With the 2021 NFL Draft right around the corner, we here at CBSSports.com decided to kick off a series last month that features the top draft picks of all time. The way this series works is pretty simple: Since there are 32 picks in the first round, we went through and listed the top five picks ever for each one of those 32 spots.
Our countdown started in March with the 32nd spot, and now, we’re all the way down to No. 11 and I have to say, after doing some extensive research on every 11th overall pick in NFL history, I’ve come to one conclusion: The 11th pick might secretly be the best spot to draft from in the first round.
For one, if you’re a team picking at 11, there seems to be less pressure on you. Everyone knows which teams are picking in the top-10, but 11 somehow always seems to fly under the radar.
This year, the 11th overall pick belongs to the Giants and based on NFL history, New York should be sitting pretty. Of the players on our top-five list below, three of them are already in the Hall of Fame and the other two will likely be joining them once their careers are over, so the Giants could get land a star.
Our draft writers here at CBSSports.com have the Giants going a few different directions this year. One writer has them taking receiver Jaylen Waddle while another writer has them taking pass-rusher Gregory Rousseau. Both of those picks would be fitting since three of the players on our top-five list played one of those two positions.
With that in mind, let’s get to the list of the five best players ever selected with the 11th overall pick (If you want to check out the top-five players at each spot in the draft, you can head to our draft hub by clicking here).
5. J.J. Watt
If you need proof this list is stacked, all you need to know is that J.J. Watt couldn’t even crack the top four. Of the five players on this list, Watt is the one who was most recently drafted. The Texans selected him back in 2011 and in 10 seasons with the team, he was basically a human wrecking ball.
Watt was arguably the best defensive player in football through his first five seasons. Actually, forget that “arguably” part because no sensible person would argue with you if you made that statement. In his first five years with the Texans, Watt was named the Defensive Player of the Year a total of three times (2012, 2014, 2015) and he also led the league in sacks twice. Not only did he finish his Texans career with the most sacks in franchise history (101) but he also was the fourth-fastest player in NFL history to total 100.0 sacks (he did it in 120 career games). During his time with the Texans, Watt was named a first-team All-Pro a total of five times.
Although Watt has struggled to stay healthy recently, he’s still been a pretty dominant player. In 2018, he was voted to the Pro Bowl after racking up 16 sacks and leading the league with seven forced fumbles. Last season, Watt tallied one interception, defended seven passes, forced two fumbles and had 14 tackles for a loss in what was considered a down year.
No matter what he does while he’s with the Cardinals, Watt is pretty much a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Michael Irvin
1988 NFL Draft: 11th overall pick (Cowboys)
Team: Cowboys (1988-99)
When all is said and done, you might be able to make the argument that J.J. Watt belongs ahead of Michael Irvin on this list, but for now, we’re giving the nod to the Hall of Fame receiver who won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys.
Toward the end of the 1980s, the Cowboys were a floundering franchise that missed the postseason during each of the final four years of decade. You could argue that the revitalization of the team officially started in 1988 when the Cowboys selected Irvin, which set the foundation for the future. By the 1990s, the Cowboys were one of the best teams in the NFL thanks in large part to their vaunted “Triplets,” which consisted of Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.
Although Irvin’s career got off to a slow start — he tore his ACL in his second season with the team — he blossomed into a superstar in 1991, which allowed the Cowboys offense to reach new heights. During the 1991 season, Irvin led the NFL in receiving yards (1,523) and the Cowboys would make the playoffs for the first time in six years.
From 1992 to 1995, the Cowboys would win three Super Bowls over a four-year span and a big part of that was because Irvin was nearly unstoppable. The Cowboys receiver averaged 1,392 receiving yards and 7.5 touchdown catches per season over that four-year span.
The five-time Pro Bowler finished his career with 750 receptions for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns.
3. Paul Warfield
Although Warfield was drafted in an era where NFL teams hated to throw the ball, the speedster still managed to carve out a Hall of Fame career while playing receiver for two different teams. Warfield made his mark on the NFL during his rookie year of 1964 when he caught 52 passes for 920 yards and nine touchdowns (all three of those numbers ranked in the top 10). Adding Warfield in 1964 allowed the Browns to open up their offense and thanks to their high-powered attack, Cleveland actually won the NFL Championship that year. And that is not a typo, Cleveland did actually win an NFL title once (Actually, they have a few titles under their belt).
During Warfield’s first six years in Cleveland, the Browns played in two NFL championship games and two NFL title games (the precursor to the NFC title game). In 1968, Warfield finished with more than 1,000 yards receiving while also leading the NFL in touchdown catches with 12. If not for a loss to the Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game, the Browns would have played the Jets in Super Bowl III.
Although Warfield became a star playing for the Browns, he also played a big part in the early success of the Dolphins. During Miami’s undefeated season in 1972, Warfield finished with 606 receiving yards, which was highly impressive when you consider that Miami had one of the most prolific rushing teams of all-time during their famous undefeated season (the team averaged 211.4 yards rushing per game, which still stands as the second-most in NFL history).
During his time with the Dolphins, the eight-time Pro Bowler won two Super Bowls, which allowed him to finish his career with three championships. Warfield finished his career with 427 receptions for 8,565 yards and 85 touchdown catches. Not only is the TD mark more than Irvin, but it still stands as the 16th highest total in NFL history.
2004 NFL Draft: 11th overall pick (Steelers)
Team: Steelers (2004-present)
Ben Roethlisberger almost didn’t make this list and that’s because he almost wasn’t the 11th overall pick in 2004. According to former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, New York was going to take Big Ben with the fourth overall pick if they weren’t able to work out a trade with the Chargers for Eli Manning. Of course, that trade ended up happening, which allowed Roethlisberger to fall into Pittsburgh’s lap at 11th overall and let’s just say that the pick ended up working out well for everyone involved.
Roethlisberger was forced into action during his rookie year following an injury to Tommy Maddox in Week 2 and he never looked back. During his first season in Pittsburgh, Big Ben went 13-0 as a starter while leading the Steelers to the AFC title game in a season where he would was eventually named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
That AFC title game appearance was a precursor of things to come as Big Ben has now led the Steelers to five AFC Championship game appearances and three Super Bowls during his 17 years with the team. Two of those three Super Bowl seasons ended with the Steelers taking home the Lombardi Trophy.
Not only is Roethlisberger a two-time Super Bowl champion, but he’s an eight-time Pro Bowler who has led the NFL in passing twice. Roethlisberger has also set multiple NFL records during his career, including being the only quarterback to throw for 500 yards or more on four different occasions (No other QB has done it more than twice). Going into his 18th season, Roethlisberger currently has the seventh-most passing yards in NFL history (60,348) and the eighth most TD passes (396) and it’s safe to say that once his career ends, he’ll almost certainly be a Hall of Famer.
1. Frank Gifford
1952 NFL Draft:11th overall pick (Giants)
Team: Giants (1952-64)
Gifford is one of the most iconic NFL players of all-time, which is why he’s at the top of our list of best players ever selected 11th overall. After being drafted in 1952, Gifford did a little bit of everything for the Giants, who played in five NFL Championship games and won one during his 12 seasons with the team.
From 1952-1964, Gifford did whatever the Giants needed and if you don’t believe me, just consider this: He played halfback, wide receiver, defensive back and even kicker during his time in New York. In 1956, Gifford was named NFL MVP after leading the Giants to an NFL title. In the championship game, a 47-7 win over the Bears, Gifford totaled 161 yards and a touchdown.
During that MVP season, Gifford rushed for 819 yards, tallied another 603 receiving yards while tacking on another 35 yards passing. Gifford scored nine touchdowns that year while also throwing two touchdown passes, kicking eight extra points and a field goal, which made him one of the most versatile players of his era.
Two years after winning the MVP, Gifford and the Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 NFL title game in what has come to be known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Although Gifford’s team was on the losing end of the scoreboard, the 23-17 overtime game is considered by many to be the event that really put the NFL on the map. The game featured 17 players who would go on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a total that includes Gifford, who was inducted in 1977.
When he finished his career in 1964, Gifford had logged 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns on 840 carries. He also caught in 367 passes for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Of course, to the younger generation, Gifford might be best remembered for his career off-the-field. After retiring in 1964, he would spend more than 25 years in the Monday Night Football booth as the play-by-play man (1971-85) and then the color commentator (1986-97).
Gifford is one of the few transcendent players in NFL history and that’s why he’s on the top of this list.