Ranking best NFL draft picks of all time: Deion Sanders headlines the top five ever taken at No. 5

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Nothing generates more excitement in the NFL than the draft, save for the Super Bowl. It’s a time when all 32 teams get a shot at improving their club in the hopes of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in 10 months, with some having a lot more work to do than others in that regard. So as the 2022 NFL Draft approaches, and with several blockbuster offseason trades already in the books, it’s time to look back at the best ever taken at No. 5. 

This year, that pick belongs to the New York Giants, and if you’re thinking Big Blue could certainly stand to boost the offensive line in this spot, our CBS Sports draft experts completely agree with you. Most have the Giants taking Alabama’s Evan Neal at No. 5, while some are thinking it’ll be NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu; you can take a look at all their latest mocks here.

While we wait to see what happens on Thursday in Las Vegas, enjoy a look at our top five ever selected at No. 5, along with an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: 

Sean Taylor (S), Mike Ditka (TE), Patrick Peterson (CB)

You can’t talk about dominant former NFL linebackers without mentioning Taylor, and oh what could’ve been, had he not been stolen away tragically in a home invasion and armed burglary turned murder in 2007. Taylor was the fastest-rising NFL star at the time and one of the hardest-hitting players to ever step on a football field, routinely rattling teeth with his tackles. In only four NFL seasons, he earned two Pro Bowl nods and was named to the PFWA All Rookie Team in 2004, along with garnering a second team All-Pro honor in the season ahead of his death. Washington has since inducted him into their Ring of Fame and deservedly so, because his trajectory was similar to some of the greatest safeties to ever play the sport. Honorable mention also goes here to Ditka, who was known for his prowess on the field before becoming the famed head coach of “Da Bears” in the 1980s, and Peterson in having built what will ultimately be a Hall of Fame career as an NFL cornerback. All three finish just outside of the top five ever selected at No. 5, but not mentioning them at all would be a crime against football.

5. Steve Van Buren, RB

1944 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 5 overall (LSU) 
Team(s): Philadelphia Eagles (1944-51)


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“I tell you what, they don’t make ’em like they used to.” 

That’s a phrase uttered often by those who’ve followed professional football for several decades, and if Van Buren is being used as the example in making that point, it’s tough to disprove it. Back when helmets were made of leather and facemasks weren’t a thing, along with many of (if any) of today’s rules designed to protect players from dirty blows, Van Buren was a god amongst men. Easily one of the best to ever play for the Eagles, he helped lead the team to two championships in the pre-Super Bowl era, and his No. 15 remains retired in Philadelphia and in the team’s Hall of Fame. A five-time All-Pro, Van Buren led the league in rushing and touchdowns on four separate occasions, and has since been named to the NFL 1940s All-Decade Team as well as the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. A name that still rings bells in the City of Brotherly Love, Van Buren was everything the Eagles hoped he’d be and a whole lot more. 

4. Mike Haynes, CB

1976 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 5 overall (Arizona State)
Team(s): New England Patriots (1976-82), Raiders (1983-89)

He was every quarterback’s nightmare during his legendary career in the NFL. There’s not enough that can be said about Haynes and yet, in the same breath, it feels as if he’s not discussed nearly enough outside of Boston. For before the Patriots belonged to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, becoming the dynasty organization we now know it to be, Haynes did his best to keep the club from being an afterthought before heading to the Raiders to finish his storied career. His 46-career interceptions are a testament to his efforts as one of the best defensive backs of any generation, along with nine Pro Bowl honors and two All-Pro nods. A former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1976, Haynes made his presence felt immediately and throughout his tenure on both teams. His No. 40 is retired and acts as a flag for his name in the Patriots Hall of Fame, and like Van Buren, he’s been honored in the 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time teams, along with being a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. And not only is Haynes a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but also the College Football Hall of Fame — a legend at both levels of the sport.

3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB

2001 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 5 overall (TCU)
Team(s): San Diego Chargers (2001-09), Jets (2010-11)

If you glanced ahead on this list, and I know you did, you’ll notice the Chargers aren’t too shabby at hitting the jackpot when given the No. 5 pick. Tomlinson was a bottle of greased lightning during his time in San Diego, and a key part in helping future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees reach his NFL momentum. It was quite the coup for the Chargers in 2001, considering they landed Brees with the No. 2 pick and Tomlinson only three picks later — setting themselves up for an organizational turnaround that continued even after the team parted ways with Brees and ushered in Philip Rivers. With the help of the late, great Marty Schottenheimer, Tomlinson’s dual-threat nature was fully utilized and he became one of the most feared offensive players in the NFL. A three-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler and former NFL MVP (2006), the Walter Payton Man of the Year winner (2006) not only saw his No. 21 retired by the Chargers in addition to landing in the team’s Hall of Fame, but has since put on a Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket as well. Tomlinson is one of the best running backs of all time: exclamation point.

2. Junior Seau, LB

1990 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 5 overall (USC)
Team(s): San Diego Chargers (1990-2002), Miami Dolphins (2003-05), New England Patriots (2006-09)


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Seau is most known recently for the tragedy of losing his life to suicide, having since become the most poignant example of what can happen if the NFL continued to dismiss the importance of concussion prevention. But before his posthumous contributions to the science of possibly saving others in the sport from CTE, Seau contributed on the field for his team in a way so many others wish they could. A first team All-Pac 10 talent and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1989, it was all the Chargers could do to get their hands on him with the fifth-overall pick. He went on to become one of the greatest to ever play the sport — now named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, along with being immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and having his No. 55 jersey retired by the Chargers. Seau set the standard for what an NFL linebacker, and human being, should be — the former Walter Payton Man of the Year (1994) grabbing six All-Pro honors and 12 (!!) Pro Bowl nods before hanging up his cleats after stays with the Dolphins and Patriots. Gone but never forgotten, Seau is a football deity.

1. Deion Sanders, CB

1989 NFL Draft: Round 1, No. 5 overall (Florida State)
Team(s): Atlanta Falcons (1989-93), SF 49ers (1994), Dallas Cowboys (1995-99), Washington (2000), Baltimore Ravens (2004-05)

All of the focus on branding you see in the NFL nowadays can be traced back to “Neon Deion” aka “Prime Time”, who set the standard for what it means to be your own character in a real life movie starring you. But while many emulate his braggadocios and flamboyant style, none have been able to mirror what he did on the field that justified it. Sanders was an absolute force coming out of Florida State, and admittedly created the “Prime Time” side of himself ahead of the NFL Draft because he felt he was being overlooked and disrespected. He tore out of the gates with the Falcons before a short stop in the Bay Area, where he got his hands on his first Super Bowl ring. He’d grab another when he joined the rival Cowboys, becoming a three-way dynamo in the process — adding the role of occasional wideout to that of his elite defensive back and return skills. In the end, he earned six All-Pro honors as a cornerback, All-Pro honors as a kick returner and separately as a punt returner, eight Pro Bowl nods and a slew of other awards en route to the Falcons Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There will never be another Deion Sanders — his career numbers and unforgiving swagger making sure of that.

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