1985 NFL Draft Icons: Rice, Smith, and Legacy Impact

The 1985 NFL Draft stands as a pivotal moment in football history, a time capsule of talent that shaped the league for years to come. Fans still debate the picks, the trades, and the what-ifs that surrounded this iconic event. They’ll explore the draft’s most influential players and how their careers unfolded, forever altering the teams that chose them.

From the first overall pick to the hidden gems found in later rounds, the ’85 draft was a masterclass in scouting and strategy. They’ll dive into the stories behind the selections, the draft-day surprises, and the legacy each player left on the NFL. Whether you’re a die-hard football aficionado or a casual fan, there’s no denying the lasting impact of the 1985 NFL Draft.

History of the 1985 NFL Draft

The 1985 NFL Draft stands as a monumental event in the annals of football history, with its influence still resonating through the decades. On April 30, 1985, the New York Marriott Marquis was abuzz with anticipation as 28 teams prepared to make decisions that would shape their franchises’ futures. This draft was particularly noted for its depth in talent, with a pool that included future Hall of Famers, Pro Bowl selections, and consistent starters.

At the time, the draft process differed significantly from today’s streamlined operations. The event spanned 12 rounds over two days, and the lack of modern technology meant teams relied heavily on traditional scouting and gut instincts. The stakes were high, and the pressure to unearth the next superstar added to the intense atmosphere of the draft room.

The media coverage of the ’85 draft was also much less pronounced, with ESPN still in its infancy of covering the event and without the 24-hour news cycle of modern media outlets. Teams had to navigate the draft without the exhaustive public analysis and mock drafts that characterize the current era.

One cornerstone of the ’85 draft was the emphasis on defensive talent. Defensive end Bruce Smith was the first overall pick, becoming the cornerstone of the Buffalo Bills’ defense for years to come. The Chicago Bears, on the heels of a dominant season, picked up William Perry, a defensive tackle who would become a cultural icon as well as a key component of their storied defense.

Round Notable Pick Team
1 Bruce Smith Buffalo Bills
1 William Perry Chicago Bears

Throughout the two-day extravaganza, teams made trades and selections that would bring about shifts in the league’s power structure. They drafted players who would become integral to their team’s identity and success, making the 1985 NFL Draft a testament to the impact astute drafting has on a team’s long-term prospects. Fans and analysts often point to this particular draft not only for the talent secured but also for the bold moves and strategy employed by the teams throughout the event.

Impactful Players of the 1985 Draft

The 1985 NFL Draft is etched in sports history for producing some of the most formidable talents in football. A key figure from this class is Jerry Rice, hailed as one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Rice’s prolific career boasts numerous records, including career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions.

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Beyond Rice, Bruce Smith, the first overall pick by the Buffalo Bills, became a cornerstone of their defense. Smith’s exceptional skills earned him a record-tying 200 sacks, making him a fearsome force on the field and a Hall of Famer.

Randall Cunningham, chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles, revolutionized the quarterback position with his dual-threat capabilities. His unique ability to both pass effectively and scramble for yards added a new dimension to offensive plays.

Here’s a glance at some other influential players from the 1985 Draft and the teams that snagged them:

Player Name Position Team
William Perry Defensive Tackle Chicago Bears
Kevin Greene Linebacker Los Angeles Rams
Andre Reed Wide Receiver Buffalo Bills

William “The Refrigerator” Perry became a cultural icon and contributed to the Chicago Bears’ dominant defense, leading to their Super Bowl victory. Kevin Greene emerged as one of the most prolific sack artists in league history, and Andre Reed’s consistent performance as a wide receiver was integral to the Bills’ offensive strategies.

These players were just some of the draft’s selections that transformed the game and underscored the 1985 NFL Draft‘s legacy. With each pick, teams were hopeful to secure a talent that would bring them success, and as history shows, several franchises struck gold with their selections. The sheer star power and the raw athleticism sourced from this draft underline its significance and the high level of scouting and decision-making that went into the process.

First Overall Pick

The 1985 NFL Draft saw Bruce Smith being selected as the very first pick. Standing as a beacon of talent from Virginia Tech, Smith was snapped up by the Buffalo Bills, a decision that would etch his name in the annals of football history. At an imposing 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, Smith possessed an exceptional blend of size, speed, and agility that set him apart from his peers.

Smith’s impact on the field was immediate and profound. He amplified the Bills’ defensive prowess, contributing to their transformation into a formidable unit. His skill set was so diverse and effective that he quickly became known for his ability to disrupt offensive plays, making life notably difficult for quarterbacks and offensive linemen alike.

Throughout his career, Bruce Smith’s achievements were nothing short of extraordinary. His accolades include:

  • An impressive tally of 200 career sacks
  • 11-time Pro Bowl selection
  • Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year

The Bills’ decision to draft Smith set a tone of excellence for the franchise. His outstanding performance throughout a 19-year career not only justified his first overall selection but also raised the bar for future defensive players entering the draft.

Evaluating the legacy of a first-round pick involves looking not only at their on-field performance but also at their overall contribution to a team’s culture and success. Bruce Smith’s leadership and work ethic resonated throughout the Buffalo Bills organization, serving as a benchmark for rookies and veterans alike. His relentless pursuit of excellence was infectious, reinforcing the notion that a first overall pick can indeed redefine a franchise.

The Bills’ foresight in selecting Smith underscores the critical nature of the scouting process, revealing the due diligence teams must undertake to ensure their top picks have the caliber to transform their roster. It’s a reminder that behind every draft pick is a wealth of research, interviews, and evaluations, all converging to make that pivotal first call of the draft a potentially franchise-altering moment.

Hidden Gems in Later Rounds

Depth and value in the NFL Draft aren’t solely determined by the first few selections. A myriad of star players has been found in the later rounds, and the 1985 NFL Draft was no exception. Teams that dig deep into the talent pool often find players who exceed expectations and deliver outstanding value for their draft position.

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In the third round, the San Francisco 49ers selected wide receiver Jerry Rice. While Rice was already mentioned, it’s vital to underscore that his selection was initially considered a gamble by many scouts due to his small-school roots at Mississippi Valley State. However, Rice swiftly dispelled any doubts by becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.

Another gem emerged in the fourth round when the Pittsburgh Steelers chose linebacker Hardy Nickerson. Coming out of California, Nickerson may not have had the same hype as other linebackers in the draft, but his resilience and play-making ability propelled him to a successful NFL career that spanned over a decade.

In later rounds, teams continued to uncover talent that would shape the league for years to come. The Philadelphia Eagles selected wide receiver Greg Garrity in the seventh round. His catch in the end zone during a Monday Night Football game is etched in the memories of fans.

Round Player Name Team Notable Achievement
3 Jerry Rice San Francisco 49ers NFL all-time leader in key receiving stats
4 Hardy Nickerson Pittsburgh Steelers Over a decade of high-level play
7 Greg Garrity Philadelphia Eagles Memorable MNF catch

These later-round selections highlight the imperative nature of thorough scouting and the fact that a player’s college pedigree doesn’t always determine their success in the NFL. Moreover, the 1985 NFL Draft serves as a testament to the idea that every round offers an opportunity to pick a player who could potentially alter the course of a franchise.

Draft-Day Surprises

Amid the fanfare and meticulous planning that characterizes the NFL Draft, the 1985 event was particularly noteworthy for its unpredictability and the emergence of unexpected talents. Draft day is often laden with surprises, where the unforeseen becomes the new reality of the league.

The Chicago Bears shook the draft floor when they selected William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a defensive lineman whose size and athleticism defied conventional norms. At over 300 pounds, Perry’s selection at number 22 was not just a surprise but a statement by the Bears on the evolving dynamics of player versatility in the NFL.

Another astonishing pick occurred when the 49ers sought a wide receiver. Rather than opting for a well-known talent from a powerhouse college program, they cast their sights on a young man named Jerry Rice from Mississippi Valley State University. Rice was a relative unknown in a pool dominated by players from more prestigious institutions. His selection at number 16 was met with skepticism but would later be revered as one of the most astute picks in draft history.

Additionally, quarterback Randall Cunningham’s long wait was a significant surprise. Projected by many to go early, Cunningham wasn’t selected until the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles. His subsequent performance in the NFL raised questions about why such a talented player was overlooked in the first round.

Draft day serves not only as the beginning of many NFL careers but also as a testament to the unpredictable nature of talent evaluation. The 1985 NFL Draft was particularly emblematic of this, with several Hidden Gems unveiled beyond the first round:

  • Jackie Slater, Hall of Fame offensive tackle, 3rd round, Los Angeles Rams
  • Kevin Greene, linebacker and future Hall of Famer, 5th round, Los Angeles Rams
  • Jay Hilgenberg, undrafted but later became one of the NFL’s premier centers with the Chicago Bears

The 1985 draft underscored the challenge for scouts and executives in assessing a player’s potential impact, affirming that some of the most influential players may emerge from the most unexpected places.

Legacy of the 1985 Draft

The 1985 NFL Draft not only shaped the future of many teams but also left an indelible mark on the league’s history. The draft class boasted an array of talent that permeated every round, contributing to the rich legacy that fans and analysts discuss to this day.
Impactful Players like Jerry Rice and Bruce Smith didn’t simply join the league; they etched their names in the record books. Rice retired with numerous NFL records to his name, affirming his status as one of the greatest wide receivers, if not the greatest, in history. Smith, with his defensive prowess, retired as the NFL’s all-time sacks leader – a record that stands testament to his dominance.

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Beyond the numbers and accolades, the players from the 1985 draft transformed the way the game was played. They introduced new training methods and styles of play that resonated throughout the following decades. Innovation in football strategy could often be traced back to the ingenuity of those players and the adaptability of coaches who harnessed their unique abilities.

  • Notable Players:
    • Jerry Rice
    • Bruce Smith
    • William Perry
    • Kevin Greene
    • Andre Reed

The diversity of schools represented in the draft also changed the scouting landscape. It proved Scouts and team executives could find future Hall of Famers from any level of college football, encouraging teams to cast a wider net in their scouting efforts. Today’s NFL teams have followed suit, searching far and wide for untapped potential.

Of particular note is how the 1985 class influenced the evolution of certain positions. Defensive linemen like Bruce Smith redefined the expectations for sacks in a season while offensive strategies were forever altered by Rice’s route-running and consistent hands. Randall Cunningham’s dynamic play at quarterback paved the way for the dual-threat quarterbacks that are now commonplace in modern football.

Statistically speaking, the 1985 draft class contributed significantly to the league, with a number of players achieving remarkable Career Statistics:

Player Position Notable Statistic
Jerry Rice Wide Receiver NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, touchdown receptions, and receiving yards
Bruce Smith Defensive End NFL’s all-time sacks leader
Kevin Greene Linebacker 3rd in all-time sacks


The 1985 NFL Draft remains a testament to the transformative power of skilled scouting and player development. Players like Jerry Rice and Bruce Smith didn’t just play the game; they redefined their positions and set new standards for excellence. Their careers, along with those of their fellow draftees, are etched into the annals of football history. It’s clear that this draft class didn’t just impact the teams that selected them but also shaped the future of the NFL. The legacies left by these athletes continue to influence the sport and inspire new generations of players striving to reach the same heights of greatness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who were some of the impactful players from the 1985 NFL Draft?

Jerry Rice, Bruce Smith, and Randall Cunningham were among the most impactful players from the 1985 NFL Draft. They revolutionized the wide receiver, defensive end, and quarterback positions, respectively.

How did the 1985 NFL Draft influence the evolution of certain positions?

The 1985 NFL Draft influenced the evolution of several positions with players like Jerry Rice changing the wide receiver role, Bruce Smith redefining defensive end play, and Randall Cunningham bringing a new dynamic to the quarterback position.

What legacy did the 1985 NFL Draft leave on the league’s history?

The 1985 NFL Draft left a profound legacy on the league’s history by introducing players who became legends, significantly transforming the game, and impacting the scouting process due to their remarkable careers and contributions.

How did the players from the 1985 draft change the scouting landscape?

The success and transformative impact of the players from the 1985 draft class led to changes in the scouting landscape, with teams placing a greater emphasis on potential and talent that could reshape their respective positions.

What are some career statistics of notable players from the 1985 NFL Draft?

Notable career statistics from the 1985 NFL Draft include Jerry Rice’s NFL record for most career receiving yards, Bruce Smith’s NFL record for career sacks, and Kevin Greene’s place in the top three for all-time sacks.

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