Ranking the 10 Best NFL Draft Hauls of the Past 5 Years

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2021

Ranking the 10 Best NFL Draft Hauls of the Past 5 Years

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    With the 2021 NFL draft approaching, fans around the football world are dreaming about their favorite teams landing the perfect draft hauls.

    Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect draft class, though some recent team classes have been pretty darn close. They've helped set the standard for what a successful draft haul might look like in 2021.

    Here, we'll rank the top 10 draft hauls of the past five years. While weight will be given to particularly prolific picks—draft an MVP-caliber quarterback, get bonus points—we'll be looking at team draft classes as a whole.

    Factors like on-field production, team success, positional value and individual accolades will be considered here.

10. 2020 Cincinnati Bengals

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    Joe Burrow
    Joe BurrowDon Wright/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: QB Joe Burrow, WR Tee Higgins, LB Logan Wilson

    The most recent draft haul on this list, the Cincinnati Bengals' 2020 class already appears to be an impressive one. Quarterback Joe Burrow might have been a common-sense pick at No. 1 overall, but he seems to be on his way to being a high-caliber NFL starter.

    Burrow passes for 2,688 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions before being injured 10 games into his rookie season. He also showed the poise and polish of a seasoned veteran. He could prove to be a generational draft pick.

    "If I'm comparing last year to this year, Joe Burrow is picked over Trevor Lawrence 100 times out of 100," an unnamed AFC quarterbacks coach said, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

    Tee Higgins is also shaping up to be a legitimate No. 1-caliber receiver. He caught 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. Linebacker Logan Wilson, meanwhile, amassed 33 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in 12 appearances with two starts.

    Other players picked by Cincinnati in 2020 include linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, edge-rusher Khalid Kareem and offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji. Burrow and Higgins have been the clear stars of this group so far, however.

    If Burrow and Higgins continue to develop into perennial Pro Bowl talents, the 2020 Bengals class should rise up the rankings of lists like this one.

9. 2016 Miami Dolphins

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: OT Laremy Tunsil, CB, Xavien Howard, RB Kenyan Drake

    The 2016 Miami Dolphins class has had adequate time to prove itself. Cornerback Xavien Howard has since proved that he's arguably the best cover corner in the game. He has twice led the league in interceptions, has logged 22 picks in his career and showed this past season that he is a dangerous defensive back to test.

    In 2020, Howard allowed an opposing passer rating of just 48.3.

    Though Laremy Tunsil is now with the Houston Texans, he was a brilliant draft pick by Miami. Along with wideout Kenny Stills and a fourth-round pick, Tunsil netted the Dolphins two first-round selections, a second-round pick and a pair of players through a 2019 trade. Tunsil then went on to make two consecutive Pro Bowls.

    While running back Kenyan Drake didn't quite flourish with Miami, he proved to be a serviceable starter with the Arizona Cardinals over the past season-and-a-half.

    Other members of this draft haul included wideouts Jakeem Grant and Leonte Carroo, though Howard and Tunsil are the clear headliners.

8. 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    T.J. Watt
    T.J. WattJustin Berl/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: Edge T.J. Watt, WR, JuJu Smith-Schuster, CB Cameron Sutton

    It's hard not to love the two headliners of the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers draft class. Wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster is a one-time Pro Bowler who has already amassed 308 receptions, 3,726 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns. Pass-rusher T.J. Watt might be the most disruptive defender in the game.

    Watt, who led the league in sacks this past season, has already amassed 49.5 sacks. A three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro, Watt also produced 120 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons.

    Though not as accomplished as Smith-Schuster and Watt, cornerback Cameron Sutton appeared in 52 games for Pittsburgh through his first four seasons. Running back James Conner, a Pro Bowler in 2018, was also part of this draft class, along with quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

    During Conner's Pro Bowl campaign, he amassed 973 rushing yards, 497 receiving yards and 13 combined touchdowns.

    Watt and Smith-Schuster are the only two big assets Pittsburgh acquired in the 2017 draft, but both are tremendous players. Both also happen to still be employed by the Steelers, which bodes well for the coming season.

7. 2018 Buffalo Bills

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    Josh Allen
    Josh AllenCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: QB Josh Allen, LB Tremaine Edmunds, G Wyatt Teller

    Positional value is being gauged here, so the fact that the Buffalo Bills appear to have gotten their franchise quarterback in the 2018 draft is huge. While Josh Allen took a couple of years to develop, he exploded as a viable MVP candidate this past season.

    In 2020, Allen passed for 4,544 yards with 37 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 421 yards and eight more scores. Perhaps more importantly, he helped guide Buffalo to the AFC Championship Game.

    "There's also no question that he has established himself as one of the top young signal-callers in the game," Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport wrote in his recent Top 25 Under 25 list.

    Allen isn't the only Buffalo star to come out of the 2018 draft, though. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, a two-time Pro Bowler, has established himself as a legitimate defensive cornerstone. Though he was traded to the Cleveland Browns after only one season, guard Wyatt Teller has since emerged as a high-end starter.

    Teller was the league's highest-graded guard in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Other players drafted by Buffalo in 2018 include defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and wideout Ray-Ray McCloud.

6. 2018 Cleveland Browns

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    Baker Mayfield
    Baker MayfieldCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: QB Baker Mayfield, CB Denzel Ward, RB Nick Chubb

    Though he hasn't been quite as impressive as Allen, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield emerged as a quality starter in 2020. He helped Cleveland win 11 games this past season and win its first playoff games since the Bill Belichick era.

    That Mayfield has operated with four head coaches—including interim coach Gregg Williams—and three offensive systems and still shown growth is impressive.

    "He's endured an enormous amount of adversity in his young career just quite honestly with the changes that he's gone through with the coaching staffs, front offices, offensive systems, and he's risen above it all," general manager Andrew Berry said, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com.

    In 2018, the Browns also added rookie Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward and running back Nick Chubb—who has 3,557 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in 44 games.

    Chubb, who narrowly missed out on the NFL rushing title in 2019, is one of the best pure runners in the NFL today.

    The rest of Cleveland's 2018 class—including guard Austin Corbett and wideout Antonio Callaway—gave little in return to Cleveland. However, grabbing three quality franchise cornerstones in the same draft is nonetheless incredible.

5. 2017 Kansas City Chiefs

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    Patrick Mahomes
    Patrick MahomesSteve Luciano/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: QB Patrick Mahomes, RB Kareem Hunt, DL Tanoh Kpassagnon

    If we were ranking the most valuable individual selections of the last five years, it would be difficult not to put Patrick Mahomes at the top. A first-round selection of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, Mahomes has established himself as, hands down, the top quarterback in the game today.

    Mahomes has already amassed 14,152 passing yards and 114 passing touchdowns with only 24 interceptions. He has led Kansas City to the Super Bowl twice, has been to three AFC title games and has both a Super Bowl MVP and a regular-season MVP on his resume.

    Mahomes started only one game as a rookie.

    Kansas City's 2017 class is heavily weighted by the inclusion of Mahomes. However, the Chiefs also landed Pro Bowl running back and 2017 rushing leader Kareem Hunt as part of the haul. Hunt, however, was released after less than two seasons when video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman.

    While defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon hasn't been to a Pro Bowl, he was a solid rotational player during his four seasons with the Chiefs. He started 24 games, appeared in 61 contests and compiled 75 tackles and seven sacks.

    Other players selected by Kansas City in 2017 included safety Leon McQuay and linebacker Ukeme Eligwe. Mahomes, though, is clearly the centerpiece of this draft class.

4. 2018 Indianapolis Colts

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    Darius Leonard
    Darius LeonardZach Bolinger/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: G Quenton Nelson, LB Darius Leonard, OL Braden Smith

    One of only two top-five classes not to deliver a starting quarterback, the 2018 Indianapolis Colts' haul is impressive for other reasons.

    For one, it delivered two rookie All-Pros in guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard. Nelson has been a first-team All-Pro in each of his three NFL seasons, while Leonard has been a first-team All-Pro twice.

    Nelson and Leonard have five Pro Bowl appearances between them already.

    Indianapolis also landed a starting right tackle in Braden Smith, which is in itself noteworthy. While Smith hasn't been to a Pro Bowl, he has started 43 games and has played at least 75 percent of the offensive snaps each year.

    Other Colts drafted in 2018 include defensive end Kemoko Turay and versatile running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.

    Obviously, Nelson and Leonard are the headliners of this group, but both are players with Hall of Fame potential.

3. 2016 Dallas Cowboys

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    Dak Prescott
    Dak PrescottMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: QB Dak Prescott, RB, Ezekiel Elliott, LB Jaylon Smith

    The Dallas Cowboys' landing of Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 draft represents one of the biggest draft steals in recent memory. Prescott may not be on the level of Mahomes, but he has established himself as a high-end starter and the centerpiece of Dallas' offense.

    Prescott is a two-time Pro Bowler who was leading the NFL with 1,856 passing yards when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 last season.

    Before Prescott became the team's offensive centerpiece, though, it was running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys' first-round selection in 2016, Elliott has two league rushing titles and three Pro Bowl appearances on his resume.

    Also in 2016, the Cowboys nabbed linebacker Jaylon Smith. Though he missed his rookie year, Smith is a one-time Pro Bowler who has already amassed 498 tackles, nine sacks and 20 passes defended in four seasons.

    Other players drafted by Dallas in 2016 include defensive tackle Maliek Collins, cornerback Anthony Brown and tight end Rico Gathers.

2. 2017 New Orleans Saints

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    Marshon Lattimore
    Marshon LattimoreDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, S Marcus Williams

    While the New Orleans Saints' 2017 draft class didn't feature a franchise quarterback, it featured a volume of non-quarterback talent that rivals any in recent memory.

    New Orleans kicked off the draft with cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who has gone on to be a three-time Pro Bowler. Offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, another first-round pick, has been a full-time starter since day one and was a first-team All-Pro in 2019.

    Then, there's running back Alvin Kamara, who has not missed a Pro Bowl since being drafted. Arguably the most dangerous offensive weapon in football, Kamara has legitimate Hall of Fame potential.

    Though not a Pro Bowler, safety Marcus Williams was a quality four-year starter for New Orleans who received the franchise tag this offseason. Edge-rusher Trey Hendrickson flashed enough potential in limited playing time to earn a four-year, $60 million contract in free agency this year.

    Linebacker Alex Anzalone was a fine rotational player—with 20 starts and 123 total tackles—before departing in free agency this offseason.

    New Orleans' 2017 draft class is likely to go down as an all-time great one. However, there's one haul from the last five years that—for now, anyway—has been more impressive.

1. 2018 Baltimore Ravens

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    Lamar Jackson
    Lamar JacksonJohn Munson/Associated Press

    Notable Picks: QB Lamar Jackson, TE Mark Andrews, OT Orlando Brown Jr.

    The Baltimore Ravens' 2018 draft class ranks No. 1—and not only because it included quarterback Lamar Jackson.

    Make no mistake, though, Jackson's inclusion is a big part of the equation. Jackson has led Baltimore to three straight playoff appearances and was a unanimous league MVP in 2019. He may not be the most conventional of signal-callers, but he is a legitimate franchise quarterback.

    Baltimore's 2018 class also featured Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews and fellow tight end Hayden Hurst. While Hurst was traded after only two seasons, he—along with a fourth-round pick—netted the Ravens a second-rounder and a fifth-rounder.

    Offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was also part of Baltimore's 2018 haul. A Pro Bowler at both right and left tackle, Brown was recently part of a huge predraft trade.

    Baltimore sent Brown, a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 sixth-rounder to Kansas City for 2021 first-, third- and fourth-round picks and a 2022 fifth-rounder.

    In all, the 2018 draft gave the Ravens three Pro Bowlers, a lot of return-on-investment trade capital and arguably one of the most indefensible dual-threat quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen.

    "He's doing it the right way, and defensive coordinators have to figure out how to stop him," longtime NFL starter Michael Vick said, per Clifton Brown of the Ravens' official website. "I don't give away game plans. Good luck with that."

                 

    Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

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