The Best NFL Draft Class Of All Time [Top 10 List]

As is an annual NFL tradition, fans are always looking forward to seeing the faces in the draft class. The appearance of young talents makes the game always unpredictable and exciting.

No one knows what the future holds. We are living in a world where Ryan Leaf finished second in 1998. Meanwhile, people only picked Tom Brady until the sixth round in 2000.

Only time will prove the actual quality of a draft class. Let’s learn more about the list of the best NFL draft classes in NFL history with Scott Fujita below.

Let’s read on to discover!

The Best NFL Draft Class Ever In The NFL History

The draft classes below are all years where many outstanding faces both in terms of talent or achievement. Let’s start the list from number 10.

1989

  • Hall of Famers: 5 (Barry Sanders, Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Steve Atwater)
  • Pro Bowlers: 26

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Barry Sanders 

The legendary draft class set the stage for four famous careers.

Troy Aikman (Cowboys), Derrick Thomas (Chiefs), Barry Sanders (Lions), and Deion Sanders (Falcons) all made their way to the Hall of Fame list. Tony Mandarich (Green Bay Packers) took second place overall.

The 1989 first-round also brought safety talent Steve Atwater to the Denver Broncos and all-out threat Eric Metcalf to Cleveland.

Jimmy Johnson’s first Cowboys draft then included Steve Wisniewski and center Mark Stepnoski. The team then traded the future Pro-Bowl guard for the NBA-style Raiders. Dallas’ final draft pick was Darryl Johnston.

1993

  • Hall of Famers: 5 (John Lynch, Willie Roaf, Jerome Bettis, Will Shields, Michael Strahan)
  • Pro Bowlers: 36

The most famous star on this list is Michael Strahan. Four other people joined him in Canton. Strahan could play with many players with solid careers during his time in the tournament, such as quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

Along with the five stars guarded by Canton, this draft class also has many good players. Many players have made the Pro Bowl and competed at the Super Bowls.

Some notable names are receiver Troy Brown and defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield.

2001

  • Hall of Famers: 2 (Steve Hutchinson, LaDainian Tomlinson)
  • Pro Bowlers: 34

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Steve Hutchinson 

When the Atlanta Falcons kicked off an aggressive sale for the #1 overall draft pick, they didn’t expect to create the opportunity to deliver two Hall of Famers to the Chargers.

The Falcons’ first choice was quarterback Michael Vick. The Chargers followed and brought back running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 5th place. The team continued to be lucky to have Drew Brees at No. 32 at the beginning of the 2nd round.

Looking further into breakout trading, you’ll find plenty of quality names. The 2001 draft class produced top-flight receivers. When it came time to consider the Hall of Fame, Steve Smith, and Reggie Wayne sparked a heated debate among voters.

We can’t forget Hutchinson either. This guy is still holding his position as one of the best interior offensive linemen until his final season.

2004

  • Pro Bowlers: 30

In just the first 11 picks, we already know this is the most extraordinary midfield class of the 21st century with familiar names like Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers), Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers. 

Some of the other stars that emerged in this group include Larry Fitzgerald (Chicago Cardinals), Jared Allen, and the late Sean Taylor.

The 2004 draft season is famous for its NBA-style transition between Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. The Manning-Rivers-Ben Roethlisberger trio has consolidated a class to become the most profound group in the league history of the position.

Patriots home force Vince Wilfork and Tom Coughlin’s son-in-law guard Chris Snee have also gone head-to-head in multiple Super Bowl games.

1996

  • Hall of Famers: 5 (Marvin Harrison, Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Terrell Owens, Brian Dawkins)
  • Pro Bowlers: 33

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Ray Lewis 

The stars enrolled in the Hall of Fame of this class have proven themselves.

Even more, they will become the central force of the league over the next decade. We have bright names like solid safety Lawyer Milloy, defensive end Simeon Rice or linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

The first draft of the Baltimore Ravens brought back the foundation gears with no. 4 overall Jonathan Ogden and no. 26 Ray Lewis. The Browns acquired Lewis in 1995 but set up the Ravens instead. This strange trade also benefits the Baltimore Colts with Marvin Harrison. 

The Bengals also brought them right tackle, Willie Anderson and Eddie George.

The previous 1995 season was also brilliant as Tampa Bay built their defense core with Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. Hall of Famer running back Curtis Martin was also selected by the New England Patriots in the third round.

Other notable picks are running back Terrell Davis to the Broncos (sixth round) and quarterback Steve McNair to the Houston Oilers (no. 3 overall). 

1968

  • Hall of Famers: 8 (Art Shell, Ron Yary, Curley Culp, Claude Humphrey, Elvin Bethea, Larry Csonka, Ken Stabler, Charlie Sanders)
  • Pro Bowlers/AFL All-Stars: 23

The Raiders failed with their first pick (wideout Eldridge Dickey) but succeeded with the next two. Along with Jim Otto and Gene Upshaw, Art Shell formed one of the NFL’s greatest O-lines defending future MVP Ken Stabler in the 1970s.

In round 7, Oakland also added the formidable safety George Atkinson, building a solid roster.

Many of the top 10 drafts of this class end up in Canton.

1985

  • Hall of Famers: 5 (Bruce Smith, Jerry Rice, Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene, Andre Reed)
  • Pro Bowlers: 31

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Bruce Smith 

Fourth on the list of best NFL drafts is the class of 1985. The draft has 15 All-Pros, and five players are in the Hall of Fame. We also get to see 3 of the top 5 sack artists on the NFL record.

The Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings soon spotted potential quarterbacks by picking Bruce Smith (first overall) and Chris Doleman (no. 4).

However, the 12-spot jump for the 49ers via the Patriots was the highlight of this draft. It introduced us to Jerry Rice, who featured in three of the 49ers’ Super Bowls parades in subsequent seasons.

1957

  • Hall of Famers: 9 (Paul Hornung, Jim Brown, Jim Parker, Tommy McDonald, Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen, Henry Jordan, Don Maynard, Gene Hickerson)
  • Pro Bowlers/AFL All-Stars: 36

The draft slots of 1957 yielded bright names. 

Don Maynard is the greatest player in New York Jets history. We also have Jim Parker as the best guard Jim Brown with a dominant play style.

Jurgensen, Dawson, and the 49ers pick John Brodie (no.3 overall), a future MVP. They played a total of 54 seasons.

1981

  • Hall of Famers: 7 (Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Kenny Easley, Mike Singletary, Howie Long, Ronnie Lott, Rickey Jackson)
  • Pro Bowlers: 32

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Lawrence Taylor

This draft has shaped defense-heavy play for the NFL. It sent the centers of three Super Bowls systems to their respective cities.

The New York Giants brought Lawrence Taylor (no. 2 overall). The Bears added Mike Singletary in the second round.

With the two Lott wingmen, Carlton Williamson and Dwight Hicks, the 49ers built their secondary in this draft. The Saints’ “Dome Patrol” queue crew received the first piece at the Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson.

1983

  • Hall of Famers: 8 (John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Covert, Eric Dickerson, Jim Kelly, Bruce Matthews, Darrell Green, Richard Dent)
  • Pro Bowlers: 42

The best draft class NFL must belong to 1983 when it received a massive consensus from veteran analysts. This draft class introduced many immortal names to the NFL.

John Elway and Dan Marino entered the tournament from here. Elway’s journey to the Denver Broncos was a transaction to remember. We also get to witness one of the greatest NFL record players, Eric Dickerson, emerge from this draft.

Bruce Matthews, Richard Dent, and Jim Covert have shaped the NFL. The variety of placements, with eight in total going to the Hall of Fame, is enough to make this year a standout.

Final Thoughts

NFL draft classes have produced talented players with an admirable track record. Although the title of the greatest NFL draft class of 1983 is almost inevitable, the remaining positions are still hotly debated.

Hopefully, in the future, we will continue to see more talented players.

Thank you for reading!

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