Ranking the Best NFL Draft Classes of All Time

It's difficult to hit on every pick in the NFL Draft, but these teams came pretty close. Here are some of the greatest draft classes of all time.

The 2024 NFL Draft class is far from a complete class. There are certain positions, namely running back, where it is severely lacking. However, it does have the potential to be one of the better classes when it comes to positions like quarterback and wide receiver.

Drafting is an inexact science. Some teams are better at it than others, but every team will make bad picks. Sometimes, however, teams absolutely nail it. Let’s go back through history and examine the best draft classes of all time.

What Was the Best NFL Draft Class of All Time?

The 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft is and likely always will be the greatest draft in league history. Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, and Mike Webster all went on to be Pro Football Hall of Famers.

The quartet won four Super Bowls with 13 All-Pros between the group. Aside from Hines Ward and the ever-controversial Antonio Brown, Stallworth and Swann are largely referred to as two of the team’s top four wide receivers in the franchise’s history.

Meanwhile, Lambert is one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the sport. Back in 2016, NFL Films ranked Lambert the 29th-best player of all time when they ran their top 100 series. In 2012, Bleacher Report ranked Webster the best center of all time, while in 2017, Gil Brandt ranked him as the sixth-best center ever.

It’s unlikely a team will ever replicate this draft’s success.

Ranking the Best NFL Draft Classes Nos. 2-10

2) 1986 San Francisco 49ers

If any class can even be mentioned in the same breath as the Steelers’ 1974 class, it’s the 1986 San Francisco 49ers. They managed to draft a whopping eight players that contributed to their 1989 and 1990 Super Bowl championships. Charles Haley, Steve Wallace, Don Griffin, John Taylor, Tim McKyer, Tom Rathman, Kevin Fagan, and Larry Roberts were all impact players in some capacity.

MORE: FREE NFL Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

Haley went on to have the second-most Super Bowl rings of all time, behind only Tom Brady. Haley is currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

3) 1991 Dallas Cowboys

The team of the ’90s — the Dallas Cowboys — was able to put together three Super Bowl wins in four years. In an ironic twist of fate, these successes are partially to blame for the Cowboys’ failures over the past 25 years. The Cowboys are rarely active in free agency because Jerry Jones is still clinging to the belief that a winning team can be built solely through the draft. Specifically, it was the 1991 class that convinced him.

It could be fair to argue for Dallas, and for many drafts, that because they hit on the QB in 1989, that’s the best class they had. For instance, the Patriots’ 2000 draft class could be considered the best ever. It directly, through Brady, led them to six Super Bowls.

But that’s not really in the spirit of what we’re trying to evaluate here. The idea is to credit teams for drafting well — not making one incredible pick. Plus, let’s not pretend as though the Patriots thought Brady was anything more than a career backup when they took him in the sixth round.

The 1992 class in Dallas is a consideration as well, but ’91 edges it out, mostly because Dallas never got to see Jimmy Smith’s greatness with a star on his helmet. Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Erik Williams, Leon Lett, Dixon Edwards, and Larry Brown all made massive marks that propelled the Cowboys to their Super Bowl wins in 1993, 1994, and 1996.

4) 2017 New Orleans Saints

While this selection may be controversial, think of it as the Joe Montana of classes. It may not be the most talented, but it never lost the big game. The 1986 49ers class is outstanding, but the 2017 New Orleans Saints draft class has zero misses. Every single player has become an NFL contributor.

When it comes to evaluating classes against each other, there’s no objective standard. Is one class with four elite players better than another class with seven merely good players? That’s up to you to decide. For me, I consider it decidedly more difficult to hit on nearly every pick.

Six of the seven draftees went on to make great money on second contracts, while Al-Quadin Muhammad was quietly a good rotational piece for the Indianapolis Colts the past few seasons before heading to Chicago for 2023.

Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alvin Kamara, Alexander Anzalone, and Trey Hendrickson — that is quite the conglomeration of talent.

Lattimore remains one of the best cornerbacks in the game. Ramczyk has long been a fantastic right tackle, and at one time, Williams was one of the best true free safeties in football. Kamara was one of the most efficient runners in the league to start his career and will go down as one of the best receiving backs of all time.

Meanwhile, Hendrickson contributed at the end of his rookie deal and parlayed that into a massive deal with Cincinnati, where he showed he’s one of the most productive pass rushers in the entire NFL.

5) 1965 Chicago Bears

While I do value quantity over quality to an extent, when the quality is Hall of Fame level, it gets considerable weight. With their two first-round picks in 1965, the Chicago Bears took two future Hall of Famers in Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. But what really sets this class apart is the fact that they’re not the only contributors from the class.

Dick Gordon (WR) and Frank Cornish (DT) also contributed in meaningful ways, although that Bears unit never had playoff success. Butkus is one of the greatest linebackers of all time as a five-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler. Meanwhile, Sayers led the league in rushing twice and was an All-Pro five times in his career.

6) 1996 Baltimore Ravens

If this were truly the first draft class of this organization’s existence, it might be higher for that reason alone. Although 1996 was the first year of the Baltimore Ravens, they weren’t an expansion team. It was just the first year they moved from Cleveland with the Browns reforming as an expansion team. Nevertheless, that doesn’t discount how impressive the Ravens’ 1996 draft was.

Drafting Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden in the same year is enough to get this Ravens class on the list. Lewis is arguably the greatest linebacker in NFL history, and Ogden is one of the best tackles in league history as well.

Both players would go on to win the Super Bowl in 2000. Lewis was also part of the 2012 championship season, although he only played in six games.

Second-round pick DeRon Jenkins was a solid contributor until going to San Diego in 2000. Meanwhile, fifth-round pick Jermaine Lewis ended up an All-Pro return man, accumulating six punt return touchdowns in his career while leading the league in punt return average twice.

7) 1985 Buffalo Bills

Like the Ravens, the 1985 Buffalo Bills draft resulted in two Hall of Famers and a third player who made a solid contribution to the franchise for a few years. Obviously, the big difference is the Bills have never won a championship.

Bruce Smith is the league’s most prolific quarterback-sacker ever. He’s not seen as the best pass rusher ever by most because Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald happened, but Smith’s longevity and consistency have never been matched. Smith was the DPOY twice, has eight All-Pro nods, and was part of the 80s and 90s Hall of Fame teams.

Andre Reed, meanwhile, was a seven-time Pro Bowler with as many 900-yard seasons.

8) 1992 Dallas Cowboys

It’s really a shame what the Cowboys have become since their successes of the 1990s. They are the only team to appear on this list twice, showcasing their incredible ability to put together stacked rosters.

Second-round pick Darren Woodson isn’t a Hall of Famer, but his time with the Cowboys during their Super Bowl run might be the most illustrious after the big three.

The linebacker-turned-strong safety made three consecutive All-Pro teams from 1994-1996 and made the Pro Bowl in those seasons and the following two. Robert Jones started at inside linebacker for Dallas during their Super Bowl runs, as did Kevin Smith as a defensive back.

Jimmy Smith led the league in receptions once and had nine 1,000-yard seasons in 10 years. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, he did all of his damage as a Jacksonville Jaguar. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Cowboys drafted him.

The 1992 Cowboys are considered one of the greatest teams ever.

9) 2010 Seattle Seahawks

Few non-QB entities in the modern game can withstand the test of time, but the Legion of Boom will be one of those things that persist. The Seahawks drafted both safeties that patrolled the middle of the field in the 2010 NFL Draft.

MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Big Board

Earl Thomas was a first-round pick, and Kam Chancellor went in Round 5. Those two safeties terrified opposing receivers and quarterbacks until about 2015. Golden Tate was a solid receiver for Seattle and helped propel them to a Super Bowl victory in 2013 before heading off to Detroit. Russell Okung was much maligned at times, but he had one Pro Bowl season with Seattle in 2012.

10) 1995 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp are both in the Hall of Fame. We can ignore the rest of the draft and they remain in the top 10 simply off the backs of those two players.

Both players were All-Pros in 2002 when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, largely on the back of their incredible defense. In fact, that defense is widely considered one of the best in NFL history.

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