When you’ve been drafting NFL players for over 80 years like the Bears, you’re bound to have some hits and misses. The likes of Walter Payton and Dick Butkus sit neatly alongside flameouts like Curtis Enis, Cade McNown and David Terrell as reminders of how right or wrong things can go.
Teams may have more information at their disposal than ever to figure out which players are destined for gridiron greatness, but the results show the draft is still anything but a perfect science. Combine measurements, college statistics, Wonderlic scores and dizzying degrees of background research can only go so far to project what an athlete is capable of in a given environment.
But when you’ve been afforded as many opportunities as the Bears have had since the first NFL Draft in 1936, there will inevitably be a lot of wins to point to. GM Ryan Pace will hope that Mitch Trubisky, Leonard Floyd and whoever is taken with the No. 8 overall pick this year can eventually be part of that list.
With the 2018 draft around the corner, here’s a look at the Bears’ best all-time NFL draft selections, going pick-by-pick from No. 1 to No. 32.
No. 1: Bob Fenimore (1947)
It’s amazing that the Bears haven’t had a successful No. 1 overall pick despite being one of the NFL’s oldest franchises. In fact, the last time Chicago even had the top selection in a draft was over 70 years ago.
Tom Harmon won the 1940 Heisman Trophy at Michigan but refused to sign with the Bears, instead signing a contract with Columbia Pictures to attempt to become a movie star. After serving in World War II, he played two seasons for the Rams.
Fenimore at least played for the Bears, although it was just for 10 games.
Others: Tom Harmon (1941)
No. 2: Sid Luckman (1950)
It’s a high bar for Mitch Trubisky to top to be the Bears’ best No. 2 pick given he would need to become the greatest QB in franchise history. That’s possible, but Luckman is a Hall of Famer who won four NFL championships in the pre-Super Bowl era. Good luck, Mitch.
Others: Bob Williams (1955), Mitch Trubisky (2017)
No. 3: Dick Butkus (1965)
An obvious choice. Bobby Layne might’ve gone on to become a Hall of Famer with the Lions, but he threw just 52 passes in a Bears uniform. Butkus, meanwhile, is one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.
Others: Norm Standlee (1941), Bobby Layne (1948), Chuck Hunsinger (1950), Lionel Antoine (1972)
No. 4: Walter Payton (1975)
The Bears used No. 4 picks on Gale Sayers, Dan Hampton and Payton over a 15-year span, which makes this the sweetest spot in the draft for the franchise. Payton separates himself from the other two given his longevity as a workhorse superstar.
Others: Johnny Lujack (1946), Gale Sayers (1965), Waymond Bryant (1974), Dan Hampton (1979), Cedric Benson (2005)
No. 5: Mike Ditka (1961)
Ditka would later go on to coach the Bears’ other great No. 5 overall pick, Jim McMahon, but there’s no way around the tight end’s brilliance to open his career. He made five straight Pro Bowls from 1961-65 and went on to enter the Hall of Fame as a player in 1988. That’s *slightly* better than Curtis Enis, too.
Others: Jim McMahon (1982), Curtis Enis (1998)
No. 6: Joe Stydahar (1936)
What’s more exciting than a left tackle who played in the 30s and 40s? Stydahar made first-team All-Pro five times and won three NFL championships with the Bears. He also coached the Chicago Cardinals in 1953-54, although that didn’t go so well.
Others: Bill Osmanski (1939), Billy Anderson (1953), Stan Wallace (1954), Steve DeLong (1965), Jimbo Covert (1983), Mark Carrier (1990)
No. 7: Bulldog Turner (1940)
Turner is a throwback to the days of two-way players as he starred at linebacker and offensive tackle during his 13-year NFL career. He was named first-team All-Pro eight times and recorded 17 interceptions in 138 games. Curtis Conway had a good run in the mid-1990s but he can’t come close to that.
Others: Don Lund (1945), Chuck Howley (1958), Don Clark (1959), Roger Davis (1960), Ronnie Bull (1962), Curtis Conway (1993), Kevin White (2015)
No. 8: Jim Dooley (1952)
Dooley, the first player in Miami Hurricanes history to have his jersey retired, had a solid eight-year career with the Bears despite missing time serving in the Air Force. He finished top-10 in the NFL in receptions three times.
Others: Les McDonald (1937), Wally Chambers (1973), Dennis Lick (1976), David Terrell (2001)
No. 9: Brian Urlacher (2000)
The latest member of the Bears to enter the Hall of Fame is a no-brainer choice. Urlacher helped anchor some of the top defenses in the NFL with a combination of size, speed and instincts that was unmatched. He made eight Pro Bowls and won the 2005 AP Defensive Player of the Year award.
Others: Don Scott (1941), Bob Steuber (1943), Ray Evans (1944), Al Harris (1979), Leonard Floyd (2016)
No. 10: Fred Morrison (1950)
Frankie Albert might be the best player, but he spent his career with the 49ers. Morrison, a throwback to the days when fullbacks were drafted in the top 10, at least played a key role for several seasons.
Others: Joe Gray (1938), Frankie Albert (1942), Max Bumgardner (1948), Fred Morrison (1950)
No. 11: Wilber Marshall (1984)
A big chunk of his career occurred elsewhere, but Marshall was integral to those amazing Bears defenses in the mid-1980s. He was a starter on the 1985 Super Bowl team and made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 1986-87 before joining Washington. Keith Van Horne and Donnell Woolford were also important players for the Bears, but they didn’t have the peaks that Marshall did.
Others: Don Kindt (1947), Dick Harris (1949), Ron Drzewiecki (1955), Dave Behrman (1963), Joe Moore (1971), Keith Van Horne (1981), Donnell Woolford (1989), John Thierry (1994)
No. 12: Trace Armstrong (1989)
Armstrong ended up being a six-year starter with the Bears before moving on to play for the Dolphins and Raiders. His best seasons came in Miami, including a 16.5-sack season at age 35 in 2000, but he still had two seasons with 10-plus sacks in Chicago.
Others: Gene Schroeder (1951), George Rice (1966), Craig Clemons (1972), Cade McNown (1999)
No. 13: Walt Harris (1996)
Harris, like Armstrong, played six seasons as a starter with the Bears before moving on to other teams. He was a key part of the 2001 defense that finished first in the NFL in points allowed, then signed with the Colts as a free agent. The Bears have only had two 13th picks in history, so he beats out Earl Leggett for the honor.
Others: Earl Leggett (1957)
No. 14: Tommie Harris (2004)
Harris’ career didn’t last long due to health issues, but during his first few seasons, he was one of the best interior linemen in the NFL. While the former Oklahoma star could be beat out by Kyle Fuller eventually, we’re not there yet.
Others: Eddie Michaels (1936), Julie Rykovich (1946), Dick Evey (1964), Rufus Mayes (1969), Michael Haynes (2003), Chris Williams (2008), Kyle Fuller (2014)
No. 15: Ted Albrecht (1977)
Albrecht played five years as a starting offensive lineman for the Bears, but he starts a run of three straight picks that have no competition. His career was ended early by back issues.
No. 16: Mike Hull (1968)
Hull, a fullback, primarily filled the role of a blocker throughout his seven-year NFL career. He finished with just 207 rushing yards.
No. 17: Zeke Bratkowski (1953)
Bratkowski somehow lasted 17 years in the NFL primarily as a backup quarterback even though he finished with 65 touchdowns against 122 interceptions in 132 appearances. He backed up Bart Starr in Green Bay for several seasons and also coached for the Bears in the mid-70s.
No. 18: Willie Gault (1983)
Gault, known for his incredible speed, was one of the Bears’ key playmakers as a receiver and kick returner on the 1985 Super Bowl team. He left for the Raiders in 1988, but managed four seasons with at least 700 receiving yards before leaving Chicago. He finished his career with a remarkable average of 20 yards per catch.
Others: Marv Stewart (1937), Rick Casares (1954), Willard Dewveall (1958)
No. 19: Otis Wilson (1980)
Wilson is not quite on par with the likes of Butkus or Urlacher, but he was still a starting linebacker on some great defenses in the 1980s. He made his only Pro Bowl in 1985 when he recorded 10.5 sacks and three interceptions in 16 games, then added 2.5 more sacks during the Bears’ Super Bowl run.
Others: Frank Broyles (1946), Shea McClellin (2012)
No. 20: Kyle Long (2013)
Bill Brown went on to a long career with the Vikings but lasted just one year with the Bears, so we’ll go with Long, who has solidified himself as a key part of the team’s current offensive line. Injuries have limited Long in recent seasons, but he’s a crucial player for the offense when healthy.
Others: Billy Grimes (1949), Eddie Macon (1952), Bill Brown (1961), Clyde Brock (1962), Steve Barnett (1963), Dave Gallagher (1974)
No. 21: Richie Petitbon (1959)
Petitbon was one of the top safeties in the NFL during the 1960s. He made four Pro Bowls, recorded five or more interceptions in six different seasons and helped the Bears to the 1963 NFL Championship. Even now Petitbon is still in the top 50 all-time in interceptions with 47.
Others: John Wysocki (1939), Dub Garrett (1948), Bennie McRae (1962), Bill Martin (1964), Rashaan Salaam (1995)
No. 22: William Perry (1985)
Alonzo Spellman had a pretty good run in the mid-1990s, but The Fridge was a unique force in the middle of the Bears’ defense at his best.
Others: Ken Kavanaugh (1940), Charley Allen (1945), M.L. Brackett (1956), Stan Thomas (1991), Alonzo Spellman (1992), Rex Grossman (2003)
No. 23: Bill George (1951)
One of the early members of a long lineage of amazing linebackers in Chicago, George is often credited for helping to redefine the position. He made the Pro Bowl for eight straight seasons from 1954-61 after being drafted out of Wake Forest.
Others: Hugh Hallarneau (1941), Frank Minini (1947), Bobby Watkins (1955), Pat Crain (1964), Brad Muster (1988)
No. 24: John Dottley (1950)
Dotley burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1951 by recording 670 rushing yards and 225 receiving yards en route to his lone Pro Bowl appearance. He finished in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards and yards per attempt. However, his career would end two years later.
Others: George Roscoe (1936), Fred Evans (1943), Rudy Smeja (1944)
No. 25: Gary Famiglietti (1938)
The 25th overall pick was a third-rounder back in 1938 when the Bears selected Famiglietti out of Boston University. He proved to be a key contributor at fullback for several years and made three Pro Bowls. In 1942, he finished third in the NFL in rushing yards and first in rushing touchdowns.
Others: Joe Bortayn (1942), Jim Swink (1957), Bob Jencks (1963)
No. 26: Jim Harbaugh (1987)
The only 26th pick ever made by the Bears was thankfully a useful one. Harbaugh went on to start four full seasons in Chicago, including 1990-91 when the team posted back-to-back 11-5 records. Harbaugh couldn’t carry the Bears deep into the playoffs, however, and moved on to some mediocre Colts teams.
No. 27: Neal Anderson (1986)
Trying to fill the shoes of Walter Payton was an impossible task, but Anderson had a very good run as the Bears’ workhorse from 1988-90. He recorded 3,459 rushing yards, 1,289 receiving yards and 40 touchdowns while making three Pro Bowls in three seasons. His career slowed after that but it was an impressive peak.
Others: Wendell Davis (1988)
No. 28: Dick Plasman (1937)
The last player to ever play an NFL game without a helmet, Plasman won championships with the Bears in 1940-41 and the Cardinals in 1947. He finished fifth in the NFL in receiving yards in 1939.
Others: Charlie Brown (1966), Jim Harrison (1971)
No. 29: Marc Colombo (2011)
It didn’t work out for Colombo in Chicago, but he went on to be a starting tackle for six seasons with the Cowboys and Dolphins. At least somebody got value out of the pick.
Others: Ernie Knotts (1946), Ed Cooke (1958), Gabe Carimi (2011)
No. 30: Ed Meadows (1954)
It’s rather slim pickings here so the move is Meadows, who played three seasons with the Bears as a defensive end.
Others: Bill Rowekamp (1953)
No. 31: Greg Olsen (2007)
Olsen didn’t reach his potential until he left Chicago for Carolina, but he’s been one of the most productive tight ends of his generation. The former Miami (Fla.) star recorded five straight seasons with at least 800 receiving yards from 2012-16. It’s fair to say the Bears would’ve benefitted from that play.
Others: Red O’Quinn (1949), Mike Hartenstine (1975)
No. 32: Don Meredith (1960)
Another draft pick who ended up thriving elsewhere, Meredith started under Tom Landry with the Cowboys in the 1960s. He was technically a draft pick by the Bears, but never played for the team before his rights were transferred to Dallas.Meredith made three Pro Bowls, threw for 135 touchdowns and led the Cowboys to the NFL championship game in 1967. Drafting Meredith only to lose him didn’t really help the Bears, but the Cowboys would go on to become football’s marquee franchise.
Others: Bob Allman (1936), Lloyd Merriman (1947), Knox Ramsey (1948), Bill McColl (1952), Peter Johnson (1959), Jim Bates (1962), Fred Washington (1990)