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During the process of looking at teams’ NFL draft hauls over the past decade, a theme emerges: Few franchises hit grand slams.
We might dole out multiple A’s each year for immediate post-draft grades, but as time goes on those marks tend to fall on the whole. And the farther away we get from a draft, the more impressive it is when a team can land, say, three multiple-year starters in a class.
In our look back at a decade’s worth of draft classes from 2010-2019, there was only a handful of teams that achieved or surpassed that mark. Our methodology was simple: We looked at which teams brought in the most talent in a given year. Although we didn’t directly consider any undrafted free-agent signings or veterans acquired with picks those years, we did factor in some of that for tiebreaking purposes.
Here’s what we came up with.
2010 NFL draft
Best team draft: Pittsburgh Steelers
Even with second-rounder Jason Worilds unexpectedly retiring after five seasons, and more misses than hits overall, landing Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown in a single draft class is terrific work.
It’s true that Sanders was at his best after leaving the Steelers, and Brown’s ugly exit from Pittsburgh has to be a factor. But there were no huge busts outside of fourth-rounder Thaddeus Gibson, and the Big Three combined for six All-Pro mentions and 17 Pro Bowl seasons.
Worst team draft: New York Jets
Considering it was merely a four-man class, the Jets didn’t have much room for error that year. And yeah, they erred.
First-rounder Kyle Wilson was considered a draft day steal at 29th overall, but it took him 23 regular-season games to intercept his first NFL pass. He’d finish with only three picks over 80 games with Gang Green. Second-rounder Vlad Ducasse was mostly a reserve in his four years in New York.
Fourth-round running back Joe McKnight rarely flashed except on kickoffs, and fifth-round FB John “The Terminator” Conner was little more than a smash-mouth lead blocker for a few seasons.
2011 NFL draft
Best team draft: Seattle Seahawks
After a so-so start to their draft in linemen James Carpenter (a multi-year starter at guard and tackle) and John Moffitt, the Seahawks found some terrific value.
Landing Richard Sherman in Round 5 was a masterstroke. Getting K.J. Wright the round prior also goes down as a terrific move. Day 3 picks Byron Maxwell and Malcolm Smith were inspired choices. Smith’s resumé might be artificially inflated by his Super Bowl MVP award, but he was a good player for a few years.
Worst team draft: Jacksonville Jaguars
In one of the best top-heavy drafts in recent history, the Jaguars traded up for QB Blaine Gabbert — over J.J. Watt, among others.
Watt would go on to terrorize the Jags for 16 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 13 games against them. Gabbert was rushed into the Jags’ lineup, took a ton of sacks and was a turnover machine in three poor seasons before being let go.
The rest of their crop was subpar, too, with only Cecil Shorts and Will Rackley contributing much.
2012 NFL draft
Best team draft: Seattle Seahawks
Two straight years! Now that’s how you build a Super Bowl roster.
This has to be in the running for one of the best draft classes ever. Even with a leaner back half, a top three selections of Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson is about as good as it can get.
That order would be reversed if we were doing it over again. Getting Wilson at No. 75 overall is still ridiculous all these years later, but Wagner at 47 was straight-up theft, too.
Day 3 picks Jeremy Lane and J.R. Sweezy also were worthy gems. Each of Seattle’s 10 picks that year played more than one season in the NFL.
Worst team draft: San Francisco 49ers
Brutal. Their first two selections, wideout A.J. Jenkins and RB LaMichael James, combined for zero TDs in 46 games. Teams that waited to pick receivers in Rounds 2 and later were rewarded, and it was just a bad year overall for running backs.
The only player from their class who remains in the NFL today is fourth-round guard Joe Looney, who started only four games in three seasons for San Francisco. The other six picks the 49ers made were all out of the league by 2016. Yuck.
2013 NFL draft
Best team draft: Green Bay Packers
Green Bay’s class was marred by a so-so first-rounder (Datone Jones), a fourth-rounder (Johnathan Franklin) who was forced to retire after 133 snaps and a shorter-than-expected career for Eddie Lacy following a brilliant start. But the Packers found some good players in what was one of the strangest and most talent-poor draft crops in the past few decades.
Fourth-rounder David Bakhtiari was the best value pick in the entire 2013 class, regardless of position, and that draft’s best blocker despite being the 19th offensive lineman selected. Not far behind him on the list of best blockers from the 2013 draft was J.C. Tretter, terrific value 13 picks later.
Throw in fifth-rounder Micah Hyde, plus a few other brief contributors, and it was a home-run class, relatively speaking.
Worst team draft: Indianapolis Colts
Close call here, with the Browns almost earning the dishonor. Debatable, but we cut them slack for using their 2013 second-rounder to get Josh Gordon in the 2012 supplemental draft.
That’s better than any resources the Colts used with their picks, even if Vontae Davis (traded for a second-rounder) played well for them for a few years.
The draft yielded little of note for Indy, with all seven of their picks ending up out of the league within four years. First-rounder Bjorn Werner was a miscast pass rusher who had 6.5 sacks in 38 games. Second-rounder Hugh Thornton was a middling guard who started for parts of three seasons before disappearing.
And other than seventh-rounder Kerwynn Williams, who did all his career damage with other teams, the class was a wash.
2014 NFL draft
Best team draft: Oakland Raiders
Former general manager Reggie McKenzie nailed his first three picks — Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson — with the latter two remaining pillars of the team.
Mack was a great pick at No. 5 overall, even if Jon Gruden ran him off (although the Raiders got a lot in return for him via trade). Say what you will about Carr, but he played well in 2019 despite not having a game-breaking wide receiver. And Jackson remains a top-shelf guard when healthy.
Day 3 picks Justin Ellis, T.J. Carrie and Shelby Harris all proved to be solid values, even if they were never standouts in Oakland. All in all, this was an impressive haul.
Worst team draft: Cleveland Browns
The Chargers arguably came away with the least that year, but the Browns wasted the most draft capital — and drafted two of the biggest recent Round 1 busts.
If not for Johnny Manziel’s spectacular flameout, Justin Gilbert might readily be known as one of the worst picks of the decade. Among top-8 selections since 2010, Gilbert’s poor showing (one interception in 35 games) is perhaps rivaled only by the Bears’ Kevin White. Manziel wasn’t much better, of course. Yes, the Browns landed Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and solid LB Christian Kirksey, as well as underrated CB Pierre Desir, in that draft class.
But the horrible whiffs up high have come to define the Browns’ ineptitude in the past decade. Nothing sets a team back more than a bad QB pick, which the Browns proved multiple times over.
2015 NFL draft
Best team draft: Minnesota Vikings
First-rounder Trae Waynes never truly panned out in Minnesota. That was offset by three tremendous choices thereafter.
Second-rounder Eric Kendricks, third-rounder Danielle Hunter and fifth-rounder Stefon Diggs far outplayed their draft positions and became foundational pieces for the Vikings.
It’s one thing to find a talented receiver such as Diggs in Round 5 — you see that happen some years. It’s quite another to land a premier pass rush talent in Hunter with the 88th overall pick. Hunter has two 14.5-sack seasons in the past four years. Greg Hardy is the only player drafted lower than that since 2006 to have more sacks in a season.
Worst team draft: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals tried to carpet bomb their offensive line issues that year by using their first two picks, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, even though it was not considered a banner year at the position. Both flamed out.
Cincinnati nabbed a pair of solid tight ends, also doubling up at that position with Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah, but neither is a true game-changer. The rest of the class was a washout.
2016 NFL draft
Best team draft: Dallas Cowboys
There were a few whiffs in this class, but that’s easily overlooked with all the contributors here.
If you want to have a value debate about them picking Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall, that’s fine. But to land Dak Prescott, Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins on top of that, it’s hard not to recognize just how deep this group was.
Prescott is one of the great modern-day draft steals, and Smith has more than rewarded the team’s unerring faith after he suffered a potentially career-ending injury in college. The ascending Collins also can’t be overlooked, and they also landed secondary contributor Anthony Brown with the 189th overall pick.
This is a whopper of a group.
Worst team draft: Arizona Cardinals
Landing Chandler Jones via trade with their second-round pick was tremendous. But as we’re looking at the selections teams made each year, the Cardinals may have been better served trading all their draft capital for veterans.
Robert Nkemdiche was a risky first-rounder who ended up a bust. Chris Jones, who has become a star with the Chiefs, was still on the board at that pick. The remainder of Arizona’s picks topped out as average (or worse) contributors.
Maybe Prescott would have been the perfect successor to Carson Palmer? Bruce Arians — who might have stuck around had they not passed on Prescott multiple times — heaped praise on him the following year.
“It was the stature, the arm strength — those were the questions,” Arians said in 2017. “You liked him at a certain point and I think the Cowboys got a steal.”
2017 NFL draft
Best team draft: Kansas City Chiefs
With all due respect to the Saints, who landed an impressive haul that year, the Chiefs got Patrick Mahomes. He’s the best player from the 2017 class, bar none, and their boldness in trading up for him should go down as one of the all-time great draft maneuvers.
The Chiefs could have drafted five FCS long snappers with their other selections, and it still would be a banner crop. They also took — controversial as he might be — Kareem Hunt, who was, talent-wise anyway, worth the selection late in Round 3.
There’s also some hope that Tanoh Kpassagnon, who came on down the stretch and had a two-sack game in the playoffs, can fully develop. This was a franchise-shifting “class,” even if it boils down to one man.
Worst team draft: New England Patriots
Even the best have off years. Trading for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy (ouch) slipped them out of the first two rounds, so they were swimming upstream with their picks to begin with.
Other than the solid Deatrich Wise Jr., the Patriots came away with nothing from this crop. Health issues flushed the careers of EDGE Derek Rivers and offensive tackle Antonio Garcia down the tubes, even if Rivers remains on the New England roster.
Passing on Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay and George Kittle sure stings looking back for a team with very few standout skill position players at the moment.
2018 NFL draft
Best team draft: Baltimore Ravens
In Ozzie Newsome’s swan-song draft, the legend went out with a bang.
Trading up to draft last year’s MVP, QB Lamar Jackson, will help cement his legacy as one of the greatest talent hounds this or any generation has ever known. It was a bold move that required the coaches’ buy-in, and it looks genius now.
The Ravens also landed starting right tackle Orlando Brown and tight end Mark Andrews in Round 3, and starting left guard Bradley Bozeman in Round 6. Those three, plus Jackson, make up a big chunk of Baltimore’s dangerous offense.
Sure, there were misses, including overpriced first-round tight end Hayden Hurst, plus a few later picks who haven’t emerged yet. But nailing the Jackson pick and three others has the franchise in an enviable spot for the next several years.
Worst team draft: Arizona Cardinals
The closer we get to the present, the harder it is to make these judgments. After all, there are second- and third-year players in this lot who have yet to realize their upside. However, we have to make a call here.
We’re picking the Cardinals for a few reasons. The biggest is that they’ve already bailed on first-rounder Josh Rosen, whom they traded up for and then dealt the next year to Miami for quarters on the dollar.
The leftover pieces — Christian Kirk, Mason Cole and Chase Edmunds — have some value. Only Kirk seems to have shown enough potential to project as a front-line starter.
2019 NFL draft
Best team draft: San Francisco 49ers
It was a close call here, with the other teams listed below all receiving strong first-year contributions from their rookie class last season. But we’re picking the 49ers (by a nose over the Raiders, who had more draft ammo) for the immediate impact of Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel and others in their Super Bowl run last year.
Bosa was one of the more advanced rookies to enter the league in years. Samuel was a terrific weapon, and even his injury this offseason isn’t as concerning with the return of Jalen Hurd. In addition, the Niners received great Year 1 impact from Mitch Wishnowsky, Dre Greenlaw and Justin Skule.
Perhaps the Raiders or Kyler Murray’s Cardinals (or some other team class lurking in the weeds) surpasses this one down the road. But right now, San Francisco is on top.
Other best team candidates: 49ers, Raiders, Jaguars, Cardinals
Worst team draft: Dallas Cowboys
Again, we had to pick someone here, even if one year is unfair to judge. Still, what is the upside of this group?
Tony Pollard looks like a nifty gadget guy. Connor McGovern could be in the mix to start on the interior of the offensive line. But second-rounder Tristen Hill has a ways to go, and the rest of the group’s potential feels muted to this point.
If we’re wrong here, we’ll gladly eat our words. Figuratively, of course.
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