Pro Football Draft History: The 1950s

The 1950'sThe number of rounds stayed at 30 throughout the decade of the 1950s. By the middle of the decade, the NFL once again felt the squeeze of competition as the Canadian Football League was attempting to gain popularity by signing big-name college stars from the United States. In order to combat the threat, the NFL held early drafts from 1956-1959. The first four rounds of the drafts were held in late November or early December and rounds 5-30 were held in January.


Select among the years below to see more in-depth coverage of that year's draft:

1950 Colorful nicknames were commonplace in football during this era. Drafted in the 1st round were Fred “Curly” Morrison, Leo “The Lion” Nomellini, and Harold “Bud” Grant. Also drafted were players with names like “Muscles”, “Snakey”, “Tank”, “Dopey”, “Red”, and “Choo-Choo”.
1951 ButtonThe Cleveland Browns had a historic ninth-round, though their choices made history off the football field. Burl Toler, a guard from San Francisco U., never played in the pros, but became the first ever African-American NFL official. Their other pick: Hall of Fame coach Don Shula.
1952Cleveland took Bert Rechichar, an all-purpose back, with the 10th pick. Traded to Baltimore a year later, he also served as the Colt’s placekicker. On September 27, 1953, Rechichar set the NFL record for the longest field goal (56), a mark broken when Tom Demspey booted a 63-yarder in 1970.
1953Future Hall of Famer Doug Atkins was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 1st round. However, the defensive end made his claim to fame with the Chicago Bears who acquired him through a trade in 1955.
1954The Chicago Bears used their 2nd round pick on Florida back Rick Casares who went on to become the team’s all-time leading rusher in a career that lasted through 1964. Walter Payton eventually surpassed Casares’ career total in 1979.
1955The Baltimore Colts selected fullback Alan Ameche with the third pick. Nicknamed “The Horse”, Ameche scored the overtime touchdown in the famous 1958 NFL Championship. Pittsburgh picked up quarterback Johnny Unitas in the 9th round, but the Steelers cut Johnny U. before the season.
1956With their 2nd round pick, the Packers selected tackle Forrest Gregg from SMU. Gregg’s Hall of Fame career can best be summed up by legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who called him the “greatest player I ever coached.”
1957The Cleveland Browns drafted Hall of Famer Henry Jordan in the 5th round with a pick acquired through a trade with the Packers. Two seasons later, the defensive tackle was traded to Green Bay.
1958Green Bay solidified their future by drafting two future Hall of Famers in the first three rounds. The Packers took running back Jim Taylor in the 2nd round and linebacker Ray Nitschke in the 3rd round.
1959Pittsburgh's personnel department had a long wait in the draft as the team had traded away their first seven picks. The Steelers' first pick came in the 8th round with Tom Barnett selected as the 91st player overall.


1950s Draft Notes

 Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant was selected 14th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1950. An end, Grant played two seasons in the NFL. He caught 56 passes for 997 yards and 7 touchdowns in 1952 for Philadelphia.

 Roosevelt Brown, the Hall of Fame tackle from the New York Giants, holds the distinction of the being the lowest round draft pick ever elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Giants took Rosey, who played his college ball at Morgan State, in the 27th round, 321st overall.

 King Hill, a quarterback from Rice, became the last bonus pick when the Chicago Cardinals selected him in the 1958 NFL Draft. Hill played 14 seasons in the NFL with the Cardinals, Eagles, and Vikings.