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NFL Draft superlatives since 2000: Best team, most changed, class clown and more

The NFL Draft is more than an event. It’s a year-long spectacle full of anticipation, prognostication and analysis. It’s also a complete crapshoot, which is ironic given the amount of resources poured into knowing everything about every prospect. Given the degree of difficulty, I crunched the numbers to shine a light on the draft standouts since 2000. 

One way I’m measuring draft performance is with Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric (AV for short), which places a single value on each player’s NFL career. In this case, it points to the best and worst drafting teams. 

This is the draft though, it’s pure entertainment and theater so rather than spit out the best and worst drafting teams I give you NFL Draft superlatives, yearbook style.

Best team: Packers

The Packers have been the best drafting team since 2000, leading the NFL in AV generated among draft picks in that span. They consistently had among the most homegrown players in the NFL during former GM Ted Thompson’s run from 2005-17. And no matter who the GM has been (Thompson or Brian Gutekunst), they’ve had the best QB succession plan in NFL history, drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005 and Jordan Love in 2020, despite having an all-time great QB already on the roster. When Green Bay isn’t drafting its next superstar QB, its nailing a wide receiver in the second round. Here’s the last six: Jayden Reed, Christian Watson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings. The Packers set NFL receiving records for first-or-second-year players in 2023 and have plenty of ammunition in the form of five picks in the first three rounds if they want to give Jordan Love more weapons. 

Best at finding blue chips: Cowboys

How ’bout them Cowboys! America’s Team can’t get out of their own way in the playoffs but they’ve been nailing their top picks in the draft. They’ve drafted an NFL-high 15 Pro Bowlers in the first round since 2000, led by names like DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons. There’s been some close calls though, like in 2014 when Jerry Jones was close to drafting Johnny Manziel instead of Zack Martin. Dallas has the 24th overall pick this year and could use another first-round splash after a lackluster offseason that saw them lose Tony Pollard, Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz, among others. 

Best bargain shoppers: Seahawks

The Seahawks have generated the second-most AV among draft picks outside the first round since 2000, behind only the Packers. They’ve been the best since 2010 when John Schneider became their GM, nailing picks like Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Tyler Lockett, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright and D.K. Metcalf, to name a few. Their 2012 class, headlined by Wagner and Wilson, generated the most AV of any team’s class since 2000. Plus, their stacked draft class in 2022 proves Schneider still has it, as they got Boye Mafe, Kenneth Walker III and Riq Woolen, among others, after Round 1. Seattle will have to make the most of its four picks after the first round in 2024 (81st, 102nd, 179th and 235th overall picks). 

Best slogan: Rams‘ “F them picks” 

Rams’ GM Les Snead famously wore an “F— them picks” shirt during the team’s Super Bowl LIV parade after the team fueled its Super Bowl run by trading picks for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller. The Rams haven’t selected a player in the first round since Jared Goff in 2016 but still have five 10-win seasons, three division titles and a championship since. Their streak of seven straight years without a first-round pick (longest since Washington from 1984-90) should come to an end as they have the 19th overall pick in 2024 and an enormous hole to fill with the retirement of Aaron Donald. Screw the first-rounder though, I’ll be looking out for their fifth-round selection after they drafted Puka Nacua and Kyren Williams there in the previous two years. 

Most changed: Lions

Detroit was the laughingstock of the draft for a long time, and not just in the NFL! In 2003, the Pistons got Darko Milicic with the second pick, while LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade rounded out the top five. In 2006, the Tigers drafted Andrew Miller one pick ahead of Clayton Kershaw. Despite nailing picks like Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, the Lions claim to fame was drafting a WR in the top 10 in three straight drafts from 2003-05 (Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams). It’s been a different story under GM Brad Holmes, who started his tenure in 2021 by taking Penei Sewell seventh overall while later taking Amon-Ra St. Brown, infamously the 17th WR off the board. Holmes drafted Aidan Hutchinson second overall in 2022 and his 2023 class was one of the NFL’s most productive despite controversially taking a running back (Jahmyr Gibbs) and inside linebacker (Jack Campbell) in the first round. Gibbs, Campbell, plus fellow rookies Sam LaPorta and Brian Branch helped Detroit win its first playoff game since 1991. The Lions have six picks in 2024, including the 29th overall selection. They notably added DT D.J. Reader, DE Marcus Davenport and CB Carlton Davis this offseason, but could always use more defense to make a Super Bowl run.

Class clown: Raiders

When it comes to drafting and developing players, no team has been worse than the Raiders since the turn of the century. Their draft picks have produced the least amount of AV of any team since 2000, with notable first-round flops like JaMarcus Russell, Fabian Washington and Darrius Heyward-Bey contributing to that stat. In the mid 2000s they had the pick immediately before Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson came off the board. What a gut punch! Much of the Raiders draft misery came under the late Al Davis, who had a penchant for taking players with incredibly fast 40 times, but it hasn’t been pretty lately either. Las Vegas hasn’t drafted a Pro Bowler since 2019, tied for the longest active drought in the league. It’s hard to believe the Raiders haven’t drafted a QB in the first round since Russell in 2007, but they might need to be aggressive with this QB class considering their current roster.  

Most unforgettable: Bill Belichick

We’ll all miss Bill Belichick’s impact on the 2024 NFL Draft. He was always good for something unforgettable between drafting Tom Brady in 2000, the many surprising draft picks, and his dog stealing the show in 2020. The Patriots needed a new voice though, especially in the draft. The Patriots selected 25 RB, WR and TE since 2011 and none have made a Pro Bowl. Their last to do so was Rob Gronkowski (2010 draft pick), making it the second-longest such drought in the NFL. Only the Jets are longer (2001 Santana Moss) in case you’re wondering. Pressure is on new Patriots GM Eliot Wolf to nail a franchise QB with the third overall pick and then give him some weapons to play with at the aforementioned positions. 

Most predictable: Saints

I realize calling the Saints predictable in the draft might sound crazy considering Mike Ditka traded their entire draft for Ricky Williams in 1999, but they’ve been pretty tame since. You can expect them to beef up in the trenches as they’ve taken an NFL-high eight offensive or defensive lineman in the first round since 2015. A QB would be a much sexier pick but the Saints haven’t done that in the first round since 1971 (Archie Manning), the longest active drought in the NFL. Don’t expect New Orleans to move up though as they only have two picks inside the top 150 this year (14th and 45th). 

Most likely to trade up: Eagles

If anyone is going to pull a trade that gets props from the rest of the league it’s Howie Roseman. The Eagles have traded up in the first round in the last three drafts, coming away with DeVonta Smith, Jordan Davis, and most recently, Jalen Carter. Philadelphia has only two picks in the top 100 this year (22nd and 50th) but need to find a replacement for Jason Kelce

Most likely to be the subject of a 30-for-30: 49ers

San Francisco almost locked in a surefire 30-for-30 film had they beaten the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. They nearly won a title with Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy after having traded three first-round picks to move up for Trey Lance in the previous draft. If that doesn’t sum up the draft, I don’t know what does. The 49ers can reload for another trip to the Super Bowl with 10 picks in 2024, including seven in the fourth round or later. 

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