As CBS Sports inches closer and closer to examining the history of the No. 1 overall pick, the ease of whittling down the list has become more challenging. Seven-time Pro Bowl selection offensive tackle Tyron Smith was excluded from our top five because there were so many accomplished players taken No. 9 overall in league history.
The Denver Broncos are currently slated to pick No. 9 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Denver is a team considered likely to explore a trade up for a quarterback. If they stand firm, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater could be options. The franchise has not selected No. 9 overall since taking Purdue running back Otis Armstrong in 1973.
CBS Sports is breaking down the all-time best selections with each pick in the first round. The entire rundown of the top-five picks at each spot can be found at our hub of all-time selections.
5. RB Lenny Moore
1956 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 9 (Penn State)
Team(s): Baltimore Colts (1956-1967)
Moore could have been listed as high as No. 2 on this list. His name might not be as familiar as others here, but he is no less accomplished. Running backs are often noted for having shorter careers, but that was not the case for Moore, who played 12 seasons with the Baltimore Colts.
The Penn State graduate won two NFL Championships as an accomplished dual-threat player. Although listed as a running back, the Pennsylvania native recorded 6,039 receiving yards in addition to 5,174 rushing yards. He amassed 111 total touchdowns as part of his Hall of Fame career. He went to seven Pro Bowls and was a seven-time All-Pro selection.
4. LB Brian Urlacher
2000 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 9 (New Mexico)
Team(s): Chicago Bears (2000-2012)
Chicago has had a lot of success with drafting linebackers at No. 9 overall. Urlacher's selection over Moore might be little more than recency bias. The two players had similar resumes, but Urlacher served as the face of the franchise for most of his career.
Urlacher provided immediate dividends being named Defensive Rookie of the Year. He recorded eight sacks (a single-season career high), two interceptions and one fumble recovery that season. He was also the Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. His accolades are very similar to the next player on this list. The linebacker went to eight Pro Bowls and was a five-time All-Pro selection. The Pro and College Football Halls of Fame each opened their doors for Urlacher.
3. LB Luke Kuechly
2012 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 9 (Boston College)
Team(s): Carolina Panthers (2012-2019)
Kuechly received the nod over Urlacher because of his track record of All-Pro recognition. Both were hard-working individuals who knew the game inside and out. Kuechly walked away from the game on his own terms after going to seven Pro Bowls in eight seasons. Like Urlacher, he was the model of consistency.
The Cincinnati native was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and became the youngest Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He went to seven Pro Bowls and was a seven-time All-Pro selection. Since announcing his retirement, the Boston College graduate has re-joined the franchise as a scout.
2. LB Dick Butkus
1965 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 9 (Illinois)
Team(s): Chicago Bears (1965-1973)
The decision between Butkus, Urlacher, Moore and Kuechly was much more hotly-contested and an argument could have been made for any one of the three to be in the No. 2 spot. Butkus received the honor because he was the model of consistency. In nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, he made eight Pro Bowl appearances and was an eight-time All-Pro.
The Chicago native was named Defensive Player of the Year in two consecutive years. Butkus was inducted into the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. His No. 50 jersey was retired at the University of Illinois and his No. 51 jersey was retired by the Bears. His style of play endeared himself to the community that raised him.
1. OG Bruce Matthews
1983 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 9 (USC)
Team(s): Houston/Tennessee Oliers/Titans (1983-2001)
Matthews was a relatively easy choice atop the list. He is one of the most decorated offensive linemen in league history. The California native started at least 17 games at each of the five starting positions. In 1983, he was drafted by the Houston Oilers. The team re-branded as the Tennessee Titans in 1995. He was hired as an offensive assistant by the Houston Texans in 2009 before being hired by former teammate Mike Munchak to serve as the offensive line coach with the Titans.
Over the course of his career, Matthews made 14 Pro Bowl appearances and was a nine-time All-Pro selection. Although he started 293 games, which is third most in NFL history behind Tom Brady and Brett Favre, perhaps the most interesting stat from the USC graduate's career is that he forced five fumbles and recovered 10 others. It is not a good sign when offensive linemen are involved with fumbles. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
The Matthews family is NFL royalty. His brother, Clay Matthews Jr., was a 20 season veteran at linebacker. His nephews, Clay Matthews III and Casey Matthews, played a combined 16 seasons in the league. His sons, Kevin Matthews and Jake Matthews, have played a combined 12 seasons, with the latter still being active.