The Best Draft Classes of Each NFL Team; Modern Draft Era
Each team in the NFL has had its good and not so good moments in the NFL Draft. I have already chronicled some of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, now it's time to look at each team's best draft class.
In one magical draft, a team can add several Pro-Bowlers and even one or two Hall of Famers to its roster.
So, without further adieu, here are the best draft classes, in alphabetical order.
Arizona Cardinals- 1971
The 1971 draft was fortuitous for the Cardinals. They picked up, among others, Dan Dierdorf, Mel Gray and Norm Thompson.
Dierdorf is a member of the Hall of Fame and was a six time Pro-Bowler. He was also named to the 1970s All-Decade team.
Mel Gray was a talented receiver who was selected to four Pro-Bowls and had at least one reception in 121 consecutive games.
Norm Thompson was an above average defensive back and was also the first ever free agent to sign with a different team in NFL history.
Atlanta Falcons- 1991
In the 1991 draft, the Falcons struck gold with the selections of Brett Favre, Mike Pritchard and Bob Christian.
Brett Favre, who I am sure we all know by now, didn't stay in Atlanta for long. He moved on to Green Bay and put together a record breaking career. He is a ten time Pro-Bowler, three time NFL MVP, and holds the NFL record for consecutive starts by a quarterback (269), career passing touchdowns (464), career passing yards (65,127), and career completions (5,720).
Mike Pritchard played three seasons with the Falcons and averaged 65 receptions per season.
Bob Christian played seven seasons with the Falcons and collected 45 concussions over his career.
Baltimore Ravens- 1996
1996 was a great draft for the Ravens. They picked up Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Jermaine Lewis. All three were instrumental in the team's Super Bowl victory in 2000.
Ogden was an 11 time Pro-Bowler and was a First Team All-Pro selection six times.
Ray Lewis is still a dominating linebacker, and has been selected to ten Pro Bowls and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year two times. He was also the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV.
Jermaine Lewis had six career return touchdowns and was a two time Pro-Bowler.
Buffalo Bills- 1985
The 1985 draft provided the Bills with three quality players in Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Frank Reich.
Bruce Smith was an 11 time Pro Bowl selection, nine time First-Team All Pro selection, and two time Defensive Player of the Year. He collected 200 career sacks as well and is a member of the Hall of Fame.
Andre Reed was a seven time Pro Bowl selection and amassed 951 receptions for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns in 15 seasons, 14 with the Bills.
Frank Reich may be best remembered for the 35-3 comeback victory against the Oilers in the 1992 Playoffs.
Carolina Panthers- 2001
In the 2001 draft, the Panthers drafted three really good players in Steve Smith, Kris Jenkins and Dan Morgan.
Steve Smith is a four time Pro Bowl selection and has been arguably the best receiver in the league for the past two or three seasons.
Kris Jenkins is a four time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who manned the middle of the Panthers defense for seven seasons.
Dan Morgan was a great middle linebacker for the Panthers, but he just couldn't stay healthy for an extended period of time and never really fulfilled his potential.
Chicago Bears- 1989
The Bears have had several great draft picks in their history, but their deepest and best class was in 1989. They picked up Donnell Woolford, Trace Armstrong and Jerry Fontenot.
Woolford was selected to one Pro Bowl and had 36 interceptions in his career.
Armstrong was a versatile defensive lineman who was selected to one Pro Bowl and had 106.5 career sacks.
Fontenot started 193 games at center over his 17 year career.
Cincinnati Bengals- 2001
The 2001 draft provided the Bengals with a plethora of talent. Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rudi Johnson and Justin Smith all joined the team via the 2001 draft.
Chad Johnson has been selected to five Pro Bowls and was a two-time First- Team All-Pro selection.
T.J. has been selected to one Pro Bowl thus far and led the league in receptions in 2007.
Rudi Johnson has been to one Pro Bowl and has rushed for 48 touchdowns in his career.
Justin Smith has collected 50.5 sacks in his eight seasons in the league.
Cleveland Browns- 1978
The 1980s were the glory days of Cleveland Browns football, and the 1978 draft class contributed greatly to those glory days. The Browns required two legends in Ozzie Newsome and Clay Matthews.
Newsome is a Hall of Famer who was selected to three Pro Bowls and two First Team All-Pro teams. He is also a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team.
Matthews was selected to four Pro Bowls and played 19 seasons in the league, 16 with the Browns and amassed 69.5 sacks.
Dallas Cowboys- 1989
The Cowboys have an illustrious history, and the 1989 draft added four great players to their history. Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski, and Tony Tolbert were all added to the roster in 1989.
Aikman, a Hall of Famer, was selected to six Pro Bowls and won three Super Bowls, collecting the Super Bowl XXVII MVP. He is also a member of the Cowboys "Ring of Honor".
Johnston helped pave the way for Emmitt Smith, another Cowboy great. The Moose was selected to two Pro Bowls and also has three Super Bowl rings.
Stepnoski was selected to five Pro Bowls and is a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team.
Tolbert was selected to one Pro Bowl and one All-Pro team and was a member of three Super Bowl teams. He played nine years with the Cowboys and sacked the quarterback 59 times.
Denver Broncos- 2006
The Broncos have had some great players in their history, but the draft in which they got the most talented players was in 2006. Now, the jury is still out on these guys, but getting Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Elvis Dumervil in one draft is strong. The 1983 draft would have been number one except John Elway was technically not drafted by the Broncos.
Cutler played three years in Denver and was selected to one Pro Bowl. He threw for 54 touchdowns before being shipped to Chicago.
Marshall has been selected to one Pro Bowl and has 226 receptions and 15 touchdowns in parts of three seasons with Denver.
Dumervil has collected 26 sacks in three seasons with the Broncos.
Detroit Lions- 1989
Recently, the Lions haven't been known for strong drafts, but in 1989 they struck gold by drafting Barry Sanders, Mike Utley and Ray Crockett.
Sanders is a Hall of Famer and was selected to ten Pro Bowls and is a six-time First-Team All Pro. He has been the Offensive Player of the Year two times and holds ten Lions team records.
Utley, more of a sentimental choice, made the list more out of potential than anything else. Utley played two seasons in Detroit and was paralyzed during a game in his third season.
Crockett played 12 seasons in the NFL and intercepted 36 passes. He also has two Super Bowl rings.
Green Bay Packers- 1990
The 1990 draft was very good to the Packers, allowing them to acquire studs like Bryce Paup, Leroy Butler, Jackie Harris and Tony Bennett.
Paup played 11 seasons in the NFL and was selected to four Pro Bowls and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1995. He collected 75 sacks in his career.
Butler was selected to four Pro Bowls and has one Super Bowl ring. He is also a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team.
Harris played four seasons in Green Bay and was selected to one Pro Bowl.
Bennett played four seasons in Green Bay and collected 36 quarterback sacks.
Houston Texans- 2006
The Texans haven't been around long, but they hit the jackpot in their 2006 draft. For all the flack they took for passing on Reggie Bush for Mario Williams, it seems that their decision was the right one. Along with Williams, they picked up DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels as well.
Williams has been selected to one Pro Bowl and one First Team All-Pro. He has accumulated 30.5 sacks in his three seasons in the league.
Ryans has been selected to one Pro Bowl and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006. In three seasons he has a whopping 395 tackles.
Daniels has quietly become one of the better tight ends in the league. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season and has 167 receptions in three seasons.
Indianapolis Colts- 1998
The Colts have a long, storied history, but we are seeing their best player in franchise history play right now. Peyton Manning was the gem on the 1998 draft class, and they also picked up a great offensive lineman in Steve McKinney.
Manning, who is a future Hall of Famer, has been selected to nine Pro Bowls and has won the NFL MVP three times. He was also the MVP of Super Bowl XLI and holds Colts record for passing touchdowns and passing yards.
McKinney has started 133 games at guard in ten seasons in the league.
Jacksonville Jaguars- 2001
The Jags have a relatively short history, but in 2001 they had a great draft. They picked up Marcus Stroud, Maurice Williams and Marlon McCree.
Stroud is a three time Pro-Bowler and has been one of the more dominant defensive tackles of this decade.
Williams is one of the better guards in the league and has made 96 starts for the Jaguars.
McCree is a veteran defensive back who has 448 tackles and 29 interceptions in eight seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs- 1967
In the first ever NFL draft, the Chiefs picked up Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch.
Lanier is a Hall of Famer and was selected to eight Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro teams. He is also a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Lynch spent 11 seasons as a linebacker for the Chiefs and is a member of the Chiefs Hall of Fame
Miami Dolphins- 1983
The 1983 draft was quite kind to the Dolphins, as they acquired Dan Marino, Mark Clayton, Anthony Carter and Reggie Roby.
Marino was selected to nine Pro Bowls and won the NFL MVP in 1984. He holds 31 Dolphins records and is a member of the Hall of Fame.
Clayton was the beneficiary of several of those Marino passes, as he gained 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns in 11 seasons. He was a selected to five Pro Bowls and caught 18 touchdown passes in 1984.
Carter, because of his USFL affiliations, never played a down for the Dolphins, but of what could have been if he had stuck in Miami. He was a three time Pro-Bowler who had 55 career touchdowns.
Roby, though he was a punter, revolutionized the position with his two-step punting approach. He was a three time Pro-Bowler and a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team.
Minnesota Vikings- 1998
The Vikings picked up arguably their biggest superstar in the 1998 draft. Randy Moss, Matt Birk and Kailee Wong were all acquired in the 98 draft.
Moss came into the league like a rocket, catching 17 touchdowns passes in his rookie season. He also caught the Offensive Rookie of the Year that season. He has been chosen to play in six Pro Bowls and has 135 career touchdowns thus far and had an NFL record 23 in 2007.
Birk has been one of the best centers of the past decade and has been selected to six Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams.
Wong played four seasons with the Vikings and had 134 tackles in 2000.
New England Patriots- 2003
The Patriots are undoubtedly the team of this decade, and they have done a great job of building their dynasty through the draft. In the 2003 draft, the Pats picked up Ty Warren, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson and Dan Koppen, all integral cogs in their Super Bowl victories.
Warren has been a versatile defensive lineman and has two Super Bowl rings. He has collected 19.5 sacks in six seasons.
Samuel has been selected to two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. He was a member of two Super Bowl teams and has 26 career interceptions.
Wilson was a member of two Super Bowl teams and has 314 tackles and 12 interceptions in his career.
Koppen has been selected to one Pro Bowl and played on two Super Bowl teams thus far in his career. He has 71 career starts.
New Orleans Saints, 1993
The Saints have had a rough go of it in their history, but the 1993 draft was a bright spot. The picked up two potential Hall of Famers in Willie Roaf and Lorenzo Neal.
Roaf has been selected to 11 Pro Bowls and six First Team All-Pro teams. He is also a member of the 1990s All-Decade team and has started 189 career games.
Neal has been selected to four Pro Bowls and has been a First Team All-Pro selection twice. He is one of the best blocking fullbacks that we have seen in the past decade.
New York Giants- 1981
I'm sure there have been deeper classes in Giants history, but a draft class that includes Lawrence Taylor has to be the best.
Taylor was selected to ten Pro Bowls and is a nine-time First Team All-Pro. In 1986 he won the NFL MVP and has been the Defensive Player of the Year three times. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion, a member of the Hall of Fame and the 1980s All-Decade Team.
New York Jets- 2000
With the draft always being held in New York, each time the Jets pick the emotions of the fans run wild. In 2000, the Jets made those fans happy by selecting Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Chad Pennington and Laveranues Coles.
Ellis has spent all of his nine seasons with the Jets, appearing in one Pro Bowl and accumulating 61.5 sacks thus far.
Abraham is one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL today, being selected to three Pro Bowls and collecting 84 quarterback sacks so far in his career. He had a career-high 16.5 sacks in 2008.
Pennington has won two Comeback Player of the Year awards and led the Dolphins to the AFC East title last season. In his nine seasons he has thrown for 17,391 yards and 101 touchdowns.
Coles has been selected to one Pro Bowl and has 44 career touchdowns.
Oakland Raiders- 1968
The Raiders have a commitment to excellence, and they excelled in the 1968 draft, picking up two icons in Art Shell and Ken Stabler.
Shell was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was a three-time First Team All-Pro selection. He is a member of the 1970s All-Decade Team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Stabler was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and a member of the 1970s All-Decade Team. He also has one Super Bowl ring and an NFL MVP trophy.
Philadelphia Eagles- 1986
The Philadelphia Eagles had a great draft in 1986, picking up Keith Byars, Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons.
Joyner has played in three Pro Bowls and is one of only nine members in NFL history to join the 20/20 club, which celebrates players who have accumulated 20 sacks and 20 interceptions throughout their career.
Byars was one of the best receiving backs in NFL history. He was selected to one Pro Bowl and caught 610 passes and 54 touchdowns in his career.
Simmons was selected to two Pro Bowls and two First Team All-Pros. He had a career-high 19 sacks in 1992 and is currently 11th on the all-time sack list with 121.5.
Pittsburgh Steelers- 1974
In the greatest draft class in NFL history, the Steelers drafted four Hall of Famers in Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in the 1974 draft.
Swann was a three time Pro Bowler and a four-time Super Bowl champion. He was the MVP of Super Bowl X and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lambert was selected to nine Pro Bowls and seven First-Team All-Pro teams. He won four Super Bowls and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1976. He is a member of the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade teams. He is also a member of the 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Stallworth was selected to four Pro Bowls and one First-Team All-Pro team. He was also a four-time Super Bowl winner and a member of the Hall of Fame.
Webster was selected to nine Pro Bowls and is a member of the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade Teams. He is a member of the 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
San Diego Chargers-2004
The 2004 draft has given us three of the best quarterbacks in the league, and the Chargers got their hands on one of those guys when they did a draft-day trade for Philip Rivers. They also selected Shaun Phillips, Nick Hardwick and Michael Turner.
Rivers has been selected to one Pro Bowl and has 10,697 and 78 touchdowns in his career thus far.
Phillips has developed into one of the better pass-rushing linebackers in the NFL, and has 27.5 sacks in the last three seasons.
Hardwick has played in one Pro Bowl and has started 50 games at center so far in his NFL career.
Turner finished last season with 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. He was also selected to the First-Team All Pro squad and finished second to Peyton Manning in the MVP voting.
San Francisco 49ers- 1979
The 49ers have had a number of great draft picks, but in 1979 they drafted arguably the greatest quarterback of all time in Joe Montana and also picked up a great receiver in Dwight Clark. These two hooked up for one of the greatest plays in NFL history.
Montana was selected to nine Pro Bowls and won four Super Bowls. He is a three-time Super Bowl MVP and two-time NFL MVP. He is also a member of the Hall of Fame.
Clark was selected to two Pro Bowls and is a two-time First-Team All-Pro selection. He is also the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings.
Seattle Seahawks- 1997
The 1997 draft provided the Seahawks with some great talent. They acquired Walter Jones and Shawn Springs.
Jones is a nine-time Pro Bowler and has been selected to four First-Team All-Pro squads. Jones has started in all 180 games he has participated in and is still one of the best left tackles in the game.
Springs has played in one Pro Bowl and has intercepted 32 passes in his career thus far.
St. Louis Rams- 1983
The Rams used the 1983 draft to pick up two great skill players in Eric Dickerson and Henry Ellard.
Dickerson was selected to six Pro Bowls and was a five-time First-Team All-Pro selection. He was also a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team. He still holds the NFL record for rushing yards in a season with 2,105 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ellard was a three time Pro Bowler and a two-time First-Team All-Pro selection. He had 13,777 career receiving yards and 65 touchdowns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 1995
The Bucs drafted two of the best defensive players of the last decade in the 1995 draft when they picked up Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.
Sapp is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection. He is a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team and has a Super Bowl ring.
Brooks is an 11-time Pro Bowl selection a six-time First-Team All-Pro. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 and has a Super Bowl ring.
Tennessee Titans- 1996
The 1996 draft provided the Titans with two great players in Eddie George and Jon Runyan.
George was selected to four Pro Bowls and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1996. He rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns in his career.
Runyan has been selected to one Pro Bowl and currently holds the streak for consecutive games played by an offensive lineman with 190.
Washington Redskins- 1981
The Washington Redskins used the 1981 draft to select three great players in Mark May, Russ Grimm and Dexter Manley.
May was selected to one Pro Bowl and is a two-time Super Bowl champion. He started 142 games on the offensive line.
Grimm was selected to four Pro Bowls and was a three-time First-Team All-Pro selection. He is a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team.
Manley was a two-time All-Pro selection and played in one Pro Bowl. In 11 NFL seasons, Manley accumulated 97.5 quarterback sacks.