There’s been plenty of reaction to the Arizona Cardinals hot start to the 2021/22 NFL season. We say “start”, but we are reaching the business end of the season now, and Arizona looks like a more serious contender with each passing week.
Much of the credit has gone to Kyler Murray, of course. The No.1 pick from the 2019 Draft has been sensational. He now leads the NFL MVP betting, and most analysts agree that his chances are bolstered by Arizona’s (relatively) easy schedule.
That schedule, though, raises another question – have the Cardinals faced a true test? And will they wilt in January when faced with a truly elite team? It’s difficult to say. But if Murray does go all the way and lead the Cardinals to Super Bowl glory, he will be the 18th man to do so after being drafted at No.1 overall.
Seventeen players have done that before, which is probably a lower number than most expect. But, then again, there have been loads of No.1 picks that never worked out. Below, we rank the 17 top picks who have delivered the biggest prize in football:
17. David Carr (2002)
Carr often makes those listicles of the worst No.1 draft picks, although he is rarely near the top. A decent start to his career with the Houston Texans, who got first pick by way of being an expansion team, soon petered out. He played no part in the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI winning season, but he still has the ring.
16. Bubba Smith (1967)
Smith was incredibly fast for someone so tall (6ft 7in), and he was a standout in high school and college. Winning Super Bowl V was a high point in his career, but he never seemed able to shake his disappointment of losing Super Bowl III. A fine player, who is probably overlooked a bit in terms of his talent.
15. Eric Fisher (2013)
A 2x Pro Bowler (2018 and 2020) and a Super Bowl LIV winner, Fisher feels weirdly anonymous. He was a key cog in the Chiefs’ machine for eight seasons, before being released by Kansas this spring and joining the Colts.
14. John Matuszak (1973)
Never far from controversy, Matuszak probably could have had a much better career if his off-field lifestyle didn’t get in the way. Still, he was an important part of the Raiders’ Super Bowl XI and XV winning teams.
13. Jim Plunkett (1971)
Matuszak’s teammate in Super Bowl XV, Plunkett won the MVP award for that game. He would also go on to Super Bowl XVIII with the Raiders. Debate still rages today as to whether Plunkett should be in the Hall of Fame. On the one hand, he is the only eligible starting quarterback with two Super Bowl wins not to be in the Hall of Fame, and he has an 8-2 playoff record. On the other hand, his career stats were thoroughly average.
12. Russell Maryland (1991)
Three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys (XXVII, XXVIII and XXX) is quite the return, but Maryland never matched the heights of his college career with the University of Miami. Nonetheless, he was a highly dependable defensive tackle, rarely missing any game time through injury in his ten-year career at the Cowboys, Raiders and Packers.
11. Keyshawn Johnson (1996)
A fine career as a wide receiver for the Jets, Cowboys, Panthers, and Buccaneers. He won Super Bowl XXXVII with the latter. His three Pro Bowl appearances showed just how good he was, but his antics
10. Eli Manning (2004)
Is Eli Manning too far up this list? Maybe New York Giantsfans will feel he should be closer to his brother. The greatest quarterback in the Giants’ history is a lock to go into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2025.
9. Drew Bledsoe (1993)
Having Bledsoe ahead of Eli Manning might feel blasphemous to some, but the quarterback was an integral part of rebuilding the Patriots’ franchise in the 1990s. Tom Brady may have built the house, but Bledsoe dug the foundations.
8. George Rogers (1981)
What could Rogers have achieved had he not suffered a series of injuries that cut his career very short. He had just seven seasons in the big leagues, winning it all in his final season at Washington.
7. Ed “Too Tall” Jones (1974)
A brilliant defensive end with a sixth sense for being able to anticipate where the ball was going to be. His 15-year career at the Cowboys was interrupted by a stint as a boxer, but he returned better than ever in the 1980 season and would stay until 1989.
6. Troy Aikman (1989)
Three Super Bowl rings, six Pro Bowl appearances and a host of other individual awards. Aikman was one of the best players in football for a six-year stint lasting from 1991-1996. A leader with one of the most accurate arms in football history.
5. Terry Bradshaw (1970)
The first quarterback to win four Super Bowls, Bradshaw became a legend for the Pittsburgh Steelers. By 1978, when he won the MVP award, he was clearly the best quarterback in football.
4. Orlando Pace (1997)
Pace has a list of accolades as long as your arm, including being named in the NFL All-Decade 2000s team and seven Pro Bowl appearances. His sole Super Bowl win came for the St Louis Rams in January 2000.
3. Paul Hornung (1957)
Hornung was a ridiculous athlete who could have probably made it in any sport he chose. In football, he was capable of playing several positions. He won the first Super Bowl in 1967, but much of his success came before that, including four NFL Championships in the early 1960s.
2. John Elway (1983)
We are getting into “what more can we say that hasn’t been said” territory here. Elway is, well, John Elway. He was one of the best players of the 1980s, backed up by his nine Pro Bowl appearances, and has claims of being the Broncos’ GOAT.
1. Peyton Manning (1998)
No surprise here. Peyton Manning probably makes most people’s lists of top 10 all-time players. No less than 14 Pro Bowl appearances shows you are talking about an extra special athlete, and his performances in the postseason, notably Super Bowl XLI, showed he had the appetite for the big games.