Fans and pundits often spend a lot of time talking about where individual players were drafted that we sometimes don’t think about what year was the best NFL draft class.

What were the top NFL drafts of all-time that produced the most star players and future Hall of Famers? It’s usually only under special circumstances that we think about the greatest NFL draft classes.

We thought it’d be fun to take a look back at the best draft classes in NFL history. During each draft, we only tend to think about the individual players and not how this group of young players will be remembered by history and if it’ll end up being one of the top NFL drafts of all time. 

Best NFL Draft Class

Of course, it’s not easy to pick out the best NFL draft class because so many have stood out. We surely understand if there is a difference of opinion when it comes to the best draft classes in NFL history.

However, this is a list that we’ve put together of the greatest NFL draft classes in league history.

    

1985

This year’s draft was quite the anomaly because there were no quarterbacks selected in the first round.

Nevertheless, this turned out to be an impressive class with first overall pick Bruce Smith and fourth overall pick Chris Coleman becoming Hall of Famers. A wide receiver named Jerry Rice from a little-known school was picked 16th overall and also became a Hall of Famer, as did Andre Reed and Kevin Greene, who were taken a little later.

The great Herschel Walker was also selected in this draft, one pick after Greene at the top of the fifth round. Also, despite no quarterback being taken in the first round, this class also featured three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Steve Bono, Randall Cunningham, and Bernie Kosar.

2004

To date, the 2004 draft features the best quarterback class of the current century, most notably Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger.

All three could end up in Canton one day, and so could Larry Fitzgerald and Vince Wilfork, who were also first-round picks this year. That group alone helps to make this a top-10 class. We also can’t forget about Jared Allen, Jonathan Vilma, DeAngelo Hall, and the late Sean Taylor.

    

1989

This is another class that was also short on great quarterbacks but heavy on playmakers. This is the draft that gave us wide receivers Tim Brown and Michael Irvin, as well as running back Thurman Thomas.

It was also a good year for offensive linemen with both Dermontti Dawson and Randall McDaniel. Those five players all became Hall of Famers, highlighting the 1989 draft class.

But this class also included Neil Smith, Sterling Sharpe, Craig Heyward, Ken Norton Jr, Bill Romanowski, and many other Pro-Bowl-caliber players.

2011

The book isn’t yet closed on this draft class, but we can already tell that it’s going to be one of the best of all time.

Of course, the top pick was former MVP Cam Newton and the second pick was former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.

Wide receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones were part of this class and are both among the best of their generation while J.J. Watt was taken 11th overall and will surely be in Canton one day. Other highlights of this class include Patrick Peterson, Mark Ingram, Cameron Heyward, Randall Cobb, Justin Houston, K.J. Wright, and Richard Sherman.

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1968

Only fans of a certain age will remember some of the players from this class, but it’s impossible to argue with a draft class that produced eight Hall of Famers.

Top overall pick Ron Yary and third overall pick Claude Humphrey highlight the class. Ken Stabler was the best quarterback from this class and the only one at his position to get to the Hall of Fame.

Fullback Larry Csonka is also one of the most memorable players from this class that fans may remember. The same is true of Art Shell, who had a Hall of Fame playing career before becoming a coach.

1981

In terms of defense, this might be the best draft class ever.

Lawrence Taylor was the second overall pick this year and turned into arguably the most feared pass rusher in NFL history.

By the end of the top 10 picks, safety Kenny Easley and cornerback Ronnie Lott gave this class two more future Hall of Famers.

Linebackers Mike Singletary and Rickey Jackson were both future Hall of Fame linebackers taken in the second round. Finally, Howie Long gives this class six Hall of Famers on the defensive side of the ball while lineman Russ Grimm was the only offensive player from this class to make the Hall of Fame. In addition to those seven players, the likes of Mark May, Cris Collinsworth, and Carlton Williamson are among the notable players from the 1981 draft class.

1996

This was another class that produced a handful of Hall of Fame players, although only three were picked in the first round. Jonathan Ogden was one of the best to ever play his position, and the same is true of both Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens, who were both a part of this class.

Ray Lewis was taken late in the first round in 1996 while Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins was selected with the final pick of the second round.

But this class also deserves credit for having several players who are at least borderline Hall of Famers, including top overall pick Keyshawn Johnson, Simeon Rice, Terry Glenn, Eddie George, Mike Alstott, Zach Thomas, and Tedy Bruschi.

1957

In 1957, the NFL Draft had 30 rounds, and this particular draft produced nine Hall of Famers. It started with Paul Hornung, who was the top overall pick. Jim Brown was selected sixth overall in this year’s draft and is arguably the best player of all time.

Quarterbacks Len Dawson and Sonny Jurgensen are also among the Hall of Famers from this class, as were wide receivers Tommy McDonald and Don Maynard. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the late-round gems, including 17th rounder Jack Kemp, 23rd rounder John Thomas, and 25th rounder Jimmy Orr.

1964

To date, no draft class has been able to exceed the 11 Hall of Famers the class of 1964 produced.

Most teams did a good job of talent evaluation, as six of the top 18 picks turned out to be Hall of Famers, most notably a quartet of first-rounders: Bob Brown, Charley Taylor, Carl Eller, and Paul Warfield. Canton residents Bob Hayes and Bill Parcells slipped to the seventh round while Leroy Kelly was taken in the eighth round before having a Hall of Fame career.

Then there was Roger Staubach, who was picked in the 10th round and is arguably the most famous player from this all-time great draft class. 

1983

While this class has fewer Hall of Famers than some of the other top NFL drafts of all time, you can’t argue with the quarterbacks that came out of this class.

John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino are all legendary figures while Ken O’Brien was also a Pro Bowl quarterback. Those quarterbacks alone make this a memorable draft class.

However, 1983 also produced all-time greats like Eric Dickerson, Bruce Matthews, and Darrell Green. Jim Covert and Richard Dent round out the Hall of Famers from this draft class while other notable players from 1983 include Henry Ellard, Wes Hopkins, Darryl Talley, Karl Mecklenburg, Mark Clayton, and Roger Craig. 

1 thought on “10 greatest draft classes in NFL history”

  1. 1996, paradoxically, despite its many great players at other positions, is often seen as the worst ever class for quarterbacks. Eight were drafted, and only four threw a pass in the NFL. Perhaps the best quarterback of this class – Jon Kitna – was not even drafted and is notorious for starting four games for the 0—16 2008 Detroit Lions.

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