Every year, usually mere days after the draft, ESPN personalities and websites across the Internet criticize and immortalize the most recent NFL draft classes.
We’ll take a look at some of the true winners, not on a draft-by-draft basis, but an organization-by-organization basis and rank all 32 NFL teams and see which franchises and general managers and scouts and war rooms really are the most successful over the past five years.
The draft is a misconception to many people. Most look at the first-round picks of each team and feel they have an accurate measuring scale.
Maybe they look at the late-round picks that become starters. But a true indication of a great drafting organization is having guys that continuously make it at the pro level and contribute in some form for many years.
As you would expect, the Colts are around the top of the list. However, looking back at the past five years, the Colts have made few, if any, major mistakes in late April every year.
With non-first-round contributions by Tony Ugoh, Clint Session, Mike Pollack, Freddy Keiaho, Charlie Johnson, Antoine Bethea, and Kevlin Hayden, the team was able to combine those mid-round starters to form a very deep unit that led this team to the Super Bowl.
With elite players like Reggie Wayne, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, and of course Peyton Manning on the team, they don’t need much to be successful.
But adding contributors like Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Addai along with those mid-rounders, the Colts should be no surprise to dominate until the end of Peyton Manning’s tenure and beyond.
The past four seasons, including 2009, the Eagles have picked a great, future building player in their first pick, and on average get about two or three starters each draft. In case you didn’t know, that’s nearly unheard of.
What’s really impressed me the most about the drafts that the Eagles have put together is that they have transitioned and are still transitioning almost seamlessly from the McNabb, Westbrook, Tra Thomas, Brian Dawkins, and Jeremiah Trotter era to a set of younger players who will be the new faces of the franchise.
Kevin Kolb, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin have been the stars of their recent drafts, but even scooping up solid players like Stewart Bradley, Brett Celek, and Trent Cole show exactly why the Eagles have enjoyed consistent success.
Generally thought of as one of the best-run organizations as a whole, the main reason for the sustained success of the Patriots franchise has obviously been the drafting ability of New England’s front office.
Even without the well-respected Scott Pioli in the 2009 draft, as he took the reigns in Kansas City, they found their future left tackle in lesser known Sebastian Vollmer.
And over the past five years, they have managed to hit on their 1st rounders with Pro Bowlers like Jerod Mayo as well as lower-round guys like Nick Kaczur and of course Matt Cassel.
The only really bad pick was Chad Jackson in the second round in 2006, which did hurt their receiver potential as they hoped he would develop. But outside of that one mistake, they have been nearly flawless.
One of the main reason the Giants have been so successful in recent seasons (including their 2008 Super Bowl win) is the way they build tremendous depth through the draft.
They haven’t had an overly impactful first rounder since Eli Manning, but what they have brought in are great role players and backups that allow this team to flourish.
Guys like Aaron Ross and Mathias Kiwanuka have developed nicely into starters and lower-round guys like Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Justin Tuck have really been huge factors in the team’s success.
After a 2009 draft where I felt, based on where I had their players slotted on my board, was the best of any team, it looks as though the Giants are built for the now and the future thanks to the draft.
As you’ll notice as you move up and down the list, the thought-of “well-run” organizations generally are the ones that draft well, and of course the Steelers are near the top.
Getting steals like Mike Wallace in the third round and Lamar Woodley in the second, coupled with stars like Santonio Holmes, Lawrence Timmons, and Heath Miller, the Steelers have a strong nucleus around their franchise players like Big Ben, James Harrison, and Troy Polumalu.
The Limas Sweed experiment is likely over with Mike Wallace developing the way he has, and he’s their only poor draft selection in the past five years.
It’s easy to hate GM AJ Smith for his egotistical and outlandish nature (especially when he fired Marty Schottenheimer after 14-2 season), but with his drafting ability, it’s also obvious to see why the Chargers are where they are now at this point in time.
Finding current starters out of the first rounder like Eric Weddle, Marcus McNeil, Vincent Jackson, and Darren Sproles have allowed this team to really flourish with the playmakers they already have in place like Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates.
GM Ozzie Newsome is well-known for putting together great drafts and really understands the right way to build a franchise—from the linemen out.
He’s drafted his entire starting offensive line in the past five drafts, has found two potential Pro Bowl running backs in Ray Rice and LeRon McClain, and has found his franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco.
With the focus on defense as well early in the draft, with such guys like Haloti Ngata, they have been able to maintain a top 10 defense while finally building up the lackluster offense.
The 2005 draft was a bit of a mess, with Mark Clayton, Shawn Cody, and Adam Terry all busting, but it sure isn’t showing on the field now and for the future.
In the NFL, having only one good running back is a risky endeavor, a concept the Panthers understand very well and don’t have to worry about.
They have taken two running backs in the past three years, both Pro Bowl caliber guys.
They’ve also found a future tackle/guard starter in Jeff Otah and a few defensive studs in Charles Godfrey, Richard Marshall, and Jon Beason.
Experiments like Dwyane Jarrett and Eric Shelton didn’t quite work out, and they still have yet to find a future quarterback (I don’t know about Matt Moore quite yet), which is why they fade a little on this list.
Outside of the 2007 draft, this Broncos organization has found solid role player after starter after Pro Bowler since 2005.
In 2007, they took Jarvis Moss, out of the league, Tim Crowder, not on the roster, and Marcus Thomas, back-up on the fringe of getting cut.
However, they found starts like Ryan Clady and Jay Cutler in 2008 and 2006 in the first rounder, and game changers like Tony Scheffler, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, and Eddie Royal in those same years as well.
Those coupled with Peyton Hillis, Dominic Hixon, and Greg Eslinger, all potential starters on the teams they play on now, make for some impressive drafting by the Broncos.
Over the past five years, the Cowboys have taken some of the Bill Parcells prospects when he was there (up until after the 2006 draft), and some of the new regimes players.
Parcels got guys like Demarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Marion Barber, and Jay Ratliff, all Pro Bowlers and all from the 2005 draft.
The new regime, however, has brought in productive players like Anthony Spencer, Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, and Tashard Choice.
While they haven’t found many new playmakers over the past three years, they’ve found a few sleepers in guys like Martellus Bennett and Doug Free.
They still have questions about their offensive line youth and their receiver depth, but talent-wise, they have drafted well.
One of the core reasons why the Saints developed from a perennial loser to a Super Bowl winner in four years is their tremendous drafting ability in that time period.
They’ve found top-of-their-position sleepers like Tracy Porter, Jahari Evans, and Marcus Colston after the first round and have added depth guys like Carl Nicks, Usama Young, and Jerome Bushrod, who all played huge roles in the Saints being successful.
The busting of Reggie Bush to start the new era didn’t help, but he’s isn’t a terrible contributor and the drafts that followed definitely made up for that mistake.
Many times, fans and draft grade evaluators (sad to say that they exist) tend to base a GM or organization’s drafting ability on one bust or success. That seems to be the case of the Jets and their selecting of Vernon Gholston sixth overall in 2008.
However, outside of that draft selection, the rest of their first rounders since 2006 have been extremely successful.
Mark Sanchez lead them to the AFC title game, Dustin Keller is a matchup nightmare at tight end, Darrelle Revis is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold form one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Those along with mid-rounders like Shonn Greene, David Harris, and Leon Washington are the current foundations of the Jets' success.
The Cardinals surge to NFC contenders has a lot to do with the stars and depth they’ve found in the draft the past five seasons.
Finding defensive playmakers like Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Antrel Rolle and their left tackle Levi Brown in the first round has let other players, veterans or mid rounders, really succeed for the Cardinals.
The 2006 draft is still undecided, as we have to see if Matt Leinart can finally seize the opportunity as a starter, but outside of him, the Cardinals have done a solid, not spectacular, job in the draft.
After taking Aaron Rodgers in 2005, the Packers haven’t found stars in the first round, but have found above-average starters like Clay Matthews and AJ Hawk.
However, the Packers have found great sleepers later in drafts like current starters like TJ Lang, Greg Jennings, John Jolly, Jermichael Finley, and Nick Collins and have built this team so that they have the luxury of going after risky free agents if they choose.
Some second-rounders like Brian Brohm, Patrick Lee, and Darryn Colledge haven’t developed into Packer starters which pushes them down, but their ability to find starters later in the draft has to receive enough credit.
While it’s irrelevant to the Dolphins current war room, they have to slip a little in this last thanks to their awful 2006 and 2007 drafts.
In those two drafts, they took Ted Ginn Jr., John Beck, and Jason Allen, in the top two rounds, all of which have performed lackluster to be nice.
But, in the past two drafts under Bill Parcells, they have found some key building blockers.
In 2008, they found their left tackle of the future, Jake Long, their quarterback of the future, Chad Henne, two key defensive ends for the 3-4, Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford, and a starting guard, Donald Thomas.
And in the 2009 draft, their top two picks, both cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, both have developed into starters and mid-round pick Brian Hartline is already contributing.
With only two years into these most recent drafts, these classes have a chance to be even better as Parcells adds more talent in the 2010 draft.
Maybe a little surprising to see them this high on this list, the GM change was mostly due to the poor management in the past than in the most recent drafts.
The 2009 draft already paid dividends, developing four starters in Alex Mack at center, Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi at receiver, and Kaluka Maiava at outside linebacker.
And, combine that with some solid late round finds in years past like Ahytin Rubin at nose tackle, Eric Wright at cornerback, D’Qwell Jackson at linebacker, and Jerome Harrison at running back, the Browns do have some pieces.
However, the Brady Quinn debacle, in which the team gave up their 2007 second-rounder and their 2008 first-rounder in exchange for the now-busted Quinn, really set this franchise back a little ways.
But now, with Mike Holmgren in charge and already making many moves, they could even rise up this list.
Outside of a horrendous 2005 draft in which they missed on both their first round picks (Troy Williamson and Erasmus James) and their second-rounder (Marcus Johnson), the Vikings have done pretty well, which is the main reason for their franchise turnaround.
In 2006, they hit on four starters, finding starters outside the first round like Cedric Griffin and Ray Edwards.
In 2007, they got two Pro Bowl players in Sidney Rice and Adrian Peterson. In 2008, they landed their center of the future in Jonathan Sullivan.
And finally, in 2009, they got two current starters, both of whom were influential in their NFC Title game run, Percy Harvin and Phil Loadholt.
Add those players to free agents like Brett Favre, Chester Taylor, Jared Allen, and Bernard Berrian, and it’s no wonder why the Vikings are set for the near future.
Most years, following the draft, evaluators are quick to knock the Titans draft selections, because they usually go for best player available, and that best player usually is a guy known for great athletic ability and sometimes questionable production.
But you can’t argue with their last three first rounders, all thought of as over-picked guys, in Michael Griffin, Chris Johnson, and Kenny Britt, two of whom have been to a Pro Bowl.
Also, finding guys outside the first round like Jason Jones and Michael Roos, both projected starters, are a good testament to their success.
The verdict is still out on Vince Young, their No. 3 overall pick in 2005, and the selection of Pacman Jones has been anything but a success, but all in all, the Titans have done a solid job in draft these past five years.
The Bears haven’t found any true difference makers in the first round in a while, which is a main reason why they are so low on this list.
However, they have done a great job in finding starters and huge contributors in the latter rounds.
Guys like Matt Forte (second Round), Earl Bennett (third Round), Devin Hester (third Round), and Mark Anderson (fifth Round) all were great finds and provide outstanding depth or starting ability.
However, with no players left from the 2007 draft outside of Greg Olsen, having Cedric Benson bust in 2005, and trading away their top two round picks in 2009 and 2010, the Bears are getting older at key positions and don’t have the picks nor the success to retool properly.
In the past two seasons, as they have been rebuilding since the Michael Vick mess, the Falcons have done a fantastic job for the most part and have quickly developed into a legitimate NFC contender.
Getting franchise difference makers in the 2007 draft was key to their rebuilding. They got Matt Ryan; Sam Baker, current left tackle; Curtis Lofton, defensive leader and inside linebacker; Chevis Jackson, possible starting cornerback; and Harry Douglas, starting slot receiver, all in one draft.
When looking at the Jaguars drafting, I can see why the fans are frustrated with the team.
From their 2005 team, no players are currently still on their roster. From 2006, their franchise player MJD and solid tight end Marcedes Lewis have played well, and Clint Ingram is a fringe starter at OLB.
Reggie Nelson hasn’t be great as a starter at safety, but Justin Durant provides good depth at OLB and Mike Sims-Walker has emerged as their best receiver.
2008 was a joke, when they took two defensive ends with their 1st two picks, and now both already need upgrading.
That really hurt this team, and the fact that they need to sign a high-priced free agent and still look to draft a pass rusher, that really hurts.
The Texans have been hit or miss in their drafting ability since 2005.
They missed on 1st round guys such as Travis Johnson and Amobi Okoye in 2005 and 2007. But, they landed on their left tackle of the future in Duane Brown in 2008, and of course in selecting Mario Williams over Reggie Bush in 2006.
But they’ve also found starters in later rounds, such as Steve Slaton in the third, Demeco Ryans in the second, Eric Winston in the third, and Owen Daniels in the fourth.
So it hasn’t been all bad, but the lack of consistent drafting may be the difference in their division, as two of the three other AFC South franchises are ahead of them.
The Seahawks are another team who hasn’t found true difference makers in the first round, but has found solid starters in the early and middle rounds.
John Carlson at tight end and Lofa Tatupu in the second round were pleasant surprises, and Brandon Membane and LeRoy Hill were solid finds in the third round.
But with the busting of Kelly Jennings in 2006 in round one along with Lawrence Jackson, who has been lackluster, and the Seahawks belong toward the bottom of this list.
If it weren’t for so many first-round misses, the 49ers would be in the Top 15 of this list.
But Kentwan Balmer, Vernon Davis, and Alex Smith all have not lived up to where they were drafted and it really has affected this 49ers organization.
Patrick Willis and Joe Staley were great picks, both first rounders in 2007, and are staples of the franchise. Also, picks like Frank Gore and Parys Harlson were great values in round three.
But too many guys who may be starters, like Davis and Manny Lawson, in the first round not living up to their hype has to push the 49ers down on this list.
The Bucs are definitely in rebuilding mode, and in my opinion have been in need to since Jeff Garcia left.
They have had periods of rising, seemingly like a constant curve, good year after bad year. Much of that inconsistency has been the lack of talent consistently brought in each season.
Getting offensive line talent like Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, and Donald Penn have shaped one of the better young offensive lines that have been key to their potential for success now and in future years.
But, with Cadillac Williams not living up to his fifth overall pick (due to injury), Gaines Adams never really clicking in Tampa with the fourth pick, and the team ‘s best position player since 2005 added through the draft being Maurice Stovall, a backup receiver, it’s easy to see why the Bucs are stuck at the bottom on the NFC South.
The Bills are definitely a team that drafts for need and almost completely disregards best player available.
And while that can work out sometimes, it’s obvious that in recent years, their need pick may not have been anywhere close to among the top players left in the draft.
That was the case in 2006 when they took Donte Whitner ahead of his draft slot, and John McCargo, a consensus third rounder, in the bottom of round one.
Although Whitner was a huge help as a rookie, his tackle numbers have fallen every season since and he’s less and less looking like a solid starter. McCargo has already been traded from the team.
Leodis McKelvin has so far been solid at cornerback, but what really impacts the Bills is the lack of depth thanks to their terrible mid- to late-round drafting since 2005.
The only solid players in the past five years have been Kyle Williams, rotational DT; recently retired OT Brad Butler; average OLB Keith Ellison; and Paul Posluszny, their defensive leader.
Three of those guys shouldn’t be starting, but when you only get six starters total from 2005-2008, that’s not very good.
The Chiefs haven’t had much success before Scott Pioli got there since 2008.
The only solid players from those three drafts have been Derrick Johnson at OLB, who’s only been average, Tamba Hali, who’s been average as well, and Dwayne Bowe, who’s been in and out of the doghouse under new coaching.
Because of those struggles they get pushed down a lot and that’s the main reason for their struggles of late. However, the 2008 and 2009 drafts show promise.
Outside of Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, both of whom already look like they were drastically overpicked in the top five, Brandon Flowers, Jamaal Charles, and Brandon Carr have developed into possible starters in the near future.
They still have to show that these picks will work out, but with Pioli, the future looks bright in Kansas City.
To start, their 2005 draft was terrible. David Pollack had a neck injury that cut his career short, and Odell Thurman and Chris Henry were nothing more than headaches and wasted potential.
In 2006 and 2007, they found two solid cornerbacks in Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall, but outside of those guys, only Domata Peko and Andrew Whitworth have developed into contributors.
And in 2008, it doesn’t look like anyone outside of Keith Rivers and maybe Anthony Collins will be sticking around for a while.
They continue to take gambles on questionable character guys and haven’t had much success in drafting offensive playmakers or defensive lineman, which really makes it hard to maintain playoff contention except through overspending in free agency, which the Bengals have been forced to do.
Surprise? I would hope not. While the Lions have gotten a little better in the draft in recent years, picks like Mike Williams and Drew Stanton still haunt them.
2005 was abysmal, with Mike Williams and Shaun Cody and the rest of that draft no longer on the roster. 2006 was only slightly better, with Ernie Sims still as starter and Daniel Bullocks an adequate player.
In recent years, Calvin Johnson, Gosder Cherilus, Cliff Avril, and Jordon Dizon have been capable starters and with 2009 getting franchise pieces like Matt Stafford and Louis Delmas, the future looks like it could be outside of the basement of the NFL soon.
To start, taking only two offensive tackles in the past five years, both after the Top 90 picks, will really hurt your future, more than even busting on a quarterback.
They have found success in drafting defensive backs, with guys like Carlos Rogers, LaRon Landry, and Chris Horton developing into starters. But when it comes to other playmakers, they really are lacking.
Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly don’t look the part of starters, Rocky McIntosh has been up and down, and Jason Campbell hasn’t been given the tools or consistency to be successful.
The Redskins only chance at success is to build through free agency until their drafts can catch up and somehow draft a left and right tackle immediately.
Obviously at the tail end of this list, the Raiders are only a few first-round solid players away from being much higher.
Fabian Washington, Michael Huff, and the infamous JaMarcus Russell instantly push this list to the bottom, as when you struggle to get playmakers in the first round consistently, you’re in trouble. Plus, Darren McFadden has been very lackluster.
In the middle rounds, they have gotten starters like Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard, Mario Henderson, Chaz Schillens, and Louis Murphy.
But those starters are the only things the Raiders have to be thankful for, and with free agents and young players not willing to come/stay with the Raiders, it will be continuously hard to win games in Raider-land.
They have to be at the bottom of this list. They haven’t picked outside of the Top 15 since 2005, and haven’t had a truly successful pick in that time period.
First rounders like Alex Barron, Tye Hill, Adam Carriker, and Chris Long all have not lived up to their draft selection, and haven’t developed into front line players like they had hoped.
They’ve found a few mid-rounders that have been successful, such as OJ Atogwe, Ron Bartell, Donnie Avery, and Keenan Burton, but they haven’t gotten a true difference maker in a very long time.
The Rams future doesn’t look very bright as of now, and if the past five drafts and past two draft selections (both in the top five) are any indication, they need a lot of help, more than let’s say Sam Bradford or Ndamukong Suh can fix alone.
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