The 15 Greatest Rookie Years in Sports History
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When several notable rookies dominate the sports world like they did in 2012, it naturally leads to a discussion of the best draft classes ever. The debates tend to focus on a specific sport, but we rarely look at the impact that first-year players had across multiple leagues in a given year.
ESPN recently ran a SportsCenter segment that featured the professional debuts of Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods—among others—in 1996.
Years like ’96 are rare, but what other years welcomed an inordinate amount of future All-Stars and Hall of Famers?
Going as far back as 1977—the first year following the NBA-ABA merger—I took into account the impact that the players had as rookies, the number of All-Star appearances made throughout their careers and how many players ended up in the Hall of Fame, or are likely to make it once eligible.
The numbers in parenthesis denotes the number of All-Star/Pro Bowl appearances made by each player, with MVP and/or Cy Young awards listed second where applicable. Only players with multiple All-Star/Pro Bowl appearances are included as notables and in the total count.
Not all players that fit that criteria are mentioned by name, but their All-Star/Pro Bowl appearances are included in the total count.
Baseball players are listed by the year of their major-league debut, not necessarily their “rookie” year.
With those criteria in mind, here are the 15 greatest rookie years in sports history.
15. 2012 (2 All-Star/Pro Bowl Selections)
RGIII and Russell Wilson met for the first of what is sure to be many playoff matchups in the coming years
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Based on the success of their rookie seasons, the 2012 class of rookies will eventually rank among the five best of all time. Major League Baseball and the NFL alone gave us four of the most talked-about prospects and draft picks in recent memory, and all four exceeded expectations.
MLB (1): Harper and Trout—who made his debut in 2011—dominated the headlines, but MLB’s 2012 rookie class was otherwise strong and diverse. Foreign imports Yu Darvish and Yoenis Coespedes helped lead the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics to the playoffs.
Notables: Darvish (1), Harper, Coespedes, Jarrod Parker, Wade Miley, Yonder Alonso.
NFL (1): Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all led their teams to the playoffs as rookies. Luck and RGIII received a lot of help from fellow neophytes T.Y. Hilton and Alfred Morris respectively.
Notables: Griffin III (1), Luck, Wilson, Morris, Hilton, Luke Kuechly, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, Ryan Tannehill, Bruce Irvin and Janoris Jenkins.
NBA: Portland Trailblazers point guard Damian Lillard is giving Anthony Davis a run for his money in the NBA’s Rookie of the Year race. Other rookies are starting to thrive in expanded roles as their teams quickly fade out of the playoff race.
Notables: Davis, Lillard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Andre Drummond, Terrence Ross, John Henson, Andrew Nicholson, Jared Sullinger.
NHL: The NHL lockout prevented the 2012 draft class from making their debuts last year. They will finally get their chance to shine beginning January 19.
14. 1997 (190, 6x MVP/CY)
Tim Duncan exceeded the expectations that came with being the No. 1 overall pick of the 1997 NBA draft.
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1997 was a sneaky good year for rookies. Despite producing only two certain Hall of Famers, the All-Star count may soon eclipse 200, and three of the four leagues got an eventual MVP winner from this class.
MLB (57, 1x MVP, 2x CY): Despite producing an MVP and two Cy Young award winners, no player from this class is a lock for Cooperstown.
Notables: David Ortiz (8), Paul Konerko (6), Magglio Ordonez (6), Miguel Tejada (6, 1x MVP), Todd Helton (5), Torii Hunter (4), Chris Carpenter (3, 1x CY), Jason Varitek (3), Bartolo Colon (2, 1x CY) and Derek Lowe (2).
NFL (90): Tony Gonzalez is the obvious choice as the best player in the 1997 NFL draft. However, there may be as many as five other players from this rookie class that eventually join him in Canton.
Notables: Tony Gonzalez (13), Walter Jones (9), Orlando Pace (7), Jason Taylor (6), Darren Sharper (5), Ronde Barber (5), Corey Dillon (4), Tiki Barber (3), Warrick Dunn (3) and Priest Holmes (3).
NBA (25, 2x MVP): Only three All-Stars emerged from NBA Draft" target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_NBA_Draft">this draft, including four-time NBA champion Tim Duncan. College stars like Keith Van Horn, Ron Mercer and Tim Thomas highlight a large group of highly disappointing players.
Notables: Duncan (13, 2x MVP), Tracy McGrady (7) and Chauncey Billups (5).
NHL (18, 1x MVP): The 1997 NHL draft was loaded with stellar first-round talent, but it was seriously lacking in depth. Eight of the first 12 picks blossomed into All-Stars, including each of the first five players selected.
Notables: Joe Thornton (6, 1x MVP), Marián Hossa (5), Roberto Luongo (4) and Patrick Marleau (3).
13. 1993 (152 AS/PB, 4x MVP/CY, 1 HOF)
Mike Piazza went from a late-round courtesy pick to perhaps the greatest offensive catcher to ever play the game.
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Fans will look back at 1993 as a year of unfulfilled potential. The NBA and NFL drafts in particular featured a number of notable first-round picks that put together very good careers that fell just short of meeting Hall of Fame standards.
MLB (55, 4x MVP/CY): Mike Piazza, Manny Ramirez and Chipper Jones ended their careers as three of the greatest hitters of any generation.
Pedro Martinez had one of the best seven-year stretches of any pitcher in major league history, while Trevor Hoffman retired as MLB’s all-time saves leader.
Notables: Piazza (12), Ramirez (12), Jones (8, 1x MVP), Martinez (8, 3x Cy Young), Hoffman (7), Jim Edmonds (4) and Carlos Delgado (2).
NFL (63, 1 HOF): Willie Roaf will likely welcome three more members of the ‘93 draft class into the NFL Hall of Fame this year. Will Shields, Jerome Bettis and Michael Strahan were all recently announced as finalist.
Notables: Shields (12), Roaf (11), John Lynch (9), Strahan (7), Bettis (6), and Drew Bledsoe (4).
NBA (15): As good as Chris Webber, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Jamaal Mashburn were, each player’s NBA career was cut short by a devastating knee injury.
NBA Draft" target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1993_NBA_Draft">Notables: Webber (5), Hardaway (4), Vin Baker (4) and Allan Houston (2).
NHL (19): Aside from No. 1 overall pick Alexander Daigle becoming a bust, the 1993 NHL Entry Draft was one of the greatest in league history. Top-15 talent like Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Viktor Kozlov and Jason Arnott were followed by a plethora of future All-Stars later in the draft (24 in all).
Notables: Kariya (7), Pronger (6), Arnott (2), Saku Koivu (2) and Todd Bertuzzi (2).
12. 1990 (182 AS/PB, 4x MVP, 6x HOF)
Junior Seau's illustrious career will not soon be forgotten by NFL fans, especially those in San Diego.
Harry How/Getty Images
1990 was a phenomenal year for first-year players, especially in the NFL. We may never again see a draft as deep in talent as that year’s class.
The NHL was blessed with the debuts of both the greatest goalie and one of the most prolific scorers in league history.
MLB (36, 2x MVP): Two-time American League MVP Frank Thomas was the only player that debuted in 1990 to garner Hall of Fame consideration.
Notables: Moises Alou (6), Kevin Brown (6), Luis Gonzalez (5), Thomas (5, 2x MVP) and Tino Martinez (2).
NFL (83, 1x MVP, 4 HOF): Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Cortez Kennedy, Shannon Sharpe and John Randle (undrafted free agent) highlight one of the deepest NFL drafts in recent memory.
Junior Seau will certainly become the fifth member of this class to be enshrined in Canton—albeit posthumously—the first year that he is eligible for selection.
Notables: Seau (12), Kennedy (8), Sharpe (8), Smith (8, 1x MVP), Randle (7) and Richmond Webb (7).
NBA (9): Gary Payton may have been the only member of the NBA Draft" target="_blank">1990 NBA draft to become a perennial All-Star, but the class was full of players that had stellar NBA careers.
Chris Jackson (aka Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), Dennis Scott and Kendall Gill are just a few of the first-round picks that thrived during their time in the league.
Notables: Payton (9).
NHL (54, 1x MVP, 2x HOF): Future Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr clearly standout, even amongst a group of players that had exceptional NHL careers.
Notables: Brodeur (10), Jagr (8, 1x MVP), Keith Tkachuk (6), Nolan (5), Peter Bondra (5), Sergei Zubov (4) and Doug Weight (4).
11. 2004 (144, 6x MVP/CY)
Eli Manning has justified the draft-day controversy by leading the New York Giants to two Super Bowl wins.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
2004 could turn out to be one of the strongest years ever for first-year players in MLB and the NFL. It was easily one of the worst years ever for NHL rookies, save for the top two picks in the draft.
MLB (54, 3x MVP/CY): Current All-Stars Matt Holliday, David Wright, Joe Mauer and Yadier Molina all made their debuts in 2004.
Notables: Holiday (6), Wright (6), Mauer (5, 1x MVP), Adrian Gonzalez (4), Molina (4), Jose Bautista (3), Heath Bell (3), Curtis Granderson (3), Ryan Howard (3, 1x MVP), Kevin Youkilis (3), Alex Rios (2) and Zach Greinke (1, 1x CY).
NFL (71): The 2004 draft was filled with current NFL stars drafted in the first round. However, it may be more notable for undrafted free agents like Wes Welker and Jason Peters who have blossomed into perennial Pro Bowlers.
Notables: Larry Fitzgerald (6), Jared Allen (5), Peters (5), Welker (5), Vince Wilfork (5), Philip Rivers (4), DeAngelo Hall (3), Tommie Harris (3), Steven Jackson (3), Jonathan Vilma (3), Eli Manning (2), Ben Roethlisberger (2), Matt Schaub (2), Sean Taylor (2) and Michael Turner (2).
NBA (6): Dwight Howard is the only player from the NBA Draft" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_NBA_Draft" target="_blank">2004 draft class to make more than on All-Star appearance, but that is likely to change soon. Young stars like Al Jefferson, Luol Deng, Josh Smith, Anderson Varejao and J.R. Smith have all finally reached their potential, and the rest of the league is taking notice.
Notables: Howard (6)
NHL (13, 3x MVP): 2004 produced one of the worst drafts in NHL history. Outside of the top two picks—Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin—only one other player has appeared in more than one All-Star game.
Notables: Ovechkin (7, 2x MVP), Malkin (4, 1x MVP) and Mike Green (2).
10. 1985 (191, 5x MVP, 9x HOF)
Two statues outside of Utah's arena commemorates the Hall of Fame careers of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
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1985 was a great year for future Hall of Fame inductees. Even the NHL managed to produce two, despite a poor overall draft that year.
MLB (42, 1x MVP): A good, but not great, year for MLB debuts. No player from this class will get a whiff of Cooperstown.
Notables: Jose Canseco (6, 1x MVP), Andres Gallaraga (5), Paul O’Neill (5), Lenny Dykstra (3), Cecil Fielder (3), Ozzie Guillen (3).
NFL (100, 2x MVP, 3x HOF): Headlined by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Bruce Smith and Chris Doleman, the 1985 NFL draft was one of the best ever. Thirteen players from this class made at least four Pro Bowls.
Notables: Rice (13, 1x MVP), Smith (11), Doleman (8), Lomas Brown (7), Andre Reed (7), Steve Tasker (7), Ray Childres (5), Kevin Greene (5), Jay Novacek (5), Randall Cunningham (4, 1x MVP), Al Toon (3) and Herschel Walker (2).
NBA (41, 2x MVP, 4x HOF): A loaded first round including four members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Despite a dreadful group of second-round picks, still one of the best NBA drafts in history.
Notables: Karl Malone (14, 2x MVP), Patrick Ewing (11), Joe Dumars (6), Chris Mullin (5), Detlef Schrempf (3) and Terry Porter (2).
NHL (8, 2x HOF): Aside from Hall of Fame members Joe Nieuwendyk and Igor Larionov, this was possibly the worst NHL draft in history.
Notables: Nieuwendyk (4), Mike Richter (3) and Larionov (1).
9. 2005 (110 AS/PB, 5X MVP/CY)
After a longer-than-expected wait in the green room, Aaron Rodgers emerged as the crown jewel of the 2005 NFL draft.
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2005 may well be remembered as the year that four of the greatest players of all time debuted in their respective sports. Justin Verlander and Robinson Cano made their MLB debuts that summer, shortly before Sidney Crosby took the NHL by storm.
Aaron Rodgers was forced to sit behind Brett Favre in Green Bay for a couple of years, but has since established himself as the NFL’s best quarterback.
MLB (37, 3x MVP/CY): Savvy baseball fans will remember 2005 as arguably the best draft class in MLB history. However, the list of All-Stars who actually made their big-league debuts that year may be more impressive.
Notables: Brian McCann (6), Verlander (5, 1x MVP, 1x Cy Young), Jonathan Papelbon (5), Cano (4), Prince Fielder (4), Matt Cain (3), Felix Hernandez (3, 1x Cy Young), Hanley Ramirez (3), Josh Johnson (2), C.J. Wilson (2).
NFL (50, 1x MVP): Top picks Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown and Braylon Edwards have mostly disappointed, but the 2005 draft produced several players that should expect invitations to Canton soon after their playing days are over.
Notables: DeMarcus Ware (7), Logan Mankins (5), Frank Gore (4), Jay Ratliff (4), Roddy White (4), Aaron Rodgers (3, 1x MVP), Vincent Jackson (2), Heath Miller (2), Antrelle Rolle (2) and Justin Tuck (2).
NBA (8): The 2005 NBA draft was short on star power, making it one of the worst in recent memory. It did, however, produce some very good second-round talent, namely Monta Ellis, Louis Williams, Andray Blatche and Marcin Gortat.
Notables: Chris Paul (5) and Deron Williams (3).
NHL (15, 1xMVP): No.1 overall pick Sidney Crosby is the star of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but a number of the game’s brightest young stars were also selected that year.
Standouts like Jack Johnson, Bobby Ryan and Jonathan Quick will start showing up on All-Star rosters very soon.
Notables: Sidney Crosby (4, 1xMVP), Carey Price (3), Anze Kopitar (2), Kristofer Letang (2), Paul Stastny (2) and Keith Yandle (2).
8. 1989 (198 AS/PB, 7x MVP, 6x HOF)
Ken Griffey Jr's famous smile stayed with him till the day he finally retired in 2010.
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1989 was a thin year for the NBA, but the NFL, NHL and MLB all welcomed current or future Hall of Fame talent into their ranks.
MLB (56, 5x MVP): 1989 welcomed many of MLB’s best players from the 1990s and early 2000s to the major leagues. Major injuries cut into the careers of many players from this group, preventing them from putting up even greater numbers.
Notables: Ken Griffey Jr. (13, 1x MVP), Sammy Sosa (7, 1x MVP), Albert Belle (5), Larry Walker (5, 1x MVP), Juan Gonzalez (3, 2x MVP), David Justice (3), Omar Vizquel (3) and Robin Ventura (2).
NFL (82, 1x MVP, 4x HOF): Four of the first five picks from the 1989 NFL draft ended up in the Hall of Fame. Seeing Tony Mandarich’s (the No. 2 pick) name sandwiched between legends like Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders just doesn’t seem right.
Notables: B. Sanders (10, 1x MVP), Thomas (9), Steve Atwater (8), D. Sanders (8), Steve Wisniewski (8), Aikman (6), Andre Rison (5), Daryl Johnston (2) and Mark Schlereth (2).
NBA (16): Not a ton of talent in the ’89 draft, but Shawn Kemp, Tim Hardaway and Glen Rice were three of the NBA’s most exciting players during the ‘90s.
Notables: Kemp (6), Hardaway (5), Rice (3) and Sean Elliott (2).
NHL (44, 1x MVP, 2x HOF): Along with Hall of Famers Niklas Lidström and Mats Sundin, the 1989 NHL Entry Draft marked the beginning of the Russian invasion. Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov are widely credited with beginning the trend of elite Russian players dominating the league.
Notables: Lidström (12), Sundin (9), Bure (6), Fedorov (6, 1x MVP) and Bill Guerin (5).
7. 1988 (241 AS/PB, 6X MVP/CY, 5x HOF)
Mike Modano retired as the greatest American-born player in NHL history.
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It seems logical that the more distant years would include greater numbers of All-Stars and Hall of Famers. But in another 20 years, we will still look back on 1988 as an exceptional year for athletes making their professional debuts.
Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NHL all welcomed multiple players with Hall of Fame credentials. Somehow, the NBA didn’t get the memo.
MLB (73, 6x CY, 1 HOF): Roberto Alomar is the lone Hall of Famer from this class, but he is certain to have more company in the coming years. Former MLB stars like Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling should all find themselves in Cooperstown one day.
Notables: Alomar (12), Randy Johnson (10, 5x CY), Gary Sheffield (9), John Smoltz (8, 1x CY), Craig Biggio (7) and Curt Schilling (6).
NFL (100, 4x HOF) : Four players selected in the 1988 NFL draft are already enshrined in Canton. If there is any justice, Tim Brown will become the fifth this year.
Notables: Randall McDaniel (12), Brown (9), Dermonti Dawson (7), Michael Irvin (5), Sterling Sharpe (5) and Thurman Thomas (5).
NBA (11): Another draft short on All-Star talent, but rich with memorable players. Five-time NBA champion Steve Kerr and perhaps the best player to never make an All-Star game, Rod Strickland, were members of the 1988 draft class.
Notables: Mitch Richmond (6), Dan Majerle (3) and Danny Manning (2).
NHL (57): The 1988 NHL Entry Draft will always be remembered as the year that welcomed the three best American-born players in history into the league. Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte were all great players, regardless of where they were born.
Notables: Teemu Selanne (11), Roenick (9), Modano (8), Mark Recchi (8), Rob Blake (6), Alexander Mogilny (6) and Amonte (5).
6. 1998 (183, 7x MVP/CY)
Despite the recent playoff loss, Peyton Manning still gives the Broncos a great chance to win a Super Bowl.
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Although they are approaching the twilight of their careers, many of the standouts from the 1998 class are still playing at an All-Star level. Ten years from now, we’ll see more than a few names from this list in their respective Halls of Fame.
MLB (41, 2x CY): Kerry Wood burst onto the MLB scene with a fabulous season that earned him Rookie of the Year honors. Other current stars like Roy Halladay, Carlos Beltran and Adrian Beltre also debuted in ’98, but it was generally a weak first-year class.
Notables: Halladay (8, 2x CY), Beltran (7), Beltre (3), Ryan Dempster (2), A.J. Pierzynski (2), Placido Polanco (2) and Wood (2).
NFL (97, 4x MVP): Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Randy Moss are the brightest stars of a very deep draft class. Fred Taylor, the NFL’s 15th leading rusher of all time, was the ninth overall pick in the 1998 draft, but he, amazingly, never made it to the Pro Bowl.
Notables: Manning (12, 4x MVP), Alan Faneca (9), Woodson (8), Moss (7), Matt Birk (6), Olin Kreutz (6), Jeff Saturday (6), Keith Brookings (5), Hines Ward (4), London Fletcher (3) and Matt Hasselbeck (3).
NBA (33, 1x MVP): Although Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce are destined for Springfield, the 1998 draft is best know for one of the biggest busts in NBA draft history: No. 1 overall pick Michael Olowokandi.
Notables: Nowitzki (11, 1x MVP), Pierce (10), Vince Carter (8), Antwan Jamison (2) and Rashard Lewis (2).
NHL (12): A solid, yet unspectacular class for the 1998 NHL rookies. While lacking in All-Stars, many players in this class have played key roles on Stanley Cup-winning teams, including 2004 Conn Smythe awardee Brad Richards.
Notables: Pavel Datsyuk (4), Vincent Lecavalier (4), Simon Gagne (2) and Scott Gomez (2).
5. 1981 (206 AS/PB, 6x MVP/CY, 13 HOF)
Cal Ripken Jr made it to Cooperstown the hard way, setting MLB's all-time consecutive games played record.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
1981 may be the most balanced year of any on this list, providing at least one Hall of Fame member in each of the four major sports.
MLB (45, 4x MVP, 1x CY, 2x HOF): Not many future All-Stars debuted in 1981, but it is a very accomplished group. Along with Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr and Ryne Sandberg, the group produced two other MVP (George Bell) or Cy Young award (Steve Bedrosian) winners.
Notables: Ripken Jr (19, 2x MVP), Sandberg (10, 1x MVP), Steve Sax (5), Bell (3, 1x MVP) and Bedrosian (1, 1x Cy Young).
NFL (87, 1x MVP, 6x HOF): If you wanted an impact defensive player, 1981 was the year to get him. This class produced six Hall of Famers, five on the defensive side of the ball.
Notables: Ronnie Lott (10), Mike Singletary (10), Lawrence Taylor (10, 1x MVP), Howie Long (8), Ricky Jackson (6), Russ Grim (4) and Chris Collinsworth (3).
NBA (31, 1x HOF): The top two picks, Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas, eventually became teammates, leading the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles.
Notables: Thomas (12), Rolando Blackman (4), Tom Chambers (4), Aguirre (3), Larry Nance (3) and Buck Williams (3).
NHL (43, 4x HOF): One of the better NHL drafts of all time, the 1981 class included four future Hall of Fame inductees. Defenseman Chris Chelios will eventually become the fifth.
Notables: Chellios (11), Al MacInnis (7), Grant Fuhr (6), Dale Hawerchuk (5), Mike Vernon (5), Ron Francis (4) and John Vanbiesbrouck (3).
4. 1983 (218, 5x MVP/CY, 13x HOF)
John Elway headlined the 1983 NFL draft that produced three Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
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The rookie class of 1983 is propped up by a spectacular group of players from the NFL and NHL. Those two leagues produced a combined 11 Hall of Famers (soon to be 12), including arguably the greatest quarterback and greatest goalie in history.
MLB (38, 1x CY): No member of the 1983 class ended up in Cooperstown, but this is still a very accomplished group.
Notables: Darryl Strawberry (8), Joe Carter (5), Tony Fernandez (5), Matt Williams (5), Darren Daulton (3), Orel Hershiser (3, 1x CY), Andy Van Slyke (3) and Harold Reynolds (2).
NFL (122, 2x MVP, 7x HOF): Known as the year of the quarterback, the 1983 NFL draft produced three of the best ever at the position in John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.
With a total of seven players enshrined in Canton, many consider the ’83 class to be the best in NFL history.
Notables: Bruce Matthews (14), Elway (9, 1x MVP), Marino (9, 1x MVP), Darrell Green (7), Chris Hinton (7), Eric Dickerson (6), Karl Mecklenberg (6), Mark Clayton (5), Roger Craig (4), Richard Dent (4) and Kelly (4).
NBA (16): The 1983 draft is more notable for the eventual NBA coaches it produced than the number of All-Stars. Byron Scott, Randy Wittman and Doc Rivers are all currently head coaches in the league.
Notables: Clyde Drexler (10), Ralph Sampson (4), Jeff Malone (2).
NHL (42, 2x MVP): The 1983 draft produced some of the all-time greats in Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine and Cam Neeley. Dominik Hasek will soon join those three as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Notables: Yzerman (9), Hašek (7, 2x MVP), LaFontaine (5), Neely (5), Rick Tocchet (4), Tom Barrasso (3) and Kevin Stevens (3).
3. 1996 (243, 15x MVP/POY)
Tiger Woods won the first of his 14 Majors at the '97 Masters, less than a year after making his professional debut.
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With 243 All-Star appearances—the most of any year—and the professional debut of one Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods, it is difficult for me to leave 1996 at third on this list. However, I cannot overlook an average class of MLB rookies and an abysmal NHL draft.
MLB (67, 1x MVP): Technically, Derek Jeter briefly debuted in 1995 as an injury replacement. However, the Yankees quickly demoted him to Triple AAA after 13 games.
Even without the Jeter wrinkle, 1996 welcomed a slew of incredible talent to the majors.
Notables: Jeter* (13), Vlad Guerrero (9, 1x MVP), Scott Rolen (7), Kevin Brown (6), Nomar Garciaparra (6), Andruw Jones (5), Edgar Renteria (5) and Bobby Abreu (2).
NFL (105): In his final NFL season, future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis is trying to lead the Baltimore Ravens to another Super Bowl title. Six players from the class of ’96 will eventually make it to Canton, led by Jonathan Ogden, a finalist for this year’s class of inductees.
Notables: Lewis (13), Ogden (11), Brian Dawkins (9), Marvin Harrison (8), Zach Thomas (7), Mike Alstott (6), La’Roi Glover (6), Terrell Owens (6), Eddie George (4), Keyshawn Johnson (3) and Teddy Bruschi (3).
NBA (59, 4x MVP): If not for injuries (Jermaine O’Neal) and pure knuckleheadedness (Allen Iverson, Antoine Walker and Stephon Marbury), the 1996 NBA draft class could be pushing for G.O.A.T. status.
Notables: Kobe Bryant (14, 1x MVP), Iverson (11, 1x MVP), Ray Allen (10), Steve Nash (8, 2x MVP), O’Neal (6), Peja Stojaković (3), Walker (3) and Marbury (2).
NHL (12): An extremely forgettable NHL draft class that only produced one player with Hall of Fame potential (Zdeno Chara). And he wasn’t selected until the third round.
Notables: Zdeno Chara (6), Tomáš Kaberle (4) and Daniele Brier (2).
2. 2003 (181, 7x MVP/CY)
Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James are making the 2003 NBA draft class look like one of the best ever.
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It is hard to imagine the 2003 class of rookies not eventually taking over the top spot on this list. Many of the standouts from this class are in the prime of their careers, still building their eventual Hall of Fame legacies.
The NFL, NHL and NBA drafts from ’03 are already among the top five of all time for each league.
MLB (40, 2x MVP, 1x CY): 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera would make it to Cooperstown if he never got another hit. Chase Utley, Jose Reyes and Mark Teixeira still have time to build their cases for eventual induction into MLB's Hall of Fame.
Notables: Utley (8), Cabrera (7, 1x MVP), Justin Morneau (4, 1x MVP), Reyes (4), Brandon Webb (3, 1x CY), and Mark Teixeira (2).
NFL (91): An absolutely loaded year for first-year NFL players, many of whom are still adding to their Pro Bowl resumes. As many as 10 players from the 2003 class could someday end up in Canton, including undrafted free agents Antonio Gates and Tony Romo.
Notables: Jason Witten (8), Gates (8), Lance Briggs (7), Troy Polamalu (7), Andre Johnson (6), Kevin Williams (6), Robert Mathis (5), Terrell Suggs (5), Asante Samuel (4), Anquan Boldin (3), Tony Romo (3), Willis McGahee (2), Carson Palmer (2) and Charles Tillman (2).
NBA (30, 3x MVP): If the 1984 class currently holds the crown for best draft ever, the 2003 group is giving it a run for its money.
The careers of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are on Hall of Fame trajectories. James is threatening to unseat Michael Jordan as the greatest NBA player of all time.
Notables: LeBron (8, 3x MVP), Wade (8), Bosh (7), Anthony (5) and David West (2).
NHL (20, 1 x MVP): The 2003 class lacks the number of players with multiple All-Star game appearances that some would expect, but that will soon change. Current NHL stars like Ryan Suter, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Zach Parise are why some already consider this the best draft class in NHL history.
Notables: Corey Perry (4, 1x MVP), Eric Staal (4), Dion Phaneuf (3), Shea Weber (3), Dustin Byfuglien (2), Ryan Getzlaf (2) and Thomas Vanek (2).
1. 1984 (201, 24x MVP/CY, 10x HOF)
Michael Jordan's HOF speech, like his playing career, was cold-blooded. Still, there is no denying his G.O.A.T. status.
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What 1984 lacks in total All-Star appearances, it more than makes up for in Most Valuable Player awards. This group has already accomplished what the 2005 rookie class is on pace to do—produce some of the top-five players of all time in each of the four major sports.
MLB (47, 3x MVP, 10x CY, 1x HOF): Five players from the class of ’84 combined for three MVPs and 10 Cy Young awards. Kirby Puckett is the lone player in the Hall of Fame, and it may be awhile before seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens joins hi in Cooperstown.
Notables: Roger Clemens (11, 1x MVP, 7x CY), Kirby Puckett (10), John Franco (4), Mark Langston (4), Doc Gooden (4, 1x CY), Brett Saberhagen (3, 2x CY), Kevin Mitchell (2, 1x MVP) and Terry Pendleton (1, 1x MVP).
NFL (41, 1x HOF): Easily the weakest class of NFL rookies on this list. Still managed to squeeze out one Hall of Famer in quarterback Warren Moon.
Notables: Moon (9), Irving Fryar (5), Guy McIntyre (5) and Boomer Esiason (4).
NBA (51, 7x MVP, 4x HOF): Hakeem Olajuwan, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. All ten-time All-Stars (or more), all in the Hall of Fame.
1984 is clearly the best NBA draft class ever. Or is it?
Notables: Jordan (14, 5x MVP), Barkley (11, 1x MVP), Olajuwan (12, 1x MVP), Stockton (10) and Alvin Robertson (4).
NHL (62, 4x MVP, 4x HOF): Patrick Roy, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull headline arguably the greatest draft class in NHL history. Four Hall of Fame inductees overall, and the one player (Roy) who would certainly take exception with Brodeur's claim as the greatest goalie in NHL history.
Notables: Roy (11), Lemieux (10, 3x MVP), Hull (8, 1x MVP), Luc Robitaille (8), Kirk Muller (6), Kevin Hatcher (5), Gary Suter (5), Al Iafrate (4) and Gary Roberts (3).