Best of the Firsts, No. 7: Champ Bailey
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. 7 Pick: Champ Bailey, 1999, Redskins
His Credentials: 11-time Pro Bowl selection, six-time All-Pro, named to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s, 50 career interceptions, member of Broncos’ 50th anniversary team
Others in Consideration: Adrian Peterson (2007, Vikings); Thomas Jones (2000, Cardinals); Bryant Young (1994, 49ers); Sterling Sharpe (1988, Packers); Phil Simms (1979, Giants)
The downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars could use a standout pick at No. 7 in this year’s draft. But buyer beware …
The No. 7 slot is rife with busts since the 1970 league merger — Larry Burton and Joe Campbell by the Saints, Reggie Rogers and Andre Ware by the Lions, Philadelphia’s Mike Mamula, Minnesota’s Troy Williamson, possibly even Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey. There are 13 players selected seventh overall who started for two years or fewer in the NFL.
Champ Bailey’s biggest competition for this spot on our countdown came from two sources: Phil Simms and Adrian Peterson.
Simms threw for more than 33,000 yards in a career that lasted from 1979-93 and saw him win two Super Bowls (plus one Super Bowl MVP). Peterson, meanwhile, has established himself as arguably the best running back in the league, accumulating more than 8,000 total yards in just five seasons. If he stays healthy and keeps on that pace, he’ll surpass both Bailey and Simms.
But as things stand now, Bailey has the best shot to break the No. 7 pick’s Hall of Fame drought, once he retires and serves the required waiting period. No seventh-overall pick has made the Hall since 1970, and just one No. 7 selection in NFL Draft history (Bulldog Turner, 1940) has a bust in Canton.
Why does Bailey have a shot to rewrite that history?
Well, as his cornerback-record 11 Pro Bowls indicate, Bailey has long been one of the league’s premier pass-defenders. He led the league in interceptions during the 2006 season with 10, part of 50 career picks he has, and continues to excel at age 33.
The most recent evidence of that came in Denver’s wild-card round playoff game against Pittsburgh last season. In that 29-23 Broncos win, Bailey drew the assignment of covering the Steelers’ Mike Wallace.
Ben Roethlisberger targeted Wallace, his leading receiver, 10 times. Wallace came down with just three of those passes for a paltry 26 yards.
It was just the latest in a long line of shut-down performances from Bailey.
“He’s one of the very best in the history of the league at playing cornerback,” Patriots QB Tom Brady said during the 2011 season. “He plays well against all styles of receivers, too. It’s not like you go in there saying, ‘Let’s figure out if Champ can beat us,’ because he usually can.”
Unlike a lot of cornerbacks, Bailey also is not afraid to get his nose dirty — he has three seasons with more than 80 tackles under his belt.
There’s very little that Bailey cannot do, even as he heads deep into his career. The No. 7 spot in the NFL Draft has not produced a ton of elite players, but Bailey, first with the Redskins and later with the Broncos, has helped raise the bar.