A great draft can set up a franchise for years to come and even create a dynasty. Here's a look at the best single draft in the history of all 32 NFL franchises.
Arizona's outstanding 2004 draft set the stage for its eventual berth to the Super Bowl four years later. Their first-round pick, Larry Fitzgerald, is a surefire future Hall of Famer at wideout, while second-round pick linebacker Karlos Dansby and third-round pick defensive tackle Darnell Dockett also had outstanding NFL careers, with the latter making three Pro Bowls. Fifth-round pick defensive end Antonio Smith also had a long career, playing 13 seasons and making the Pro Bowl in 2011.
Atlanta's 2008 drafted started with quarterback Matt Ryan, who has had an excellent career bordering on Hall of Fame worthy. The team also took advantage of its wealth of picks to take offensive tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Curtis Lofton, wide receiver Harry Douglas, defensive back Thomas DeCoud and linbeacker Kroy Biermann, also significant NFL contributors. That group sparked a turnaround in Atlanta, with five straight winning seasons.
The Ravens had some great drafts under GM Ozzie Newsome, but it's hard to top his drafting of back-to-back Hall of Famers in 1996. The team took offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden fourth overall, followed by linebacker Ray Lewis 26th overall. That would have been enough for a history haul, but the team also got contributions from second-round pick cornerback DeRon Jenkins and fifth-round pick wide receiver/kick returner Jermaine Lewis.
Buffalo's picks in 1985 were hit or miss, but two picks in particular stood out. First overall pick Bruce Smith became one of the greatest sack artists in the history of the league, and fourth-round pick wide receiver Andre Reed also had a Hall of Fame career, with the pair leading the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990-1993. The team also got contributions from cornerback Derrick Burroughs, wide receiver Chris Burkett, quarterback Frank Reich, and tackle Dale Hellestrae in that same draft. That wasn't the first time Buffalo selected two future Hall of Famers, as it also happened in 1964 with Carl Eller and Paul Warfield.
Carolina made some mistakes in the 2001 draft, including Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke in the fourth round, but the team's earlier picks made up for the mistakes. The Panthers selected linebacker Dan Morgan, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and wide receiver Steve Smith in the first three rounds. All three players were great contributors, and Smith should get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame with 14,731 yards in 16 seasons, eighth most all time.
The Bears have had many great drafts in their rich history, but 1983 stands out among them. The draft set the stage for their Super Bowl victory two years later, as first-round pick tackle Jimbo Covert and eighth-round pick defensive end Richard Dent went on to become Hall of Famers. That draft also produced other good players like wideout Willie Gault, defensive backs Mike Richardson and Dave Duerson and guards Tom Thayer and Mark Bortz.
Cincinnati found four excellent players in 2001 that set up the franchise for the next several years. Defensive end Justin Smith had a borderline Hall of Fame career between Cincy and San Francisco, and wideouts Chad Johnson (second round) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (seventh round) turned into stars in Cincinnati's prolific mid-2000s offenses. Fourth-round running back Rudi Johnson also had a nice career after a slow start, producing more than 1,300 yards in three straight seasons from 2004-2006.
The Browns franchise is famous for its futility in the draft, and it's been a while since they've had a great one. The 1957 selections would certainly qualify as great, as the team found three Hall of Famers in running back Jim Brown (first round), defensive tackle Henry Jordan (fifth round) and guard Gene Hickerson (seventh round). They also selected quarterback Milt Plum in the second round.
The Cowboys had a string of great drafts from 1988-1994 that built their dynasty, but the success of the 1964 class still stands out among individual Dallas drafts. The team found three Hall of Famers in defensive back Mel Renfro (second round), wide receiver Bob Hayes (seventh round), and quarterback Roger Staubach (10th round) who helped the franchise to a dynasty in the 1970s.
While a part of the AFL, the Broncos selected three future Hall of Famers in 1964 that they failed to sign. Since joining the NFL, the Broncos haven't topped their 1973 haul that produced multiple strong players but no Hall of Famers. Linebacker Tom Jackson of ESPN's "NFL Primetime" fame was their most successful player in that draft, selected in the fourth round. The team also found nice value from running back Otis Armstrong (first round), defensive end Barney Chavous (second round), guard Paul Howard (third round) and defensive tackle John Grant (seventh round).
There weren't many NFL contributors from Detroit's 1989 draft, but the selection of running back Barry Sanders third overall makes up for the blemishes. Sanders went on to become arguably the greatest running back in NFL history, albeit in an abbreviated career. Defensive back Ray Crockett (fourth round) and quarterback Rodney Peete (sixth round) also had good careers.
The great Packers franchise has had several elite drafts, and the 1958 draft is among them. The team set up a dynasty by selecting three Hall of Famers in that draft: fullback Jim Taylor (second round), linebacker Ray Nitschke (third round) and guard Jerry Kramer (fourth round). The Packers also selected good players in linebacker Dan Currie (first round) and guard Ken Gray (sixth round) in that same draft.
Houston has been in the league since 2002. Over that time, the team found several stars in the first round, including Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson, But the 2006 draft produced the most quality contributors. With the first overall pick, the team selected defensive end Mario Williams instead of running back Reggie Bush, a choice that was the right one in retrospect. The team also found great contributors in linebacker DeMeco Ryans (second round), tackle Eric Winston (third round) and tight end Owen Daniels (fourth round) later on.
Indy's 1998 draft wasn't its deepest, but first-overall pick Peyton Manning makes up for the disappointments. The quarterback went on to win a Super Bowl with the franchise and is unquestionably one of the best signal-callers in the sport's history. Second-round wideout Jerome Pathan and fourth-round center Steve McKinney also helped the team for a few years as icing on the cake.
The Jags have made some big draft errors in their brief history that dates back to 1995. While it's still early, the team's 2016 class looks like a winner based on the top three picks, two of which very well could be gone just four years later. First-round cornerback Jalen Ramsey demanded a trade during the 2019 season but has clearly become one of the top defensive players in the NFL. Linebacker Myles Jack (second round) has been a strong player over four seasons, and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (third round) has 37.5 sacks in four seasons but could also have a new home in 2020 after being franchised.
The Chiefs selected two Hall of Famers in 1963 in Buck Buchanan and Bobby Bell, but the current trajectory of 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes stands out in the franchise's history. Through only two years as a full-time starter, Mahomes won the MVP in 2018 and won a Super Bowl in 2019. There's a long way to go, but Mahomes is off to a historic start. The team also found defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (second round) and running back Kareem Hunt (third round) in that draft, who have both established themselves as quality NFL players already.
Eldridge Dickey was a historic pick as the first African-American quarterback selected in the first round of the AFL or NFL draft when he was picked in 1968, but he was converted to wideout and never had professional success. However, the rest of the draft more than made up for Dickey's struggles. Quarterback Ken Stabler (second round) and tackle Art Shell (third round) went on to have Hall of Fame careers, and the Raiders also got strong careers from running back Charlie Smith (fourth round), defensive back George Atkinson (seventh round) and running back Marv Hubbard (11th round).
It wasn't the deepest of draft hauls for the Chargers in 2001, but their first two picks are arguably the best first- and second-round draft combo in the history of the draft. San Diego selected Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson with the fifth overall pick, followed by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees in the second round. Philip Rivers went on to replace Brees in 2006, and Brees eventually won a Super Bowl in New Orleans.
The Rams have had many great drafts in franchise history, but the 1983 picks stand out over the last half century. Second-overall pick Eric Dickerson went on to become one of the greatest running backs in league history, and he was followed by star wideout Henry Ellard in the second round. L.A. landed three more solid NFL players in that draft in linebacker Mike Wilcher (second round), defensive back Vince Newsome (fourth round) and defnesive end Doug Reed (fourth round).
The Dolphins pounced in 1983 when quarterback Dan Marino fell all the way to 27th overall, and they were able to pair him with eighth-round wideout Mark Clayton for the next 10 seasons. That duo brought huge success and numbers to Miami, albeit without a Super Bowl victory. The team also got contributions from nose tackle Mike Charles (second round), punter Reggie Roby (sixth round) and linebacker Mark Brown (ninth round) from the same draft.
The Vikings inaugural draft was their best, mainly due to one player. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton was the team's best draft choice in history, selected in the third round. The team also got contributions in that draft from running back Tommy Mason (first round), linebacker Rip Hawkins (second round), defensive backs Chuck Lamson (fourth round) and Ed Sharockman (fifth round), tight end/linebacker Steve Stonebreaker (12th round) and kicker Mike Mercer (15th round).
The Patriots got limited NFL contributions from their 2000 draft, with one gigantic exception. Sixth-round pick Tom Brady developed into arguably the greatest quarterback in league history, leading the franchise to nine Super Bowl appearances and six Super Bowl wins in 21 seasons. Brady recently departed for Tampa Bay, but he will forever be remembered for the dynasty that he led along with head coach Bill Belichick in New England.
New Orleans' 2017 draft class has the makings of a historic draft, but it still has a long way to go to surpass the franchise's 2006 class. Second-overall draft choice Reggie Bush was a relative disappointment after a spectacular career at USC, but he still had a good career. It was the depth the Saints built behind him that made the draft so impressive, including safety Roman Harper (second round), tackle Jahri Evans (fourth round), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (fifth round), tackle Zach Strief (seventh round) and wideout Marques Colston (seventh round). The class laid the foundation for a Super Bowl victory three years later.
The Giants had some terrific drafts in the '80s, but two great picks from the 1993 draft set up a dominant New York defense for years to come. New York selected Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan in the second round and later stole linebacker Jessie Armstead in the eighth round. In between, the Giants also found NFL players in linebacker Marcus Buckley (third round), guard Greg Bishop (fourth round) and kicker Todd Peterson (seventh round).
Star quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed victory in the Jets only Super Bowl win in franchise history, and he was selected by the team first overall in 1965. New York didn't get much else notable for that draft, with the exception of third-round defensive end Verlon Biggs, but Namath's contribution was more than sufficient.
The Eagles found a match made in heaven during the 1957 draft, taking Hall of Fame flanker Tommy McDonald (third round) and Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen (fourth round) back to back. The team was also able to establish the run with its first two picks of that draft, fullback Clarence Peaks (first round) and halfback Billy Ray Barnes (second round).
The Steelers had arguably the greatest draft in NFL history in 1974, selecting four players who would eventually become Hall of Famers in wide receiver Lynn Swann (first round), linebacker Jack Lambert (second round), wide receiver John Stallworth (fourth round) and center Mike Webster (fifth round). It's still the only single draft in league history that has produced four Hall of Fame players and helped the franchise win four Super Bowls over the next six seasons.
San Francisco's drafts from 1979-1986 helped produce a dynasty and four Hall of Famers. The player who started it all was quarterback Joe Montana, drafted in the third round out of Notre Dame in 1979. Later in that draft, wide receiver Dwight Clark was selected in the 10th round, and he also had a great career with the team.
Seattle has been consistently competitive in recent years through great drafting, and the 2012 draft is at the top of the list. The team's top two picks, defensive end Bruce Irvin (first round) and linebacker Bobby Wagner (second round), provided nice return. However, the headliner was third round quarterback Russell Wilson, who continues to produce as one of the top players in the NFL. Seventh-round guard J.R. Sweezy has also had a nice career.
The Bucs regularly had a dominant defense in the late '90s and early 2000s, which was established by what they accomplished in the 1995 draft. Tampa Bay took back-to-back Hall of Famers in the first round with defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks. Both players took home a Defensive Player of the Year Award during their accomplished careers.
The Titans had the third-overall pick in 1995 and made the most of it by selecting quarterback Steve McNair. McNair made three Pro Bowls and won the MVP in his 11 seasons with the franchise. The draft also netted the team defensive tackle Gary Walker in the sixth round, who made two Pro Bowls after leaving the Titans.
Washington started its 1964 draft with back-to-back picks that would eventually become Hall of Famers. Wide receiver Charley Taylor was selected in the first round, followed by safety Paul Krause in the second round. That same draft also featured solid other NFL players like offensive linemen Jim Snowden (fifth round) and Len Hauss (ninth round).