Best of the Firsts, No. 3: Anthony Munoz
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. 3 Pick: Anthony Munoz, 1982, Cincinnati Bengals
His Credentials: 11-time Pro Bowl selection, 11-time All-Pro, named to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s, Walter Payton Man of the Year winner in 1991, member of NFL’s 75th anniversary team, inducted into Hall of Fame in 1998, ranked No. 12 on NFL’s top 100 players of all-time list, started 183 career games
Others in Consideration: Larry Fitzgerald (2004, Cardinals); Andre Johnson (2003, Texans); Steve McNair (1995, Oilers); Cortez Kennedy (1990, Seahawks); Barry Sanders (1989, Lions)
Cortez Kennedy is a Hall of Famer and Steve McNair is eligible for nomination next year, but the No. 3 slot really came down to two players: Anthony Munoz and Barry Sanders.
Sanders was a backfield wizard, a shifty, juking, walking highlight reel who had a seemingly endless set of moves. He never finished a season with less than 1,115 yards rushing and led the league in that category three times from 1994-97, turning out 2,053 yards and leading Detroit to the playoffs during the final season of that run.
He came back the next year and put up 1,491 yards on the ground … then abruptly walked away from the game the next summer. Sanders currently sits third all-time in yards rushing, 3,086 behind Emmitt Smith. Had he stuck around, there’s a definite chance that Sanders would be atop that list.
But while Sanders is unquestionably one of the greatest running backs ever, Munoz left his mark as the game’s best left tackle and, in the minds of many, the most dominant offensive lineman in NFL history.
Munoz played just one game during his senior season at USC because of knee injuries, which could have served as a major red flag on his draft status. The Bengals, though, took a chance on him, and Munoz repaid that faith with a standout 13-year career — and he missed just eight games to injury over his first 12 seasons.
“They gave me an opportunity that I am so grateful for,” Munoz said during his Hall of Fame induction speech. “When a lot of people did not give me a chance to go to an NFL camp, the Brown family and Bengal organization gave me that opportunity.”
There was no beating him when he was on the field. Munoz more than held his own as a pass-protector and he absolutely destroyed anyone in his path on running plays.
“He was so consistently proficient in his entire career,” former Bengals tight end and NFL broadcaster Bob Trumpy said of Munoz. “The day he retired, I didn’t see any difference in the way he played offensive tackle, which is extraordinary.”
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds, Munoz was lighter than today’s offensive linemen but possessed a rare combination of power and quickness. As if to prove his exceptional athleticism, he caught four touchdown passes during his career on tackle-eligible plays.
Munoz was also a part of two AFC title teams in Cincinnati, though the Bengals fell to San Francisco in both Super Bowl trips.
Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since Munoz retired, perhaps no great coincidence, given how impossible it has been to replace him on the offensive line. It’s a quest that the Bengals may never complete — Munoz was a once-in-a-lifetime type of player.