Okay – so yeah, this is actually the top 11 list. But when it came down to the final spot, I just couldn’t choose one over the other. Jones, the #1 pick in the 1974 draft out of tiny Tennessee State, was a key piece of the vaunted Cowboys “Doomsday Defense” during his illustrious 15-year career with Dallas. It would have been 16 had he not decided to forego the 1979 season to pursue a boxing career! He was a 3-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro and helped lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl appearances, winning one of them.
Fryar, out of Nebraska, was the first pick of the New England Patriots in the 1984 draft. He spent the first nine seasons of his 17-year NFL career with the Patriots and helped lead them to a Super Bowl appearance in 1985 against the Bears. Fryar actually had his most productive seasons while playing in his 30’s for the Dolphins and Eagles, making four of his five Pro Bowls with those two teams. Additionally, he was a pretty accomplished return man early in his career.
A combination of devastating power and outstanding speed – that of course would be every GM’s ideal running back. While that type of running back is highly sought after in any draft, he is rarely found. Certainly not to the extent that the Houston Oilers acquired when they drafted Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell out of the University of Texas with the #1 pick in the 1978 draft.
And Campbell literally hit the ground running! He led the league in rushing his first three seasons and won both the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and the Offensive Player of the Year award in 1978. He was a 5-time Pro Bowler and a 3-time All-Pro and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
When you do a list such as this, the tendency is to gravitate towards loading it up with skill players. That’s somewhat understandable given the fact that you have plenty of stats to look at and therefore it’s much easier to make judgments about a player’s value compared to other candidates. It’s just not like that for offensive linemen. With them, it’s a bit more subjective – you rely on reputation and consider the success of the team they played for.
But with Orlando Pace, there is no concern about how he stacks up. He was Dick Vermeil’s first draft pick when he took over as the Rams head coach in 1997. Pace, who played at Ohio State and finished 4th in the Heisman Trophy balloting after his final season there, was so highly thought of coming out of college that the Rams traded four draft picks to the Jets to move up from the #6 spot to take him as the #1 overall selection that year. It was the first time in 29 years that an offensive lineman was taken #1 overall.
And Pace certainly lived up to the billing. Over the course of his 13-year career (12 with the Rams), Pace was a 7-time Pro Bowler and was selected to the All-Pro Team three times. During his first nine years, before injuries started to take their toll on his career, Pace was widely considered to be the most dominant offensive lineman in the league. While names like Warner, Bruce, Holt and Faulk are the ones usually mentioned when talking about those “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams teams that made five playoff appearances and two trips to the Super Bowl, there can be no question that Orlando Pace was a cornerstone and a key to that success.
And guess who that offensive lineman was that was taken #1 overall 29 years prior to Orlando Pace receiving that distinction? Yep – Ron Yary! The Minnesota Vikings used the first pick of the 1968 draft to select Yary, an All-American tackle who played on USC’s 1967 National Championship team. The Vikings had actually acquired that pick from the New York Giants as part of their 1967 trade of Fran Tarkenton to the Giants.
Yary had an outstanding 15-year NFL career, with all but one spent in a Vikings uniform. He was known for having that unique combination of speed and athleticism that was not commonly found in offensive linemen back in his day.
Yary was the model of durability and consistency, having missed only two games in his Vikings career because of injury. He was a 7-time Pro Bowler and he was voted to the All-Pro Team 6 times. Yary was a big reason why the Vikings made ten playoff appearances, including four trips to the Super Bowl, during his time in Minnesota. In 2001, Yary was inducted into the pro Football Hall of Fame.
Selmon was the first-ever draft choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Taken by the expansion franchise with the 1st overall pick in 1976, the Lombardi and Outland Trophies winner at the University of Oklahoma came to the Bucs with a lot of promise. And he most definitely delivered.
While Selmon battled injuries early in his career, he soon came to be recognized as one of the premier defensive players in the league. After enduring the franchise’s infamous 0-26 start, Selmon helped lead the Buccaneers to the Conference Championship Game in just their fourth year of existence. Before his injury-shortened, 9-year career ended, Tampa Bay would go on to make two more playoff appearances.
In 1979, Selmon was the unanimous selection for the Defensive Player of the Year Award after recording 11 sacks and 117 tackles that year. He was a 6-time Pro Bowler and picked for the All-Pro Team once. In 1995, Selmon was inducted into the Hall of Fame.