Ultimate NFL Draft: The best pick for all 256 slots over the last 50 years, from Peyton Manning to Ryan Succop – CBS Sports

The NFL Draft has become a spectacle that had, until uncommon circumstances this year, drawn hundreds of thousands of fans to cities across the United States of America in recent years. CBS Sports decided to pay homage to the process by coming up with the all-time NFL Draft class (i.e., the best player taken with each selection) post-NFL merger in 1970.

Carve out some time in your afternoon to digest this lengthy read. Without any further ado, let's get started. All stats listed are per Pro-Football-Reference.

Drafted team: Colts

If Manning's career did not run parallel to arguably the most dominant dynasty in football history, he likely would have had a few more Super Bowl victories to his name. With a few more Super Bowls, his argument as the best quarterback of all time would grow stronger.

Drafted team: Giants

Linebacker was viewed as a luxury position when the Giants selected Taylor. It worked out superbly as he compiled 10 Pro Bowl appearances and eight first-team All-Pro selections throughout his career. The former Tar Heel tallied 132.5 sacks over the course of his career.

Drafted team: Lions

It was incredibly difficult to choose Sanders over Anthony Munoz, but it had to be done. Not all heroes wear capes. Despite a shortened career, Sanders was named to 10 Pro Bowls. He compiled 15,269 rushing yards and 99 rushing touchdowns as well as 352 receptions, 2,921 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns

Drafted team: Bears

Guard John Hannah and linebacker Derrick Thomas would be worthwhile considerations here as well. Payton is one of the most recognized NFL athletes in history. He accumulated nearly 17,000 rushing yards as well as nine Pro Bowl selections throughout his career.

Drafted team: Falcons

It was essentially a coin toss between LaDainian Tomlinson and Sanders. It is more complicated attempting to quantify Sanders' illustrious career. In addition to his time served as a professional baseball player, the former Seminole recorded 53 interceptions and appeared in eight Pro Bowls.

Drafted team: Seahawks

Jones is regarded as one of the most dominant offensive tackles to play the game. His size was imposing. He started every game in which he played. His success correlated with nine Pro Bowl appearances as well as recognition on the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Drafted team: Vikings

Champ Bailey is another worthwhile candidate here but Peterson has done almost as much in a smaller sample size. He has four first-team All-Pro selections as well as seven Pro Bowl appearances. Still active, Peterson has accumulated over 14,000 rushing yards during a time that has become known for its progressive passing attacks.

Drafted team: 49ers

Lott dominated the game physically from 1981-94. He appeared in 10 Pro Bowls and was honored as a first-team All-Pro on six different occasions. The California native was a member of four Super Bowl champions and has since walked into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Oilers

Matthews played the game at a high level for 19 seasons, so he gets the nod over the likes of Brian Urlacher and Dick Butkus. Over the course of his career, the lineman appeared in 14 Pro Bowls, which is tied for the most by any player, and was a first-team All-Pro seven times.

Drafted team: Steelers

Woodson was an imposing figure on that vaunted Steelers defense. He accumulated 71 interceptions and 13.5 sacks over the course of his career. The NFL welcomed him to 11 Pro Bowls in addition to being named a first-team All-Pro six times. He has since been inducted into the Pro Bowl Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Cowboys

Paul Warfield is probably the most valuable player to be selected at No. 11 overall, but pre-merger rules exclude him from consideration. Ben Roethlisberger could have been considered, as he plays the most valuable position and has been playing longer than Irvin. The verbose pass catcher has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Buccaneers

Sapp was a gap-seeking missile throughout his career. He tallied 96.5 sacks en route to seven Pro Bowl appearances and four first-team All-Pro honors. He is recognized as one of the most difficult defenders to block and was quickly inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Steelers

Harris was a vicious runner, similar to Jim Brown. He compiled over 12,000 rushing yards and 91 touchdowns. He narrowly beat out Tony Gonzalez at this spot, but Gonzalez played much longer. Harris was a member of four Super Bowl championship teams and has since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Bills

Kelly was a rifleman in his day. He threw for over 35,000 yards and made five Pro Bowl appearances in his career. The Pro Football Hall of Fame opened their doors for Kelly in 2002 after leading the acclaimed K-Gun offense.

Drafted team: Chiefs

Johnson was one of the most consistent, productive players throughout his career. He was named a first-team All-Pro once in his career and was also named to the Pro Bowl on four separate occasions. Johnson continued playing until finally announcing his retirement following the 2018 season.

Drafted team: 49ers

There is no room for discussion here. Rice has a strong claim as the NFL's best wide receiver of all-time. He is considered one of the greatest players to ever wear an NFL jersey. Over the course of his career, he amassed 1,549 receptions for 22,895 and 197 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Pro 10 times and was selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times.

Drafted team: Cowboys

Smith is the league's all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards. He played during a period that was hotly contested but his longevity superseded the rest. He was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and was a four-time first-team All-Pro selection on three Super Bowl champion teams.

Drafted team: Redskins

Monk is the only Hall of Fame player to be taken No. 18 overall in the post-merger era. Honestly, Joe Flacco was probably the closest player to taking this spot from Monk. No. 18 is a surprisingly unimpressive pick all-time. Monk made three Pro Bowl appearances and caught nearly 13,000 yards worth of passes.

Drafted team: Colts

A little run for Syracuse receivers here. Harrison was Peyton Manning's favorite wide receiver in Indianapolis. The two linked up early and often. Harrison caught nearly 15,000 yards as well as 128 touchdowns. He appeared in eight Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro three times before being honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Rams

Youngblood barely fit the criteria because he was drafted in 1971. The edge rusher made seven Pro Bowl appearances and was named first-team All-Pro five times. Youngblood, as well as Steve Atwater who was also considered at this pick, has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Vikings

Where would NFL history be without "straight cash, homie?" Moss was known for his on-field antics as much as his posterizing catches down the sideline. He surpassed 15,000 career receiving yards en route to six Pro Bowl appearances and four first-team All-Pro honors. He would go on to play for the Raiders and the Patriots.

Drafted team: Browns

Dixon is one of the men credited for instituting the "Dawg Pound" moniker that has become synonymous with Browns football. A talented player in his own right, Dixon made three Pro Bowl appearances and was named first-team All-Pro twice during nine seasons of play.

Drafted team: Patriots

Law was one of the first defensive weapons for Bill Belichick in New England. The established coach trusted Law and used him in a variety of ways. The three-time Super Bowl champion flew all over the field as he introduced himself to a national audience. Law, who has since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was named to five Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro twice.

Drafted team: Ravens

Aaron Rodgers could make a convincing argument to be in this position now, and he has a great chance to take over by the time he retires. It is painful to consider leaving Reed off this list. He was such a fun player in the way that he covered the secondary. The free safety was fluid and dared opposing quarterbacks to throw in his direction. He made nine Pro Bowl appearances, which is one more than Rodgers as of now.

Drafted team: 49ers

Washington was a mountain of a human being. He was a true nose tackle in every description of the position. He demanded a double team, which would create more opportunities for his teammates. Washington made four Pro Bowl appearances and was named a first-team All-Pro once.

Drafted team: Ravens

Lewis went to Miami. He may have mentioned that once or twice in interviews. Baltimore had a truly terrifying defense with Lewis and Reed. The former made 13 Pro Bowl appearances and seven first-team All-Pro teams during his illustrious career. His introduction dance is still one of the most imitated in sports.

Drafted team: Dolphins

Marino is not talked about in the same manner as Joe Montana or Tom Brady because he never won a Super Bowl, but the nine-time Pro Bowl selection remains one of the most accurate quarterbacks in league history. He threw for over 61,000 yards and 420 touchdowns.

Drafted team: Buccaneers

Brooks had a lengthy career in the heart of Tampa Bay's defense. He served as the weak-side linebacker when the Buccaneers were making the Tampa 2 popular again. Brooks made 11 Pro Bowl appearances and was named a first-team All-Pro five times. He has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Cowboys

Wisniewski made eight Pro Bowl appearances over the course of 13 NFL seasons. He started every game in which he played. He was also named a first-team All-Pro twice. The Wiz was immediately traded from Dallas to the Raiders.

Drafted team: Colts

The third piece to Indianapolis' passing attack joins the party. Manning and Harrison opened the door for Wayne, who would have his own productive career. He appearances in six Pro Bowls and recorded over 14,000 receiving yards. He was named a first-team All-Pro once in his career.

Drafted team: Steelers

Heyward's career is ongoing but he should become the most productive player to be picked at No. 31 overall. Travis Frederick could have surpassed him if he had continued his career, which was unfortunately cut short. Heyward has made three Pro Bowl appearances and was twice named first-team All-Pro since being drafted in 2011.

Drafted team: Chargers

Brees' career began in San Diego, but he flourished with New Orleans. The veteran quarterback should eclipse 80,000 passing yards this season as he see-saws back and forth with Tom Brady. Brees has never won the league's MVP award and has been named a first-team All-Pro just once thanks in part to the timing of his career. He has, however, made 13 Pro Bowl appearances.

Drafted team: Falcons

Green Bay has been able to get three decades of good quarterback play out of Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Favre was named to 11 Pro Bowls over the course of his career and led the Packers to one Super Bowl victory. He has since walked into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Steelers

Ham is one of the least discussed but most impactful linebackers in NFL history. From 1971-82, he made eight Pro Bowl appearances and was named first-team All-Pro six times. The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognized his transcendent play.

Drafted team: Bears

The No. 35 overall selection is one of the weaker competition in the first two rounds. Tillman was a great player but will likely never be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His stiffest challenger at No. 35 was Andy Dalton. Tillman, made two Pro Bowl appearances and was named a first-team All-Pro, was so known for creating fumbles that his move earned the name "Peanut Punch," a reference to his nickname.

Drafted team: Giants

Barber had ample opportunities to make an impact for the Giants. He accumulated 10,449 rushing yards as well as 5,183 receiving yards. He was named to the Pro Bowl on three instances. Kevin Mawae is honorable mention here as well.

Drafted team: Eagles

In addition to nearly 30,000 passing yards, Cunningham also piled up nearly 5,000 rushing yards. He was a dangerous quarterback with a big frame. Cunningham was selected to the Pro Bowl four times and was named a first-team All-Pro once. He has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Drafted team: Bears

Singletary was a nasty player for 12 seasons before bringing his Pro Football Hall of Fame career to a halt. He made 10 Pro Bowl appearances and was named first-team All-Pro seven times. He was a member of the beloved 1985 Bears defense.

Drafted team: 49ers

Most names are likely recognizable to the average fan, but this is probably not one of them. Turner played 11 seasons but had one Pro Bowl selection to his name. When removing the pre-merger players from the candidate pool, the No. 39 overall selection was short on viable talents.

Drafted team: Giants

Thurman Thomas was nearly the choice here, but it is impossible to overlook Strahan's credentials. He made seven Pro Bowl appearances and was named a first-team All-Pro four times. The Texas native led New York to one Super Bowl victory during his decorated career.

Drafted team: Jets

Gastineau played 10 seasons during which he made five Pro Bowl appearances. He was named a first-team All-Pro three times and accumulated 74 sacks over the course of his career. Andre Tippett and Ken Norton Jr. are a few other players that would have been considered here.

Drafted team: Patriots

Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski formed one of the most devastating tight end duos in league history. Gronk played nine seasons before retiring, then announcing his return this offseason. If Gronkowski is able to stay healthy and produce similar numbers, he will have a chance to cement his status the greatest tight end in league history. The Arizona product has five Pro Bowl appearances and four first-team All-Pro selections to his name.

Drafted team: Michigan

Dierdorf made six Pro Bowl appearances and was named first-team All-Pro three times. The Pro Football Hall of Fame eventually opened their doors for the productive lineman, who has enjoyed a long career as a broadcaster after his playing days, including 15 years for the NFL on CBS.

Drafted team: Steelers

Dawson is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He made seven Pro Bowl appearances and was named a first-team All-Pro six times for the Steelers.

Drafted team: 49ers

Watters made five Pro Bowl appearances. He accumulated 10,643 rushing yards and 4,248 receiving yards during his career. He started all but two games in which he played, which is pretty remarkable.

Drafted team: Steelers

Pittsburgh seems to be really well-represented on this list. Larry Allen was a tantalizing option as well at No. 46. Both he and Lambert were selected first-team All-Pro six times and are in the Hall of Fame. Lambert gets the slight edge for us with this pick, however, with his four Super Bowl titles as well as hardware for winning the 1974 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 1976 Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Drafted team: Seahawks

Wagner is one of a handful of active players on this list. He remains one of the most effective linebackers across the league. He has been selected to six Pro Bowls and is a five-time first-team All-Pro. Wagner will only continue to distance himself from the competition. The California native was a member of the Super Bowl XLVIII championship team.

Drafted team: Raiders

Long's contribution to the game continued beyond his own playing career in the form of his sons, Chris and Kyle Long. The elder rusher made eight Pro Bowl appearances and was twice selected first-team All-Pro. He accumulated 84 sacks over the course of his career.

Drafted team: 49ers

The 49ers are another well-represented team on this list. It's fitting that San Francisco makes our list at No. 49 overall. Craig made four Pro Bowl appearances and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1988. The NFC franchise won three Super Bowls with the running back on their roster.

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Ultimate NFL Draft: The best pick for all 256 slots over the last 50 years, from Peyton Manning to Ryan Succop - CBS Sports

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