While there are more star players in the top 10 of the NFL draft than in later spots, teams have to make sure they are getting the next All-Pro talent -- and not the next bust. Finding an excellent player when you hold a top-10 pick can be the difference between a franchise competing for championships and being stuck in the basement of the league over the next decade.
There have been plenty of misses at No. 7 overall, which is where we are at in CBS Sports' ranking of the best draft picks of all time as we count them down all the way to No. 1 (you can check out our picks at every spot, 32-1, here). Todd Blackledge, Andre Ware, and Troy Williamson are the first players that come to mind in the bust category -- but there have been more hits than misses at No. 7.
While no quarterbacks made our list of the best No. 7 draft picks of all time, three Hall of Famers qualified (yes, the best No. 7 pick ever will be a Hall of Famer). We determined who made the five best draft picks at No. 7 by considering a combination of their impact to the league, longevity, accolades, and -- more simply -- a gut feel of whether or not they are worthy of entering this conversation (making the Hall of Fame is a good start).
This year, the Detroit Lions currently have the No. 7 pick, and our CBS Sports draft experts have Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, and Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith as likely Detroit picks. Will any of those players join these legends at No. 7? Let's take a look at the top five:
5. Chuck Howley
- 1958 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 7 overall (West Virginia)
- Team(s): Chicago Bears (1958-1959), Dallas Cowboys (1961-1973)
One of the greatest linebackers in the history of the Cowboys, Howley had the bust label attached to him after two forgetful seasons with the Bears. Howley nearly gave up football (knee injury) before being traded to the Cowboys in 1961, where he became one of the best linebackers of his era.
Howley earned five consecutive First Team All-Pro selections with the Cowboys from 1966 to 1970, all after the age of 30. All six of Howley's Pro Bowl selections came after the age of 29, with the final one in 1971 when he was 35. Not only did Howley finish with 24 interceptions (second most for a linebacker in Cowboys history), he's the only player to win Super Bowl MVP for a losing team (the Cowboys' Super Bowl V loss to the Baltimore Colts), having two interceptions in the infamous "Blunder Bowl."
4. Sterling Sharpe
- 1988 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 7 overall (South Carolina)
- Team(s): Green Bay Packers (1988-1994)
The oldest of the Sharpe brothers, Sterling Sharpe was shredding opposing secondaries long before brother Shannon on fall Sundays. Sharpe finished his seven-year career with 595 catches for 8,134 yards and 65 touchdowns, earning three First Team All-Pro selections and five Pro Bowl nominations. Sharpe led the league in receptions three times, receiving yards once, and receiving touchdowns twice -- scoring 18 in his final season (1994). At the time, his 18 touchdown catches were the second-most in league history for a wide receiver. Sharpe even broke the NFL record for catches in a season twice (the second time surpassing the record he set the previous year).
A neck injury forced Sharpe to retire after the 1994 season, taking away a potential Hall of Fame career. Sharpe ranked second in catches and receiving touchdowns -- and third in receiving yards. He had more catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns during span than Andre Reed, Cris Carter, Michael Irvin, and Art Monk -- all of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
There's a case to be made for Sharpe in Canton. Maybe his candidacy will grow over time.
3. Champ Bailey
- 1999 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 7 overall (Georgia)
- Team(s): Washington Football Team (1999-2003), Denver Broncos (2004-2013)
Arguably the best cornerback of his era, Bailey's 12 Pro Bowl selections are the most by a defensive back in NFL history. The definition of a lockdown corner, Bailey finished with 52 interceptions (26th-most in NFL history) and 203 passes defensed -- the most in league history (the stat started being tracked in 1999).
A three-time First Team All-Pro, Bailey is the youngest player to record three interceptions in a game (21 years, 117 days) and holds the distinctive record of the longest non-scoring play in NFL history (100 yards in the 2006 AFC divisional round). Bailey led the league in interceptions once (10 in 2006), defensive scores in 2004 (2) and passes defensed in 2002 (24).
Bailey is one of the best cornerbacks in league history and was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (2019).
2. Clyde Douglas 'Bulldog' Turner
- 1940 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 7 overall (Hardin-Simmons)
- Team(s): Chicago Bears (1940-1952)
There weren't too many players that were better than Turner in the 1940s -- and it would be very hard to name any that were. A standout center and linebacker, Turner anchored four Bears championship teams in the 1940s -- the NFL's dynasty of that era.
Turner could play center, guard, and tackle, making life easy for Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman as the Bears signal caller led the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns three times. Turner was an elite linebacker, leading the league in interceptions with eight in 1942. He earned seven First-Team All-Pro selections and was on the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade team of the 1940s.
One of the first players to ever be scouted, the Bears' diligence on Turner payed off with championships in 1940, 1941, 1943, and 1946. Turner had four interceptions and seven postseason games and was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.
- 2007 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 7 overall (Oklahoma)
- Team(s): Minnesota Vikings (2007-2016), New Orleans Saints (2017), Arizona Cardinals (2017), Washington Football Team (2018-2019), Detroit Lions (2020)
Peterson hasn't called it a career yet, but he'll wind up as one of the greatest running backs of all time. The best running back in an era where passing games dominated, Peterson has rushed for 14,820 yards and 118 touchdowns in his career. Peterson is fifth in NFL history in career rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns -- 449 yards behind Barry Sanders for fourth and five touchdowns behind Marcus Allen for third.
Peterson holds the NFL record for rushing yards in a game with 296, one of six 200-yard rushing games in his career (tied with O.J. Simpson for the most in league history). His eight 1,000-yard seasons are tied for sixth-most in NFL history and Peterson's eight seasons of 10+ rushing touchdowns are tied with Emmitt Smith for second-most in league history.
Peterson is just one of eight players with 2,000 rushing yards in a season, rushing for 2,096 yards in his MVP season (2012). A four-time First Team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Peterson led the league in rushing three times, rushing yards per game four times, and rushing touchdowns twice. Peterson has the most 50-yard rushing touchdowns in a career (16) and 60-yard rushing touchdowns in a career (13) -- along with the most rushing yards in an eight-game stretch (1,322).
Peterson will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he decides to retire. He still plans on playing at age 36.