Walter Payton

Who makes the Bears' Mt. Rushmore of 1st-round draft picks

The Bears have so many great players, they could probably have two Mt. Rushmores, but we had to pick just four

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First-round draft picks are kind of the thing in Chicago right now. The Blackhawks are set to select phenom prospect Connor Bedard with the No. 1 overall pick on Wednesday night. The Bears turned their No. 1 overall pick into DJ Moore, Darnell Wright and even more picks earlier this year. The way the Cubs and White Sox have played for most of the year, they could be in line for top picks, too. The only team to miss out was the Bulls, because the ping pong balls didn’t fall their way this year and their pick went to Orlando as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade from 2021.

The Bears hope Justin Fields (2021 first-round pick) and Darnell Wright (2023 first-round pick) will be cornerstones of the offense for years to come, but it’s far too early to tell what their legacy will be in Chicago. So now, we’re taking a look at Bears first-round draft picks who have already cemented their spot in franchise history. And if the Bears were to carve the faces of four first-rounders into a mountain outside Halas Hall, here’s who would make the cut.


The term “game changer” gets thrown around a lot in sports, but “Iron Mike” truly revolutionized the game as the first great pass catching tight end. He became the first TE in NFL history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. Ditka also caught 12 touchdowns as in 1961 en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award. Ditka remains one of the most productive pass catchers in Bears history, regardless of position. His 34 receiving TDs are fourth-most in franchise history, his 4,503 receiving yards rank fifth and his 316 catches are sixth-best. Those are all Bears TE records. Of course, Ditka returned to the Bears when his playing days were done to lead the team to its lone Super Bowl win as Da Coach. In 1988, Ditka became the first tight end ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.


Butkus isn’t just one of the best Bears players of All-Time, he’s one of the greatest to ever play in the NFL. He was a ferocious linebacker whose ability to deliver bone-crunching hits is unsurpassed. Butkus truly struck fear in opponents’ hearts. Sacks and forced fumbles weren’t made an official stat until the 1980s so we don’t know how many times he dropped QBs or stripped the ball, but we do know he was a takeaway machine. Over nine seasons with the Bears he intercepted 22 passes and recovered 27 fumbles. Butkus made it to the Pro Bowl in eight of his nine seasons, was an All-Pro five times and won Defensive Player of the Year twice. Butkus was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.


One pick after selecting Butkus in the 1965 draft, the Bears struck gold again with Sayers. The “Kansas Comet” was an instant success. Sayers’ 22 all-purpose touchdowns in ‘65 remain an NFL rookie record (minus QBs). He was a first-team All Pro in each of his first five seasons. He won the NFL rushing title in 1966 and 1969 and led the league in YPC in 1968. He was also a prolific return man, which helped him lead the league in all-purpose yards from 1965-1967. In 1977, Sayers became the youngest inductee into the Hall of Fame at 34 years old. Unfortunately, knee injuries cut his career short and he only played in 68 games. If it hadn’t been for those injuries there’s a chance Sayers would be considered the greatest Bears player of all-time instead of the next guy on our list.


What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about “Sweetness?” Considered by many to be the greatest football player of all-time, regardless of position, Payton is still a face for the league even though it’s been 35 years since he last played. At the time of his retirement, Payton owned eight NFL records: most career rushing yards (16,726), most career combined yards (21,803), most career rushing touchdowns (110), most career rushing attempts (3,838), most career combined attempts (4,368), most rushing yards in a game (275), most seasons with 1,000 or more rushing yards (10) and most games with 100 or more rushing yards (77). He owned 21 Bears records. Payton wasn’t just a prolific runner who could make opponents miss in practically any fashion, he was also extremely durable. Payton missed one game in his rookie season, then went on an incredible stretch of playing in 186 consecutive games. Payton won the rushing title five years in a row, was a seven-time All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowler and won MVP twice. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1993.

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