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 their college careers. 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.
Best draft class:1999 (Chris McAlister, Edwin Mulitalo, Yusuf Scott, Mike Lucky)
Highest overall pick:Ricky Hunley (seventh overall, 1984)
Other top classes:1968, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2003
Notable:Chicago Bears fans might argue for the 2003 class that produced linebacker Lance Briggs and wide receiver Bobby Wade, but the 1999 group gets the nod thanks largely to McAlister and Mulitalo. McAlister went to three Pro Bowls as a defensive back for the Ravens and had a big play in the team's Super Bowl win in 2000. Mulitalo was a starting guard on the same team playing alongside Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden. Scott (three seasons) and Lucky (four seasons) both had brief NFL careers.
Best draft class:1988 (Randall McDaniel, Aaron Cox, Eric Allen, Shawn Patterson, Todd Kalis, Greg Clark)
Highest overall pick:Charley Taylor (third overall, 1964)
Other top classes:1964, 1976, 1987, 1992, 1997
Notable:The Sun Devils sent an impressive group to the league in 1988, led by Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel. The Vikings great made an astonishing 12 Pro Bowls and was one of two players from this class to start more than 200 games. The other was Eric Allen, who was a Pro Bowl corner for the Eagles. Every ASU player drafted in '88 started an NFL game.
Highest overall pick:Steve Bartkowski (first overall, 1975)
Other top classes:1987, 1994, 1997, 2003, 2005
Notable:This was a tough one as the 1997 class had a future Hall of Fame tight end in Tony Gonzalez and a Pro Bowl tackle in Tarik Glenn. However, it's hard to beat the 2007 group -- all six picks were still in the NFL last season. The headliner is obviously Jackson, who was a big-play threat with the Eagles and likely will remain one with the Redskins. Stevens has been a reliable tight end who has four seasons as a starter under his belt in Tennessee, and DeCoud made a trip to the Pro Bowl during his time in Atlanta before being released and signing with Carolina this offseason. All six players from the 2007 class have started at least four NFL games.
Best draft class:1976 (Pete Brock, Troy Archer, Mark Koncar, Steve Young, Dave Logan, Mike McCoy, Dave Williams, Bob Simpson, Terry Kunz, Whitney Paul, Gary Campbell).
Highest overall pick:Bo Matthews (second overall, 1974)
Other top classes:1959, 1972, 1977, 1993, 1995, 2002
Notable:Although fans with only recent memories might laugh, this was one of the more difficult decisions in the Pac-12. The 2002 class, led by Andre Gurode, was a group full of multi-year starters with six Pro Bowl invites. It lacked the depth of the 1995 group (Michael Westbrook, Rashaan Salaam, Christian Fauria, Kordell Stewart and others), though. An astonishing 19 Buffaloes were drafted between 1976-77 and 15 became established starters in the NFL. The '76 group gets a slight nod based on depth and a high percentage of early round picks panning out.
Best draft class:1964 (Mel Renfro, Dave Wilcox, Bob Berry)
Highest overall pick:George Shaw (first overall, 1955)
Other top classes:1973, 1983, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2010
Notable:This was an easy choice as the 1964 Ducks produced two Hall of Famers in Renfro and Wilcox. Renfro won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys and was a do-it-all player who was also named an All-Pro five times. Wilcox went to seven Pro Bowls and was one of the best linebackers of his era. The third amigo, Berry, also made it to a Pro Bowl and won 20 games as a starting quarterback.
Best draft class:2001 (Chad Johnson, DeLawrence Grant, T.J. Houshmandzadeh)
Highest overall pick:Terry Baker (first overall, 1963)
Other top classes:1952, 1967, 2004, 2009, 2011
Notable:Not bad production out of the 2001 class, especially for the Bengals. Johnson was one of the most flashy receivers of his time and was twice an All-Pro. Houshmandzadeh played opposite Johnson and made a Pro Bowl during his six seasons as a front-line starter. Even Grant had two decent years in Oakland and played in 50 games.
Best draft class:1993 (Darrien Gordon, Glyn Milburn, John Lynch, Ron George, Chris Dalman)
Highest overall pick:first overall four times (1954, 1971, 1983, 2012)
Other top classes:1969, 1971, 1972, 1983, 2012
Notable:The 1971 class was pretty strong thanks to Jim Plunkett, and it's quite possible Andrew Luck and the 2012 class will be regarded as the best Cardinal group before long, but it will be tough to beat the depth of the 1993 class. The hard-hitting Lynch was one of the best safeties in the NFL and went to nine Pro Bowls in addition to winning a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. Dalman was a starting guard for the 49ers when they won a Super Bowl and Milburn was an electric return man who was twice named an All-Pro. Gordon won two Super Bowls and George had a productive eight-season career.
Best draft class:1983 (Bruce Matthews, Joey Browner, Don Mosebar, George Achica, August Curley, Kelly Thomas, Riki Ellison, Bryon Darby, Jeff Simmons, Troy West)
Highest overall pick:first overall five times (1968, 1969, 1977, 1996, 2003)
Other top classes:1968-1975, 1977-1985, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2006, 2009
Notable:The Trojans are the kings of the NFL draft based on their production over the years and that makes this pick all the more difficult. You're basically splitting hairs between the 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983 classes, but the last one edges out the others. Matthews is in the Hall of Fame and started an amazing 293 games during his 19-year career. Of his fellow first-round picks that year, Browner was named an All-Pro three times and Mosebar made the Pro Bowl three times. In total, the 1983 class made the Pro Bowl 22 times, had 10 first-team All-Pro performances. Seven of the 11 picks became a regular starter.
Fun fact:No school has produced more first-round picks than USC, which also holds the record for most overall draft picks with 479. The school also produced a Hall of Fame player in four straight drafts from 1980-1983.
Best draft class:1979 (Manu Tuiasosopo, Jerry Robinson, James Owens, Theotis Brown, Johnny Lynn, Max Montoya, Bruce Davis)
Highest overall pick:Troy Aikman (first overall, 1989)
Other top classes:1961, 1974, 1988, 1989, 1996, 2002, 2006
Notable:While they can't match the numbers of their cross-town rivals, the Bruins are no slouch in producing NFL talent. Aikman's 1989 class has a case to top this list and if Jonathan Ogden's 1996 class were deeper, they might take the title. The 1979 class was remarkably productive, however, with all seven picks starting at least one season in the league and four of them starting for more than five. There were five Pro Bowl nods among the group and Owens, a second-round pick played the fewest games of the group, but still appeared in an impressive 70 contests.
Other top classes:1963, 1968, 2001, 2007, 2010
Notable:The 2001 (Steve Smith/Andre Dyson)and 2007 (Eric Weddle/Paul Soliai) classes turned out very well, but lacked the depth of the 2005 group. Smith went first overall and eventually developed into the productive quarterback some thought he would be right off the bat. The back end of this draft really helps them land the top spot with third-, sixth- and seventh-round picks all turning into NFL starters.
Best draft class:1993 (Lincoln Kennedy, Billy Joe Hobert, Jaime Fields, Mark Brunell, Dave Hoffmann)
Highest overall pick:Steve Emtman first overall, 1992)
Other top classes:1961, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1992-1998
Notable:While the Huskies produced some standout players, finding a good class from top to bottom was more difficult than expected. The 1993 group had a combined six Pro Bowl appearances and saw all but one player start a game in the NFL. Brunell shined during his time in Jacksonville and Kennedy had several good seasons in the league, including one All-Pro campaign.
Best draft class:1986 (Erik Howard, Rueben Mayes, Mark Rypien)
Highest overall pick:Drew Bledsoe (first overall, 1993)
Other top classes:1943, 1975, 1984, 1993, 1995
Notable:All three players enjoyed time in the NFL as starters and all three made it to the Pro Bowl at least once. Rypien was named Super Bowl MVP with the Redskins while Howard made one of the most memorable plays in Giants history, forcing a Roger Craig fumble in the 1990 NFC Championship Game, and earned two Super Bowl rings.