Home » NFL Rookies » Ranking the best NFL draft picks of all time: Giants’ Sam Huff headlines top five ever taken at No. 30

Ranking the best NFL draft picks of all time: Giants’ Sam Huff headlines top five ever taken at No. 30


The 2021 NFL Draft is right around the corner. In the spirit of another rookie class entering the league, we here at CBS Sports decided to take a dive through history to identify the best picks at every first-round selection. Starting with the No. 32 pick and working our way all the way to No. 1 ahead of the 2021 draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 29, at 8 p.m. ET, we’ll be identifying the five best all-time picks at each spot.

You can find our entire rundown of picks at our hub of all-time selections, but right here, we’ll be exploring the best of the best to go No. 30 overall. This year, the AFC runners-up Buffalo Bills hold the pick. But who struck gold using it in years past? Check it out below.

Note: Some picks that were not originally first-rounders may be included, as the NFL has expanded since the draft began in 1936. For example, the 32nd overall pick was considered a second-rounder until 2002.

5. OLB T.J. Watt

2017 NFL DraftRound 1, No. 30 (Wisconsin)
Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers (2017-present)

T.J. Watt
Getty Images

The younger brother of Texans all-timer J.J. Watt, he might end up being one of the youngest players on our entire rundown of top all-time first-rounders. Just 26 and four seasons into his NFL career, the Wisconsin product has quickly established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the game. We were close to recognizing longtime Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney, who went 30th overall in 1999, right here. But Watt, in seven fewer seasons, is well on pace to blow past Kerney’s numbers.

A three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro honoree, Watt entered the NFL with a high bar to top — that of his brother, who has twice led the league in sacks and three times earned Defensive Player of the Year honors. So far, though, the younger Watt appears just as, if not more, lethal off the edge. After a promising rookie year in which he logged seven sacks, he exploded in his first full season in 2018 with 13 sacks and six forced fumbles. The production has only increased since then: In 2019, Watt led the NFL with eight forced fumbles while recording 14.5 sacks. Then, in 2020, he posted a career-high 15 sacks and led the league in quarterback hits (41).

In other words, if you’re looking for a fearsome No. 1 edge rusher, he’s your guy. And he’s been an absolute steal for the Steelers, who’ve relied on his relentless motor to boast one of the NFL’s feistiest defenses in recent years.

4. LB Keith Bulluck

2000 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 30 (Syracuse)
Team(s): Tennessee Titans (2000-2009), New York Giants (2010)

Off-ball linebackers don’t get a ton of love in today’s NFL, where it’s all about pass rushing and pass coverage. But few were as sturdy and physical during the early 2000s as Bulluck, who served as the longtime heart of the Titans defense during a nine-year span that saw Tennessee make five playoff appearances, including one AFC Championship bid. Missing just six games in 11 NFL seasons, the big man was widely considered one of the best to play his position for the bulk of his career.

A one-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro recipient, Bulluck was a tackle machine at the height of his game. A backup and special teamer for much of the first two seasons of his career, he made an instant name for himself as a full-time starter in 2002, kicking off five straight years of at least 125 tackles, including an NFL-leading 152 in 2004. All five years, at least 100 of Bulluck’s tackles were solo take-downs. Not only that, but the veteran was active elsewhere, totaling 16.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and eight interceptions during that span. He also logged a Titans-record five picks in 2007, at age 30.

Although wear and tear eventually took its toll on Bulluck, who finished his career making eight starts for the Giants, he retired with some of the steadiest marks by any linebacker of his time.

3. CB Eric Allen

1988 NFL Draft: Round 2, No. 30 (Arizona State)
Team(s): Philadelphia Eagles (1988-1994), New Orleans Saints (1995-1997), Oakland Raiders (1998-2001)

In Eagles lore, Brian Dawkins is the consensus best ever, outside of maybe Chuck Bednarik. But one of his predecessors in the secondary was just as game-changing in his prime: Eric Allen. Drafted into Buddy Ryan’s famous “Gang Green” defense of the 1980s-90s, the corner played alongside plenty of franchise icons, from Reggie White to Jerome Brown to Andre Waters. Allen was dangerous in his own right, however, and ultimately proved to be one of the most durable defensive backs of his time.

Allen was a star right off the bat in Philly, where he intercepted five passes as a rookie, eight as a second-year starter, and five again during his fourth season. If a ball were there for the taking, he took it. By the time Allen finished his career, having split his final seven seasons between the Saints and Raiders, he’d racked up 54 picks — still good for 21st-most of all time, ahead of legends like Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey and Ronde Barber. In fact, not a single season during Allen’s 14-year career passed without the vet intercepting a pass. In 1993, with the Eagles, he also led the NFL in INT return yards (201) and touchdowns (four).

Allen’s ball-hawking skills never led any of his teams to a title, but they solidified him as one of the best cover men of his era.

2. WR Reggie Wayne

2001 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 30 (Miami)
Team(s): Indianapolis Colts (2001-2014)

Reggie Wayne
Getty Images

Peyton Manning is the main reason the Colts dominated the 2000s, but Reggie Wayne isn’t that far behind. It’s not a coincidence that Indianapolis became an NFL powerhouse at the same time he emerged as one of Manning’s top two targets. From 2003-2009, the Colts made the playoffs seven times, appeared in three AFC Championship games and won a Lombardi Trophy. During that same span, Wayne was undoubtedly one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, even alongside future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison.

The first three seasons of Wayne’s career offered a look at a good, but not necessarily great, wideout. Everything changed in 2004, when he followed up his first year as a full-timer with 1,210 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Including that season, Wayne logged seven straight 1,000-yard campaigns, including a career-high 1,510 in 2007, and began running up a TD total that capped at 82. A starter for the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI win over the Bears, he not only served as a model of durability, playing a franchise-record 211 games, but starred in almost all of them. He still has the 10th most catches and receiving yards of all time.

Unlike Watt and Bulluck and Allen, Wayne gets a boost on this list because of direct contributions to a championship. His career resume also makes him a safe bet to join Harrison and Manning in the Hall of Fame someday.

1. LB Sam Huff 

1956 NFL Draft: Round 3, No. 30 (West Virginia)
Team(s): New York Giants (1956-1963), Washington (1964-1967, 1969)

Younger fans might not recognize the name, but if you’re looking for a truly all-time pick at No. 30, this would be it. Whereas Wayne was instrumental to the Colts’ dominant run and championship, Huff did the same for New York while helping define the very position he played. Drafted without a set position, he was quickly slotted as the centerpiece of then-Giants defensive coordinator Tom Landry’s new 4-3 system. From there, he starred as an imposing face of football, not to mention in six different championship appearances.

A physical presence before tackles were even recorded, Huff was heralded for his “hand-to-hand combat” in the run game, where he stuffed legends like Jim Brown and Jim Taylor and shaped his era’s prototype for inside linebackers. He was also a game-changer in pass protection, where he intercepted a career 30 passes. A five-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro honoree, Huff was one of the NFL’s first true celebrities, but he backed up his spotlight, missing just four games in 13 years and headlining the Giants defense in six title games from 1956-1963, including the team’s 47-7 romp of the Bears in ’56.

A 1982 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Huff will always be one of the earliest models for his position, as well as one of the most productive.



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