A vice president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Horrigan is the unofficial archivist for the Hall and is probably the smartest man about pro football history in the U.S.
Having such a historical bent on everything, my goal was to not forget those players who might not be as obvious due to the passing of time. In the first round I had my eye on the guy I got—Don Hutson. He was so far ahead of anybody else at his position. He played in the ’30 and ’40s, and it took until Jerry Rice for some of his records to be beaten, and Hutson still holds records today. He is one player who was so dominant at his position that he deserved that pick.
The one other player I was most happy to get was Willie Lanier at linebacker. He would typically be a middle linebacker, but because I was able to get Joe Schmidt too, I got two inside linebackers.
I think fans should try this themselves. It is a great exercise, and it sheds light on how teams have to adjust in the actual draft. We look at a team and say they drafted well, but we don’t really know if that was who they intended to get. Looking back, think I would have expanded my own draft list by position a little deeper than I did. I was three deep at most positions, and that didn’t last very long for a couple of positions.
|The winningest coach of all time (328 career victories), Shula boasts a .677 winning percentage over 33 seasons. In 26 years coaching the Dolphins, Miami only posted two seasons below .500. Shula’s teams made the playoffs 19 times, and he coached six Super Bowl teams (winning twice). Most notably, he won Super Bowl VII to cap the Dolphins’ perfect season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.|
|The No. 1 pick of the 1998 draft, Manning turned a struggling Colts franchise into a perennial winner. His impact in Indianapolis cannot be understated, but he is the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different franchises (Indianapolis, and Denver), and he take both of those teams to the Super Bowl not once, but twice. Among Manning’s career NFL records: passing yards (71,940), 4,000-yard passing seasons (14) and touchdowns (539).|
|Taylor liked to talk trash—the fullback ignited several rivalries, his biggest with Giants linebacker Sam Huff—but he had the game to back it up. Taylor was the first player to record five straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Over nine years in Green Bay, Taylor amassed 8,207 rushing yards. He still sits comfortably atop the Packers’ record book with 81 rushing touchdowns; the next closest is Ahman Green, with 54. Taylor, who finished his career with a season with the expansion Saints, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976.|
|Synonymous with the stellar Cowboys teams of the 1990s—which won three Super Bowls—Smith was known for his durability and ability to create yards after contact. The NFL’s all-time rushing leader (18,355 yards) also holds career marks for attempts (4,409) and rushing touchdowns (164). Smith also added value in the passing game, as a blocker and pass-catcher, with 3,224 career receiving yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.|
|Hutson caught a touchdown on his first play as a rookie, then 98 more over his 11-year career with the Packers. “The Alabama Antelope” was ahead of the times, a premier receiver during an era in which offenses revolved around the run. That makes his career 448 catches, 7,991 receiving yards and average of 68.9 yards per game even more stunning. He retired after rewriting nearly every major receiving category and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.|
|Berry, who finished with 9,275 career receiving yards and 68 touchdowns, fumbled just twice in his 13-year career. He overcame significant physical obstacles with meticulous attention to detail, though it’s unclear which ailments have been exaggerated (reportedly: different-sized legs and poor eyesight). In the 1958 Championship Game, which at the time SI called “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Berry had 12 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.|
|When he died, in 2015, former Detroit mayor (and Pistons star) Dave Bing called Sanders "The Ultimate Lion.” Sanders, after all, spent 43 years in the organization (after his playing days, he went on to become the assistant director of pro personnel). In his 10 seasons, Sanders was a do-it-all tight end who tallied 336 receptions, 4,817 yards and 31 touchdowns while earning a reputation as a sophisticated blocker. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.|
|Mix, a disciplined blocker, was charged with only two holding penalties in his entire 11-year career. Nicknamed “the Intellectual Assassin,” he is one of only 20 men who played the entire 10 years of the AFL, all with the Chargers. (He retired after the 1969 season, then returned for one year with Raiders.) Mix was an All-AFL selection nine times (eight at tackle, once at guard) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.|
|Fortmann became, in 1965, just the second guard to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was young (19) and small (6’0” and 210 pounds) when the Bears drafted him in 1936, but he became an important member of the “Monsters of the Midway,” who won three NFL championships and two other divisional titles. Fortmann, who played alongside tackle Joe Stydahar, earned first- or second-team All-NFL honors in each of his eight seasons.|
|With 223 consecutive starts—which ranks ninth in pro football history—Otto helped usher the Raiders through their infancy. By the end of his 15-year career, the Silver and Black had become winners, including seven divisional championships over his last eight seasons. Otto was selected to 12 All-Star teams in the AFL and NFL and was a 10-time All-Pro. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.|
|Stanfel was drafted by the Lions, in 1951, at age 23 (he served in the military before attending the University of San Francisco). He missed his rookie season with a knee injury, but won the starting right guard job in 1952 and helped Detroit win back-to-back championships. He was named the MVP of the 1953 squad over stars such as quarterback Bobby Layne and running back Doak Walker. An All-Pro in five of his seven NFL seasons, Stanfel was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously in 2016.|
|We may never see a 21-year career quite like Groza’s again. He is known as one of the sport’s first superstar kickers—he was nicknamed “The Toe,” and his 1,608 career points were a longstanding record—but Groza was also an outstanding tackle. He was a Pro Bowl selection in nine of 10 seasons from 1950 to ’59, making the team for his proficiency at both positions. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.|
|The Rams’ defensive captain was the heart of their D-line for 14 seasons. Youngblood played so well as a rookie, the team felt comfortable trading Deacon Jones in 1972. The five-time All-Pro helped Los Angeles reach five NFC Championship Games and turned in his gutsiest performance during the 1979 postseason. After suffering a fractured left fibula in the first round, he played on with a brace and didn’t miss a snap in the NFC title game or Super Bowl XIV. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.|
|In 1956, Robustelli was traded from the Rams to the Giants for a first-round pick, and New York immediately won a championship. The Giants were consistent winners over Robustelli’s nine seasons, as he teamed up front with with Rosey Grier, Jim Katcavage and Dick Modzelewski for one of the greatest defensive lines of all time. At 6’ 1” and 230 pounds, Robustelli was a bit undersized, though many view him as one of the first great 4-3 pass rushers. He retired with the record for forced fumbles (22) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.|
|The No. 3 pick of the 1985 draft, Childress was already a Pro Bowl defensive end for the Oilers when they switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in 1990, moving Childress to defensive tackle. He would be named to four more Pro Bowls at his new position. A captain for nine years, Childress was a leader of the Oilers teams that made the playoffs for seven straight seasons (from 1987 to 1993). He retired with 887 tackles and 76.5 sacks, including 13 sacks in 1992 as a defensive tackle.|
|His nickname was “Contact,” and that should tell you about the way Lanier played middle linebacker: physical and tenacious. One of the first African-Americans to star at the position, Lanier was a three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler who had 27 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries in his 11 seasons, all with the Chiefs. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.|
|Schmidt’s stretch of dominance with the Lions included two NFL championships, eight All-Pro nods and 10 straight Pro Bowl selections. He revolutionized the middle linebacker position with his speed and instincts, ushering in a new era in which middle linebackers were considered the quarterbacks of the defense. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.|
|Robinson was a clutch defensive player in the final years of Vince Lombardi’s tenure in Green Bay. Creating a fearsome trio with Ray Nitschke and Lee Roy Caffey, Robinson made big plays in the big games. Had he not hurried Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith on fourth down in the 1966 NFL title game (which led to Meredith throwing an end zone interception) the Packers might not have made it to Super Bowl I. Robinson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.|
|The 1987 draft was deemed “The Year of the Linebacker,” and many evaluators pegged Bennett as the best of the bunch. The Alabama product was drafted by the Colts with the No. 2 pick, but Bennett is best remembered as a defensive star of the Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls. (The Colts, unable to agree on a contract, engaged in a 10-player, three-team trade that shipped Bennett to Buffalo and Eric Dickerson to Indianapolis). He had 1,190 career tackles.|
|Perhaps the best shadow corner in the league today, Peterson has been a stud for the Cardinals since they selected him with the fifth overall pick in 2011. A Pro Bowler in each of his six seasons and a three-time All-Pro, Peterson has 20 career interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson was the most-avoided corner in the league in 2016—noteworthy considering he most often follows No. 1 receivers. As a rookie, Peterson took the NFL by storm and returned a league-high four punts for touchdowns.|
|The speedy Wehrli might have been the first man to earn the distinction of “shutdown corner.” In his 14-year career with the Cardinals, many quarterbacks simply didn’t throw his way—which was mostly the right cornerback position. A three-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl pick, he retired with 40 career interceptions and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.|
|Krause holds the NFL record for career interceptions with 81, and since he retired only Rod Woodson has truly come close to that number (71). The Redskins surely regret trading Krause in 1968; with his new team, the Vikings, he became the trusted “centerfielder” and played on four Minnesota Super Bowl teams. In 16 seasons, Krause missed just two games due to injury. He also had 19 career fumble recoveries. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.|
|Slender but imposing at 6’1”, Christiansen was a defender whom many opposing coaches ordered their quarterbacks not to throw at, and they also told their punters to avoid booting the ball to him if possible. In helping the Lions to three NFL championships, Christensen recorded 46 career interceptions and returned eight punts for a touchdown; his 1952 mark of 21.5 yards per punt return remains an NFL record, as does his career 12.8 yards per return. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.|
|A second-round pick of the Lions in 1992, Hanson set several records for longevity, including most seasons (21) with the same team. He also became the first player to play 300 games with one franchise (he finished with 327). He ranks third in NFL history with 495 field goals, and more impressively, set the record for most field goals (52) longer than 50 yards.|
|A two-time Super Bowl champion with the Giants, Landeta was also twice named to the NFL’s All-Decade first or second team. In a career that began in the USFL and saw him join five NFL teams, Landeta became the first punter in NFL history to average more than 50 yards per punt in a game in three different decades. He ranks second in career punts (1,401) and in punts landed inside the 20 (381).|
|A native of Bavaria, Germany, Stautner was known for his grit, and for playing well beyond his undersized (6’ 1”, 230-pound) frame. Over 14 seasons with the Steelers, he missed just six games. He was chosen for the Pro Bowl nine times and retired with 23 fumble recoveries. Hall of Fame guard Jim Parker once said of Stautner, “That man ain’t human. He’s too strong to be human.” Staunter’s No. 70 jersey was the first to be retired by Pittsburgh, and remained the franchise’s only retired jersey for 50 years, until Joe Greene was honored in 2014. Stautner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.|
A pick that jumps out here: Lou Groza in Round 14. That’s Lou Groza of the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to college football’s top kicker, and the same Groza who remains one of the NFL’s most prolific kickers ever. On this roster, though, he’s penciled in at his other position: offensive tackle. He and Ron Mix are the OTs for a line tasked with protecting QB Peyton Manning and opening holes for running backs Emmitt Smith and Jim Taylor. The Horrigan front office hammered home Groza’s anticipated role by using another pick (Round 21) on kicker Jason Hanson.
The GMs, overall, tended to wait on wide receivers—just six were taken within the first 131 picks. Two of those went to Team Horrigan: Don Hutson, first off the board at his position at pick No. 8, and Raymond Berry at No. 56, one spot after Calvin Johnson. The Hutson-Berry receiving corps may not be the biggest or the fastest, but it very well could be the most technically precise. Both of those guys just get open.
This is another defense drafted to be a 3-4, presumably with Cornelius Bennett and Dave Robinson at OLB and Willie Lanier and Joe Schmidt (taken in Rounds 3 and 4, respectively and poetically) lining up inside. Ray Childress (Round 23) appears to be first in line for the nosetackle job, although he was selected three rounds after Hall of Fame DT Ernie Stautner. Both Stautner and Groza are examples of how, for this draft, we sort of have to throw out discussions of how size and speed would translate across era. Groza checked in at 240 pounds, while Stautner (6’1", 230 lbs.) was considered undersized in the ’50s, let alone how he’d stack up today.
— Chris Burke