NFL Analysis


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Ranking the 10 Best NFL Draft Classes Since 2000

Jets 2022 first round picks hold up their jerseys at press conference
The New York Jets' first-round picks Jermaine Johnson, Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner and Garrett Wilson are introduced at a press conference. Syndication The Record

There have been some incredible draft classes in the last 25 years. Multiple teams have selected three or four Pro Bowl players in the same class. But which teams have had the best draft classes since 2000? 

Before we get into the rankings, we should mention this is based on the entire class and not just one pick. For that reason, the class must have at least two impact players. Otherwise, this list would be littered with quarterbacks including Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, etc. The elite players matter, but we are searching for the teams that added star power and depth in one class. 

So with that in mind, here is our list from No. 10 to No. 1.

Top NFL Draft Classes Since 2000

10. 2022, New York Jets

Including the New York Jets' 2022 draft on the list might feel a bit premature, but the talent they added was undeniable. Sauce Gardner was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2022, and you can make a strong case that he is already the league's top defensive back. In that same year, Garrett Wilson won the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award after racking up more than 1,100 yards.

The Jets grabbed two dynamic players in Round 1 and added one of the league's top running backs in Breece Hall. Despite injuring his ACL during his rookie season, Hall has racked up 2,266 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in just 24 career games. He's averaging a whopping 4.8 yards per carry despite playing on one of the league’s worst offenses.

Don't forget about Jermaine Johnson II, who recorded 7.5 sacks in Year 2. He is an ascending pass rusher who became a full-time starter in 2023. 

The Jets added three All-Pro-caliber players and another high-end starter in Johnson. It might seem early, but this class is already among the best in the last two decades.

9. 2016, Dallas Cowboys

Let's start with the quarterback. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Dak Prescott, and he's been their starting quarterback ever since. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 and has since led the Cowboys to a 73-41 record. Prescott had the best season of his career in 2023, leading the NFL in touchdown passes and finishing second in MVP voting. He is one of the league's top 10 quarterbacks, and that's been the case for almost a decade.

Ezekiel Elliott is the other premiere player in this class. He’s led the NFL in rushing twice, racked up more than 11,000 yards from scrimmage in his career and scored 85 touchdowns. While his career is starting to wind down, there was a stretch when he was the NFL’s undisputed top running back. Even with the depressed value of running backs, Elliott was worth the No. 4 overall pick in that class.

But this class wasn't just Prescott and Elliott. Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown were three long-time starters. Smith was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2019, and Collins continues to be a good starter at defensive tackle. 

The Cowboys found five starters in one draft, along with a franchise quarterback. That's pretty difficult to do, especially when the quarterback wasn’t picked until No. 135.

8. 2004, Arizona Cardinals

Anytime you select a future first-ballot Hall of Fame player, the draft class is instantly an A-plus. The Arizona Cardinals did exactly that at No. 3 in the 2004 NFL Draft. 

It was a no-brainer pick at the time, and Larry Fitzgerald went on to amass more than 17,000 career receiving yards despite inconsistent quarterback play for most of his career. Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in NFL history and arguably the best wide receiver prospect we've ever seen.

But the Cardinals appear on this list because of what they did with their next two picks. Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett were both excellent players, starting a combined 269 games for Arizona. Both players had long careers and were key components to the Cardinals' Super Bowl run during the 2008 season.

7. 2001, San Diego Chargers

Can a draft class that only produced two starters be considered great? The answer is yes, especially if you draft two all-time great players. 

It's still a shock that LaDainian Tomlinson fell to No. 5. You can make a case he is one of the top-five running backs in NFL history. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, Tomlinson totaled more than 18,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 169 touchdowns (seven passing touchdowns). 

Drew Brees is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and is second all-time in passing yards (80,358). The rest of the class didn't produce much, but you are talking about two of the top five players of all time at their respective positions. That alone makes this a fantastic draft. 

6. 2010, Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks had several drafts in the early 2010s that are worthy of being on this list, but let's start with their 2010 class, which helped start the Legion of Boom. 

Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were the best safety duo of the decade and possibly one of the best of all time. Thomas had elite range, and Chancellor was the enforcer on the defense. Just those two picks alone would be worthy of making this list.

Seattle nailed their first pick with Russell Okung, who started 131 games at left tackle. He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the league’s top tackles for most of the decade. Golden Tate was a big-time player for the Seahawks before moving on to Detroit later in his career. He finished his career with more than 8,000 receiving yards and was a key part of the 2013 championship team.

Those four selections, along with Walter Thurmond, helped reshape the Seahawks in the early portions of the decade. But it was the class of 2012 that actually took them over the top, and you will see them later on the list…

5. 2007, San Francisco 49ers

It's rare to see one single draft class change a team's culture and identity, but that's what happened with the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. Their first two picks were home run selections: Patrick Willis (HOF) and Joe Staley. Those two players combined for 13 Pro Bowls and started 293 games. They were physical players who greatly affected the team’s style of play.

But this draft was more than just two players. Ray McDonald, Dashon Goldson and Tarrell Brown all became excellent players for the 49ers. Goldson was an All-Pro selection in 2012 and started 106 games as one of the league’s better ball-hawking safeties. During his eight seasons with the team, McDonald helped the 49ers become one of the NFL’s best run defenses.

These five players helped the 49ers become one of the best teams in the NFL during the early 2010s. You can make a strong case they should be even higher on this list after selecting a Hall of Fame linebacker and an All-Pro tackle in Round 1.

4. 2006, New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints will be featured on this list multiple times, but let's start with their 2006 class. While Reggie Bush didn’t quite live up to the hype of the No. 2 overall pick, he was still a fantastic player. 

Bush played five seasons with the Saints and racked up more than 4,200 yards from scrimmage. During his rookie year, he totaled 1,307 yards and caught 88 passes. He would go on to have a long NFL career and finish with 9,000 total yards. 

But the 2006 class is on this list not because of Bush but because of what New Orleans did on Day 3. The Saints selected Jahri Evans in Round 4, and he went on to start 183 games. He was a four-time All-Pro selection and should soon be selected to the Hall of Fame. But he wasn’t the only Day 3 hit for New Orleans.

Marques Colston was one of the most successful seventh-round picks ever, catching 72 touchdowns during his career. Colston posted eight seasons with at least 900 yards and five or more touchdowns with the Saints. 

Another hit in Round 7 was Zach Strief, who appeared in 158 games for the New Orleans at guard and right tackle. Don’t forget Roman Harper, who was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and started 140 games.

The Saints found six starters in this class, including Rob Ninkovich, who would go on to win two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots as their starting defensive end. This was a masterclass by New Orleans, and this group helped the team win the Super Bowl in 2009.

3. 2017, New Orleans Saints

It’s hard to beat the Saints’ 2017 draft class. It produced three players who have made at least three Pro Bowls (Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, Trey Hendrickson) and an All-Pro selection (Ryan Ramczyk). That doesn’t even include Marcus Williams, who is one of the highest-paid safeties in the league. 

This draft brought in five elite players and two solid role players, Alex Anzalone and Al-Quadin Muhammad. The Saints benefited from two first-round picks and six selections in the first three rounds, but they nailed every pick.

2. 2012, Seattle Seahawks

Anytime a franchise quarterback is found in a draft, that class is considered a success. But the Seahawks found a future Hall of Fame quarterback at pick No. 75. Russell Wilson led Seattle to two Super Bowl appearances and one victory, but that wasn't the only future Hall of Famer they selected in 2012. 

Bobby Wagner is one of the NFL's best linebackers of this generation. He played a whopping 168 games for the Seahawks. He is a shoo-in for Canton and was a massive steal in Round 2. Adding two future Hall of Famers after Round 1 is unheard of, and it's the reason why Seattle ranks so high on this list. 

But this draft was more than just Wagner and Wilson. Bruce Irvin and J.R. Sweezy were long-time starters, and Irvin is still playing. Robert Turbin was a productive back for a few seasons, and Jeremy Lane was a solid cornerback during the Seahawks’ playoff runs. 

1. 2018, Baltimore Ravens

It's not hyperbole to say that the Baltimore Ravens' 2018 draft dramatically changed the franchise's direction. In the three years prior to 2018, the Ravens had a record of 22-26 and missed the playoffs all three times. They were a directionless franchise that made just one playoff appearance in five seasons.

But the 2018 draft changed everything. They found their franchise quarterback at pick No. 32, and Lamar Jackson has since won two NFL MVPs, leading the Ravens to a record of 58-19 in 77 starts. 

That pick alone warrants consideration on this list. However, the additions of Orlando Brown, Mark Andrews, DeShon Elliott and Bradley Bozeman make this class one of the best in recent memory.