132.5 sacks.

Coming Wednesday: The Miami Dolphins have been on the wrong side of history through the years in the NFL Draft.