We're continuing our countdown to the 2021 NFL Draft with our series ranking the greatest players to ever be selected at each of the top 32 spots. Of course, you can follow along with every single one of our picks in our main blog, but today we'll be diving more specifically into the No. 23 overall pick and lining up some of the best to ever step onto an NFL field. How we determined who made the cut included a laundry list of factors (impact on the league, accolades, longevity, etc.). However, what really put one legend over another on this list came down to a general gut feeling on where they should stand in NFL history.
While these players below are the stars of yesteryear, there's always a chance that someone in the 2021 NFL Draft eventually crashes the party and ascends to all-time status. Currently, the New York Jets own the No. 23 pick this year and our CBS Sports draft experts have mocked the likes of corner Asante Samuel Jr. out of Florida State, Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye, and North Carolina running back Javonte Williams as prospects who could come off the board in this spot.
Can any of those players -- or whoever gets picked there -- one day land on this list? Absolutely. As we wait for this pick to come in, however, let's take a look at the current top five players to ever be taken No. 23 overall:
5. Bruce Armstrong, offensive tackle
1987 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 23 (Lousiville)
Team(s): New England Patriots (1987-2000)
The No. 5 slot was admittedly the toughest spot to figure out of this list. We could have easily gone with former Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield Sr., who currently ranks 18th on the all-time tackles list and is considered one of the greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time. However, we decided to lean toward former Patriots offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong, who has become somewhat underrated over the course of time. Because of New England's more recent success over the last 20 years, it's sometimes hard to remember the legends that came before Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which includes Armstrong.
He arrived in the NFL as a first-round pick of the Patriots in 1987 and played his entire 14-year career in New England. Over that time, he proved to be one of the game's best tackles, being named to six Pro Bowls over his career, including four-straight from 1994-1997. He was also a second-team All-Pro selection three times (1988, 1990, 1996) over his tenure. Not only was Armstrong elite at his position, but he was also an ironman, playing in 212 games (all starts).
His No. 78 is also retired with the Patriots.
4. Ray Guy, punter
1973 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 23 (Southern Miss)
Team(s): Oakland / Los Angeles Raiders (1973-1986)
When you are considered to be the greatest of all time at your position, you deserve to be inside the top five on this list. So while you may not have expected to read about a punter when you opened up this article, that's simply a credit to what Ray Guy was able to do over the course of his career.
Guy was the first punter to ever be selected in the first round of the draft and put together a career that did live up to the hype, entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame back in 2014. He's also the first pure punter to ever receive a gold jacket and his résumé reflects why. He won three Super Bowl titles over his career, was named to seven Pro Bowls and was an eight-time All-Pro (six first-team, two second-team). He's a member of the NFL's 75th and 100th Anniversary Teams along with the 1970s All-Decade Team.
The 14-year veteran averaged 42.4 yards per punt and was instrumental in the Raiders' 38-9 win over Washington during Super Bowl XVIII. He punted seven times during that game for 299 yards, and five of those punts landed inside Washington's own 20.
Guy is widely considered the greatest punter of all time, which means he's a no-brainer selection to be included on this list.
3. Bill George, linebacker
Considered to be the first true middle linebacker in NFL history, Bears legend Bill George changed the way the game is played. With his success dropping back to middle linebacker and popularizing the 4-3 defense, George's impact on the NFL is still felt today, making him an ideal choice to land inside the top five on this list. Unlike the rest of the players on this list, George isn't a first-round pick. Because there were not nearly as many teams in the league back in 1951 as there are today, the 23 overall pick came in the second round, which is simply an interesting fact about one of the game's greats as it relates to the draft.
George reached the Pro Bowl in eight consecutive seasons (1954-1961) and was a pillar to a number of Chicago's stout defenses over the 50s and 60s. The Wake Forest product was named first-team All-Pro in his career eight times, helped the Bears to a championship in 1963, and is a member of the 1950s All-Decade Team. His No. 61 is retired by the club and he is considered to be among the 100 greatest Bears of all time. George was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
When you factor in his elite play leading one of the league's most storied franchises along with how much he's impacted the game of football and how it's played, you can make an argument that George should be even higher on here.
2. Ozzie Newsome, tight end
1978 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 23 (Alabama)
Team(s): Cleveland Browns (1978-1990)
Before Newsome was a two-time Super Bowl-winning executive, he was one of the best tight ends the league had ever seen. At the time of his retirement in 1990, Newsome held the all-time records in receptions (662), yards (7,980) and touchdowns (47) at the tight end position. While those marks have since been surpassed, there's no denying that Newsome was one of the greatest players to ever put on a Cleveland Browns uniform. He spent his entire 13-year career with the organization after they took him with the No. 23 pick out of Alabama in 1978. Even to this day, Newsome is the Browns' all-time leading receiver in both receptions and yards while fifth in franchise history in touchdown receptions.
Newsome earned six All-Pro nods (two first-team, four second-team) over his career along with three Pro Bowl selections. He's a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s, a member of the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
Newsome is a good example of a legend from the past that likely would have found even more success in the modern NFL. Had he played during this era where the tight end position is infinitely more involved in the passing attack, it'd be fascinating to see what kind of numbers Newsome could have put up. While this pass-happy era may bury him a bit on the tight end receiving yards charts, it's wise to always put stats in context and not forget how dominating Newsome was in his day.
1. Ty Law, cornerback
Ty Law was one of the critical figures in helping the Patriots spark up the most prolific dynasty the league has ever seen and is looked at today as one of the best defensive backs in history. He first arrived in Foxborough in 1995 as a first-round pick out of Michigan and quickly established himself as a shutdown corner in the NFL. Over his career, Law would lead the league in interceptions twice, be named to five Pro Bowls, and receive two first-team All-Pro nods. He was also part of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019.
Law headlined stellar Patriots defenses in the early 2000s that went on to win three Super Bowl titles. Not only was Law a central piece to those championship-winning defenses, but he was extremely clutch when the moments were the most pressure-filled. In New England's first championship in franchise history, Law famously picked off Rams quarterback Kurt Warner and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown to help the Patriots beat St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17. During the 2003 AFC Championship Game, Law picked off Peyton Manning three times en-route to a Patriots win. Later that offseason, the NFL changed its rules, cracking down on pass interference as a direct response to Law's dominance in that game. In a similar fashion to Bill George, Law changed the way the game is played today.
As he was making a bid to join the 2019 Hall of Fame class, Law received a letter on his behalf from Tom Brady, who vouched for his enshrinement. In the letter, Brady fondly called Law "a pain in the ass" and "one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the game." When you are getting that type of compliment from the greatest player in the history of the sport, it carries tremendous weight.
Law's 53 career interceptions are tied with Deion Sanders for 24th all-time and his 36 picks as a member of the Patriots are tied with Raymond Clayborn for the most in franchise history.