Past drafts have shown that late-round picks can turn into NFL stars.

Almost all 2017 NFL draft first-round projections —  including the current mock draft of record at USA TODAY Sports — forecast the Cleveland Browns to use their No. 1 overall selection on Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett.

Only 15 true defensive players have been selected No. 1 overall in the 81-year history of the draft. The selections of those defensive players has been a mixed bag of brilliance (see players listed below) and buffoonery (see Walt Patulski, Aundray Bruce). We take a look at the greatest defensive players chosen at the top.

(Despite the incredible career accolades of players like Chuck Bednarik, we’re going with strictly modern-era defenders in this rankings exercise.)

5. Ed “Too Tall” Jones

Position: Defensive end
Draft: 1974
Selected by: Dallas Cowboys

As you would expect, the Cowboys’ selection of a small-school prospect such as Jones was considered a massive gamble at the time. But at 6-foot-9, Jones was a menacing presence on Dallas’ “Doomsday Defense” of the 1970s. During his 15-year career, Jones played in 232 games, earned three Pro Bowl selections and played in three Super Bowls, including the Cowboys’ Super Bowl XII win.

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4. Mario Williams

Position: Defensive end
Draft: 2006
Selected by: Houston Texans

Then-Texans general manager Charley Casserly made the incredibly unpopular — among the team’s fans — selection of Williams. Local sports fans had hoped the team would select Texas QB Vince Young (a Houston native) or the electric Heisman winner from USC, Reggie Bush. In hindsight, Casserly chose wisely. Williams emerged as one of the NFL’s top edge rushers, becoming an all-pro pick and a four-time Pro Bowl selection while recording double-digit sacks in five of his first nine NFL seasons.

3. Tommy Nobis

Position: Linebacker
Draft: 1966
Selected by: Atlanta Falcons

Nobis was the first draft choice in Falcons history, and was also a first-round pick (No. 5 overall by the Houston Oilers) in the American Football League’s draft. Nobis was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year, was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and earned a spot on the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1960s. In his 11-year career, Nobis played on just one Falcons team that had a winning season (1973), and his team’s lack of on-field success likely damages Nobis’ chances for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2. Lee Roy Selmon

Position: Defensive end
Draft: 1976
Selected by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Like Nobis, Selmon was the first draft pick for an expansion team. Selmon was a vital part of the Buccaneers’ rise from 0-26 laughingstock to a team that came within a game of reaching the Super Bowl during the 1979 season. That year, Selmon earned NFL defensive player of the year honors. Selmon was a Pro Bowl selection in six of his nine NFL seasons and was a 1985 enshrinee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1. Bruce Smith

Position: Defensive end
Draft: 1985
Selected by: Buffalo Bills

Smith played 19 seasons in the NFL, including 15 in Buffalo, and he did bad things to opposing quarterbacks. Smith holds the NFL record for sacks (200). He was also a two-time NFL defensive player of the year pick and an 11-time Pro Bowler. The prime of his career coincided with the Bills’ incredible run to four consecutive Super Bowls.

PHOTOS: No. 1 overall draft picks since 1985


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