Every NFL Draft season, the hopes and dreams of thousands of college football players come true with one magical announcement: they’ve just been drafted by an NFL team. Since the first-ever draft in 1936, many incredible stories have emerged – top picks turning into superstars or surprise late-round gems evolving into Hall of Fame talent.
So who takes the cake as the greatest NFL draft pick ever? Well, we could go on forever with that debate, so we broke it down and unveiled our list of all-time bests selected at No. 26. In this article, we review which draftee taken in this slot has made perhaps the most lasting impact in league history – from dazzling skill sets on display in each game to their invaluable contributions both off and on the field. Let’s take a look and see if your favorite player may be part of this amazing group!
Ray Lewis (LB), Baltimore Ravens
Lewis is widely considered one of the greatest defensive players ever, not just for his remarkable talents but also for his leadership and impact both on and off the field. In the 1996 Draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected him with the 26th overall pick, a move that would prove to be among their wisest decisions. He became the first and only player in NFL history to record 40 sacks and 30 interceptions.
Since the AFL-NFL merger, his 50 career takeaways—19 fumble recoveries and 31 interceptions—place him second among linebackers. At the same time, his two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year Awards (2000 and 2003) testify to his prowess as one of football’s all-time greats.
Lewis was the anchor on the 2000 Ravens defense, considered by many as the greatest unit ever. They gave up just 10.3 points per game and 970 rushing yards, the lowest-ever for a 16-game season. Baltimore swept through the playoffs to win their first of two Super Bowls with Lewis.
Lewis exemplified talent. He quickly developed a league reputation as one of its most intelligent and passionate play-callers. Whenever Lewis took the field, it seemed his team had a secret weapon that only he possessed – an eerie sixth sense for when to make the big defensive stop or create a turnover in an otherwise tight game. His presence alone on the field inspired others around him to give their all to every play. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, cementing his legacy as one of pro football’s greatest players.
Alan Faneca (G), Pittsburgh Steelers
Faneca is another excellent and under-the-radar draft choice that significantly impacted the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected the talented 6-foot-4, 322-pound guard in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft with the 26th overall pick. While some fans didn’t like the guard selection in the first round, Faneca proved to be even better than his scouting report indicated. During his nine-year tenure with the team, he earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 2001 to 2007. The Steelers were second in the NFL in rushing during his decade there, and his 201 starts were sixth all-time at his position.
Faneca’s presence was also felt; his leadership and passion for football inspired those around him to excel even further than before. He was known as one of the most intelligent blockers in the league, understanding the entire defense and creating lanes for his running backs. He also ensured everyone around him excelled and was motivated, a testament to Faneca’s leadership abilities. His contributions and talents led him to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021. Despite some tough NFL draft odds at the start, this player left a lasting impact on the league – something all football fans can be proud of!
Joe DeLamielleure (G), Buffalo Bills
DeLamielleure may not have been the most famous player ever drafted, but he left an indelible mark on the NFL. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft, the Michigan State Spartan was part of a stellar offensive line known as “The Electric Company” that helped pave the way for OJ Simpson to become the first 2,000-yard rusher in league history.
During his 13 seasons in the NFL, DeLamielleure achieved six Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro selections, and played in 185 consecutive games – an impressive feat! He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.