The 2011 NFL draft will be much like drafts of the past. Some teams will strike it rich with a war chest of players who will contribute for years to come, while others will walk away wondering what went wrong.
Often, it's hard to tell who had a good draft and who had a bad draft until years after, when the wheat has separated itself from the chaff.
For the purpose of this list, I've not included any drafts after 2008, because it's difficult to say who drafted well and who drafted poorly with only a couple years worth of data to analyze.
Another note about this list, I've tried to analyze individual drafts based on the overall talent, not just one shining star and a bunch of nobodies. To further illustrate what I mean: the more productive NFL players to come out of a team's draft, the higher on this list they will appear. I'm making a point to reward teams that come away with a high volume of contributors.
Of course, there will be plenty of room for debate and you can find me in the comment section after you read.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 drafts since 2000.
Second Round: Karlos Dansby, LB, Auburn
Third Round: Darnell Dockett, DT, Florida State
Fifth Round: Antonio Smith, DE, Oklahoma State
In 2004, the Cardinals picked up a good haul of talent. At the top of the draft, they took arguably the best wideout in the game today in Larry Fitzgerald. Not much more needs to be said about him that hasn't already been said.
The second round saw them grab Karlos Dansby, a star-quality linebacker who, even in his seventh NFL season, shows no signs of slowing down. He's moved on to Miami, but Dansby is still a force to be reckoned with.
In the third round, Darnell Dockett was the choice and he's been a fearsome force in the middle of the defense ever since, missing only one game in his professional career.
Antonio Smith was chosen in the fifth round and he's had a solid, though middling, career. He now plies his trade with the Houston Texans where he had four sacks this past season, a number he's good for year in and year out.
First Round: Shawne Merriman, LB, Maryland; Luis Castillo, DL, Northwestern
Second Round: Vincent Jackson, WR, Northern Colorado
Fourth Round: Darren Sproles, HB, Kansas State
The Chargers had an extra first round pick this year due to their dealings with the New York Giants in the 2004 NFL draft, and they used the pick to select Shawne Merriman. Merriman, for the first three years of his career when he was healthy, was perhaps the most devastating pass rusher in the league. He totaled an astounding 39.5 sacks in his first 42 games before succumbing to injuries. He now toils in anonymity in Buffalo.
With their original pick in that same first round, they selected Luis Castillo, an athletic and versatile defensive lineman. While he's had trouble putting together a full season, averaging 13.5 games per season, he's a force when on the field and causing chaos in the opponent's backfield.
Vincent Jackson has emerged as one of the most dynamic and feared receivers in the NFL, and his selection in even the second round is a steal. Unfortunately for the Chargers and any fans of good football, contract issues sidelined Jackson for much of last season and he is now an unrestricted free agent.
The diminutive Darren Sproles (pictured above) may not be a superstar, but he's made himself into a solid backup ball carrier and a feared return man. The Chargers got great value for him here in the fourth round.
First Round: Lito Sheppard, DB, Florida
Second Round: Michael Lewis, DB, Colorado; Sheldon Brown, DB, South Carolina
Third Round: Brian Westbrook, HB, Villanova
Seventh Round: Raheem Brock, DE, Temple
The Eagles really did well in the 2002 NFL draft, selecting five players that have had notable, and in some instances fabulous, careers. The first round saw them grab Lito Sheppard (pictured here), a player that solidified their defensive backfield for seven years as a two-time Pro Bowler.
Michael Lewis was a shrewd second round choice as he also was a Pro Bowler. In 2004, he lined up next to fellow Eagle Brian Dawkins in the Pro Bowl as they were the starting safeties.
Sheldon Brown, though not quite as decorated a player as the ones mentioned above, was a solid player in his own right as he often came up biggest when it mattered most for the Eagles. These three selections alone would at least have them sniffing this top 10, but they weren't done yet.
In the third round, the Eagles selected a little-known halfback from a local school not known for its football program. Brain Westbrook was a major weapon of the Eagles offense for eight years. While injuries have derailed his career, the shelf life for running backs (especially undersized ones) is notoriously short so the Eagles have to be ecstatic about the value he gave them.
In the seventh round, the Eagles took another local player in Raheem Brock. Though he was cut by the Eagles prior to ever playing a game with them, he's made a nice career for himself in Indianapolis until 2009 when he was cut.
First Round: Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt
Second Round: Tony Sheffler, TE, Western Michigan
Fourth Round: Brandon Marshall, WR, UCF; Elvis Dumervil, LB, Louisville; Domenik Hixon, WR, Akron
The first thing you'll notice about this list of draft picks is that only one of them, Elvis Dumervil, actually remains with the Broncos. Nonetheless, this draft produced five quality NFL players and it deserves to be recognized.
At the top, Denver selected Jay Cutler to be their franchise QB. It didn't exactly pan out and after four up and down seasons, he was traded to Chicago where he took the Bears to the NFC championship game. Much is still expected of Cutler, and the potential is still there.
In the second round, Tony Sheffler was the pick. Although he's moved on to Detroit, Sheffler has had a consistent career as a versatile and athletic tight end.
Brandon Marshall, one of the most skilled yards-after-catch receivers in the game, was chosen in the fourth round. The Broncos got great value here as Marshall was one of the most feared receivers in the game during his time in Denver. In Miami, it was more of the same last year as he put up yet another 1000 yard receiving season.
In the fourth round, the Broncos picked Elvis Dumervil and Domenik Hixon. Dumervil is the best pass rusher on the team and their defense suffered greatly when he missed the whole 2010 season with a torn pectoral muscle. Hixon, now with the Giants, is a skilled pass catcher and even better return man.
Third Round: Laveranues Coles, WR, Florida State
The New York Jets had four first round picks in this draft, the most ever for a team in the first round, and they didn't miss on any of them.
Shaun Ellis continues to be one of the Jets' best pass rushers, even 11 years after the draft. He's been a model of consistency and productivity.
John Abraham was the real star of this Jets' draft class. Again, we have a pass rushing defensive end that continues to produce into his 30s. That's a rarity for any position. While Ellis is simply productive at this point, Abraham is one of the best sack artists in the game, totaling 13.5 last season for the Atlanta Falcons. He's a four-time Pro Bowler that shows no signs of slowing down.
The Jets also selected Chad Pennington in this first round, statistically the most accurate QB in NFL history with a career completion percentage of 66.0 percent (minimum 1500 attempts). Unfortunately for the affable Chad, injuries have dogged him his entire career. To wit, he's earned the Comeback Player of the Year award twice, so there's no questioning his work ethic. Sadly, after tearing an ACL this offseason playing pickup basketball, it looks like his career is finally over.
Anthony Becht was the Jets' final pick of this first round. While he was never spectacular, he was always solid and he missed only one game in his career that lasted until 2009. He was an effective red zone target in his early years and an able blocker in his later seasons.
Laveranues Coles was the pick in the third round and he was an extremely productive receiver for much of his career, exceeding 1000 yards receiving three times and earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2003. Like Pennington, Coles was considered a model teammate and strong locker room presence as a veteran.
First Round: Logan Mankins, OG, Fresno State
Third Round: Ellis Hobbs, DB, Iowa State; Nick Kaczur, OT, Toledo
Fourth Round: James Sanders, DB, Fresno State
Seventh Round: Matt Cassel, QB, USC
Coming off a Super Bowl XXXIX victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Patriots were looking to reload along their offensive line and in the secondary. They addressed the OG position with the last pick in the first round by selecting Logan Mankins. Mankins is one of the premier guards in the league today and has three Pro Bowl selections to show for his efforts.
In the third round, New England chose Ellis Hobbs to solidify the defensive backfield. That he did as he played all but one game in his four years in Foxboro, tallying nine interceptions and three kick returns for touchdowns. He moved onto Philadelphia where his playing time diminished, and now he is an unrestricted free agent.
Nick Kaczur was also selected in the third round and, while he's had an up and down career due to injuries and off the field issues, he is still on the Patriots roster and he's been a productive player at the NFL level.
James Sanders was the pick in the fourth round, and he's also had a solid though unspectacular career. He's totaled eight interceptions as a part of Bill Belichick's defense since 2005. He's the kind of physical and smart player that the Hooded One loves to coach.
I had trouble deciding whether the 2000 Jets or the 2005 Patriots should be No. 5, but this pick swayed me. Matt Cassel rode the bench for his whole career at USC, yet Belichick still saw something that made him draft him. We all know the story, as Cassel filled in spectacularly for an injured Tom Brady in 2008 and earned himself a huge contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. He led them to the playoffs last year and things are definitely looking up for him and his team.
First Round: Felix Jones, HB, Arkansas; Mike Jenkins, DB, South Florida
Second Round: Martellus Bennett, TE, Texas A&M
Fourth Round: Tashard Choice, HB, Georgia Tech
Fifth Round: Orlando Scandrick, DB, Boise State
The Dallas Cowboys brought home a boatload of talent in the 2008 NFL draft. This draft is pretty fresh, but it's ranked as high as it is because many of these players still have so much potential.
It was no secret that Jerry Jones coveted Darren McFadden, the game breaking HB from his alma mater of Arkansas. When that couldn't happen, he went with the next best thing in Felix Jones. While he's been a bit underutilized in his career thus far, he's got track-star speed and he has a career average of 5.3 YPC. Just get him the rock and he will produce.
Mike Jenkins was also taken in the first round that year by the Dallas Cowboys. He's on his way to establishing himself as a big time corner and, although he takes a lot of chances that result in him getting burned, it's earned him seven career interceptions and a Pro Bowl nod in 2009. Again, like Jones, there's a ton of potential here.
Martellus Bennett has underachieved thus far in his young career, but at only 24, he has room to grow. He can learn how to properly play the position from fellow tight end Jason Witten while opening up the Cowboy playbook with the element of a two tight end set.
Tashard Choice has been a productive third back for the Cowboys behind Marion Barber and Felix Jones, and the Cowboys got great value here in the fourth round.
Orlando Scandrick has proven himself as a starting corner in this league, and though he's not a star, he was a wonderful value pick in the fifth round with room to grow into a star in this league.
First Round: Demarcus Ware, LB, Troy; Marcus Spears, DE, LSU
Second Round: Kevin Burnett, LB, Tennessee
Fourth Round: Marion Barber, HB, Minnesota; Chris Canty, DT, Virginia
Seventh Round: Jay Ratliff, DL, Auburn
The Cowboys make another appearance on the countdown thanks to their 2005 draft class. It all started in the first round when the Cowboys picked up Demarcus Ware and Marcus Spears. Ware is easily the most feared pass rusher in the NFL today, and he's totaled 80.0 sacks in the 96 games he's played as a Cowboy, missing none.
Spears, an All-Rookie performer in 2005, could be considered a bust since he was a first round pick, but he's been a consistent performer for much of his career. He just never quite became the star everyone thought he would be.
Kevin Burnett, selected in the second round, has been a solid linebacker for the Cowboys and the Chargers in each of his six NFL seasons. He's not a star, but he's certainly a productive NFL player.
In the fourth round, Marion Barber and Chris Canty came off the board for the Cowboys. Barber is one of the most punishing and physical backs in the NFL and though he had a down year last year, I expect him to bounce back with a lightened workload. Canty, who now plays for the Giants, is another solid NFL player who will give a consistent effort each and every game. He's no star, but he's no slouch, either.
Jay Ratliff has been a bonafide star in the NFL ever since earning the starting DT job in early 2007. He's a three-time Pro Bowler and his production is consistent. For a seventh round pick, the Cowboys got amazing value here, which is one reason why this class ranks so high.
First Round: Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss
Second Round: Igor Olshansky, DE, Oregon
Third Round: Nate Kaeding, K, Iowa; Nick Hardwick, C, Purdue
Fourth Round: Shaun Phillips, LB
Fifth Round: Michael Turner, HB, Northern Illinois
I know, they traded Manning almost immediately after selecting him, but for the purposes of this list, he was part of their draft class. Manning is a Super Bowl MVP whose credentials speak for themselves. He may be inconsistent at times and he may not look like Tom Brady, but there's no denying his fourth quarter ability and his playoff pedigree.
Igor Olshansky is a solid defensive end who's good for a couple of sacks each year and a serious mean streak. He's a fearsome lineman who knows his role and plays it well.
Nate Kaeding is tied with Mike Vanderjagt as the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 85.6 percent, so not much else needs to be said here. Nick Hardwick is the rock that anchors the offensive line for the Chargers and he's one of the best blockers in the league. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2006.
Shaun Phillips is a durable outside rush linebacker who is one of the best at his position. He rang up 11.0 sacks in 2010 and earned a Pro Bowl invitation. He has 56.5 sacks in his career to date.
Michael Turner has huge value as a fifth round pick and he's one of the best running backs in the game today. As the feature back for the Atlanta Falcons, his productivity has netted him two 1000-yard rushing seasons and two Pro Bowl selections.
First Round: Aaron Ross, DB, Texas
Second Round: Steve Smith, WR, USC
Third Round: Jay Alford, DT, Penn State
Fourth Round: Zak DeOssie, LS, Brown
Fifth Round: Kevin Boss, TE, Western Oregon
Sixth Round: Adam Koets, OT, Oregon State
Seventh Round: Michael Johnson, S, Arizona; Ahmad Bradshaw, HB, Marshall
This draft was loaded from top to bottom for the New York Giants, who saw contributions from all of these players en route to a Super Bowl XLII victory over the heavily favored undefeated New England Patriots.
In the first round, the Giants selected Aaron Ross. While he hasn't been the superstar they thought they were drafting, he's certainly been a productive member of one of the most efficient secondaries in the NFL.
In the second round, the Giants took Steve Smith. He's been their most consistent receiver and he's one of Eli Manning's favorite targets. He played a major role in their run to Super Bowl XLII as a rookie.
Jay Alford played two seasons for the Giants when he split time at long snapper, and he's best remembered for his jarring sack of Tom Brady at the end of the Super Bowl.
Zak DeOssie is the Giants current long snapper and is a two-time Pro Bowler, recognized for his special teams accomplishments.
Kevin Boss has been the Giants' primary tight end since Jeremy Shockey went down during the 2007 season. As a rookie, he made a huge grab in the Super Bowl and he continues to be a consistent, albeit not spectacular player to this day.
Adam Koets is a backup lineman who saw time this past season when the line was beset with injuries.
Michael Johnson is a major contributor in the secondary for the Giants and he's been a starter in the past.
Ahmad Bradshaw is one of the most dangerous halfbacks in the NFL, and he was an amazing value pick as a seventh round selection.
Mike Osterberg is a student at Penn State University and Featured Columnist for the New York Giants. Follow him on twitter @Mike_Osterberg.