Drafting is hard. Ranking teams based on how they draft is easy. Instead of evaluating general managers this year based on the totality of their job, I thought it'd be fun to only focus on how they used their draft capital. It's a self-selecting group, because the names that would be at the bottom of this list ultimately lost their jobs. For the purposes of this column, I only went back to 2015 and I did not include the nine GMs who have run one draft or less.
All decisions are mine, indisputable and should not be held against other NFL Network reporters. Especially @RapSheet.
1) Chris Ballard, Colts
Ballard's reputation as one of the league's best drafters is well earned, especially after coach Frank Reich joined him in Indianapolis. Ballard will be dining off the 2018 draft for years, with two All-Pros (Nelson and Shaquille Leonard), another great starter ( Braden Smith) and a terrific role player Nyheim Hines all in the same class. The 2020 crop of Michael Pittman, Jonathan Taylor and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Julian Blackmon is proof you don't need a first-round pick for a draft class to make a huge impact. Ballard benefits in this exercise from having the job for just five years, because the more you draft, the more mistakes are bound to happen.
2) Kevin Colbert, Steelers
Colbert never finished below third in my previous iterations of the GM Power Rankings, and the new parameters in this year's exercise doesn't change his standing. His first-round picks since 2015 include T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, as well as one used to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Colbert's legendary run of drafting wideouts has continued apace, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in the last six years, none in the top 45 picks. Even his poor drafts, such as in 2016, usually have a gem (Javon Hargrave), while classes like the Steelers' 2020 group (included starters Kevin Dotson, Alex Highsmith and Claypool) are a regular occurrence. Colbert's draft record is the biggest reason why the Steelers have the third-most wins in the NFL since he became the team's GM in 2010. His place this high despite some lost drafts (2018) is also a sign there's not that much separating the best drafting teams and the middle of the pack.
3) Jason Licht, Buccaneers
Licht's tenure in Tampa makes the case for being patient. He survived Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter, Jameis Winston and three double-digit-loss seasons to come out the other side a champion with the help of Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. Despite the flashy free-agent signings in recent years, Licht built the Bucs' foundation through the draft, with Ali Marpet, Vita Vea, Chris Godwin, Devin White, Carlton Davis, Donovan Smith and Sean Murphy-Bunting all playing massive roles in the team's title. These were good players before Brady arrived, and the stellar 2020 draft class (headlined by Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr.) helped put the team over the top.
4) Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott, Bills
McDermott is the alpha in Buffalo because he essentially hired Beane, but there's no gray area regarding the job the Bills' front office has done since McDermott arrived. His first draft in Buffalo (without Beane, who came aboard shortly after) included Tre'Davious White, Dion Dawkins and Matt Milano. They've all signed long-term extensions since. Beane's aggressive move to trade up for Josh Allen in 2018 will define his tenure for as long as the quarterback thrives. Buffalo had a vision for Allen, and then executed the best way to support him, even if the last two Bills drafts are shaping up as less noteworthy.
5) Mickey Loomis, Saints
The Saints' 2017 draft class will go down as one of the best ever, including two players among the best at their respective positions (RB Alvin Kamara and RT Ryan Ramczyk) and three more high quality starters in CB Marshon Lattimore, S Marcus Williams and DE Trey Hendrickson. The Saints' draft record over the last six years otherwise is pretty typical, with a few major finds (Michael Thomas) and some splashy misfires (the trade for Marcus Davenport, so far). Ultimately, New Orleans has done a better job than most at finding role players, one reason they've won more regular-season games than any other team over the last four years.
6) Rick Spielman, Vikings
Spielman has quietly been with the Vikings since 2006 and received the general manager title in 2012. Selecting Justin Jefferson last year was the latest in a string of big draft hits (Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Dalvin Cook). Plucking five Pro Bowlers over the past six drafts is impressive, though Spielman's getting further removed from the 2015 bounty that landed Diggs, Hunter and Hendricks. The Vikings GM would rank even higher if not for a few first-round misfires (Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes, Garrett Bradbury) and a general struggle to solve the offensive line despite investing a lot of draft capital.
7) Jon Robinson, Titans
Robinson started his tenure with a bang, taking Jack Conklin, Derrick Henry and Kevin Byard in his first draft for then-coach Mike Mularkey. Robinson hasn't hit that level since, but the front office has uncovered difference-makers like A.J. Brown, Jonnu Smith and Jayon Brown from surprising places in the draft. Last year's first-round pick, Isaiah Wilson, turned into an all-time miss, but I otherwise appreciate that the Titans have a type. A lot of teams say they want physical players, but no team looks better coming off the bus than a Jon Robinson team.
8) Jerry Jones, Cowboys
So what if the Cowboys wanted Paxton Lynch instead of Dak Prescott? They still get credit for Prescott in this exercise, in addition to four more Pro Bowlers drafted since 2015: Ezekiel Elliott, Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. Handing Smith a huge contract while letting Jones go speaks to bigger, long-standing, self-scouting issues in the front office, but it's hard to fault this team's draft process too much. If the Cowboys could draft on the defensive line as well as they do at wideout (CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup), they'd land even higher.
9) John Lynch, 49ers
Drafting Solomon Thomas No. 3 overall and Reuben Foster later in the first round of 2017 got the Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era off to a messy start, before George Kittle fell to them in the fifth round. The 2018 class included tackle Mike McGlinchey and linebacker Fred Warner, while 2019 picks Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel helped the team get to a Super Bowl. Brandon Aiyuk, a 2020 first-rounder, looks like another foundational piece. Since the 2017 misfires, the 49ers have mostly made their premium picks count.
10) Brett Veach, Chiefs
Veach was difficult to rank in this exercise. Patrick Mahomes could prove to be the biggest franchise-changing pick in NFL history, and the Chiefs traded up to get him. They could be No. 1 just for that! Then again, only two of the other 23 draft picks since Mahomes was taken have started at least 25 games: Derrick Nnadi and Kareem Hunt. The team has done a fine job finding role players like Rashad Fenton, Mecole Hardman and L'Jarius Sneed, but Veach needs to start drafting more starters or the talent pool could run dry.
11) Tom Telesco, Chargers
Justin Herbert. Derwin James. Joey Bosa. Hunter Henry. Keenan Allen. While Allen doesn't count for this exercise, the span of these prime-time players drafted to wear Chargers blue is a credit to Telesco and the reason why he's quietly the ninth-longest tenured GM in football, depending how you count Jerry Jones in Dallas and Mike Brown in Cincinnati. Telesco's biggest shortcoming -- hiring coaches -- is not a factor here and his struggles to construct an offensive line is only partly about his draft mistakes. If there is criticism, it's that the Bolts have often struggled to build out the depth of their roster to support the surfeit of stars.
12) Pete Carroll/John Schneider, Seahawks
I included Carroll here because he helped hire Schneider and has final authority in personnel decisions. The Seahawks are always good for a few surprises on draft day, but they've had their share of hits since 2015: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed and Shaquill Griffin among them. Critics have blamed the 'Hawks for not prioritizing the offensive line, but it's more accurate to say they've just chosen and coached the position poorly. There are few too many early picks that haven't contributed much, including Marquise Blair, L.J. Collier, Rashaad Penny, Malik McDowell and Amara Darboh.
13) Brian Gutekunst, Packers
- Best pick: Jaire Alexander | Round 1 (No. 18), 2018
- Worst pick: N/A
First impressions mean a lot. "Gutey" found a Pro Bowl cornerback with his first-ever draft pick, Jaire Alexander, which stands out even more because the organization has missed so often at the position. 2019 second-round offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins is another big hit, while 2019 first-rounders Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage are solid contributors. Gutekunst was mocked for drafting Jordan Love with Aaron Rodgers in the building, but it's nearly impossible to spend too much draft capital at the league's most important position. The grade on that pick is yet to be written.
14) Duke Tobin, Bengals
The Bengals like to keep their power structure mysterious, but it's clear Tobin has run the team’s drafts since before Marvin Lewis was excised. Aside from a glaring shortcoming when it comes to early O-line picks (Billy Price, Cedric Ogbuehi), Tobin's drafts make sense. Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, Jessie Bates and Tee Higgins are second-round picks that play like firsts. Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard were fantastic mid-round defensive picks. No matter what happens from here on out with Joe Burrow, the Bengals are proof that you need to do more than stack rock-solid drafts to succeed at the highest levels.
15) Les Snead, Rams
- Best pick: Cooper Kupp | Round 3 (No. 69), 2017
- Worst pick: N/A
The Rams don't treat the draft like any other team. They are set to go seven straight years without using a first-round selection after taking Todd Gurley and Jared Goff in 2015 and '16. While Goff and Gurley's second contracts were huge mistakes, it's hard to destroy this trade strategy. The Rams are among the top-five teams in wins since Sean McVay arrived, despite mid-level quarterback play. They have found contributors outside the first round (Cooper Kupp, John Johnson, Rob Havenstein, Cam Akers), but there's no denying this approach has left them thinner and more reliant on trades and free agency than any other team in football. It's a fascinating experiment that has mostly worked thus far, even if they receive an unspectacular ranking in this exercise. My cutoff of 2015 hurts Snead here because he drafted Aaron Donald the year before.
16) Chris Grier, Dolphins
Grier has held the GM title since 2016, but Mike Tannenbaum was above him (VP of football operations) until 2019. I decided to evaluate the draft choices since Grier got the GM title, when his tenure started with a bang in a trade down with Philadelphia that wound up with the Dolphins taking Laremy Tunsil at No. 13 overall. (They took All-Pro Xavien Howard in the second round.) The Dolphins' drafts have been uneven since, but the Tunsil trade in 2019 -- the centerpiece of the team's rebuilding project -- continues to reap dividends. Now we just have to see if any of the five first-round picks and four second-rounders between 2020 and '21 produce any players as good as Tunsil or Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was dealt to Pittsburgh.
17) Eric DeCosta, Ravens
- Best pick: J.K. Dobbins | Round 2 (No. 55), 2020
- Worst pick: N/A
Ozzie Newsome left big shoes to fill, especially after selecting Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown and Mark Andrews in his final draft. It's early, but DeCosta's first two hauls look unlikely to produce a difference-maker. Last year's first-rounder, Patrick Queen, was the lowest-graded rookie linebacker by Pro Football Focus (min. 20% of snaps), but it's too early to put a "worst pick" tag on him. The team's first-round pick in 2019, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, has played his best in the playoffs.
18) Bill Belichick, Patriots
- Best pick: Trey Flowers | Round 4 (No. 101), 2015
- Worst pick(s): The second-round DBs
Picking low or not picking at all in the first round (2016, 2017 and 2020) hasn't helped, but the Patriots' recent draft record is abysmal. The struggle to find useful players, especially in 2016 and '17, helps explain their desperation in free agency this year. Even the few mid-round steals the Patriots have uncovered (Trey Flowers, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason) are far in the rearview mirror. Belichick's tendency to draft surprise second-round defensive backs (Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson and JoeJuan Williams) has led to very little production, before safety Kyle Dugger arrived last year. It's not as if the Pats' lack of star power in recent drafts was evened out by quality role players. That makes the swings and misses (taking receiver N’Keal Harry when A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel were available) more noticeable.
19) Steve Keim, Cardinals
Keim is on his third coach and third QB since taking over the top job in 2013, which is a rare feat for general managers. His first-round picks besides Kyler Murray have been famously spotty, with Robert Nkemdiche and Josh Rosen standing out as whiffs. That said, Keim still has his job because of a decisive move to take Murray only one year after the Rosen misfire. He avoided doubling down on a big mistake and the Cardinals have a franchise quarterback because of it. That said, Murray was clearly the top QB prospect in 2019, a no-brainer pick in a vacuum. So I chose to spotlight Budda Baker in the honorific above. Keim's next-best picks since 2015 are probably David Johnson and D.J. Humphries. In short, this is not a team that has been built through the draft.
20) Ryan Pace, Bears
Pace's tenure will be defined by his decision to trade up for Mitchell Trubisky, but it's worth remembering the Bears GM had two drafts before Mitch and three since! (Kevin White was his first pick.) Pace has found a few gems along the way (Eddie Jackson, Cody Whitehair, Roquan Smith, Eddie Goldman, Jaylon Johnson), but the lack of a cohesive plan on offense in an offense-first league is all too apparent. Then again, we'd all look at Pace differently if he hadn't picked Trubisky (or stuck with him for so long).
21) Howie Roseman, Eagles
Roseman's first pick back in charge after the Chip Kelly era was Carson Wentz. Signing Wentz to a massive second contract has proven far more costly (the Eagles have a $33.8 million dead-money hit in 2021, per Over The Cap) than moving up to select him second overall, as Wentz contributed significantly to a Super Bowl title and two other playoff teams. The picks Philadelphia traded away for Wentz, however, left the team with a smaller margin for error that Roseman didn't sufficiently compensate for with quality selections. The next-best picks since 2016 include Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Avonte Maddox and Derek Barnett. Roseman deserves credit for an Eagles roster that was loaded from 2017 to '19, but it wasn't because of recent drafts.
22) Dave Gettleman, Giants
It's early, but selecting tackle Andrew Thomas at No. 4 overall last year when three standout tackles were taken after him is a troubling sign. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on No. 6 overall pick Daniel Jones. Less so for fellow 2019 first-round pick DeAndre Baker, whom the Giants traded up for but who's no longer on the team. (New York's other first-rounder from two years ago, Dexter Lawrence, is a nice contributor.) It's not Saquon Barkley's fault he tore his ACL, but an offense built around him in 2018-19 had its limitations. Gettleman wants a team full of large humans who can run the ball and stop the run, an approach that's out of step with the current NFL. There is a ticking clock on Gettleman's plan coming together in time.
23) Jon Gruden/Mike Mayock, Raiders
I'm counting Gruden's first draft in this exercise because he's had final say, even since Mike Mayock's arrival. The Raiders have taken five first-round draft picks in the last two years, and the best player is running back Josh Jacobs. Mayock's first draft class looked a lot better before the 2020 season, when Maxx Crosby, Trayvon Mullen and Jacobs took a step back. First-round safety Johnathan Abram's aggressiveness was used against him in his first healthy season. Taking Henry Ruggs first among all receivers in a deep class last April was a big risk that didn't pay off in Year 1. Selecting Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall in 2019 was a similarly big swing that's been fouled off so far. I like Mullen and 2020 first-round cornerback Damon Arnette more than most, but the Raiders' vision for many of their players has yet to be realized.
Trent Baalke, Jaguars
Last seen losing a power struggle to Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, Baalke's hire in Jacksonville was a surprise because he barely had a relationship with new coach Urban Meyer. It remains to be seen who is truly calling the shots.
Andrew Berry, Browns
Berry is somehow the sixth decision-maker to run the Browns since Jimmy Haslam bought the team in October of 2012. Berry's first draft pick, OT Jedrick Wills (10th overall in 2020), looks like a home run, and late-round pass catchers Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones have already provided value.
Nick Caserio, Texans
Caserio knew when he took the Texans job that they didn't have a pick in the first two rounds of this year's draft. That's partly why the team went quantity over quality in signing free agents, building depth on an otherwise-thin roster.
Joe Douglas, Jets
Hired right after the 2019 draft, Douglas has spent almost two years trying to dig out of the poor process that led to his hiring. While it's early, taking tackle Mekhi Becton at No. 11 overall could be a defining first pick by Douglas to kick off the start of a new era.
Scott Fitterer, Panthers
Hired in January after spending 20 years in Seattle, Fitterer is expected to assist coach Matt Rhule like John Schneider helps Pete Carroll without losing sight of who's the boss. Will the Seahawks' penchant for taking draft picks off the beaten path travel to Carolina?
Terry Fontenot, Falcons
The longtime Saints front office staffer was brought to Atlanta after a generally successful 13-year run by Thomas Dimitroff. Choosing fourth overall in the 2021 draft, Fontenot has a chance to call his shot by taking a quarterback with his first-ever draft pick, much like Dimitroff did with Matt Ryan in 2008.
Brad Holmes, Lions
Holmes arrives in Detroit after 18 years with the Rams. Like Chris Grier in Miami, he'll be asked to execute a near-complete teardown rebuilding project that will require time. Grier has Brian Flores as his partner; Holmes has Dan Campbell.
George Paton, Broncos
It's pronounced Peyton like Manning, not Patton like general. The first-year general manager by way of Minnesota is running the draft room with John Elway now not being a day-to-day presence at the Broncos facility.
Ron Rivera/Marty Hurney/Martin Mayhew, Football Team
This is one of the most confusing setups in the league, but Hurney and Mayhew made it clear after their hires in January that Rivera is in charge. The irony here is that Rivera's first draft in Washington, spearheaded by Kyle Smith, was terrific with Antonio Gibson and safety Kamren Curl adding to a no-brainer pick of Chase Young at No. 2 overall.