10 Greatest Draft Classes in NFL History

With three Hall of Fame quarterbacks alone, the 1983 class is the standard by which past and future draft classes are measured

College football's best will be selected starting April 25 when the 2019 NFL Draft kicks off in Nashville, Tennessee. Will this class go down in history as one of the best? Only time well. Either way, it will have some pretty some stiff competition to be one of the greatest. Here are the 10 best draft classes in NFL history based on their level of talent.

 

10. 1989

Hall of Famers: 4 (Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Deion Sanders)

Pro Bowlers: 26

The four Hall of Famers were taken with the first five picks and no other draft has ever kicked off with such an elite collection of talent. If there is any justice in this world, strong safety Steve Atwater will one day be the fifth player from this class to make it to Canton.

 

9. 1993

Hall of Famers: 4 (Willie Roaf, Jerome Bettis, Michael Strahan, Will Shields)

Pro Bowlers: 36

Along with the four enshrined in Canton, this class sported a high number of good players who made the Pro Bowl and played in Super Bowls. They include quarterback Drew Bledsoe, defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, strong safety John Lynch, and receiver Troy Brown.

 

8. 2001

Hall of Famers: 1 (LaDainian Tomlinson)

Pro Bowlers: 34

Tomlinson may be the only one in the Hall of Fame, but many in this class, including Drew Brees, Reggie Wayne, and Steve Smith Sr., are on their way.

 

7. 2004

Pro Bowlers: 30

The greatest quarterback class of the 21st century had Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger taken in the first 11 picks. Several other stars emerged from this group too, including Larry Fitzgerald, Vince Wilfork, Jared Allen, and the late Sean Taylor.

 

6. 1996

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

Pro Bowlers: 33

The Hall of Famers in this class speak for themselves, but many others would be major forces in the league over the next decade, including wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, defensive end Simeon Rice, running back Eddie George, strong safety Lawyer Milloy, and linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

 

5. 1968

Hall of Famers: 8 (Ron Yary, Claude Humphrey, Larry Csonka, Curley Culp, Ken Stabler, Charlie Sanders, Elvin Bethea, Art Shell)

Pro Bowlers/AFL All-Stars: 23

If there were a measure of the best draft classes over a three-year period, 1967-69 would probably take the cake. In my opinion, the '68 class was the best of those three, player for player.

 

4. 1985

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

Pro Bowlers: 31

In addition to including the NFL's all-time greatest receiver in Rice and its career sack leader in Smith, the '85 draft also included United States Football League (USFL) stars Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie (The USFL was close to folding when they were selected.).

 

3. 1957

Hall of Famers: 9 (Paul Hornung, Len Dawson, Jim Brown, Jim Parker, Tommy McDonald, Sonny Jurgensen, Henry Jordan, Gene Hickerson, Don Maynard)

Pro Bowlers/AFL All-Stars: 36

This class has the most Hall of Fame members on this list and Brown, Hornung, Dawson, and Parker were taken with the first eight picks in the draft. However, many players who are not enshrined in Canton became major factors in both the NFL and AFL, including quarterbacks John Brodie and Jack Kemp, fullback Jack Pardee, and end Ron Kramer.

 

2. 1981

Hall of Famers: 7 (Lawrence Taylor, Kenny Easley, Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, Howie Long, Rickey Jackson, Russ Grimm)

Pro Bowlers: 32

Arguably the best defensive draft class in NFL history also included linebacker E.J. Junior, defensive backs Dennis Smith, Eric Wright, and Hanford Dixon, and defensive end Dexter Manley.

 

1. 1983

Hall of Famers: 7 (John Elway, Eric Dickerson, Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Darrell Green, Richard Dent)

Pro Bowlers: 42

Reading the names in this draft class is akin to reading a Who's Who of NFL stars in the 1980s and '90s. The '83 draft is the standard for which all past and future classes are measured.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

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