Pittsburgh Steelers Highlight List of 25 Best Team Draft Classes in NFL History

Tony Santorsa@@TonySantorsaSenior Writer IIMay 9, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers Highlight List of 25 Best Team Draft Classes in NFL History

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    The right way of building a successful NFL franchise is by doing it in draft by collecting young talent, rather than spending tons of money via free agency. In fact, that's how dynasties are born. 

    If a team hits a home run on a draft, then chances are that they're going to win for quite a few years following that draft—just look at how well the entire Pittsburgh Steelers organization has drafted.

    In that spirit, let's take a look at the 25 best team draft classes in NFL history. 

No. 25: 2001 Cincinnati Bengals

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    Notable players from draft class: Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh. 

    Offense, offense, offense.

    Just look at the three players listed. Didn't they go on to be the biggest contributors of the elite Cincinnati Bengals offense of the mid-2000s? You bet they did. 

No. 24: 1995 New England Patriots

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    Notable players from draft class: Curtis Martin, Ty Law and Ted Johnson.

    All I have to say is that Bill Parcells really knows how to draft.

    Parcells drafted one of the greatest running backs of all time, one of the greatest shutdown cornerbacks of all time and one of the most beastly linebackers to ever play the game. 

    These three players certainly made a huge impact in the New England Patriots' run to the Super Bowl in 1996, despite losing to the Green Bay Packers

No. 23: 2000 New York Jets

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    Notable players from draft class: Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Chad Pennington, Anthony Becht and Laveranues Coles.

    Yet another stellar draft by Bill Parcells.

    In this draft, Parcells really helped shaped the New York Jets for the future by selecting their future franchise quarterback in Chad Pennington as well as quite the defensive linemen combination of Shaun Ellis and John Abraham—and not to mention one of the most beloved Jets in history, wide receiver Laveranues Coles. 

No. 22: 1987 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Notable players from draft class: Rod Woodson, Hardy Nickerson and Greg Lloyd.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers built up their defense in a huge way in the 1987 NFL draft as they drafted two of the best cornerbacks in that year's class in Rod Woodson and Hardy Nickerson, as well one one of the top linebackers in Greg Lloyd. 

No. 21: 1979 San Francisco 49ers

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    Notable players from draft class: Joe Montana and Dwight Clark

    If it weren't for this draft class, then the "The Catch" would have never happened. 

    Joe Montana is arguably the best that ever played the game while Dwight Clark was one of his favorite targets as he retired with 506 receptions for 6,750 yards and 48 receiving touchdowns. 

    Without this draft class, the 49ers dynasty would have never happened. 

No. 20: 1981 San Francisco 49ers

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    Notable players from draft class: Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson and Pete Kugler.

    The San Francisco 49ers really bolstered their secondary in the 1981 NFL draft as they selected one of the greatest defensive backs to ever play the game, if not the best in Ronnie Lott who retired with 63 interceptions.

    Throw in Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson with Lott, and they have a combined total of 98 interceptions. 

No. 19: 1981 New York Giants

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    Notable players from draft class: Lawrence Taylor, Billy Ard and Byron Hunt.

    Lawrence Taylor really stands alone with this draft class, even though Billy Ard and Byron Hunt had pretty solid careers with the New York Giants. However, L.T. is just in a league of his own.

    If a team happens to draft arguably the greatest defensive player in league history, then that draft class has to be one of the greatest of all time. 

No. 18: 2006 Houston Texans

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    Notable players from draft class: Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Eric Winston and Owen Daniels.

    Instead of drafting one of the greatest running backs in NCAA history in Reggie Bush, the Houston Texans decided to draft defensive end Mario Williams, and that was certainly the right decision.

    Williams is one of the top defensive players in the game today while DeMeco Ryans is a pretty solid linebacker, Eric Winston is arguably an elite left tackle while Owen Daniels is a pretty productive receiving tight end. 

No. 17: 1983 Miami Dolphins

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    Notable players from draft class: Dan Marino, Reggie Roby, Mark Clayton and Anthony Carter. 

    In one of the greatest draft slips in NFL history, the Miami Dolphins really lucked out when Dan Marino fell to them at 27th overall in the first round. Marino went onto be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, while many consider him the greatest. 

    Not to mention, the Dolphins also added one of Marino's favorite wide receivers in that year's draft class in Mark Clayton who was named to five Pro Bowls and retired with 84 receiving touchdowns. 

No. 16: 1958 Green Bay Packers

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    Notable players from draft class: Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, Dan Currie, Dick Christy, Jerry Kramer and Ken Gray.

    Selecting two future Hall of Famers is simply just good drafting. There's no way around it.

    Full back Jim Taylor and linebacker Ray Nitschke are both two of the greatest players to ever play the game of football and really helped shape the sport into the way that it is today. 

No. 15: 2005 Dallas Cowboys

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    Notable players from draft class: DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff, Marion Barber and Chris Canty. 

    Just look at the talent that the Dallas Cowboys added through the 2005 NFL draft.

    The player that really stands out is DeMarcus Ware, as he's arguably the greatest pass-rusher of this era and is one of the greatest in NFL history.

    Aside from Ware, the Cowboys has gotten some solid production out of Marcus Spears, Marion Barber and Jay Ratliff. 

No. 14: 2010 New England Patriots

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    Notable players from draft class: Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes and Zoltan Mesko.

    Over a few years of shaky drafting out of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, the team really nailed it in 2010.

    The Patriots added a Pro Bowl cornerback in Devin McCourty, a top-tier punter in Zoltan Mesko, a future stud linebacker in Brandon Spikes and the soon-to-be greatest tight end tandem in NFL history, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. 

No. 13: 1971 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Notable players from draft class: Jack Ham, Frank Lewis, Steve Davis, Larry Brown, Dwight White, Mike Wagner and Gerry Mullins.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers saw some pretty solid production out of this draft class, but more specifically, out of Jack Ham. 

    Ham went on to be one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game as he was one of the faces of the Steel Curtain defense and ultimately was inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

No. 12: 1989 Dallas Cowboys

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    Notable players from draft class: Troy Aikman, Steve Wisniewski, Mark Stepnoski and Tony Tolbert.

    This was really the start to the Dallas Cowboys' success in the 1990s. With those four players listed, they combined for a phenomenal 20 Pro Bowls. 

    Not to mention, many consider Troy Aikman to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. 

No. 11: 1970 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Notable players from draft class: Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Ron Shanklin, Ed George and Jon Staggers.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers round up the leader of their offense with this draft class in Terry Bradshaw, as he went on to win four Super Bowls, as well as one of the greatest defenders in NFL history, Mel Blount. 

No. 10: 1985 Buffalo Bills

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    Notable players from draft class: Bruce Smith, Derrick Burroughs, Frank Reich, Andre Reed, Dale Hellestrae and Ron Pitts.

    Bruce Smith? Enough said. The greatest pass-rusher in NFL history with a whopping 200 career sacks.

    Don't forget Andre Reed, as he played a huge part in Buffalo's success in the upcoming seasons and was ultimately inducted into the Hall of Fame with 13,198 receiving yards and 87 touchdown receptions. 

No. 9: 1995 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Notable players from draft class: Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Clifton Abraham. 

    The draft class certainly turned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into one of the better defensive teams in the NFL for many years to come.

    There's no debate that Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks are future Hall of Famers while Clifton Abraham had a very solid NFL career. 

    The Buccaneers ultimately ended up winning the Super Bowl in the 2002 NFL season. 

No. 8: 1981 Washington Redskins

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    Notable players from draft class: Mark May, Russ Grimm, Tom Flick, Dexter Manley, Charlie Brown, Buccaneers and Clint Didier. 

    With this draft class, the Washington Redskins were all set up in the trenches for many years to come. 

    Offensive linemen Mark May and Russ Grim earned five combined Pro Bowl selections while Dexter Manley controlled the defensive front as he ended up with 97.5 career sacks. 

No. 7: 1965 Chicago Bears

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    Notable players from draft class: Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Dick Gordon, Frank Cornish and Ralph Kurek. 

    With this draft class, the Chicago Bears primed themselves for success in the future by drafting two players that would dominate opposite sides of the ball for many years to come: Linebacker Dick Butkus and running back Gale Sayers. 

No. 6: 1996 Baltimore Ravens

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    Notable players from draft class: Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Jermaine Lewis.

    For starters, Jonathan Ogden is one of the greatest offensive tackles in NFL history.  Ray Lewis is one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, and Jermaine Lewis was one of the top-tier returners during his career. 

    All in all, this group had some of the key faces in the Super Bowl run in the 2000 season. 

No. 5: 1986 San Francisco 49ers

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    Notable players from draft class: Larry Roberts, Tom Rathman, Tim McKyer, John Taylor, Charles Haley, Steve Wallace, Kevin Fagan and Don Griffin.

    The San Francisco 49ers really hit the 1986 draft out of the park as they collected quality talent, not the greatest, but some of the best. All of the players listed were all key contributors to the 49ers' Super Bowl runs of the 1980s, especially Charles Haley, as he retired with 100.5 career sacks and is considered one of the greatest pass-rushers in NFL history. 

No. 4: 1992 Dallas Cowboys

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    Notable players from draft class: Kevin Smith, Robert Jones, Jimmy Smith and Darren Woodson. 

    This was the start to the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty of the 1990s.

    In Jimmy Johnson's first season as head coach of the Cowboys, he welcomed in rookies Kevin Smith, Robert Jones and Darren Woodson, all three of which were key parts in Dallas' success in upcoming seasons. 

No. 3: 1991 Dallas Cowboys

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    Notable players from draft class: Russell Maryland, Erik Williams, Larry Brown and Leon Lett.

    Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys really struck gold in 1991 as they ended up drafting offensive tackle Erik Williams in the seventh round who went on to be named to four Pro Bowls.

    Other notable players are Leon Lett, who was named to two Pro Bowls, and Super Bowl XXIX MVP Larry Brown. 

No. 2: 1983 Chicago Bears

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    Draft class: Jimbo Covert, Willie Gault, Mike Richardson, Dave Duerson, Tom Thayer, Richard Dent and Mike Bortz. 

    With this draft class, the Chicago Bears went on to win seven NFC Central divisional crowns from 1984 until 1991. 

    The Bears already had a solid nucleus with Walter Payton and Mike Singletary, but this draft class had six starters for the incredible 1985 Bears team with Richard Dent being the greatest of them all as he retired with 137.5 sacks. 

No. 1: 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Notable players from draft class: Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster. 

    Hands down, this is the greatest draft class in NFL history.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers built their 1970s dynasty around this class with the likes of Swann, Lambert, Stallworth, and Webster who would all be later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.