2010 NFL Draft: The Top 10 Drafts of All-Time
The NFL Draft is the ultimate in gambling.
Big money can be spent on a top draft pick and if that pick busts, not only is money wasted, but jobs are lost, and franchises can be set back for years.
Drafting is a combination of art form and scientific process.
Getting a feel for a player and deciding if he's the right type of guy for a system is a process that can't be learned without trial, error and effort.
It takes time to develop the skills to not only draft a player, but to maneuver around the draft board and make deals when necessary.
Some, like Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh, were geniuses at it and took it to a whole new level.
Others are not so good.
For every Peyton Manning you have a Ryan Leaf. For every Lawrence Taylor there's an Aundray Bruce.
This is why when you find an organization that drafts well it stands out like a sore thumb.
With that in mind, I decided to compile a list of what I feel are the top-10 drafts in NFL history to honor those who have done it so well.
One thing before we start.
My cutoff for this list was the 2000 season because most of the players are still active and these rankings are to honor the past.
Some could make this list in the future—like the Chargers and Cardinals drafts of 2004.
Now that the ground rules are out of the way, here's a look at the 10 best drafts in NFL history.
Please feel free to vehemently disagree.
10T. 1995 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Only two players panned out for the Bucs in this draft, but my oh my, what a pair they turned out to be.
DT Warren Sapp and OLB Derrick Brooks became the cornerstones of the Tampa Bay defense.
The two future Hall-of-Fame inductees led a feared Buccaneers defense to the 1999 NFC Championship game and to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII during the 2002 season.
Sapp was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro, while Brooks went to 11 Pro Bowls and was selected All-Pro five times.
10T. 1985 Buffalo Bills
I couldn't decide between the Bucs and the Bills so I put them both on in a tie for 10th.
This draft was the beginning of Buffalo's mini-dynasty in the AFC during their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Personnel guru and current Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian was on hand for this draft and his magic was immediately felt.
In the first round, the Bills selected DE Bruce Smith, Hall-of-Famer and all-time leading sack king. Smith was a difference maker on the defensive line.
In the third, Maryland QB Frank Reich was tapped. Reich became one of the best backups ever and led Buffalo to the biggest comeback in NFL history over the Houston Oilers in the 1992 playoffs.
The fourth round saw the Bills select WR Andre Reed from tiny Kutztown State. The seven-time Pro Bowler finished his career with 951 receptions and should be in Canton soon.
Tackle Dale Hellestrae, who had a 15-year NFL career mostly with the Dallas Cowboys, was taken in the fourth round as well.
9T. 1991 Dallas Cowboys
This draft put the finishing touches on what would be a Dallas dynasty in the 90s.
It was the 1991 draft that allowed Jimmy Johnson to create a team that would win three Super Bowls in a four-year span.
The Cowboys had two first round picks and with those selected DT Russell Maryland No. 1 overall and WR Alvin Harper.
Maryland was a consistent starter who went to a Pro Bowl, while Harper was a capable No. 2 to compliment Michael Irvin.
Starting LB Dixon Edwards went in the second, but what followed was even better.
In the third round, Johnson drafted OT Erik Williams, one of the most dominating left tackles of the decade. Williams would go on to four Pro Bowls and was named a two-time All-Pro before injuries shortened his career.
Johnson proved he was a master evaluator by grabbing DT Leon Lett, a two-time Pro Bowler, in the seventh round, and Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown in the 12th round.
9T. 1983 Chicago Bears
This was another selection where I was indecisive and decided a tie for ninth was best.
The 1983 Bears draft was the cornerstone for what would become the 1985 Super Bowl champions, one of the most dominating teams in NFL history.
With two first rounders in hand, Chicago took OT Jimbo Covert and WR Willie Gault.
Covert went to two Pro Bowls and was twice selected to the All-Pro squad, while the lightning quick Gault became Jim McMahon's big-play guy.
Two more starters were added when steady corner Mike Richardson was taken in the second round and SS Dave Duerson, a four-time Pro Bowl pick, was tabbed in the third round.
If that wasn't enough to make this an awesome draft, the eighth round brought the Bears a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the biggest steals in history.
With the eighth pick, Chicago took DE Richard Dent. He went on to a spectacular career that was highlighted by four Pro-Bowls and 137.5 sacks, which tied him for sixth on the all-time list.
8. 1970 Pittsburgh Steelers
Chuck Noll is one of the all-time greats, not only as a coach, but in drafting as well.
The 1970 class brought him two Hall-of-Famers, one a quarterback who would lead the franchise to four Super Bowl victories in a six-year span.
With the first pick, Noll selected a cocky kid from Louisiana by the name of Terry Bradshaw.
After a rough start, Bradshaw went on to become a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He finished his career 121-56 as a starter, including a 14-5 playoff record.
In the third round, Noll struck gold again by drafting Hall-of-Fame CB Mel Blount.
Blount finished his stellar career with five Pro Bowl berths, two All-Pro selections and 57 career interceptions.
In the second, the Steelers took WR Ron Shanklin, who was a Pro-Bowl selection in 1973.
7. 1996 Baltimore Ravens
Ozzie Newsome is one of the few great players who made the transition to the front office and became just as successful.
The 1996 draft for the Baltimore Ravens had only three players who made an impact on the roster, but what an impact it was.
This draft brought to Baltimore two future first ballot Hall-of-Famers and a Super Bowl crown in 2000.
Newsome had two first-round selections and boy, did he hit the bulls-eye with them.
His first pick was OT Jonathan Ogden. All he did was make the Pro Bowl squad 11 times in a 12-year career, with four All-Pro selections.
With his second number one, Newsome chose LB Ray Lewis and the rest, as they say, is history.
Lewis is one of the most intense and inspiring players in the history of football.
His all-out style has placed him on 11 Pro Bowl teams and seven times he was voted first-team All-Pro.
Jermaine Lewis was taken in the fifth round and made an impact as a special team's performer.
6. 1965 Chicago Bears
The 1965 NFL Draft produced two Hall-of-Famers for George Halas.
Sadly, neither player was blessed with a long career, just a memorable one.
The two first-round selections Halas took: LB Dick Butkus and RB Gale Sayers.
Butkus was the most feared linebacker of his time.
Butkus was named to eight Pro Bowls in a nine-year career shortened by bad knees. He was a member of five All-Pro teams and is considered by many to be the best middle linebacker in NFL history.
Sayers' career was tragically even shorter. His football life ended by numerous knee injuries as well.
Gale was blessed with speed, quickness and agility. He was Barry Sanders before Barry Sanders.
He was a five-time All-Pro and made four Pro-Bowl appearances, which were just some of the accolades he received in his outstanding career.
Overshadowed in this draft was WR Dick Gordon, a seventh-round selection who went to two Pro Bowls.
5. 1981 Washington Redskins
Joe Gibbs and Bobby Beathard created the foundation of what would be three Super Bowl victories in four appearances through a 10-year span for the Redskins with this 1981 draft.
Six starters from those Super Bowl teams were selected in this draft, which will go down as one of the best in history.
Gibbs and Beathard went to work rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines.
Two cornerstones of the "Hogs" were selected when OL Mark May (one Pro Bowl) and G Russ Grimm (four Pro Bowls and three-time All-Pro) went in rounds one and three respectively.
The defensive line was answered when DE Dexter Manley (one Pro Bowl) was taken in the fifth round and DT Darryl Grant went in the ninth.
Two-time Pro Bowl wideout Charlie Brown was stolen in the eighth round and TE/H-Back Clint Didier was grabbed in the 12th round.
4. 1986 San Francisco 49ers
Bill Walsh was a master strategist, coach and talent evaluator. Never was that more on display than during the 1986 draft.
Walsh, already a two-time Super Bowl winner, kept the dynasty going by incredibly drafting eight players who became starters and led the 49ers to three more titles, two after he was gone.
What's even more impressive is Walsh got all these starting talents without a first-round pick.
In the second round came DE Larry Roberts, who had a solid career.
With three third-round selections, Walsh selected FB Tom Rathman, CB Tim McKyer and WR John Taylor, a two-time Pro Bowler who had the game-winning catch in Super Bowl XXIII.
The crown jewel of the 49ers draft was in the fourth round when DE Charles Haley was taken. Haley distinguished himself with five Pro Bowl seasons and two All-Pro selections with San Francisco and Dallas.
Another Pro Bowler, OT Steve Wallace, was taken in the fourth round, as was DE Kevin Fagan.
CB Don Griffin was a sixth-round pick with Walsh getting both of his starting corners in this draft.
3. 1964 Dallas Cowboys
The triumvirate of Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt was a very good one in the annals of football lore.
This trio built the Cowboys into a superpower during the 60s, 70s and early 80s, and the 1964 draft was a key reason.
Three members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were selected in 1964 and only two other drafts in history ever had three or more selections make it to Canton.
The other two are coming up next. For now, let's focus on Dallas in 1964.
In the second round, the Cowboys selected cornerback Mel Renfro, one of the best ever at his position.
Renfro was a 10-time Pro-Bowl selection who made the all decade team of the 70s.
It got even better in the seventh round for the Cowboys when they chose WR "Bullet" Bob Hayes. The speedster from Florida A&M was named to three Pro Bowls and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
The best pick came in the 10th round when Dallas selected Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach.
Staubach, who was in the Navy, had to fulfill his military commitment before playing in 1969, but it was worth the wait for the Cowboys.
Roger "the Dodger" would lead Dallas to four Super Bowls, winning two of them. He finished his career with six Pro-Bowl invites and a 96-35 record as a starter.
2. 1958 Green Bay Packers
This was the draft that started the Packer dynasty in the 60s under legendary coach Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi's Packers played for the NFL championship six times in the decade and won five titles, including Super Bowls I and II.
The 1958 draft featured three Hall-of-Famers—none of whom were taken in the first round—and an offensive lineman who should be in the Hall.
RB Jim Taylor went in the second round and the five-time Pro Bowler didn't disappoint. He rushed for over a 1,000 yards five times in his career and was enshrined in Canton in 1976.
In the third round, Green Bay chose LB Ray Nitschke, one of the meanest hombres to strap on a helmet.
Nitschke anchored the middle of the Packer defense for 15 years and his efforts earned him enshrinement in 1978.
Why Jerry Kramer isn't in the Hall of Fame is beyond me?
Lombardi called Kramer, who was drafted in the fourth round, the best player he ever coached.
Kramer took over the right guard spot in his rookie season and never relinquished the job in 11 seasons. He was a five-time All-Pro selection and the cog that made the Packer Sweep work.
1. 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers
There isn't an adjective that can do this draft justice.
It is simply the greatest draft, by any team, in the history of professional football.
It's hard enough for an organization to draft a Hall of Fame player once every decade. Try drafting four in the same year.
That's exactly what Chuck Knoll and the Pittsburgh Steelers did.
This draft, combined with the 1969 and 1970 draft, was the nucleus for the Steeler dynasty of the 70s.
The first round saw USC receiver Lynn Swann join the fold. Swann would make three Pro Bowls in a very short nine-year career.
Noll was just getting started.
The second round brought LB Jack Lambert, one of the meanest, nastiest, players in NFL history, to the Black and Gold.
Lambert, both front teeth missing, manned the middle of the Steel Curtain defense for 11 seasons, earning nine Pro Bowl appearances. He was a six-time first-team All-Pro.
In the fourth round, Swann's running mate, John Stallworth, was selected. The Alabama A&M product finished his career as the all-time leading receiver in Pittsburgh history (that has since been passed by Hines Ward) with four Pro Bowl honors.
That was followed by one of the biggest draft steals in history when center Mike Webster was grabbed in the fifth round.
Considered by many to be the best center to ever play the game, Webster played 15 seasons for the Steelers, earning nine Pro-Bowl invites and five All-Pro selections.
Four Hall of Famers in one draft—amazing.
Is it any wonder the Steelers captured their first Super Bowl crown in that same 1974 season?