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9 Teams With Best NFL Draft History Since 2000

Baltimore Ravens Jamal Lewis
Dec 17, 2006; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back (31) Jamal Lewis carries the ball as Cleveland Browns linebacker (52) Matt Stewart tackles him in the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports Copyright © James Lang

It's been nearly a quarter-century since the 1900s ended and the 2000s showed up, so now is a good time to figure out which NFL teams have prospered best in the draft.

No franchise – not even the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets or Arizona Cardinals – has completely flopped. Indeed, each of those three clubs came up with Hall of Famers in Joe Thomas and Darrelle Revis, both class of 2023, and Larry Fitzgerald, who will canter into Canton when he becomes eligible after the 2025 season.

Guys who made pro football’s greatest fraternity is one way of determining the most successful drafting teams from 2000-2022. But there’s plenty more:

  • How many starters and key performers they found.
  • Longevity, particularly with the club that selected them.
  • The number of championship rosters built greatly through the April grab bag.
  • Avoiding bad draft classes.

Others in this Series:

9 Best Drafting Teams Since 2000

Baltimore Ravens

This one is an easy choice.

Beginning with running back RB Jamal Lewis and LB Adalius Thomas at the turn of the century, the Baltimore Ravens have set a torrid pace for the other franchises to keep up with. The Ravens won two titles and have been consistent title contenders because of steady coaching, some inspired trades and, mostly, thanks to their drafting.

The evidence from the draft includes TE Todd Heap after their first Super Bowl win; Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed (2002); sack master Terrell Suggs and DE Jarret Johnson (2003); WR Mark Clayton (2005); DT Haloti Ngata and P Sam Koch (2006); OGs Marshall Yanda and Ben Grubbs (2007); QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice (2008); CB Lardarius Webb and OT Michael Oher (2009); TEs Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson (2010); CB Jimmy Smith, WR Torrey Smith and DL Pernell McPhee in 2011.

Get the pattern here?

Since their 2012 championship, the Ravens have selected dozens more solid players, some of whom made their marks elsewhere, but plenty who have prospered in Baltimore. Consider such names as 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson; LB C.J. Mosley; TEs Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst and Darren Waller; DE/LB Za’Darius Smith; DE Matt Judon; OTs Orlando Brown Jr. and Ronnie Stanley; CB Marlon Humphrey; S Chuck Clark; and WR Marquise Brown. Plus, every player selected in 2020 was still in the league last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

There haven't been many drafts in which the Pittsburgh Steelers have disappointed. When they are on point, as they have been for much of the 2000s, it’s impressive.

Most impressive, naturally, was the selection in 2004 of future Hall of Fame QB Ben Roethlisberger, who guided them to two championships and lost in a third Super Bowl trip. Roethlisberger’s competitiveness and powerful skills once he matured kept the Steelers in the mix throughout his career. The Steelers never had a losing record with Big Ben behind center.

He wasn’t the only key performer Pittsburgh acquired that year: Max Starks spent nine seasons at tackle.

The Steelers began the century with two efficient players in WR Plaxico Burress and LB Clark Haggans, then really hit the jackpot in 2003 with the 16th overall spot, taking S Troy Polamalu. He became the anchor of two Super Bowl-winning defenses and is in the Hall of Fame.

Other solid choices have been WRs Santonio Holmes, Antonio Brown (sixth round, 2010) Mike Wallace, Antwaan Randle-El, Diontae Johnson and Emmanuel Sanders; OC Maurkice Pouncey; OGs Willie Colon, David DeCastro, Kendall Simmons and Chris Kemoeatu; OTs Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert; LBs T.J. Watt, Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Alex Highsmith and Vince Williams (sixth round, 2013); DBs Ike Taylor and William Gay; TEs Heath Miller and budding star Pat Freiermuth; RBs Le’Veon Bell, James Conner and Rashard Mendenhall; DL Stephon Tuitt; and DE Cam Heyward, another potential Canton entry.

And don’t forget DE Brett Keisel, taken 242nd overall in 2002. He lasted a mere dozen seasons in the Steel City as one of the all-time steals of the draft.

Kansas City Chiefs Jared Allen
Kansas City Chiefs Jared Allen

Kansas City Chiefs

For those who have forgotten – or weren’t paying attention before Andy Reid arrived in KC – the Kansas City Chiefs hardly were a powerhouse early in the 21st century. Their drafts yielded some solid players such as RBs Jamaal Charles and Larry Johnson, DTs Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe, LBs Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson, S Eric Berry, WR Dwayne Bowe and P Dustin Colquitt, plus a potential Hall of Famer in edge rusher Jared Allen.

When Reid came aboard in 2013 along with future general manager Brett Veach, the Chiefs began regularly hitting on draftees who would build the foundation for two Super Bowls (and counting).

Naturally, the key selections were QB Patrick Mahomes in 2017, TE Travis Kelce in 2013 (63rd overall), WR Tyreek Hill in the fifth round in 2016. The Chiefs also got DL Chris Jones with their initial 2016 selection (No. 37) and WR Demarcus Robinson at No. 126. They've added a slew of starters since 2018.

Consider Nick Bolton, Creed Humphrey, Willie Gay Jr. and L’Jarius Sneed played major roles in beating Philadelphia last February in the Super Bowl. Not to mention RB Isiah Pacheco, a seventh-rounder last year who took over as the top rusher.

Philadelphia Eagles

Speaking of the Philadelphia Eagles, well, yes we remember where things went with Carson Wentz after his early success in Philly. We aren’t ignoring such ill-advised selections as WRs Nelson Agholor and Jalen Reagor and G Danny Watkins. But every franchise has those.

Not every team builds through the draft like the Eagles have since 2000 – the first 13 seasons with Reid as coach. From likely Hall of Fame C Jason Kelce (sixth round 2011) to potential Canton candidates DE Fletcher Cox (12th overall in 2012) and OT Lane Johnson (fourth overall in 2013), there’s been a steady stream of exceptional talent landing in the City of Brotherly Love.

Some of the best? How about WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy in 2009? DE Brandon Graham came the next year, then Vinny Curry and some guy named Nick Foles in 2012. Sure, people can argue Foles only had a few moments of brilliance, to which we reply: Philly Special and Super Bowl MVP versus Tom Brady.

Add in TEs Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, LB Jordan Hicks, S Jalen Mills, RB Miles Sanders, OG Isaac Seumalo, OTs Jordan Mailata (233rd overall in 2018) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, DEs Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, CBs Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas. The 2021 class already looks super with WR DeVonta Smith, OL Landon Dickerson and RB Kenneth Gainwell as highlights.

And, of course, getting QB Jalen Hurts in the second round in 2020 — 32 spots after Reagor.

San Francisco 49ers Nick Bosa
San Francisco 49ers Nick Bosa

San Francisco 49ers

Let’s work backward with the San Francisco 49ers, whose recent choices have been wise and, in some cases, spectacular.

Few teams have done better than what San Francisco achieved in 2019 with its initial two selections. They got DE Nick Bosa, who was Defensive Rookie of the Year and won the top defensive player honors in 2022, and WR Deebo Samuel, a 2021 All-Pro as versatile as any player in the NFL. P Mitch Wishnowsky and LB Dre Greenlaw also arrived in 2019 when the 49ers made the Super Bowl.

2020 first-round WR Brandon Aiyuk has developed into a quality target, 2021 sixth-round RB Elijah Mitchell could be a future star and the fifth-rounder that year, Talanoa Hufanga, was an All-Pro safety last season.

Now, for more ammunition that raises the 49ers’ draft work toward the top. How about RB Frank Gore (third round 2005), who figures to land in the Hall of Fame when eligible? We can point to LB Patrick Willis in 2007, a recent subject of discussion for Canton enshrinement.

TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, who both came to the 49ers in 2006; OTs Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey; TE George Kittle; LBs Fred Warner, Julian Peterson and NaVorro Bowman; DEs Andre Carter and Ray McDonald; OGs Mike Iupati and Eric Heitmann; DTs DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Isaac Sopoaga; Ss Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and Dashon Goldson; and troubled edge rusher Aldon Smith all have been key players in the Bay Area.

Oh yeah, don’t forget long-time punter Andy Lee and his snapper, Brian Jennings. How many teams draft well – or at all — for those positions?

New England Patriots

Say what? A franchise that has struggled mightily to find stars in recent drafts makes this list?

Yep – and not solely on the luck (rather than brilliance) of choosing Tom Brady 199th overall in 2000. The truth is for a good portion of this century, the New England Patriots came up with an impressive array of players, including Hall of Fame DL Richard Seymour (sixth overall 2001) and future Canton members Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski (42nd overall 2010).

The Super Bowl championship teams were peppered with first-round standouts such as S Devin McCourty (2010, ahead of Gronk), LBs Jerod Mayo (2008) and Dont’a Hightower (2012), OG Logan Mankins (2005), NT Vince Wilfork (2004), TE Benjamin Watson (also 2004), S Brandon Meriweather (2007) and DE Chandler Jones. Yes, the cupboard has been somewhat bare for first-rounders since, but that’s quite a collection.

Beyond the first round, such stalwarts in Foxborough were OT Matt Light; OC Dan Koppen; OG Joe Thuney; DE Jarvis Green; Super Bowl MVP WRs Deion Branch and Julian Edelman (232nd overall 2009); CB Asante Samuel; DBs Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung; K Stephen Gostkowski, LS Joe Cardona and special teams ace Matthew Slater.

Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks, Kam Chancellor

Seattle Seahawks

Just like the Patriots, the Seattle Seahawks put together a championship squad thanks to a string of exceptional draft picks. Unlike the Patriots, Seattle did its best work later in the 2000s.

Not that Seattle missed entirely from 2000-10. Hardly, with such selections at Hall of Fame OG Steve Hutchinson 17th overall in 2001, RB Shaun Alexander, the 2005 NFL MVP, in 2000, OCs Chris Spencer (2005) and Max Unger (2009) and DT Brandon Mebane (2007). Once coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over in 2010, the Seahawks managed a string of brilliant choices few franchises have enjoyed over a relatively short span.

We’re talking DBs Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, original Legion of Boom members, along with OT Russell Okung and WR Golden Tate. A year later, Seattle got fifth-round CB Richard Sherman, who built Hall of Fame credentials in the NFL, plus LBs K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, the MVP of Seattle’s Super Bowl win.

The 2012 draft brought in the two most likely Canton-bound Seahawks in LB Bobby Wagner (second round) and QB Russell Wilson (third). That year’s first-rounder, edge rusher Bruce Irvin, wasn’t a slouch, and seventh-rounder J.R. Sweezy converted from DT to guard and started 64 games for the Seahawks.

OT Justin Britt, DE Frank Clark, WRs Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, 2017 seventh-round RB Chris Carson, rising star LB Jordyn Brooks and CB Tariq Woolen came later.

Dallas Cowboys

No team wrongly gets condemned more for screwing up drafts than the Dallas Cowboys. They have fared quite well this century.

We aren’t going to compare the hauls brought in by Jimmy Johnson in the 1990s to what Dallas has done since. Instead, we are going to give due credit to the Cowboys for finding lots of college talent.

Maybe the reasons for not getting to a conference title game since 1995 lie with coaching or other managerial issues. When it comes to late April – if not to January – the Cowboys have ridden relatively high in the saddle.

Sure, the 2000s started out poorly with such early picks as DB Dwayne Goodrich, QB Quincy Carter and RB Julius Jones. They got it right in 2005 with Hall of Fame LB DeMarcus Ware 11th overall. That was a solid draft that also brought such contributors as DEs Jay Ratliff, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, and RB Marion Barber III.

Third-rounder Jason Hatcher joined the defensive line the next year. From there, the defense was bolstered with the likes of LB Sean Lee, edge rushers DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Dorance Armstrong, CBs Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown, and S Chidobe Awuzie. Don't forget skill position standouts QB Dak Prescott, RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, and WR CeeDee Lamb.

But the biggest upgrades have come on the offensive line, from perennial Pro Bowlers OT Tyron Smith and OG Zack Martin to OCs Travis Frederick and Tyler Biadasz to, it appears, 2022 top pick Tyler Smith.

New Orleans Saints Marshon Lattimore
New Orleans Saints Marshon Lattimore

New Orleans Saints

Like the Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints seem to be something of underachievers when it comes to rings. Each has had just one in the 2000s, yet appeared capable of more.

The Saints have been in that position thanks to valuable draft selections. There have been absolute stars such as DE Cam Jordan (first round 2011), S Malcolm Jenkins (first round 2009), WR Michael Thomas (second round 2016), OT Terron Armstead (third round 2013), OG Jahri Evans (fourth round 2006), TE Jimmy Graham (third round 2010) and RB Deuce McAllister (first round 2001).

Gems in the late rounds like Jermon Bushrod (125th overall 2007), LS Kevin Houser (seventh round 2000), OG Zach Strief (seventh round 2006) and WR Marques Colston (42 picks after Strief) bolstered the Saints' roster.

There even were side-by-side rookies of the year in 2017 with CB Marshon Lattimore and RB Alvin Kamara in an outstanding class also featuring All-Pro OT Ryan Ramczyk and two players who have become standouts elsewhere: edge rusher Trey Hendrickson and LB Alex Anzalone.

Going back to the Drew Brees-led 2009 title team, such other draftees as DE Charles Grant (25th overall 2002), OT Jon Stinchcomb (second round 2003), DE Will Smith (first round 2004), S Roman Harper (second round 2006), RB Reggie Bush (first round 2006), CB Tracy Porter (second round 2008), OT Carl Nicks (fifth round 2008) and P Thomas Morstead (fifth round 2009) helped bring the Lombardi Trophy to New Orleans.

Barry Wilner was a sportswriter for the Associated Press for 46 years. He has covered virtually every major sporting event, including 14 Olympics, 9 World Cups, 34 Super Bowls, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup Final, and has written 75 books. Follow him on Twitter @Wilner88