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Best of the Firsts, No. 10: Rod Woodson


Rod Woodson was a ballhawk and premier athlete. (AP)

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. 10 Pick: Rod Woodson, 1987, Steelers

His Credentials: 11-time Pro Bowl selection, eight-time All-Pro, Super Bowl XXXV champion, named to NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s, named to NFL's 75th anniversary team, 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, third all-time in interceptions (71), ranked No. 41 on NFL's list of 100 greatest players, inducted into Hall of Fame in 2009

Others in Consideration:Terrell Suggs (2003, Ravens); Willie Anderson (1996, Bengals); Jerome Bettis (1993, Rams); Herman Moore (1991, Lions); Marcus Allen (1982, Raiders); Isiah Robertson (1971, Rams)

From here on in, the decisions on our draft-pick countdown will only get tougher and tougher. Case in point: At the No. 10 spot, we find 13 players with multiple Pro Bowl bids, eight guys who started in the league for 11 seasons or more, and two Hall of Famers.

The battle came down to those two enshrined in Canton: Rod Woodson and Marcus Allen.

Allen's credentials are impressive: Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year in 1985, Comeback Player of the Year in 1993, Super Bowl MVP. Like Woodson, he was named one of the league's 100 greatest players.

When he retired, Allen held the record for most career rushing touchdowns with 123 and was, as his profile on the Hall of Fame's website says, "one of the game's best goal line and short-yardage runners."

All of that made this race for the No. 10 spot a battle.

In the end, though, we're going with Woodson.

Third all-time in career interceptions with 71, Woodson was an athlete, pure and simple. He thrived as a cornerback for the Steelers and 49ers, then shifted to safety and was just as productive to close his career in Oakland and Baltimore.

Amazingly, he led the league in interceptions (8) during the 16th of his 17 seasons as a pro. He also paced the league in picks in 1999 with seven and scored 13 defensive touchdowns as a pro.

"I could easily create an argument for him being the greatest defensive back of all-time," ex-Bengals QB Boomer Esiason said. "I don't think people realize just how great he was, but I think any quarterback you talk to that played against him will tell you that he was one of the great players of all time."

Woodson still holds the record for interception return yardage (1,483, though Ed Reed is just 20 yards back) and interception returns for touchdowns (12 -- Charles Woodson has 11).

Woodson was such a special talent that the Steelers utilized him on punt and kick returns throughout his first eight seasons -- he tallied more than 7,000 return yards in his career and averaged 20 yards or more per kick return five times, including a league-best 27.3 clip in 1989.

Whereas Allen went through some lean years -- 293 yards rushing in an injury-plagued 1989, 301 yards in 1992, 12 straight years without a 1,000-yard campaign after posting 2,314 total yards in 1985 -- Woodson produced consistently for nearly two decades.

The only exceptions are his rookie season, when he played just eight games, and his final year, when he matched number.

When Woodson was healthy and on the field, he was better than just about every defensive back to play the game.