Over the last couple of months, everyone has been busying themselves looking through mock drafts, attempting to predict how the 2022 NFL Draft will unfold. This will be the 87th annual meeting of all the National Football League franchise teams, as they aim to select the best possible talents from amongst the eligible players.
All eyes will inevitably be on Las Vegas, and while the 2022 NFL Draft selection does appear to be packed with talent, there are never any guarantees and every pick can be a gamble. NFL fans around the world will be paying close attention, wondering how the draft picks will affect the odds and futures of their favorite teams, seeking the most reliable options to back.
But all the hype and excitement surrounding the 2022 NFL Draft also begs the inevitable question – which were the best and the worst NFL draft years of all time? Well, the only true testament which answers that question is time itself, and looking back over the years, the numbers paint quite a revealing picture.
When giving due consideration to the best NFL Draft years, we have to start by looking all the way back to 1957, one decade before the NFL and AFL finally merged and would henceforth hold a Common Draft. The class of 1957 produced a combination of 36 Pro Bowlers and AFL All-Stars, while that golden draft year also produced 9 Hall of Famers. They were Paul Hornung, Len Dawson, Jim Brown, Jim Parker, Tommy McDonald, Sonny Jurgensen, Henry Jordan, Gene Hickerson, and Don Maynard.
The early 1980’s proved to be a spectacular era for talentsand the numbers are telling, producing what became the two greatest draft classes of all time. 1981 will probably always be remembered as the greatest defensive draft class in NFL history, certainly when recalling names like linebacker E.J. Junior, defensive backs Dennis Smith, Eric Wright, and Hanford Dixon, plus defensive end Dexter Manley. In total, 1981 produced 32 Pro Bowlers and 7 Hall of Famers. They were Lawrence Taylor, Kenny Easley, Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, Howie Long, Rickey Jackson, and Russ Grimm.
But ask any expert which year was undoubtedly the best ever NFL Draft class, the vast majority will quickly point at 1983. This year was absolutely phenomenal and when looking at the players picked throughout the draft, many went on to became NFL royalty during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Not one other draft class can match the 42 Pro Bowlers that emerged in 1983, which also gave us 8 exceptional Hall of Famers. They were John Elway, Eric Dickerson, Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Darrell Green, Richard Dent, and Jim Covert.
If the 1983 draft class is widely considered to be the best and worthy of glowing praise, then of course, there has to be a polar opposite year worthy of lamentation. Well, hot on the heels of what is fondly remembered as a remarkable draft year, the class of 1984 is often equally recalled as one of the worst draft years in NFL history. While 1983 produced a record number of Pro Bowlers and 8 Hall of Famers, 1984 produced just 23 Pro Bowlers and zero Hall of Famers.
1991 is often considered to have been a dismal year for talent, although it did manage to produce 27 Pro Bowlers and, in the end, two Hall of Famers in the shape of Brett Favre and Aeneas Williams. Still, there was a notable dearth of top NFL prospects emerging during the early 1990’s and that was underlined in 1992, which many people believe was the worst NFL Draft year ever.
1992 was the only draft other than 1984 to produce zero Hall of Famers, along with being the final NFL Draft which featured twelve rounds of selections, given the league would subsequently reduce picks to eight rounds in 1993 and then seven in 1994. One highlight of the 1992 NFL Draft, not that it ultimately mattered, was that the Indianapolis Colts had both the first and second overall picks in the first round. Some 26 Pro Bowlers did emerge from the 1992 draft, although other than that, it was an entirely forgettable year for talents.