Friday March 2nd, 2012

Ozzie Newsome was one of the league's first prolific tight ends. (John H. Reid/WireImage.com)

As part of our offseason coverage, we're taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We'll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.

The No. 23 Pick: Ozzie Newsome, 1978, Browns

His Credentials: Three-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time All-Pro, named to NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s; 662 career catches; 47 career touchdowns, played in 198 consecutive games, inducted into Hall of Fame in 1999

Others in Consideration: Antoine Winfield (1999, Bills); Ty Law (1995, Patriots); Bruce Armstrong (1987, Patriots)

The real contender to bump Newsome from his No. 23-pick perch is Law, a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time Super Bowl champion and member of the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team, who made 53 interceptions over a 15-year career.

Law will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2015. Whether or not he'll actually get a call from Canton remains up for debate, but the fact that he is very much in the conversation gives you some sort of idea what a terrific career he had with the Patriots, Jets, Chiefs and, briefly, the Broncos.

Newsome's career, though, had a huge and long-lasting impact on the NFL. Here's part of what the Browns' team website has to say about him:

The arrival of Ozzie Newsome changed the Browns, and in a broader perspective, it changed the way the NFL game would forever be played.

An absolute terror on opposing defenses from his tight end position, Newsome paved the way for guys like Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez to do what they have done in recent years. After joining the Browns in 1978, he quickly became a major weapon on offense, redefining the way in which teams thought about utilizing their tight ends.

He topped 1,000 yards receiving in two separate seasons (1981 and '84) and had back-to-back 89-catch campaigns in '83 and '84 -- the second-most receptions in the league during both years. In fact, during that 1983 season, Newsome finished three catches behind Oakland tight end Todd Christensen and one ahead of San Diego tight end Kellen Winslow.

Christensen came into the NFL with Newsome in 1978, as a second-round pick of the Cowboys, but he did so as a fullback. After an injury ended his first season, he latched on with the Raiders, who converted him to tight end.

Winslow, meanwhile, was a first-round pick in 1979. He had 25 catches in his rookie season, then led the league in receptions for the next two years with 89 and 88 grabs, respectively.

Between them, Newsome, Christensen and Winslow ushered in an era of tight end play unlike anything the NFL had ever seen.

It was Newsome who led the pilgrimage into the league's brave new world. He retired in 1990 with 662 career catches, the most ever by a tight end. That mark has since been passed by Jason Witten, Shannon Sharpe and Gonzalez; Gates could surpass the mark as well, as early as next season. But no matter where he winds up in the record books, "The Wizard of Oz" will forever stand as the groundbreaker for the modern-day tight end explosion.

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