The NFL Draft is but weeks away. We know with a degree or relative certainty that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 overall pick. We think we know a few things beyond that, but aren't sure. What we definitely don't know is how the careers of any of these players will turn out. We have to wait quite a while to see that. Looking at previous drafts, though, we actually can make some judgments.
That brings us to our activity today. Starting with the No. 32 overall selection, we here at CBS Sports have taken on the task of finding the best of the best who were ever selected in what is now known as the first round (first 32 picks). We'll be covering each spot in the first round all the way until we reach No. 1 overall on the Tuesday before the draft, which officially kicks off on Thursday, April 29, at 8 p.m. ET. To follow along on who makes each top five, check out our hub of all the action here.
This year, the Tennessee Titans are slated to pick No. 22 overall. Our CBS Sports draft analysts have pegged the likes of Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye, Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome, and Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney as some of the potential candidates who could be taken at that spot in their most recent mock drafts. Could one of those players one day make it onto this list? Of course! In the meantime, let's see who are the top five No. 22 picks of all time.
5. Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver
Thomas was a bit of a projection coming into the NFL because, well, his Georgia Tech teams didn't throw the ball very often. As a wide receiver, he was asked to block more often than not in the team's triple-option offense. So in three seasons, he totaled only 120 catches for 2,339 yards and 15 touches. He went for 46-1154-8 as a junior, though, showcasing enough of his potential that the Broncos made him a late first-round pick.
Thomas struggled with injuries and was more of a rotational wideout during his first two NFL seasons, but then Peyton Manning showed up, and he very quickly became the No. 1 target on one of the best offenses in NFL history. During his four seasons with Manning under center, Thomas caught at least 92 passes for at least 1,304 yards in every season. His average 16-game line during that span was 100-1447-10. He made made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro second teams, and of course, won a Super Bowl.
Thomas added another 1,000-yard season after Manning retired, but as he moved into his 30s, injuries got the better of him. Specifically, a torn Achilles late in the season after being traded to the Houston Texans sapped what was left of his explosiveness, and he was a very limited player during his lone year in New York.
By the time he was done playing, though, Thomas caught 665 passes for 9,055 yards and 60 touchdowns, making him one of only 56 players in NFL history in the 600-60 club. His peak did not last very long, but it was insanely high, and he was a major contributor to one of the best and most exciting offenses we've ever seen.
4. Jack Reynolds, linebacker
Reynolds had the misfortune of playing his entire career before tackles were tracked as an official statistic, but he had a great many of them during his long career as a linebacker in the NFC West. In lieu of another way to measure the value of a linebacker from the 1970s and 1980s, it's worth noting that Reynolds ranked sixth among all players at the position in Pro-Football-Reference.com's Approximate Value accrued between 1970 and 1984. Three of the five players ahead of him on the list are Hall of Famers.
It's also worth noting that Reynolds has one of the best nicknames in football history: Hacksaw. Legend has it that after a 38-0 drubbing at the hands of Ole Miss in college, Reynolds returned back to Tennessee's campus and used a hacksaw to cut a 1953 Chevrolet in half. "I came back to school and I was very upset," Reynolds said. "I had to do something to relieve my frustration." His teammates nicknamed him Hacksaw, and it stuck for good.
Once he got to the NFL, Reynolds started 162 games across 15 seasons, making two Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams, as well as winning two Super Bowls with the 49ers. Those Niners defenses ranked second (1981) and first (1984) in the NFL in points allowed, respectively, with Reynolds starting at inside linebacker for 30 of the 32 regular-season games.
3. Justin Jefferson, wide receiver
2020 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 22 (LSU)
Team(s): Minnesota Vikings (2020-Present)
Yes, that Justin Jefferson. Yes, already. No, it's not too soon.
Jefferson has played one NFL season. During that season, he caught 88 passes for a rookie-record 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro. There have only been 62 seasons where a player went for 88-1400-7 in the history of American professional football, and Jefferson already has one of them. All of the other guys to do it went on to have extremely long, productive careers, and obviously, several of them are either already in or on their way to the Hall of Fame.
The only player do record more than one such season at the age of 25 or younger is Larry Fitzgerald. Jefferson has four more chances to join him. I wouldn't bet against it. He's a special player.
2. Harris Barton, offensive tackle
1987 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 22 (North Carolina)
Team(s): San Francisco 49ers (1987-1996)
When you think of the great 49ers teams of the 1980s and 1990s, Barton's name probably isn't the first that comes to mind. They had Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders and Charles Haley, Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott, and a whole lot more. But obviously, Montana and Rice and Craig, and Steve Young, John Taylor, Brent Jones, Ricky Watters, and all the rest would not have been able to do what they did without a strong offensive line in front of them.
Barton was one of the anchors of that offensive line, starting 134 games at right tackle and right guard across his 10 NFL seasons. He was consistently good right from the jump, so much so that he was actually the runner-up in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting in 1987. And he just kept right on performing at a high level.
He made a Pro Bowl and two All-Pro teams, and of course, won three Super Bowls. He was a consistent presence on the 49ers' line, even as they shuffled through Bubba Parris, Jesse Sapolu, Randy Cross, Bruce Collie, Steve Wallace, Guy McIntyre, Roy Foster, Ralph Tamm, Bart Oates, Derrick Deese, Rod Millstead, Ray Brown, Chris Dalman, and more alongside him.
Pro-Football-Reference pegged Barton as the sixth most valuable offensive lineman in the NFL during his 10-year career, behind only three Hall of Famers (Bruce Matthews, Gary Zimmerman, and Randall McDaniel), his teammate Sapolu, and Bills center Kent Hull. That's quite a career for a late first-round pick.
1. Andre Rison, wide receiver
1989 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 22 (Michigan State)
Team(s): Indianapolis Colts (1989), Atlanta Falcons (1990-1994), Cleveland Browns (1995), Green Bay Packers (1996), Jacksonville Jaguars (1996), Kansas City Chiefs (1997-1999), Oakland Raiders (2000)
They wound up with a couple pretty good wide receivers several years later, but the Colts probably still regret trading Rison, among several other assets, to the Falcons in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick back in 1990, considering they used that No. 1 pick on Jeff George. They struggled through a few more years until they landed Peyton Manning in 1998, and it would have been nice to have mid-career Rison around as a security blanket in Manning's first few seasons.
Alas, send him to Atlanta they did, and there, Rison blossomed into a star. With the Falcons, Rison made four Pro Bowls in five seasons, as well as four All-Pro teams (one first, three second). He caught double-digit touchdowns in each of his first four seasons with the Falcons, including a league-leading 15 of them in 1993. In that five-year span, Rison snagged 423 passes for 5,633 yards and 56 scores, totals that ranked third, fourth, and second in the NFL during that time.
Rison left Cleveland for a big contract with the Cleveland Browns, but he was unable to recapture the form that made him such a dangerous player in Atlanta. It wasn't until he caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs in his latter years that he put together another strong season, catching 77 passes for 1,092 yards and seven scores in 1997. Once Rison hit his 30s, his effectiveness waned, but he had already put together quite a productive career to that point.