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Peyton Manning named greatest first overall pick in NFL history; Andrew Luck ranked behind Alex Smith

Peyton Manning

No team in NFL history has had more number one overall picks in the NFL Draft than the Colts franchise. Throughout their years in Baltimore and in Indianapolis they have had the top pick in seven drafts, including six in the modern era of the draft (since 1967).

So when NFL Media’s Elliot Harrison decided to rank the 50 first overall picks since that time, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Colts very well-represented.

Of course, there were the disapointments, such as Steve Emtman (who was ranked 48th on Harrison’s list) and Jeff George (who ranked 34th), and there was a player who wound up being quite successful in the NFL but never playing for the Colts (John Elway, who ranked 3rd). There was a key contributor to the Baltimore Colts teams in Bubba Smith (17th on the list), and the most recent one of Andrew Luck (who ranked 26th). And then, of course, there’s the obvious one, the player who took the top spot on Harrison’s ranking, Peyton Manning.

Here’s what Harrison had to say about naming Manning the best number one overall pick:

Easy choice at the top of the list. Not only is Peyton Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time (I have him at third), he remains at the top of the charts in most major passing stats. Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie but started picking things up over the back half of his debut season. By Year 2, he was a Pro Bowl-level player and had the Colts in the playoffs. Manning's total of five MVPs continues to boggle the mind. What player, in any sport, can lay claim to being the best of the best in five different years? Not many.

There really shouldn’t be any surprise whatsoever about Manning ranking first. After all, he’s very much in the discussion as the best quarterback in NFL history - and even if one were to think it’s a push between him and Elway for the top spot (I don’t), the fact that most of Manning’s production and contributions came with the team that actually drafted him should clearly give him the edge. Like Harrison said, it was an “easy choice.”

Much more interesting is where the Colts’ current quarterback, Andrew Luck, was ranked. He was 26th on the list... but one spot behind Alex Smith. Here’s what Harrison had to say about Luck:

Andrew Luck will ascend this list and leapfrog a few quarterbacks in front of him shortly. But he must do his best to stay healthy and not play quarterback like a linebacker. So much of how Luck has been rated thus far has been based on potential. That said, he tossed 40 touchdown passes in his third season, while already throwing for over 4,000 yards three times in his career.

At some point, a quarterback who’s thrown for 19,078 yards and 132 touchdowns in five seasons, made three Pro Bowls, and carried a bad franchise should probably be moved out of the category of “based on potential” in these rankings. He’s a really good quarterback, and he’s better than Alex Smith. So it’s safe to say that not every decision was as easy to make - or as correct - as the one Harrison made with Manning. There’s no doubt that Luck will continue to move up the list, but the ranking behind Smith right now is curious, to say the least.

Ultimately, it’s just a fun offseason exercise to look at. And it’s a reminder that the Colts have had a lot of first overall picks. Some of them turned out horribly, but they also found the greatest player in franchise history with the top pick in 1998 - which makes this a much better discussion for Colts fans.