In sports there’s a natural fascination with any player that gets drafted first overall. It’s an honour and a title only one athlete per year in any given sport can claim. First overall.

When a player attains this coveted honor, expectations are high. They’re supposed to be a perennial all-star, the face of the franchise, a hall of famer, and the guy who brings the championship to his adoptive city. With all of these great expectations there’s a fascination with any player who may have this potential and sometimes perhaps even more of a fascination for any player that may fall wildly short.

Everyone is familiar on an individual level with the greats and the busts. What I want to know is, in my lifetime what has been the greatest year ever for 1st overall picks across sports and what has been the worst? Let’s look at how I’m going to break this down.

I’ve decided to look at the NHL, NBA, and NFL. I will exclude the MLB from this exercise because the draft is far, far more unpredictable than the other three sports and the same intrigue and expectations of top prospects does not exist.

So, with that being said I took a look at every year from 1992 to 2014 and compiled a list of the first overall pick in each of those leagues. Weighting each sport equally I have aimed to determine which was the best year ever and which was the worst. At the end of this article you can take a look at the players drafted each year.

Without further adieu let’s start with the best.

1997: Hall-of-Fame Across the Board

NHL: Joe Thornton

NBA: Tim Duncan

NFL: Orlando Pace

I have to say, writing this was a lot of fun. I started in 1992 and worked my way up and as soon as I saw this year I found it hard to believe anything would beat it. I think I was correct in that assumption. What a year to say the least.

Orland Pace is in the hall-of-fame already and Tim Duncan and Joe Thornton will no doubt be first ballot hall-of-famers in their respective sports when they are eligible. This was the only year all three first overall picks were hall-of-famers. They were more than that though. Orlando Pace pancaked his way to one hell of a career, allowing the greatest show on turf to be the greatest. He’s the one that gave them the time and space to put up such staggering numbers. Pace is without a doubt one of the greatest offensive lineman ever to play. He blocked for 3 straight MVPS, won a Super Bowl, and is a member of the 2000s all decade team.

Then there’s Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe has done everything but win a ring. He is the premier playmaker of his era. At 36 years old, last season he still finished 4th in league scoring. He’s been an MVP, won an Olympic gold medal and won a scoring title, putting up the most points in a season anyone has reached since 1998. His 125 points is almost unprecedented in the era he achieved this feat.

Last, but certainly not least is Tim Duncan. Duncan’s career literally defined success. To list all his accomplishments would take too long, so let’s look at the highlights. Arguably one of the top 5 players of all time, 5 rings, 2 MVPs, 3 finals MVPs and the list goes on. He’s called the big fundamental for a reason, he can do it all and do it all at the highest level. Duncan was the star of and cornerstone of a Spurs team that will go down as one of the greatest teams in the history of sports.

1997 is the best year in my lifetime for first overall picks. Three first ballot hall of famers, three players who dominated their position and sport, and three players who without a doubt made the stars around them better.

1999: Two Epic Busts Plus Elton Brand

NHL: Patrik Stefan

NBA: Elton Brand

NFL: Tim Couch

Picking the worst year was actually pretty tough. Years like 1995 and 2000 were definitely awful, but ultimately I’ll give the dishonour to 99.

Let’s start with Patrik Stefan. The conversation around busts doesn’t take place when it comes to the NHL without mentioning this name. He was the first draft pick of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers and was supposed to be their young star. After a dismal rookie season he never really improved. He stuck in the NHL for 7 seasons because of the potential that we were all waiting to see, rather than being a true difference maker. Not only is he one of the biggest busts ever, but he is also best remembered for the most embarrassing moment in NHL history.

Next up is Tim Couch. He was taken first overall by the Browns so I guess maybe we should have seen this one coming. Sorry Browns fans. Couch set school and NCAA records as the leader of a high powered offense in college before being selected by the Cleveland. College success did not translate to the big leagues. Couch lasted just 5 injury plagued seasons, compiling a 22-37 record, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and throwing for a sub 60 completion percentage. Couch is just part of a long line of Browns first round quarterback busts.

Elton Brand is the one player from 99 that wasn’t a bust. Far from it. Brand had a long and successful career and while he gives some redemption to this year, he is also far from a slam-dunk at number one overall. I’m not trying to knock Brand because he was a very excellent player, better than a lot of the number 1 overall players from this time span. However, he did not live up the lofty expectations of the pick. Aside from one great season in which he made 2nd team all NBA he was only an all-star twice and never reached high individual or team success. He helped his team to the post season just 5 times and never made it past the second round. Elton Brand was a very good player, but not a great player and not enough to save 99 from getting the distinction of worst year for first overall picks.

The Picks:


NHL: Roman Hamrlik

NBA: Shaquille O’Neal

NFL: Steve Emtman


NHL: Alexandre Daigle

NBA: Chris Weber

NFL: Drew Bledsoe


NHL: Ed Jovanovski

NBA: Glenn Robinson

NFL: Dan Wilkinson


NHL: Bryan Berard

NBA: Joe Smith

NFL: Ki-Jana Carter


NHL: Chris Phillips

NBA: Allen Iverson

NFL: Keyshawn Johnson

1997: Best Year

NHL: Joe Thornton

NBA: Tim Duncan

NFL: Orlando Pace


NHL: Vincent Lecavlier

NBA: Michael Olokandi

NFL: Peyton Manning

1999: Worst Year

NHL: Patrik Stefan

NBA: Elton Brand

NFL: Tim Couch


NHL: Rick Dipietro

NBA: Kenyon Martin

NFL: Courtney Brown


NHL: Ilya Kovalchuk

NBA: Kwame Brown

NFL: Michael Vick


NHL: Rick Nash

NBA: Yao Ming

NFL: David Carr


NHL: Marc-Andre Fleury

NBA: Lebron James

NFL: Carson Palmer


NHL: Alex Ovechkin

NBA: Dwight Howard

NFL: Eli Manning


NHL: Sidney Crosby

NBA: Anrew Bogut

NFL: Alex Smith


NHL: Erik Johnson

NBA: Andrea Bargnani

NFL: Mario Williams


NHL: Patrick Kane

NBA: Greg Oden

NFL: Jamarcus Russell


NHL: Steven Stamkos

NBA: Derrek Rose

NFL: Jake Long


NHL: John Tavares

NBA: Blake Griffin

NFL: Mathew Stafford


NHL: Taylor Hall

NBA: John Wall

NFL: Sam Bradford


NHL: Ryan Nugent Hopkins

NBA: Kyrie Irving

NFL: Cam Newton


NHL: Nail Yakupov

NBA: Anthony Davis

NFL: Andrew Luck


NHL: Nathan Mackinnon

NBA: Anthony Bennett

NFL: Eric Fisher


NHL: Aaron Ekblad

NBA: Andrew Wiggins

NFL: Jadeveon Clowney


NHL: Connor McDavid

NBA: Karl-Anthony Towns

NFL: Jameis Winston


NHL: Auston Matthews

NBA: Ben Simmons

NFL: Jared Goff