|John David Mercer / Associated Press|
|Ronnie Brown was the No. 2 overall pick in 2005, when four Auburn players were drafted in the first round.|
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 SEC schools produced. It's subjective, so feel free to disagree by stating your case in the comments.
Best draft class: 1989 (Derrick Thomas, Bobby Humphrey, Chris Mohr, Howard Cross, George Bethune)
Highest overall pick: Harry Gilmer (1st overall, 1948)
Other top classes: 1962, 1976-1981, 1983, 1987, 2000, 2010-2013
Notable: Nick Saban has been turning out NFL players at a remarkable rate lately, but we have to go back in time to find the best Crimson Tide class. The 2000 class has a case, and it's possible that players in the 2012 group find their names here down the road, but the 1989 class, led by Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas, is the pick. In addition to Thomas, Humphrey was taken in the supplemental draft and had a Pro Bowl season with the Broncos. Mohr was a reliable punter for 15 seasons who went to three Super Bowls with the Bills, and Cross won a ring during his decade-plus tenure with the Giants.
Best draft class: 1989 (Wayne Martin, Steve Atwater, Freddie Childress, LaSalle Harper)
Highest overall pick: Lamar McHan (2nd overall, 1954)
Other top classes: 1952, 1962, 1973, 1977, 1979, 1990
Notable: While it could be argued the 1965 class had the greatest impact on the league, thanks to Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones' presence, neither was actually drafted into the league. Instead the 1989 group holds the title for the Hogs, thanks largely to Martin and Atwater. Both first-round picks made the Pro Bowl (Atwater did eight times) and started more than 150 games in the NFL. Martin is in the Saints' Hall of Fame, and Atwater was named to the NFL 1990's All-Decade Team after a terrific stint in Denver.
Highest overall pick: 1st overall, four times (1965, 1986, 1988, 2011)
Other top classes: 1962, 1986, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2011
Notable: The Tigers are an interesting case because Bo Jackson, one of the greatest athletes ever, was drafted first overall in 1986 but never played a down for Tampa Bay and had an injury-shortened career. Combined with what Gerald Williams and Steve Wallace did in the league, the 1986 class certainly could be one of the best in school history. In terms of depth and consistency, however, the 2005 group edges it out. Brown made the Pro Bowl, Williams had four productive seasons as a starter, and Rogers has battled injuries but continues to have a quality career. Campbell has struggled as a starter but has shown flashes, and Ratliff -- a 7th round pick -- might have had the best career out of the group after being named an All-Pro one season and earning four trips to the Pro Bowl.
Highest overall pick: Paul Duhart (2nd overall, 1945)
Other top classes: 1975, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1995-2004
Notable: The 2002 class had seven eventual NFL starters, but even that is not enough to push it past the 2010 class. Tebow and Hernandez are the only two members of the class out of the league (for very different reasons), and everybody else continues to contribute at a fairly high level. Haden and Pouncey are Pro Bowlers, and everybody else has at one point been a season-long starter in the league. It's hard to find a class where all nine picks started at least 14 games in the NFL.
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Best draft class: 2001 (Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Kendrell Bell, Quincy Carter, Jonas Jennings, Jamie Henderson, Tyrone Robertson)
Highest overall pick: 1st overall, four times (1943, 1945, 1953, 2009)
Other top classes: 1961, 1984, 1985, 1996-1999, 2001-2006, 2009-2011
Notable: The Bulldogs have produced a lot of talent over the years, but the 2001 class edges the others out. Seymour was a three-time All-Pro who helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls. Stroud was a big presence in the middle of the Jaguars defense for years, and Bell even made the Pro Bowl during his time in Pittsburgh. Carter had a rather rocky time in Dallas but did finish his career with a winning record, and Jennings was a nice middle-round addition to Buffalo for five seasons. All told, six of the seven picks started at least a game in the league, and only seventh-round pick Robertson was out of the NFL after a season.
Best draft class: 1978 (Art Still, Derrick Ramsey, Will Grant, Jerry Blanton)
Highest overall pick: Tim Couch (1st overall, 1999)
Other top classes: 1949, 1952, 1966, 1988, 2008
Notable: The list of NBA draft picks is much more interesting to look at, but the 1978 class was still pretty good for the Wildcats. Still was taken second overall and went to four Pro Bowls as a long-time starter for Kansas City. Ramsey, Grant and Blanton all became full-time starters for at least two seasons and played in more than 90 games in the NFL.
Best draft class: 1960 (Billy Cannon, Johnny Robinson, Warren Rabb, Mel Branch)
Highest overall pick: Billy Cannon (1st overall, 1960) and JaMarcus Russell (1st overall, 2007)
Other top classes: 1948, 1962, 1977, 1980, 1984-1987, 1996-1999, 2004-2011
Notable: The Tigers have really cranked up their output of NFL players in the past decade, but a trip back to 1960 gives us the best LSU draft class of all-time. Cannon was the more recognizable name as the first overall pick that year and had an All-Pro career, but Robinson was one of the best defensive backs of his era and became a six-time All-Pro player in the AFL. Rabb started 10 games at quarterback and left the league with a winning record, and Branch was a very good defensive end in the AFL before rounding out his career with the Dolphins.
Best draft class: 1960 (Marvin Terrell, Johnny Brewer, Bob Khayat, George Blair, Ken Kirk, Bobby Franklin, Larry Grantham)
Highest overall pick: Eli Manning (1st overall, 2004)
Other top classes: 1971, 1989, 1990, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2009
Notable: It would have been easy to go with either 1971 (Archie Manning) or 2004 (Eli Manning), given the Manning family's history with the Rebels, but the 1960 class was impressive for its depth and impact on the AFL/NFL. Five of the seven picks wound up earning honors, and everybody saw action in more than 40 games. Grantham was a key member of the Jets' defense that won Super Bowl III and was a five-time All-Pro at linebacker. Brewer was a tight end on the Browns' last championship team, and Terrell enjoyed success with the old Dallas Texans. Khayat made it to the Pro Bowl with the Redskins, but was better known for becoming chancellor of Ole Miss from 1995-2009.
Best draft class: 1996 (Walt Harris, Eric Moulds)
Highest overall pick: Johnie Cooks (2nd overall, 1982)
Other top classes: 1961, 1975, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2012
Notable: While the Fred Smoot-led class of 2001 produced four NFL starters, it's tough to place them over the combo of Harris and Moulds. Both were taken in the first round and turned in 11+ year careers in the league with a combined four Pro Bowl trips. Harris established himself as a starter during his time with the Bears before bouncing to the Colts, Redskins and 49ers. Moulds broke out in 1998 and set a host of Bills receiving records while becoming a three-time All-Pro.
Best draft class: 1981 (Howard Richards, James Wilder, Eric Wright, Johnnie Poe, Bill Whitaker, Ron Fellows)
Highest overall pick: Russ Washington (4th overall, 1968) and Justin Smith (4th overall, 2001)
Other top classes: 1965, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1979, 1988, 2009
Notable: Wright turned into the biggest star of the group as the corner helped win four Super Bowls as a starter with San Francisco and was twice named an All-Pro. Wilder was a tough back who earned a Pro Bowl trip with Tampa Bay and Fellows turned into a starting corner with Dallas. Richards had an up-and-down career while Poe wound up as a valuable starter for the Saints. All told, five of the six Tigers drafted wound up starting at least a season in the NFL.
Highest overall pick: George Rogers (1st overall, 1981)
Other top classes: 1977, 1988, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2012
Notable: It's quite possible the 2014 draft class winds up being the Gamecocks' best with a possible first overall pick in Jadeveon Clowney. The 2009 holds off the 1988 and 2000 groups however thanks to remarkable production out of a 3rd round pick, three 5th rounders and a pair of 7th rounders. Five of the six selections turned into NFL starters and only McKinley failed to make it in the NFL with just eight games played.
Best draft class: 2000 (Jamal Lewis, Shaun Ellis, Raynoch Thompson, Chad Clifton, Dwayne Goodrich, Deon Grant, Darwin Walker, Tee Martin)
Highest overall pick: George Cafego (1st overall, 1940) and Peyton Manning (1st overall, 1998)
Other top classes: 1953, 1970, 1977, 1984, 1988, 1991-2003, 2010
Notable: The Vols had an amazing run of producing NFL players under Phillip Fulmer and there was no shortage of choices for best class. While the 1998 group was extremely strong with Peyton Manning and Leonard Little among others, it's hard to match the 2000 class. Six of the nine players played in over 100 NFL games and three players made it to at least one Pro Bowl. Lewis won a Super Bowl with the Ravens as a rookie and rushed for the third-most yards in NFL history in 2003. Ellis was a monster in the middle of the Jets' defense for a decade and Clifton was a mainstay on the Packers offensive line blocking for Brett Favre. Grant won a ring with the Giants after quality 10-year NFL career. Only Goodrich and Martin failed to pan out in the league.
Best draft class: 1994 (Sam Adams, Aaron Glenn, Greg Hill, Jason Mathews, Eric England, Lance Teichelman)
Highest overall pick: 2nd overall, five times (1941, 1958, 1992, 2011, 2013)
Other top classes: 1958, 1976-1980, 1983-1992, 1996-2003
Notable: The Aggies have had a ton of recent success but their past history has been pretty productive too. The 1994 group had three first round picks and all become starters during five-plus year careers. Adams went to three Pro Bowls and started a remarkable 177 games as a defensive tackle. Glenn was a three-time All-Pro corner who intercepted a pass 13 straight seasons and was known mostly for his time with the Jets. Mathews was a starter in the league and only late round picks England and Teichelman didn't find a ton of success in the league.
Highest overall pick: Billy Wade (1st overall, 1952)
Other top classes: 1952, 1970, 1986, 2006
Notable: While it's hard to find multi-pick classes for the Commodores, the 2008 group did have three selections in the first five rounds. While 2006 (Jay Cutler) and 1986 (Will Wolford) produced more notable players, Williams, Bennett and Goff all became starters in the NFL.
Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.