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:1957 (Del Shofner, Bill Glass, Charlie Bradshaw)
Highest overall pick:Four players picked second overall (1942, 1950, 2009, 2012)
Other top classes:1977, 1982, 1987, 1996, 2012
Best draft class:1974 (Matt Blair, Ike Harris, Keith Krepfle)
Highest overall pick:George Amundson (14th overall, 1973)
Other top classes:1984, 1991, 2001, 2006
Notable:There are not a ton of years where multiple Cyclones were taken in the draft, but the 1974 class produced three Iowa State picks and they all had very productive NFL careers. Blair was a six-time Pro Bowler as a Vikings linebacker and was known for his terrific special-teams play. Harris and Krepfle had productive five-year runs as starting pass-catchers.
Best draft class:1971 (John Riggins, Steve Lawson, Larry Brown, Ron Jessie)
Highest overall pick:Gale Sayers (fourth overall, 1965)
Other top classes:1965, 1974, 1977, 1993, 2008
Notable:The basketball version of the list is a little deeper, but the Jayhawks have had a decent number of productive football classes over the years. The 1971 class is headlined by Riggins, who won a Super Bowl MVP trophy and was eventually enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Brown was a four-time Super Bowl winner as a member of the Steelers and earned Pro Bowl honors in 1982. Jessie had an up-and-down career but made the Pro Bowl in 1976.
Best draft class:1971 (Clarence Scott, Lynn Dickey, Mike Montgomery, Ron Yankowski)
Highest overall pick:Veryl Switzer (fourth overall, 1954)
Other top classes:1970, 1974, 2000, 2001, 2002
Notable:The 2000 and 2002 classes also have a case, but the 1971 group produced a Pro Bowler and three players who started for at least seven seasons in the league. Scott was taken in the first round and was an All-Pro in 1973 as a long-time member of the Browns' secondary. Dickey was a prolific passer best known for a pair of playoff runs with the Packers.
Highest overall pick:Four players selected first overall (1976, 1980, 1987, 2010)
Other top classes:1957, 1973, 1976, 1980, 2005
Notable:The 2010 class produced three of the first four picks in the draft and just slightly edges out the 1976 class led by Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon. Sam Bradford gets a bit of an incomplete grade due to injuries, but he has been the face of the Rams' franchise as of late. McCoy has been an All-Pro in the middle of Tampa Bay's defense and Williams, despite some issues away from the field, has become Robert Griffin III's protector at left tackle. Gresham has been a reliable target for Andy Dalton -- the tight end has made two trips to the Pro Bowl. Every member of the class started at least one game in the NFL.
Best draft class:1989 (Barry Sanders, Hart Lee Dykes)
Highest overall pick:Bob Fenimore (first overall, 1947)
Other top classes:1970, 1986, 1988, 1998, 2004, 2010
Notable:Other classes were deeper for the Cowboys but it's hard to look past the Hall of Fame career Sanders had as one of the best running backs ever to put on pads. Dykes was the 16th overall pick who saw his career end early due to injuries but did post nearly 1,400 yards receiving in a short two-year time frame. The 2010 class, led by Russell Okung and Dez Bryant may end up being better in the long run.
Best draft class:2001 (LaDainian Tomlinson, Aaron Schobel, George Layne, Curtis Fuller, Shawn Worthen, Cedric James)
Highest overall pick:Ki Aldrich (1st overall, 1939)
Other top classes:1937, 1960, 1961, 2010, 2011
Notable:The Horned Frogs have produced a number of great NFL players but they haven't done so in big groups outside of the 2001 class. That year had the most draft picks in school history and were headlined by star running back (and current NFL Media analyst) LaDainian Tomlinson. In addition to the All-Pro back, defensive end Aaron Schobel made two Pro Bowls and was a consistent presence for the Bills defense who ended his career with 78 sacks.
Highest overall pick:Tommy Nobis (1st overall, 1966), Earl Campbell (1st overall, 1978) and Kenneth Sims (1st overall, 1982)
Other top classes:1948, 1966, 1978, 1980, 1982, 2006, 2007
Notable:Other classes were a bit deeper but it's tough to beat the bang for your buck with the 2001 class. All three players developed into long-time NFL starters and each went to at least three Pro Bowls. Hampton and Rogers were menaces in the middle of defenses in Detroit and Pittsburgh while Davis was a quality guard and tackle for a decade.
Best draft class:1996 (Zach Thomas, Marcus Coleman)
Highest overall pick:Dave Parks (1st overall, 1964)
Other top classes:1962, 1978, 1985, 2007, 2009
Notable:Thomas is one of the best to ever play for the Red Raiders and thrived in the NFL despite being a bit undersized. The leader of the Dolphins defense for a decade, Thomas was a five time All-Pro linebacker that averaged over 85 tackles a season for his career. Coleman spent six good seasons with the Jets before contributing a number of big plays for the Texans.
Best draft class:1956 (Bruce Bosley, Sam Huff, Fred Wyant)
Highest overall pick:Dick Leftridge (3rd overall, 1966)
Other top classes:1936, 1975, 1990, 1999, 2000
Notable:The 2000 class produced several solid careers but the 1956 class had an impact player in the legendary Huff. The Hall of Fame linebacker was named an All-Pro four times and helped lead the Giants to the 1956 NFL championship. Bosely was a versatile member of the 49ers and made four Pro Bowls during his time with the team.