The mystique of the NFL Draft comes in various ways, as teams toward the end of the first round can find talent that can keep their franchises great for years to come. There have been plenty of misses late in the first round, but also a few hits -- making teams wonder how they passed on that player or made a colossal mistake in their selections. In order words, a pipe dream for sports talk radio hosts across the country.
Having a pick toward the end of the first round isn't a bad thing, especially at the No. 26 spot. While there have been plenty of busts at No. 26 (Marcus Smith, Jim Druckenmiller and Tim Gregory come to mind), a few Hall of Famers have emerged from that spot over the years.
The 26th overall pick has been in the first round since 1967 -- which was after Super Bowl I took place -- cementing its spot as a prime draft position in NFL history. At CBS Sports, we have been ranking the best draft picks of all time by each number ---- and will continue to do so all the way to No. 1. How we determined who made the five best draft picks at No. 26 was 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, our CBS Sports draft experts have Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta and Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt at No. 26 (the Dallas Cowboys currently have the pick). Will any of those players join these legends at No. 26? Let's take a look at the top five:
5. Dave Brown (CB)
- 1975 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 26 overall (Michigan)
- Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers (1975), Seattle Seahawks (1976-1986), Green Bay Packers (1987-1989)
You might've thought we were going with another Michigan product here in Jim Harbaugh, who played 14 years as a quarterback before making an even bigger name for himself as a head coach. But Brown, another ex-Wolverine, doesn't get nearly enough love for his all-star career. A posthumous inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, the longtime cornerback probably belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.
The only reason Brown didn't last more than one season with his original team is because he was so good. Picked by the Seahawks in the 1976 expansion draft, he had at least three interceptions in his first five seasons as a full-time defensive back, as well as his final seven. A one-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro honoree, he finished his career with 62 total picks, tied for the eighth-most in NFL history, ahead of greats like Mel Blount, Willie Brown and Deion Sanders. All but 12 of the INTs came in Seattle, where he earned a spot on the Seahawks' Ring of Honor as a stalwart of the team's secondary.
As durable as he was productive, missing just four games in his final six NFL seasons, Brown closed his career in Green Bay, retiring after a six-interception campaign in 1989.
4. Clay Matthews (LB)
- 2009 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 26 overall (USC)
- Team(s): Green Bay Packers (2009-2018), Los Angeles Rams (2019)
One of the best pass-rushing linebackers of his era, Matthews played a major role in the Packers winning their only Super Bowl championship with Aaron Rodgers. A terror on the outside, Matthews thrived in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme with 23.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in his first two seasons in the league. Matthews had 13.5 sacks, 25 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles during his All-Pro season in 2010 -- anchoring the Packers defense with 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the postseason en route to the Super Bowl XLV title.
Matthews is just one of seven NFL players since 2009 with 200 quarterback hits and just one of nine players with 90+ sacks. He's one of 28 linebackers with 90+ sacks and is 50th on the all-time sacks list with 91.5. Matthews is one of just five linebackers with 90+ sacks and 200+ quarterback hits (since quarterback hits were recorded in 2006), joining Terrell Suggs, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, and Cameron Wake.
Whether Matthews makes the Hall of Fame is up for debate, but he has a case.
3. Joe DeLamielleure (G)
- 1973 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 26 overall (Michigan State)
- Team(s): Buffalo Bills (1973-1979, 1985), Cleveland Browns (1980-1984)
DeLamielleure was one of the best guards of his era, earning a spot on the 1970s All-Decade Team, a decade which he earned five Pro Bowl selections and three consecutive All-Pro selections from 1975 to 1977. The 1975 Offensive Lineman of the Year, only three guards earned more first- or second-team All-Pro selections than DeLamielleure: John Hannah (10), Alan Faneca (eight), and Gene Upshaw (seven).
DeLamielleure was part of the "Electric Company" offensive line that paved the way for O.J. Simpson to become the first 2,000-yard rusher in NFL history (accomplishing the feat in just 14 games). The Bills led the NFL with 4.4 yards per carry from 1973 to 1979, ranking fourth in the league averaging 162.6 rushing yards per game.
Playing in 185 consecutive games from 1973 to 1985, DeLamielleure earned six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro selections in 13 seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
2. Alan Faneca (G)
- 1998 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 26 overall (LSU)
- Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers (1998-2007), New York Jets (2008-2009), Arizona Cardinals (2010)
One of the best guards to ever play the game, Faneca was a stalwart on the Steelers offensive line for a decade, earning nine consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 2001 to 2009 (seven with the Steelers, two with the Jets). He earned six All-Pro selections during that stretch and eight consecutive All-Pro selections from 2001 to 2008. Only John Hannah has more All-Pro selections for a guard (10).
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Faneca never had a season in which he committed more than four penalties. He didn't commit a penalty in 2004 and averaged just 2.23 per season in his career.
Faneca is just one of 12 guards to earn six first-team All-Pro selections and one of 11 to earn nine Pro Bowl appearances. His 201 starts rank eighth all time at his position as the Steelers ranked second in the NFL, averaging 134.4 rush yards per game in the decade he played there. Faneca was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
1. Ray Lewis (LB)
- 1996 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 26 overall (Miami)
- Team(s): Baltimore Ravens (1996-2012)
There may not have been a better linebacker on this planet than Lewis, who is one of the greatest defensive football players of all time. The face of the Ravens, Lewis is the first -- and only -- player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career and his 50 career takeaways (31 interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries) rank second amongst linebackers since the AFL-NFL merger.
A two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year (2000, 2003), Lewis was the leader of the 2000 Ravens defense -- one of the greatest units in NFL history. The Ravens posted league records in a 16-game season for fewest rushing yards (970), shutouts (four), and points allowed (165) in a 16-game season. He captured Super Bowl XXXV MVP honors that season, the first of two Super Bowl titles he won in Baltimore (ended his career with a title in Super Bowl XLVII).
Lewis is the NFL's all-time leader in combined tackles with 2,059 (tackles started being recorded in 1987), leading the league three times. His 1,568 solo tackles are second in league history (started being recorded in 1994) as Lewis is one of just seven players to be selected to 13 Pro Bowls.
Lewis is just one of five linebackers to be selected as an All-Pro seven times and his 10 total All-Pro selections are a record for an inside linebacker. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018 and is unquestionably the greatest No. 26 overall pick in NFL history.