Ranking the 10 Best NFL Draft Hauls of the Past Decade

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2019

Ranking the 10 Best NFL Draft Hauls of the Past Decade

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    There are several reasons why the NFL draft is such an exhilarating and intriguing event. There are always surprises, disappointments and the potential for franchise-altering draft classes—the kind the Oakland Raiders are hoping to haul in with their three first-round picks in 2019.

    Of course, having multiple first-round picks doesn't guarantee a tremendous draft haul. The 2014 Cleveland Browns, for example, had two first-rounders and ended up with Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. Yikes. Of course, they had two first-rounders last year and landed Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb in the first two days, a franchise-altering haul.

    There are other recent examples that should provide hope for rebuilding franchises like Oakland. Here, you'll find a look at the 10 best draft hauls of the last decade—based on factors like team impact, leaguewide impact and statistical production.

    We'll be looking specifically at classes with multiple impact picks. The Carolina Panthers' selection of Cam Newton in 2011 obviously changed the course of the franchise, but the rest of that class was underwhelming and therefore does not make the list.

          

10. 2014 Oakland Raiders

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Notable Selections: Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson

    The irony of the Raiders seeking a franchise-altering draft now is that they had one just a few short years ago. Back in 2014, Oakland landed a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, a starting guard in Gabe Jackson and one of the league's most dominant defenders in Khalil Mack.

    The draft haul doesn't seem quite as impressive now, since Mack is a member of the Chicago Bears and Carr's future with the team is cloudy, to say the least. Nonetheless, this class was impactful. 

    Without Mack, Jackson and Carr, the Raiders likely wouldn't have ended a playoff drought that dated back to 2002. They did so in 2016, with Carr a viable MVP candidate as he threw for 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

    Of course, Carr also broke his leg before Oakland reached the 2016-17 playoffs. He's regressed since then, along with the Raiders roster as a whole, which has the franchise eyeing another jolt of talent in the 2019 draft.

9. 2018 Indianapolis Colts

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    Colts G Quenton Nelson
    Colts G Quenton NelsonMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Notable Selections: Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith

    To be fair, the Indianapolis Colts' 2018 draft haul will almost certainly rank higher on similar lists in the future. They're staying low for now, though, because there is only one year of production to evaluate. Remember when Jared Goff looked like a bust or when Leonard Fournette looked like a stud during their rookie seasons?

    Based on one year, though, the Colts' 2018 class is phenomenal. Guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard were both first-team All-Pro selections—something that hasn't happened since 1965 (with rookie teammates Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus). 

    "Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard," ESPN's Todd McShay said, per Mike Chappell of Fox 59. "That was one of the best combinations of first- and second-round picks we had in the entire draft last year."

    Braden Smith started 13 games at right tackle, while Tyquan Lewis started six at defensive end. Nyheim Hines, meanwhile, emerged as a solid complementary back and an important piece of the passing game (63 receptions in 2018).

    This is an impressive overall group that will likely only grow in value.

8. 2018 Cleveland Browns

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    Browns QB Baker Mayfield
    Browns QB Baker MayfieldCarolyn Kaster/Associated Press

    Notable Selections: Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb

    If you think the Colts' 2018 class should be ranked ahead of Cleveland's, that's fair. The Browns' haul gets the nod here because it included a franchise quarterback in Mayfield—you know, the guy who set a new rookie touchdown record in just 14 games.

    Quarterbacks can transform an organization like no other position. Do guys like Nelson and Hines look as good without Andrew Luck under center? The fact that the Browns seem to have finally gotten their quarterback pick right is huge and will affect Cleveland and the NFL at large for years to come.

    This class wasn't just about Mayfield, though. The Browns also added a stud running back in Chubb and a Pro Bowl cornerback in Ward. In addition, wideout Antonio Callaway looks to be a field-stretching offensive contributor.

    Cleveland is now one of the most heavily hyped teams heading into the 2019 season—with four scheduled prime-time games as a result. If the hype is real and the Browns really are primed for title contention, then the 2018 draft haul will be seen as the impetus of their turnaround.

    As is the case with the Colts' 2018 class, though, the sample size here is small, so this class remains behind those that have proven just a little more.

7. 2016 Dallas Cowboys

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    Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott
    Cowboys RB Ezekiel ElliottJeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Notable Selections: Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Jaylon Smith

    If the Browns are lucky, we'll look back on their 2018 draft much like we do the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 draft. That year, Dallas landed a franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott, an All-Pro running back in Ezekiel Elliott and a standout defender in Jaylon Smith.

    Elliott gave Dallas a legitimate centerpiece for the offense. And the Cowboys lucked into Prescott in the fourth round, who has become a reliable starter, if not an elite signal-caller.

    The Cowboys immediately pushed into the postseason with those two leading the way.

    It took some time for Smith to emerge because of the serious knee injury he suffered during the Fiesta Bowl. However, he was a defensive force this past season, racking up 121 tackles, 4.0 sacks and four passes defended.

    Simply put, Prescott, Elliott and Smith are proven core players who should help keep the Cowboys relevant in the NFC East for the foreseeable future.

6. 2017 New Orleans Saints

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    Saints RB Alvin Kamara
    Saints RB Alvin KamaraGary Landers/Associated Press

    Notable Selections: Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk

    The New Orleans Saints' 2017 draft class was headlined by cornerback Marshon Lattimore and running back Alvin Kamara—who finished 2017 as the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year, respectively.

    The Saints also landed a starting right tackle in Ryan Ramczyk who was named a second-team All-Pro this past season. Kamara was named a second-team All-Pro as a rookie and a Pro Bowler the past two seasons, while Lattimore was a Pro Bowler in 2017. This makes for an impressive trio that has helped set the stage for a potential championship run in 2019 after bringing New Orleans back to the postseason in 2018 after three straight 7-9 campaigns.

    In addition, the Saints added a quality linebacker in Alex Anzalone and a starting safety in Marcus Williams.

    As this draft class continues to get more experience under its belt, it's going to rise up like lists like this one. Should it help Drew Brees deliver a championship, it may even go down as one of the best draft hauls ever.

5. 2012 Philadelphia Eagles

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    Eagles DT Fletcher Cox
    Eagles DT Fletcher CoxAssociated Press

    Notable Selections: Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Nick Foles

    The Philadelphia Eagles' 2012 draft class lands on this list because it has already helped deliver one Lombardi Trophy. Quarterback Nick Foles, a third-round pick in 2012, took over for an injured Carson Wentz in 2017, won the whole damn thing and earned Super Bowl LII MVP honors.

    Foles isn't the only member of this class to play a role in that championship season. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, a four-time Pro Bowler, edge-rusher Vinny Curry and linebacker Mychal Kendricks also played key parts during the run.

    Cox has emerged as one of the most disruptive defenders in football, while Curry is back with the Eagles after a one-year free-agent exodus. Foles, meanwhile, has been tabbed as the new franchise quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    "Our dream was to get Nick Foles," Jaguars owner Shad Khan said, per Michael DiRocco of ESPN.

    If the Eagles hadn't drafted Foles and Co. back in 2012, their Super Bowl fantasy would not have become a reality.

4. 2012 Indianapolis Colts

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    Colts QB Andrew Luck
    Colts QB Andrew LuckDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    Notable Selections: Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener

    As previously mentioned, adding a franchise quarterback is the most impactful move an organization can make. The Colts got themselves one by drafting Luck in 2012. And he has, despite battling injuries, emerged as an elite signal-caller.

    in five healthy seasons—he missed all of 2017 and nine games in 2015—Luck has made four Pro Bowl appearances.

    The Colts also got Luck a No. 1 receiver in 2012 by drafting T.Y. Hilton in the fourth round. And a pair of pass-catching tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. While neither Allen nor Fleer are still with the team, both helped boost the Indianapolis passing game.

    Allen had 521 yards receiving as a rookie, while Fleener had nearly 1,400 yards receiving over the following two seasons. The two combined for 21 touchdowns through the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, helping cement Luck as one of the league's best. 

    While Luck and Hilton are the only impact selections still with Indianapolis, the Colts enter 2019 as legitimate title contenders largely because of the foundation set in 2012.

3. 2010 Seattle Seahawks

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    Former Seahawks OT Russell Okung
    Former Seahawks OT Russell OkungJeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Notable Selections: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor

    The Seattle Seahawks won their first Super Bowl following the 2013 season. However, it was their draft three years earlier that set the stage for a title run.

    In 2010, new general manager John Schneider and new head coach Pete Carroll absolutely nailed the draft. Their haul included offensive tackle Russell Okung, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and wide receiver Golden Tate.

    All four played key roles in Seattle's Super Bowl run a few years after being drafted. For a time, Chancellor and Thomas were the best safety duo in the entire league. While a neck injury ended Chancellor's career, the other three are still NFL starters—though none in Seattle.

    Thomas, Okung, Chancellor and Tate have combined for 13 Pro Bowl appearances and seven All-Pro selections. More importantly, all four were champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. If not for a certain play call on the 2-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX, they might be considered the building blocks of a dynasty. Only Tate left the franchise prior to that second Super Bowl appearance.

2. 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Former Steelers WR Antonio Brown
    Former Steelers WR Antonio BrownDon Wright/Associated Press

    Notable Selections: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Maurkice Pouncey

    Wide receiver Antonio Brown is now a member of the Raiders and Emmanuel Sanders has been with the Denver Broncos since 2014. That should not take away from the greatness of Pittsburgh's 2010 draft class.

    Brown is perhaps the best wide receiver of his generation, and Sanders is no slouch. However, it was actually center Maurkice Pouncey who kicked off the draft class at 18th overall.

    Brown, Pouncey and Sanders have 16 Pro Bowl appearances and have made 10 All-Pro teams between them. That's impressive by itself. But, this draft haul also included pass-rusher Jason Worilds, who had 25.5 sacks in five seasons before a surprisingly early retirement.

    These four rookies helped Pittsburgh reach the Super Bowl in 2010, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers. Had the Steelers won that game, this class would rank even higher.

1. 2012 Seattle Seahawks

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    Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
    Seahawks QB Russell WilsonMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Notable Selection: Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin

    That aforementioned Seahawks Super Bowl win? It came as a direct result of Seattle's 2012 draft. That haul yielded a disruptive pass-rusher in Bruce Irvin, a four-time All-Pro linebacker in Bobby Wagner and, of course, a franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson.

    Wilson, as you may know, just signed a new four-year, $140 million deal, tying him to the franchise well into his 30s. The 5'11" Wilson was no sure thing when he was drafted, though, which is why he lasted until the third round.

    "For John [Schneider] and Pete [Carroll], you're the ones who had the courage to take me," Wilson said, via the Seahawks official website.

    Taking that chance on Wilson changed the course of Seahawks history. He helped deliver that Super Bowl to the franchise, as did Wagner, Irvin and others from the 2012 draft class. Guard J.R. Sweezy is still starting in the NFL, albeit for the rival Arizona Cardinals, while cornerback Jeremy Lane spent six seasons as a key reserve in Seattle.