NFL Top 10: The Best Draft Classes Since 2005
This post was inspired when I looked back at the Chiefs and Patriots drafts since Scott Pioli took over the Kansas City franchise, and wondered who had the best classes of players in their pre-free agency years.
Of those years studied, there have been three NFL draft classes that led directly to teams winning super bowls. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there was no clear draft class that lead to their super bowl title in 2005 or 2008, though certainly, the 2007 Steelers’ draft nearly made this top ten list. We’ll discuss them, and classes like them, at the bottom of this article.
10) 2005 Green Bay Packers The hardest thing about picking a list of the best draft classes since 2005 was deciding which Packers class to include. Green Bay just won the super bowl with a team that was almost entirely home grown. And the lynchpin class came in six years ago when the Packers took Aaron Rodgers in the first round and Nick Collins in the second round. The truth is, this class hasn’t really withstood the test of time. The Packers spent a first round pick on Terrence Murphy in this draft, and he washed out almost immediately. But Brady Poppinga and Mike Montgomery turned into good, solid contributing veterans. Truth is though, without Rodgers on offense and Collins on defense, the Packers prove unable to win the super bowl. That is what makes this class one of the great ones of the last decade.
9) 2006 Houston Texans This is the draft that earned Charlie Casserly a spot on national television as a draft expert. Casserly always stuck to his guns in his drafts, though rarely did his classes sparkle in the way that this one did. In the first three rounds, the Texans landed DE (now LB) Mario Williams, LB Demeco Ryans, and OT Eric Winston. You could make the argument that those are the three of the five best players on the Texans. Their first pick on the second day was TE Owen Daniels. Casserly’s draft didn’t end there, picking up the team’s third receiver, David Anderson, in the seventh round. This class should have put the Texans deep in the playoffs annually, but unfortunately, it was drafted for use by Gary Kubiak, and the Texans have yet to make the NFL postseason.
8. 2005 New England Patriots Recent Patriots history has been muddled with some really ugly drafts, but the draft that built the young backbone of the historic 2007 season was New England’s 2005 draft. The team’s left guard, Logan Mankins, was widely considered a reach in the first round of this draft, but is now one of the league’s top guards. Second round pick Ellis Hobbs may be on the verge of an early retirement, but had three good years for the Patriots including the 2007 season before being dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles and starting on that team for two seasons. Nick Kazcur is often maligned as the weakness of the Patriots line, but was the team’s starting offensive tackle on a super bowl contender from 2006-2009. Then there was safety James Sanders, a starter on the 2007 team, and a fourth round pick in 2005. The cherry on top of that class was seventh round quarterback, Matt Cassel, who won 11 games with the Patriots in 2008 and was dealt to Kansas City in 2009 along with LB Mike Vrabel for a second round pick.
7) 2005 Dallas Cowboys Hard to remember now because the team did nothing in the playoffs, but the 2007 NFC version of the Patriots were the Dallas Cowboys, and they were built on the strength of this draft, which may have been the best draft ever for pass rushers. Players in this draft class for the Cowboys have combined for 137.5 sacks. That is not a small number. It is a very big number. 80 of those sacks belong to 12th overall pick DeMarcus Ware. 25 more of those belong to Ware’s partner in crime, Jay Ratiff, picked seven rounds later. In between Ware and Ratliff, the Cowboys took: DE Marcus Spears, DE Chris Canty, and LB Kevin Burnett, who combined for the other 32.5 career sacks. I can’t forget that this class also produced the Cowboys’ leading rusher in 2007, 2008, and 2009: Marion Barber.
6) 2007 New York Giants Jerry Reese’ first draft class as GM of the New York Giants remains his best, and it’s Reese’s work with this class that provided the engine for the Giants’ super bowl run in that same season. Ironically, the class was headlined by a guy who has become a bust, CB Aaron Ross. It was actually the class’ depth that helped lead the Giants to the super bowl in 2007. The starting tight end for that run, and Eli Manning’s favorite target, was a rookie TE by the name of Kevin Boss, a fifth round pick in that class. One of the most effective DTs in the super bowl that year was a rookie DT by the name of Jay Alford, a third round pick out of Penn State. The most effective possession receiver in the NFC East was the Giants’ second round pick that year, WR Steve Smith from USC. Zak DeOssie is a pro bowl special teamer who has combined long-snapping acumen with coverage skills to be an important part of this class. And in the seventh round, the Giants picked up a pair of guys who won games in the playoffs: S Michael Johnson from Arizona, and RB Ahmad Bradshaw from Marshall, possibly the best player from this class.
As a group these guys never held up to the test of time, but by delivering a title in their first season, and with the entire class contributing, the Giants locked up a spot in the best draft classes of the last decade.
5) 2010 Oakland Raiders Though the 2010 Raiders haven’t actually accomplished anything as a draft class, the depth and talent in that class are well on their way to becoming household names. Rolando McClain. Lamarr Houston. Jared Veldheer. Jacoby Ford. We’re talking about four of the top, oh, 100 players in the NFL over the next decade. All in one class by the Oakland Raiders. But this class also goes beyond that towards players who will now have a shot to step into roles vacated by Raiders on expiring contracts: Bruce Campbell, Walter McFadden, Travis Goethel, Jeremy Ware, or Stevie Brown. The entire 9 man class could contribute at some point for the Raiders, and any playoff push the Raiders make in the future will happen on the strength of this class.
4) 2006 New Orleans Saints The Saints drafted Reggie Bush with the second overall pick in 2006, and then they won two division titles in four years with him. But Bush wasn’t the biggest piece of this class for the Saints. 7th round pick Marques Colston from Hofstra has had the biggest impact on the Saints through five seasons as a Saint. But aside from brand name impact and receiving impact, the very best player in the 2006 Saints draft class was their fourth round pick, two time all-pro G Jahri Evans. S Roman Harper became a starter under the pressure schemes of DC Gregg Williams. Finally, DE Rob Ninkovich didn’t make the Saints, but has become an important part of the Patriots defensive unit, adding to the talent picked by the Saints in this class.
3) 2005 San Diego Chargers The best NFL draft class of the last ten seasons was the 2004 San Diego Chargers. Eli Manning traded for Philip Rivers. Igor Olshansky, Nick Hardwick, Nate Kaeding, Shaun Phillips, Dave Ball, Michael Turner. All in one class. But because the title of this article is the best draft classes since 2005, it’s still remarkable that the Chargers next class ranks in the top three since 2005. They had extra picks thanks to the Manning/Rivers trade, and promptly used the first pick on Shawne Merriman, who was one of the best players in football three years into his career. The Chargers continued building on their defensive front with Luis Castillo, still a very large part of their defense today. But beyond what they did with the defense, it’s the rest of the class that really ignited the Chargers. In the second and fourth rounds, the Chargers drafted WR Vincent Jackson, and RB Darren Sproles respectively, the main players in the Chargers offensive arsenal between 2008 and 2010. Jackson and Sproles will be two of the top targets on this year’s free agent market, whenever it does open.
2) 2010 New England Patriots This class may not look as strong in a year as it does right now. Or, it could look like the strongest class in the last twenty years at this time next season. Devin McCourty had a rare rookie year at corner, and it wouldn’t be that shocking to see a regression from him, but he also could be on a path straight to the hall of fame. The second round, with TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Jermaine Cunningham, and LB Brandon Spikes, has a chance to be legendary. TE Aaron Hernandez, a fourth round pick, looks to be the steal of the draft. The Patriots went off script to grab a punter, and Zolton Mesko was one of the league’s best as a rookie. This is the best draft class Bill Belichick ever had as coach/president of the Patriots, and it’s just one reason to feel that the second half of Tom Brady’s career could be as good as the first half.
1) 2008 Kansas City Chiefs The best draft class since 2005 began at the top, with President Carl Peterson and Head Coach Herm Edwards calling the shots. In the first 35 picks, the Chiefs had selected LSU DL Glenn Dorsey, Virginia OT Branden Albert, and Virginia Tech CB Brandon Flowers. That would have been a great foundation on which a perennial playoff contender could have built. It was then, in the third round, that the Chiefs drafted the best player in this draft class, if not the entire 2008 draft: RB Jamaal Charles. Jamaal Charles won the NFL rushing title in 2010, leading the Chiefs to the playoffs. By the way, in the fifth and sixth round of this draft, the Chiefs drafted (respectively) a second CB, Brandon Carr, who is arguably with Flowers amongst the top 15 CBs in football today, and the current starting RT of the Kansas City Chiefs, Barry Richardson. The strength and depth of those six players makes the Chiefs’ 2008 NFL Draft class the strongest class since the year 2005.
NFL Draft Classes Honorable Mention (2005-11)
In no specific order, some draft classes I had to mention as I looked back on how teams did between 2005-2011:
2005 St. Louis Rams The Rams didn’t get a whole lot out of this draft class, but the rest of the NFL did: Alex Barron was a bust, but CB Ron Bartell, FS O.J. Atogwe, and G Richie Incognito were all in this class as well. In the later rounds: Reggie Hodges is now Cleveland’s punter, Ryan Fitzpatrick is now Buffalo’s starting quarterback, and Madison Hedgecock is one of the best FBs in the league for the Giants. The only thing those last six players all have in common is that they were all drafted by the Rams in 2005.
2009-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Bucs have done a better job drafting over the last three years than any other team. Their 09 and 2010 drafts just missed the cut for this list, and their 2011 draft probably would have been the first one on from this season. Since Mark Dominik has become their general manager, the Bucs have completely rebuilt their passing offense (Josh Freeman, Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter, and Mike Williams have been paired with Kellen Winslow, who cost Dominik a second round pick), repaired a young offensive line that flashed greatness in the 2007 playoff season, and drafted every member of their four man defensive line with the lone exception of Stylez G. White (and his replacement, Da’Quan Bowers, is in the fold as well).
2007 Minnesota Vikings If Adrian Peterson was a dominant Oklahoma quarterback instead of a running back, this would probably be the draft that delivered the Vikings a super bowl championship in 2010. Instead it’s Aaron Rodgers who lifted the trophy, but that doesn’t mean that this Brad Childress draft was any less excellent. Sidney Rice in the second round is a cold steal these days, and if the lasting legacy of Brett Favre as Vikings QB is that he threw to and developed Sidney Rice, then he was almost worth the trouble he caused. Also in this draft for the Vikings: DE Brian Robison and QB Tyler Thigpen.
2008 Baltimore Ravens/Atlanta Falcons/Miami Dolphins All three of these teams drafted effective quarterbacks in 2008. Matt Ryan has been the most effective of the three today, while Joe Flacco and Chad Henne have been about equally effective. No doubt thought that Flacco has had much more margin for error on the Ravens than Henne received with the Dolphins. I think it’s far from decided that Matt Ryan is going to be the best of this group, as he has to raise his periphrial stats to match his late game heroics. With Julio Jones in the fold, we’ll see if that helps or hinders Ryan.
The Falcons 2008 draft looked a lot better a year ago than it does now. Ryan looks every bit the no. 3 pick, but it’s not certain that Sam Baker is the long term solution at LT. Harry Douglas went from slot receiver project to injury prone to not an NFL quality receiver in two years. Thomas Decoud, Kroy Biermann, and Curtis Lofton look like major players in the Falcons defense going forward. Chevis Jackson has busted. Right now, this looks like a pretty standard “team finds a franchise QB draft”. You could argue that this is still at least as strong as the Green Bay 05 draft, but I’d say there’s a pretty big chasm between Rodgers and Ryan right now.
The Ravens may feature a stronger 2008 draft: Flacco, Ray Rice, Tom Zbikowski, Tavares Gooden, and Haruki Nakamura. I would definately take the Falcons trio of defenders over Baltimore’s from this draft (1 starter), but Ray Rice and Flacco might prove to be a better offensive duo than Matt Ryan alone.
Meanwhile, 2008 was the one really good draft that Bill Parcells had with the Dolphins, the jury is still out on Henne, but Kendall Langford was a steal and Jake Long has already obtained pro-bowler status amongst offensive linemen. Guard Donald Thomas has made his way into the starting lineup and Jalen Parmele and Lex Hilliard are both still very relevant backs in the NFL. On the other hand, Phillip Merling looks the part of a bust. The Falcons still probably had the best 2008 draft of the three, but it’s very close and if Matt Ryan loses his stranglehold as the no. 1 QB from this abnormally strong class, the Falcons will likely cease to have the best draft of the three teams with first year head coaches.
2009 Detroit Lions The 2009 Lions are very close to making the top ten drafts list with this still-strong effort from 2009: Pettigrew, Delmas, Levy, Sammie Lee Hill, Follett, Dan Gronkowski, but the passing duo of Matthew Stafford and Derrick Williams needs to play up to it’s draft status for this class to crack the top ten.
2009 Jacksonville Jaguars Really good class for Jacksonville here, and I would argue that those predicting great things for Lions the next couple of years not lose sight of a Jacksonville team that has done just as well in the draft the last few years. Monroe and Britton at tackle, Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton is playing like a no. 1 DT, and the team still believes in Derrick Cox at corner. Mike Thomas is now the no. 1 receiver on this team. In the last rounds: Zach Miller, Rashad Jennings, Tiquan Underwood, all still contributors on the Jags offense of the here and now. Of all the honorable mention classes, this one has the best chance of supplanting at least the 2005 Packers, if not others, on the top ten list someday.
The fact that there is no obvious Colts draft to put here. The Colts have had really good drafts, and I thought for sure their 2010 draft would take the cake (I also really like their 2011 draft). But the Colts have averaged, almost perfectly I might add, two top contributors a year, and have been unable to find a third starter. In 2009, getting Jerraud Powers and Austin Collie in the third and fourth round looks great, two elite NFL performers in the mid-rounds, but in the first two rounds they took Donald Brown and Fili Moala. Jamie Thomas is…sort of a starter on the OL, but only out of necessity. In 2008, the Colts drafted Jacob Tamme early and Pierre Garcon late, but in between, they added Phillip Wheeler and Mike Hart. No solid third starter there. Clint Session is the best player they took in 2007, and they got him late, but early on they took Anthony Gonzalez and Tony Ugoh, both who have offered only tantalizing careers to date. In 2006, the Colts got Joseph Addai early and Antoine Bethea late, but only Tim Jennings and Charlie Johnson in between. Only Kelvin Hayden from the 2005 draft is still with the team.
The Indianapolis Colts have drafted well every year, but never well enough to have a great class. As it should be, with the Colts.
2006 Denver Broncos Widely hailed as Mike Shanahan’s best draft with the Broncos, it delivered the goods in terms of headline names, but those assets have declined once Shanahan moved on in his career. It’s hard to know what to make of QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall these days as they are fairly disappointing players on their second teams. Tony Scheffler is a great receiving TE who has the misfortune of being cast as the no. 2 guy on the hometown Lions. Chris Kuper is still a valuable starter. Elvis Dumerville looks like the best player in the class, but is coming off an injury, and the uncertainty around him makes this a top 15, but not top 10 class in the last 6 drafts.
2007 Pittsburgh Steelers I had this class in the top ten until the very end, because more than any other of the Steelers drafts, it put the pieces in place for the 2008 championship run. Six of the players drafted in this class are still with NFL teams, though Ryan McBean is fighting off competition in the Broncos 3-4 front, and likely won’t make John Fox’s defense. And Daniel Sepulveda, while great at his craft and all, is a punter still. But the other four: Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Speath, and William Gay, all played major roles on the 2008 championship run. Maybe not an elite draft class, but still one of the better ones in the last six years, and can be linked directly to a super bowl title.
2008, 2010 Arizona Cardinals Two of the four most recent drafts for the Cardinals under Ken Whisenhunt have been incredibly good, but the one I liked most of the four right after draft day has been a complete washout. According to process points, I feel like the Cards did everything right, but they still ended up with Beanie Wells and Cody Brown with their first two selections in 2009. Brown is already out of the Cards organization, and the Ryan Williams pick can’t be seen as anything but dissatisfaction with Beanie Wells after two years. I mean, they don’t exactly have complementary skill sets. Quietly though, that bust of a 2009 draft is bookended by a Rodgers-Cromartie, Calais Campbell, Early Doucet, Tim Hightower, Brandon Keith 2008 draft on one end, and a Dan Williams, Daryl Washington, Andre Roberts, O’Brien Schofield, John Skelton, Jorrick Calvin draft on the other. Add in Patrick Peterson and Williams in 2011, and the Cards have had three great drafts since 2008, which is something that not many teams at all can claim.
2006-2008 Carolina Panthers The total run of the process points system began in 2009 (it actually debuted in 2008 when I wrote for MVN, but those records are available only by way of RSS feed, so I dont have them). And no team has done less with more in the last three years of drafts than the Carolina Panthers. The Bears have done less with less than the Panthers and the Chargers have suffered a similar decline in draft day results. But the Panthers haven’t enjoyed a good draft day in many years.
This is notable because from 2006 to 2008, perhaps no team drafted as well as the Carolina Panthers. Their 2006 class was headlined by DeAngelo Williams, Richard Marshall, James Anderson, and Rashad Butler, the first three starters on the Panthers, and Butler who as developed into one of the league’s best offensive linemen (he is now with the Texans). They may have done better in 2007 with LB Jon Beason, C Ryan Kalil, DE Charles Johnson, and TE Dante Rosario around the bust pick of WR Dwayne Jarrett. 2008 featured two first round selections: RB Jonathon Stewart and OT Jeff Otah, three defensive starters in Charles Godfrey, Nick Hayden, and Dan Connor, and also a couple of offensive prospects in Gary Barnidge at TE, and Geoff Schwartz on the OL with Mackenzie Bernadeau as well. Any of those Panther classes could arguably crack the top ten of the last six NFL drafts.
It got progressively worse from there. The Panthers now have a little bit of talent left over from those drafts that is near contractual expiration, and not much from the three most recent draft.