If you ever doubt the virtuosity of Bill Polian, consider the history of the Bills franchise before and after his arrival on the scene. Outside of back-to-back AFL championships in 1964-65, the Bills' only taste of success has been the Polian-constructed span of 1988-96 -- featuring four Super Bowl appearances and eight playoff berths in nine seasons.
Following general manager Terry Bledsoe's February heart attack, pro personnel director Polian and chief college scout Norm Pollom began splitting duties leading up to the 1985 NFL Draft. Armed with nine picks in the first five rounds, the duo ended up building the backbone for the AFC's dominant team of the next 10 years.
Smith is not only the best defensive player in franchise history, but also the NFL's career leader in sacks and member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s and 1990s. Finally elected to the Hall of Fame early this year, Reed earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections and owns every relevant Bills receiving record.
The '85 draft also produced deep threat Chris Burkett, three-time Super Bowl champion Dale Hellestrae and future NFL broadcaster Ron Pitts.
The '83 class gets the nod primarily on the strength of the Marino-to-Clayton connection that took the NFL by storm in 1984. Both players set single-season records for touchdowns at their respective positions before falling to the 49ers in Super Bowl XVIII. At one point in time, the Marino-Clayton tandem was the most prolific in NFL history.
That offensive prowess shouldn't overshadow the impact of one of the handful of African American punters in NFL history. Roby played 16 seasons as a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the premier punters of his era.
New England Patriots
New York Jets
If the 1964 and 1965 drafts were combined into one mega class, they would be the runaway winners for the Jets. Without those two drafts featuring Joe Namath, running back Matt Snell and defensive ends Gerry Philbin and Verlon Biggs, there would have been no Super Bowl III "guarantee" and subsequent upset over the heavily-favored Colts.
In other words, the NFL-AFL merger would have gone down quite differently.
The 1977 class helped the Jets reach the playoffs four times, including the 1982 AFC Championship Game.
In addition to being one of the most decorated linemen in Jets history, Powell wrote a newspaper column and was elected president of the NFLPA during his playing days. A career Jet, Walker remains second only to Maynard on many of the franchise receiving records.
The '77 group also produced a 13-year starter, the backfield tandem that succeeded John Riggins and the 1978 starter at quarterback.
Fun fact: Klecko is the only player to be named to the Pro Bowl at three different positions (defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle).
In the conversation with Dick Butkus for greatest middle linebacker in NFL history, Ray Lewis was at the heart of two Super Bowl champions. The other first-round draft pick, Jonathan Ogden, rivals Orlando Pace and Walter Jones as the premier left tackle of an era that inspired best-selling author Michael Lewis' "Blindside."
Not to be overlooked, fifth-round draft pick Jermaine Lewis generated six punt-return touchdowns in his career, highlighted by an eye-popping 16.1 yards per return during the 2000 Super Bowl season.
It was No. 5 overall pick Greg Cook, though, who would have cemented this draft as the franchise's best had the golden-armed 1969 AFL Rookie of the Year not lost his promising career to a shoulder injury.
Although the 1984 draft produced Boomer Esiason and three more starters from Super Bowl XXIII, it doesn't match the star power of the 2001 class with two of the most productive wide receivers in franchise history, a leading rusher and a premier defensive end.
After watching the NCAA's best athlete letter in lacrosse, basketball, track and football at Syracuse, five teams passed on the greatest running back in NFL history. Despite hanging up his spikes to chase an acting career, Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing a record eight times and was rated the No. 2 player of all time by NFL.com in 2009.
Brown wasn't the only Hall of Fame selection from the 1957 class, though. With six Pro Bowl nods in 15 seasons, guard Gene Hickerson earned a bust in Canton in 2007. Drafted in the fifth round, defensive tackle Henry Jordan went on to a Hall of Fame career with Vince Lombardi's Packers after being traded for Bob Jarus.
Drafted at No. 17 overall, Milt Plum's 110.4 passer rating in 1960 stood as a record for 30 years until Joe Montana's (112.4) career year in 1989.
A rangy middle linebacker and bone-crushing hitter, Lambert was the final key to Bud Carson's Cover-2 scheme that produced the Steel Curtain defenses responsible for four Lombardi trophies.
Swann and Stallworth were one of the most dynamic wide-receiver duos of the 1970s. Before his life devolved into tragedy, Webster was viewed as Jim Otto's primary competition for the greatest center of all time.
Armed with the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, Charlie Casserly eschewed playmaking scat back Reggie Bush and bucked conventional wisdom by selecting pass rusher Mario Williams. It was the correct call. Although Williams shuffled off to Buffalo via the richest contract for a defensive player in history, he remains the Texans' all-time leader in sacks.
That same class also produced the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year (Ryans), the best tight end in franchise history (Owen Daniels) and a six-year starter at right tackle (Winston).
We have to go back to Baltimore in 1963, however, to find the franchise's most decorated draft class.
John Mackey and Mike Ditka were unanimously viewed as the best tight ends ever to take the field until Kellen Winslow introduced the new breed in the 1980s. Five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Bob Vogel protected Johnny Unitas blindside for a nearly decade. Jerry Logan was one of the premier playmaking safeties of his era. Willie Richardson was a first-team All-Pro as Johnny U's top target in 1967.
The Jaguars also picked multiyear starters in running back James Stewart, middle linebacker Bryan Schwartz, guard Brian DeMarco and safety Chris Hudson.
Thanks to a solid draft and veteran pickups such as Smith, Keenan McCardell and Mark Brunell, the Jaguars avoided the pitfalls of almost every other expansion team in history.
Fun fact: Fourth-round pick Rob Johnson was traded three years later for a first-round draft pick that was used to select Fred Taylor, the franchise's rushing leader.
The Titans lack a historical draft class, which leaves the Houston Oilers responsible for the top handful of drafts in franchise history.
The highlight is the 1987 haul that allowed Warren Moon to excel in the signature run-and-shoot attack of the early 1990s.
Operating out of a four-wide spread, Haywood Jeffires and Curtis Duncan combined for 837 receptions and 10,054 yards from 1987 to 1995. On the other side of the ball, linebacker Al Smith perennially led the team in tackles while notching a pair for Pro Bowl appearances.
Fun fact: Fifth-round pick Spencer Tillman played 115 games in the NFL, but is best known an analyst on CBS' "College Football Today."
If we include the blockbuster trade that sent John Elway to Denver, though, the 1983 draft had greater impact on the franchise's legacy.
Kansas City Chiefs
There's no debating the 1963 class' merit as the finest in Chiefs' history, as it laid the groundwork for one of the greatest defenses the NFL has seen.
The early 1960s Chiefs of Lamar Hunt and Hank Stram got a jump on the rest of the football world, targeting the best players from historically black colleges in the South. At a time when professional football kept an unofficial quota on African Americans, Stram's club fielded a defense filled with black stars such as Hall of Fame players Buck Buchanan and Bobby Bell.
In addition to those two, the '63 group featured All-Time All-AFL guard Ed Budde and long-time right tackle Dave Hill. The 11th round also turned up Jerrel Wilson, the greatest punter in AFL history as well as the longest-tenured Chief.
Those five players would go on to notch an AFL championship in 1966 and the Super Bowl title in 1970.
The Raiders played in six conference championship games during the 1970s, due in large part to the contributions of the 1968 draft class.
Ken Stabler was the AFC's answer to Roger Staubach, as an improvising scrambler who often came through in the clutch. He was protected by Hall of Fame selection Art Shell, left tackle on the 1970s All-Decade Team.
The draft also produced backfield stars Marv Hubbard and Charlie Smith, forming one of the NFL's most potent tag-teams of the early 1970s. Not to be forgotten is hard-hitting safety George Atkinson, who famously rendered Lynn Swann unconscious with a forearm smash to the back of the head in 1976.
San Diego Chargers
For the best class in franchise history, though, we have to go back to 1975 for a trio of defensive stars that added bite to the Chargers' "Air Coryell" offense.
The first three rounds turned up Hall of Fame pass rusher Fred Dean and All-Pro defensive tackles Gary "Big Hands" Johnson and Louie Kelcher. That mammoth defensive line, coined the "Bruise Brothers," wreaked havoc on the AFC West, combining for 60 sacks in 1980 before Dean forced a trade to the 49ers.
Fun fact: Dreaded for giving opponents a "Louie Kelcher hangover," the 6-foot-6, 285-pound defensive tackle sported size 16 1/2 EEEE cleats and a 16.5 ring finger.