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Ranking the best NFL draft picks of all time: Jim Brown headlines impressive class taken at No. 6 overall

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We are just one week out from the 2021 NFL Draft, and this deep class is worth getting excited about. There’s legitimate talent in all seven rounds, and every team will be looking to find value with each pick. Here at CBS Sports, we are celebrating the 2021 NFL Draft by breaking down the best first-round draft picks of all time at each spot from 32-1. The entire rundown of the top-five picks at each number can be found at our hub of all-time selections

In this piece, we will be listing the best players selected with the No. 6 overall pick. This year, the Miami Dolphins hold the No. 6 overall pick after trading with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up from No. 12. The Dolphins have been very active in the first round, however, as they traded down from No. 3 overall to No. 12, and then back up to No. 6. What’s wild is that reports are they could potentially trade down again. If they do stay at No. 6, a few prospects our CBS NFL Draft writers have Miami selecting are wide receivers Jaylen Waddle out of Alabama, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase or tight end Kyle Pitts out of Florida. 

The No. 6 overall pick has brought a solid group of players into the league over the past few years. The Los Angeles Chargers landed their franchise quarterback and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert in 2020. The New York Giants took quarterback Daniel Jones the year before. The Indianapolis Colts took star offensive lineman Quenton Nelson in 2018 and the New York Jets took safety Jamal Adams in 2017. In all, 14 Pro Football Hall of Famers have been selected at No. 6 overall, and that number is expected to climb.

It was difficult choosing just five players for this list, but without further ado, let’s jump in. 


5. John Riggins, FB

1971 NFL Draft: No. 6 overall (Kansas)
Teams: New York Jets, (1971-75), Washington Redskins (1976-85)

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Fullbacks were virtually running backs back in the day, and Riggins is one of the best of all time. He is Washington’s all-time leader in rushing attempts (1,988), rushing yards (7,472) and rushing touchdowns (79). “Riggo” was drafted by the Jets, but didn’t take over the league right away. He made his first Pro Bowl in 1975 after his first 1,000-yard season, and then signed with the Redskins as a free agent that offseason. Riggins missed the 1980 season due to a contract dispute, but legendary head coach Joe Gibbs would bring him back and the Redskins went on to win Super Bowl XVII a couple of seasons later during the 1982 campaign — which was shortened due to a strike.

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There are a couple of reasons why Riggins earned a spot in our top five. One is his performance against the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII, as “The Diesel” rushed for 166 yards on 38 carries in the 27-17 victory. Riggins also made a play in that game that is still considered by many the best play in franchise history. With about 10 minutes remaining in the Super Bowl, Washington gave the ball to Riggins on fourth and short. He then broke a tackle and took it 43 yards to the house to take the lead. If Riggins had been stopped on that fourth down, Miami may have won the game. His 38 carries in the Super Bowl is a record that may never be broken

Another reason Riggins is on this list is because of how productive he was into his 30s. He followed up that Super Bowl win with his best season in 1983, as he rushed for a career-high 1,347 yards and 24 touchdowns, and the Redskins made it back to the Super Bowl. Riggins posted six 100-yard playoff games and holds several NFL records — most of them having to do with how effective he was as an older player. “The Diesel” was a workhorse who specialized in short-yardage situations and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. Riggins was also the second player to rush for over 100 touchdowns. The first player to reach that mark is on this list as well. 

4. Jimmy Johnson, DB

1961 NFL Draft: No. 6 overall (UCLA)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers (1961-76)

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There are a couple of men who are Hall of Famers with the name Jimmy Johnson, but this Jimmy Johnson should not be overlooked. Johnson was a two-way player from California selected by the 49ers high in the 1961 NFL Draft. San Francisco placed him at cornerback for his rookie season, and he picked off five passes and returned them for what would be a career-high 116 yards. After seeing how explosive Johnson was with the ball in his hands, he was moved to wide receiver and succeeded there as well. In 12 games in 1962, he caught 34 passes for 627 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson would also return to his spot in the secondary and thrive. In 16 seasons, he recorded 47 interceptions despite quarterbacks being hesitant to throw his way. 

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Johnson was an absolutely incredible athlete, and was a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. He was named to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, had his No. 37 retired by the 49ers and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. Johnson took his track speed and athleticism to the gridiron and was a dominant force wherever the coaches asked him to play.  

3. Walter Jones, OT

1997 NFL Draft: No. 6 overall (Florida State)
Teams: Seattle Seahawks (1997-2008)

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Some will say Jones is the best player ever drafted at No. 6 overall, but he comes in at No. 3 on our list. The Seahawks traded up to take Jones in the 1997 NFL Draft, and it would prove to be a great decision as he evolved into one of the best left tackles in the modern NFL. Not many players — no matter how elite in college — come into the NFL and immediately start at left tackle. But Jones was different in that way.

The Alabama native was a nine-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, part of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. Jones was a model of consistency, as he started all 180 games he played in during his 12-year career, and contributed to some of the league’s best passing and rushing attacks. His No. 71 was retired in Seattle, making him just the second Seahawk to have his jersey retired. Jones was the perfect combination of size, skill, work ethic and again, consistency. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. 

2. Sammy Baugh, QB, DB, P

1937 NFL Draft: No. 6 overall (TCU)
Teams: Washington Redskins (1937-52)

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Baugh was a two-time NFL champion, four-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowler and the only Washington player to ever have his jersey retired. Some will be surprised to see Baugh come in as the No. 2 player on this list, but he earned this spot by helping change the game of football. “Slingin’ Sammy” out of TCU was a three-way player, as he found success as a quarterback, defensive back and punter. In his first season, he helped Washington win an NFL championship — making him just one of three players to lead his college team and pro team to a championship, according to Washington’s official website. Baugh’s 1943 campaign is still one of the best seasons recorded by an individual player, as he led the NFL in passing (1,754 yards), punting and interceptions (11). I guarantee you won’t see a player do that again. 

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What makes Baugh so special is that he was one of the first NFL quarterbacks to make the forward pass a weapon no matter where you were on the field. Now, the league is more about throwing the football than running it. Another fun fact about Baugh is that he set a franchise record on a day that was created to celebrate him. According to Washington’s website, on “Sammy Baugh Day” in November 1947, fans presented Baugh with a maroon station wagon. He then threw six touchdown passes against the Chicago Cardinals, which is still a Washington record. 

Baugh was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. “Slingin’ Sammy” lit up the league during his playing days, but also was ahead of his time. Baugh passed away in December 2008.

1. Jim Brown, RB/FB

1957 NFL Draft: No. 6 overall (Syracuse)
Teams: Cleveland Browns (1957-65)

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Jim Brown is probably the best running back to ever play the game. While he only played nine seasons, he made the Pro Bowl each year, and was an eight-time All-Pro. While he didn’t make first team All-Pro in 1962, he did make second team! It’s completely unheard of to put up the kind of numbers he did. Imagine a running back coming into the league today and winning MVP while also leading the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Now, imagine he did all that again in his second season! Brown led the NFL in rushing yards in eight of his nine seasons and led all running backs in touchdowns in five seasons. 

Brown won an NFL championship in 1964 and became the first player in NFL history to reach 100-career rushing touchdowns during his last season in 1965. He wasn’t just a great running back, as he proved to be a versatile athlete who could catch the ball and even return kicks. Brown’s NFL career almost seemed like it ended too early, but he remained active with a film career and was involved with social justice projects as well.

Brown is quite simply one of the best football players of all time. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a member of the NFL 50th, 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams and of course had his jersey retired by the Browns. 

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