|Bruce Schwartzman / Associated Press|
|Sean Taylor was one of a record six first-round picks from Miami's 2004 draft class.|
The 2014 NFL Draft is just a few days away, marking the start of several hundred NFL careers and the end of players being known just for what college they played at. Chris Wesseling over at Around the League had a fantastic look at the best draft classes in AFC and NFC history, and that got College Football 24/7 wondering what the best college draft classes of all time look like.
Taking into account Hall of Fame careers, Pro Bowls, years as a starter, games played and overall depth (i.e. lack of busts), here's a stab at the best draft classes that all current ACC schools (and Notre Dame) produced. It's subjective, so feel free to disagree by stating your case in the comments.
Best draft class: 1950 (Ernie Stautner, Art Spinney)
Highest overall pick: Jack Concannon (1st overall, 1964)
Other top classes: 1947, 1985, 1987, 2006, 2008
Notable: You could go with a number of classes for Boston College, which produced several great players but no standout class. It's very possible the 2008 group with Matt Ryan and Gosder Cherilus ends up being the best in the long run but right now we'll go with the 1950 class. Most of this choice is based on the strength of Stautner's career after the Steelers selected him in the second round. The Hall of Famer was one of the best defensive linemen of the era and wound up with nine Pro Bowl selections and his number retired in Pittsburgh. He was also well known for his work as Tom Landry's defensive coordinator and helped the Cowboys win two Super Bowls. Spinney was a late-round selection by the Colts and spent nearly a decade in the NFL as a guard after he served in the military.
Fun fact: NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock was a 10th-round pick of the Steelers out of Boston College back in 1981.
Best draft class: 1992 (Chester McGlockton, Levon Kirkland, Curtis Whitley, Ed McDaniel)
Highest overall pick: Banks McFadden (4th overall, 1940) and Gaines Adams (4th overall, 2007)
Other top classes: 1979, 1982, 1997, 2010, 2013
Notable: This is a tough choice between 1992 and 1979, which featured Dwight Clark, veteran guard Joe Bostic, popular backup quarterback Steve Fuller and Pro Bowl wideout Jerry Butler. McGlockton is likely the most recognizable name of the 1992 group after attending four Pro Bowls and earning All-Pro honors in 1995 for the Raiders. Kirkland was a recognizable member of the Steelers' defense who also went to the Pro Bowl and took home All-Pro honors. McDaniel spent his entire career with the Vikings and made the Pro Bowl in 1998. The 1979 class had bigger names, but three out of four from the 1992 class made the Pro Bowl and played at least a decade.
Best draft class: 1957 (Sonny Jurgensen, Roy Hord)
Highest overall pick: George McAffee (2nd overall, 1940)
Other top classes: 1940, 1973, 1977
Notable: This would be a much more interesting list if you were taking a look at NBA draft picks. While the Blue Devils appear likely to produce a number of solid draft classes over the coming years, their best class goes back to 1957, based on the strength of Jurgensen, a Hall of Fame quarterback. One of the most prolific passers in his day, he is a member of the 1960's All-Decade Team and led the league in passing five times. Hord played only four seasons as a backup guard after the Rams selected him in the 8th round.
Best draft class: 1997 (Peter Boulware, Walter Jones, Warrick Dunn, Reinard Wilson, Henri Crockett, Vernon Crawford)
Highest overall pick: Andre Wadsworth (3rd overall, 1998)
Other top classes: 1995, 1998, 2000, 2006, 2013
Notable: You want to talk about tough, just try to pick the best Seminoles class since Bobby Bowden arrived in Tallahassee. The 1997 selection will probably draw plenty of debate given some of the names in other classes, but it's on top for now. FSU had four first-round picks that year, led by four-time Pro Bowler Boulware to the Ravens. Seahawks legend Walter Jones will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year and was one of the best tackles in the league until he suffered a knee injury. Dunn was the face of the franchise in Tampa Bay and Atlanta, and Wilson had an up-and-down career in Cincinnati. Crockett started at least 10 games for seven straight years at linebacker and appeared in the Super Bowl with the Falcons.
Best draft class: 1979 (Eddie Lee Ivery, Kent Hill, Don Bessillieu, Roy Simmons, Drew Hill)
Highest overall pick: Calvin Johnson (2nd overall, 2007)
Other top classes: 1961, 1992, 2004, 2007, 2010
Notable: The 2010 class could develop into one of the more well-rounded groups of Yellow Jackets, but 1979 gets the nod for now. Ivery was a productive back for the Packers before injuries ended his career, and Kent Hill went to five Pro Bowls with the Los Angeles Rams. Bessillieu was known primarily for his work on special teams, and Simmons made headlines for revealing he was gay in 1992. The late Drew Hill made two Pro Bowls and shined in Houston's Run and Shoot offense.
Best draft class: 1991 (Ted Washington, Browning Nagle, Jerry Crafts, Mike Flores)
Highest overall pick: Ken Kortas (9th overall, 1964)
Other top classes: 1955, 1983, 1997, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2014
Notable: The Cardinals haven't played a single game in the ACC but land on this list thanks to past accomplishments and future conference affiliation. The 1991 class had all four players start at least 13 games, led by four-time pro bowler and Super Bowl champion Ted Washington. It's tough to pick just one group because of limited numbers, but the 2014 class might wind up being the best based on projections.
Highest overall pick: Russell Maryland (1st overall, 1991) and Vinny Testaverde (1st overall, 1987)
Other top classes: 1987, 1988, 2001-2008
Notable: You could go about a dozen ways with this NFL factory, but the 2004's class gets the nod, thanks to an NFL-record six first-round draft picks. Taylor tragically left the game too early but was a star during his time with the Redskins. Winslow failed to live up to the hype but did make the Pro Bowl in 2007. Vilma, Williams and Carey were all frontline starters, and Wilfork has been a key cog in the Patriots defense the past decade.
Best draft class: 1981 (Lawrence Taylor, Donnell Thompson, Rick Donnalley, Amos Lawrence, Ron Wooten, Harry Stanback)
Highest overall pick: Ken Willard (2nd overall, 1965), Lawrence Taylor (2nd overall, 1981) and Julius Peppers (2nd overall, 2002)
Other top classes: 1965, 1988, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2011
Notable: 1998 produced a number of quality starters, and 1988 was the most productive top-to-bottom, but no Tar Heels class had a transcendent player quite like Taylor. The Hall of Famer won a MVP award and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times. Taylor was ranked as the third-greatest player in NFL history by NFL Network in 2010, and the 10-time All-Pro linebacker won two Super Bowls. His teammate Thompson didn't have the numbers Taylor did but was a productive pass rusher for a decade, and Wooten and Donalley both spent over six seasons in the league as interior linemen.
Highest overall pick: Mario Williams (1st overall, 2006)
Other top classes: 1980, 1999, 2001, 2006, 2013
Notable: Of the three members from the Wolfpack drafted in 2004, all three played over 100 (and counting) games in the NFL during their careers. Rivers is the headliner as a five-time Pro Bowler and face of the franchise in San Diego. Locklear was a long-time Seahawk who helped the team get to the Super Bowl, and Cotchery has been a big part of the passing game in New York and Pittsburgh.
Best draft class: 1981 (Hugh Green, Randy McMillan, Mark May, Rickey Jackson, Greg Meisner, Carlton Williamson, Russ Grimm, Bill Neill, Lynn Thomas, Jerry Boyarsky, Rick Trocano)
Highest overall pick: Tony Dorsett (2nd overall, 1977) and Bill Fralic (2nd overall, 1985)
Other top classes: 1961, 1983, 1985, 1992, 2004
Notable: The 1981 class produced two Hall of Famers (Grimm and Jackson) and is certainly appreciated by Washington Redskins fans for providing a big foundation. Green was the player drafted and made two Pro Bowls, and May had a good career before popping up on TV sets at ESPN. All told, an astonishing eight players played in 80 or more NFL games during their career, and only Trocano failed to start in the league.
Best draft class: 1963 (Walt Sweeney, John Mackey, Dave Meggyesy)
Highest overall pick: Walt Sweeney (2nd overall, 1963 AFL Draft)
Other top classes: 1957, 1968, 1980, 1998, 1999
Notable: Sweeney was picked in both the AFL and NFL drafts in 1963 and developed into an All-Pro offensive lineman with the Chargers. Mackey made the Hall of Fame as one of the best tight ends ever, and Meggysey had a productive six year career before writing the best-selling book "Out of Their League."
Best draft class: 1997 (James Farrior, Jon Harris, Jamie Sharper, Tiki Barber, Ronde Barber)
Highest overall pick: Bill Dudley (1st overall, 1942)
Other top classes: 1999, 2005, 2008
The skinny: Easily the most talented group to come out of Virginia, only Harris failed to have a productive career in the NFL. Ronde Barber was one of the best corners in the league, and his twin brother, Tiki, retired with a number of New York Giants team records. Farrior earned All-Pro honors once during his great career, and Sharper was a key member of defenses in Baltimore and Houston.
Highest overall pick: Bruce Smith (1st overall, 1985) and Michael Vick (1st overall, 2001)
Other top classes: 1985, 2001, 2004, 2006
The skinny: The Hokies have produced a ton of NFL talent over the years but narrowing it down to one group is pretty difficult with positives and negatives part of each class. 2008 produced an All-Pro left tackle in Brown, an All-Pro in Flowers and one of the more reliable receiver/return man combinations in Royal. Morgan never turned into a No. 1 receiver but he's been a consistent producer over the years.
Best draft class: 1990 (Ricky Proehl, Tony Mayberry)
Highest overall pick: Norm Snead (2nd overall, 1961)
Other top classes: 1993, 2009
Notable: The Demon Deacons have not turned out many great NFL draft classes but the 1993 group all played over 100 games in the NFL after going in the 2nd, 5th and 7th round of the draft that year. The best class was the 1990 class, however, as Proehl was a longtime veteran receiver who won a Super Bowl in St. Louis and Indianapolis. Mayberry went in the fourth round but turned into a three-time Pro Bowl center for Tampa Bay.
Best draft class: 1994 (Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor, Jeff Burris, Tim Ruddy, Jim Flanigan, Willie Clark, Lake Dawson, John Covington, Tony Peterson, Pete Bercich)
Highest overall pick: Boley Dancewicz (1st overall, 1946), Leon Hart (1st overall, 1950), Paul Hornung (1st overall, 1957) and Walt Patulski (1st overall, 1972)
Other top classes: 1991, 1993
Notable: One of the toughest schools to pick a single class for, the Irish are among the all-time leaders in a number of categories relating to the NFL draft. From 1991 through 1994 alone, Notre Dame sent a ton of talent to the league, thanks to former head coach Lou Holtz. 1993 had four first-rounders, but the 1994 class edged them out with more players taken through seven rounds. Young was the first picked that year and was one of the eight players to see action in more than 50 NFL games in this class. Other draft classes might have had more highs, but no group was as consistent at remaining in the league and having an impact than the 1994 group.
Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.