Ranking the Top 10 NFL Team Draft Classes of the Past Decade
Good NFL rosters are not built through free agency but via the draft and player development. Take a quick look at the best teams in the league—the 49ers, Ravens, Patriots, Seahawks and Chiefs were all built through the draft with the right pieces mixed in through trades and signings. One great draft class can set a team apart. We'll talk about what 2017 meant for the New Orleans Saints and 2016 for the Dallas Cowboys.
The fast start for the Oakland Raiders' 2019 draft class has everyone talking. First-rounder Josh Jacobs is pulling away with Offensive Rookie of the Year credentials, while defensive end Maxx Crosby (Round 4), tight end Foster Moreau (Round 4) and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (Round 5) are all playing huge roles as middle-round picks. Were it not for an injury to first-round safety Johnathan Abram, nearly the entire class would be contributing on the field.
It's too early to judge the 2019 Raiders against the best draft classes of the last decade even if Jacobs thinks it's among them—and the team will need to see better production from No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell to eventually crack these rankings—but it's fun to go back in time and look at which franchises pulled in the best draft crops over the last 10 years.
The combination of these classes' individual and team success sets them apart from the others. From a scouting perspective, these are the most talented classes to come together over the last decade.
The Stick to Football team gets together for a 2020 Round 1 mock draft after the Tua Tagovailoa injury. Which QB will the Cincinnati Bengals target? Will Daniel Jones and/or Sam Darnold get a much-needed weapon for the future? Which surprise players are on the rise? Find out here on the latest episode.
10. 2018 Baltimore Ravens
Notable Picks: QB Lamar Jackson (Round 1), OT Orlando Brown Jr. (Round 3), TE Mark Andrews (Round 3), OG Bradley Bozeman (Round 6)
The Baltimore Ravens had 12 selections in 2018, a bountiful haul that allowed general manager Ozzie Newsome to load up his beloved team in his final draft before retirement. Newsome and assistant (now current) general manager Eric DeCosta played the board, trading down and patiently assembling the core talent that would make up the AFC's hottest team.
With pick No. 32, the Ravens drafted 2019's leading MVP candidate, quarterback Lamar Jackson. That pick looks like the best value in the entire class. They also surrounded Jackson with a key weapon in tight end Mark Andrews and two starters on the offensive line in tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and guard Bradley Bozeman.
It's not just the starters they picked up; it's also the players they grabbed who have allowed the Ravens flexibility via other avenues. Linebacker Kenny Young couldn't crack the lineup in Baltimore and was traded to the Rams as part of a package for cornerback Marcus Peters. Since he arrived in Baltimore in October, Peters has been magically back to playing at an All-Pro level.
9. 2014 Oakland Raiders
Notable Picks: EDGE Khalil Mack (Round 1), QB Derek Carr (Round 2), OG Gabe Jackson (Round 3)
The Raiders' 2014 class wasn't deep, but the hits on three very good starters with three picks to kick off the draft were franchise-changing.
It started with Khalil Mack, a big-time pass-rusher from tiny Buffalo who, during his time in Oakland, became one of the top two or three pass-rushers in football. Mack's dominance allowed the Raiders to flip him to the Chicago Bears for a package centered around two first-round picks when it became clear the team wouldn't re-sign him. One of those selections has already turned into running back Josh Jacobs, so Oakland is off to a good start with the extra draft capital.
Derek Carr has had his ups and downs, but he's found a perfect fit in head coach Jon Gruden's offense and is playing the best football of his career this year. The Raiders' run to the playoff has been fueled by Jacobs and a strong defense, but Carr has been an excellent leader and captain at quarterback while posting game-winning numbers.
Gabe Jackson was the least heralded of the trio, but in his time with the Raiders, he has become one of the league's best guards. He is a mauler in the run game, and his bullying style of blocking has opened many holes for Jacobs this season.
8. 2018 Indianapolis Colts
Notable Picks: OG Quenton Nelson (Round 1), LB Darius Leonard (Round 2), OT Braden Smith (Round 2), EDGE Kemoko Turay (Round 2), LB Matthew Adams (Round 7)
Chris Ballard's 2018 draft was a study in how to handle being a general manager. The Indianapolis Colts executive moved around and added picks. He also stayed true to the team's board and kept an eye on value versus need. In doing so, he added five starters and key depth/developmental players with the team's 11 selections.
The first two picks of the team's draft—Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard—were All-Pros in their first seasons. That tells us all we need to know about their impact and value. Braden Smith, projected by most to play guard, has started at right tackle consistently and helped shore up an offensive line that was in bad shape before 2018.
Finding pass-rushers is a must in today's NFL, and Ballard threw a lot of picks at the position. But he seems to have found a long-term solution in Kemoko Turay, who looks the part when healthy. The team hasn't seen a big return on investment yet from defensive end Tyquan Lewis (Round 2), but there's potential there.
7. 2012 Philadelphia Eagles
Notable Picks: DL Fletcher Cox (Round 1), LB Mychal Kendricks (Round 2), DE Vinny Curry (Round 2), QB Nick Foles (Round 3)
Not every draft class is great because the players remain together and form a juggernaut. The members of the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles class aren't all with the team midway through the 2019 season, but they're all remarkable talents.
Nick Foles was a third-round pick, and most expected him to top out as a backup after he flashed and then failed during the Chip Kelly era. But Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots and will never pay for a cheesesteak or beer again in Philadelphia.
Fletcher Cox has been one of the NFL's most consistently dominant defensive linemen since his drafting, and were it not for Aaron Donald, we'd be talking about him as the league's best tackle.
Mychal Kendricks is in Seattle, where his athleticism and versatility are keys to the team's defense. He pleaded guilty to insider-trading charges and will be sentenced in February, but in the meantime, he's playing like one of the NFC's best linebackers.
This draft might not be the core of the 2019 Eagles, but the franchise wouldn't have a Super Bowl ring without it.
6. 2016 Jacksonville Jaguars
Notable Picks: CB Jalen Ramsey (Round 1), LB Myles Jack (Round 2), EDGE Yannick Ngakoue (Round 3)
Only three players are listed from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 2016 draft, and outside a run to the 2017 AFC Championship Game, this group didn't win much together. But the talent assembled by general manager David Caldwell saved his job and might have temporarily saved football in Jacksonville.
Jalen Ramsey is, well, Jalen Ramsey. One of the NFL's best cornerbacks and best trash-talkers. Now a member of the Los Angeles Rams and the reason the Jaguars will have extra first-round picks in the next two classes. But while he was a Jaguar, the team felt confident that opposing top receivers were locked down.
Myles Jack was set to be a top-five pick before a knee injury at UCLA raised questions about his durability and career longevity. But he's become one of the AFC's best, most versatile linebackers while playing in every game the last four seasons.
Yannick Ngakoue is poised to become a free agent and could be one of the prizes of the market if he's allowed to leave. Since 2016 he has 34.5 sacks and quickly outplayed his draft stock with eight sacks as a rookie. The Jaguars' trade of Ramsey might have been in part to ensure the team can pay Ngakoue this offseason.
5. 2015 Minnesota Vikings
Notable Picks: CB Trae Waynes (Round 1), LB Eric Kendricks (Round 2), EDGE Danielle Hunter (Round 3), WR Stefon Diggs (Round 5)
If you're like me, you were impressed with the defensive talent general manager Rick Spielman assembled with the Minnesota Vikings' first three picks in 2015. Then you get to Stefon Diggs in Round 5 and are reminded of how far one of the game's best receivers fell in the draft. What a haul.
We might be at the end of the road for Trae Waynes in Minnesota, and Eric Kendricks hasn't completely lived up to his Round 2 stock, but the core of the Vikings' talent is based around Diggs at wide receiver and Danielle Hunter as a defensive end opposite Everson Griffen. And Spielman stole them both outside the top 85 picks.
Sometimes a great class takes a little luck, and the Vikings' ability to forecast the futures of Hunter and Diggs as third- and fifth-rounders has set the tempo for the team's current success.
4. 2010 Seattle Seahawks
Notable Picks: OT Russell Okung (Round 1), FS Earl Thomas (Round 1), WR Golden Tate (Round 2), SS Kam Chancellor (Round 5)
No player from this draft is still a member of the Seahawks—typical when writing about a class from 10 years ago—but the group left its mark on Seattle.
Each player helped build a mini-dynasty in the NFC West and turned Seattle into the conference's toughest place to play for nearly a decade. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor each had a moment as arguably the best in the league at their respective positions; and Thomas is still somehow holding on to that title as a Baltimore Raven.
Much can be said about the dominant drafting of general manager John Schneider and his assistants—and it's one of the NFL's biggest mysteries how few lieutenants have left Seattle for top jobs—but one look at the Seahawks' 2010 and 2012 drafts (more on that one later) explains why this team hasn't had a losing season since 2011.
3. 2017 New Orleans Saints
Notable Picks: CB Marshon Lattimore (Round 1), OT Ryan Ramczyk (Round 1), FS Marcus Williams (Round 2), RB Alvin Kamara (Round 3)
How the heck did the New Orleans Saints pull off this draft?
Marshon Lattimore has been a star at cornerback with eight interceptions in 38 games, and in his rookie season he looked like a future All-Pro. As long as the team can rehabilitate his hamstring injury, he should bounce back and be a perennial Pro Bowler.
The same can be said for Alvin Kamara. He hasn't exploded this season while being the featured back, but injuries have taken a toll on him. He's still one of the NFL's most exciting, versatile backs and a steal as a third-rounder.
Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk won't get a lot of name recognition but should be an All-Pro this season thanks to his excellent all-around blocking. The team's ability to go from Drew Brees to Teddy Bridgewater without missing a beat was largely because of the consistency up front. That's a huge credit to Ramczyk.
Marcus Williams will always be remembered for a missed tackle in the NFC playoffs, but he has played well since he became a meme against the Minnesota Vikings. The Saints defense can flip the field on anyone, and Williams is a big key in that.
2. 2012 Seattle Seahawks
Notable Picks: EDGE Bruce Irvin (Round 1), LB Bobby Wagner (Round 2), QB Russell Wilson (Round 3)
The Seattle Seahawks took two Hall of Famers in the 2012 draft, and neither was the team's first-round pick. That's how you land one of the best classes of the last decade while only getting three high-impact players.
What more can be said? Bobby Wagner is the NFL's best inside linebacker and has been a rock-solid leader, captain and producer since he left Utah State. He's the prototype scouts set their bar by when evaluating the position.
If it weren't for Russell Wilson, Wagner might have been the best value pick in the 2012 draft. But Wilson, who is playing his best football in his eighth year, has been a revelation at quarterback while changing the NFL and football in Seattle. The Seahawks have never had a losing season with him on the roster—a stat that won't change anytime soon.
1. 2016 Dallas Cowboys
Notable Picks: RB Ezekiel Elliott (Round 1), LB Jaylon Smith (Round 2), DL Maliek Collins (Round 3), QB Dak Prescott (Round 4), CB Anthony Brown (Round 6)
The 2016 draft changed the Dallas Cowboys' fortunes in the span of three days. The franchise is winning because it grabbed four starters and one high-level rotational secondary member from the team's nine selections.
Quarterback Dak Prescott is playing like a potential MVP and having his best season in his fourth year as the starter for America's Team. Running back Ezekiel Elliott has struggled lately, but he has been one of the NFL's elite backs for the last four years. Linebacker Jaylon Smith missed his rookie season after he suffered a knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame, but since returning to the field he's been among the league's best linebackers.
Those are the three picks everyone knows, but defensive tackle Maliek Collins is a starter and playing well. Cornerback Anthony Brown offers crucial depth as the team's third or fourth cover man each week. The big three selections are no doubt why the Cowboys are leading the NFC East, but the gems in Collins and Brown help round out an amazing draft class from Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Will McClay.