The Creme De La Creme
The mark of a great draft class is not selecting one all-world talent but rather several very good players. In this class, the Patriots landed 4 players who posted Career AV's over 20 and wound up selecting 2 of the top 10 players from this draft class (Samuel and Koppen) in the 4th and 5th rounds. The Patriots were very active in the trade market in 2003 and entered the draft possessing two first round picks - the #14 pick which they got from Buffalo in exchange for Drew Bledsoe (paving the way for Tom Brady to start) and the #19 pick. The Patriots swapped the 14th pick with Chicago at 13 where they selected Warren and clearly won that trade as Chicago selected DE Michael Haynes (CarAV 8). Possibly the biggest win for the Patriots wasn't even included in this metric and came when they traded away the #19 pick to Baltimore (who drafted Kyle Boller) for the Ravens 2nd round pick and 2004 first rounder. The Patriots used that pick the next year to select Vince Wilfork (CarAV 76, 1 All-Pro, 5 Pro Bowls, 9 year starter). Wilfork's CarAV number was not included with this draft class, but it is important to remember that the Patriots were able to turn out a Top 10 draft class and simultaneously position themselves to select an All-Pro player the next season.
Total CarAV: 271
This is the first of two times the Cardinals appear on this list. Arizona used the #2 overall pick on offensive lineman Leonard Davis who became a 10-year starter and a 3-time Pro Bowler. Unfortunately for Arizona, Davis left in free agency in 2007 and signed in Dallas where he moved from tackle to guard and had his 3 Pro Bowl seasons. Similarly, the Cardinals second round pick (Vanden Bosch) also became a Pro Bowler after he left the desert, reaching 2 Pro Bowls in his first 3 years in Tennessee. Third round pick Adrian Wilson did stay in Arizona for his whole career and was a 5-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro player. All told, the Cardinals selected 3 of the top 20 players from this draft, though only one (Wilson) actually delivered a Pro Bowl season for Arizona. Nevertheless, we can not blame the scouting department or General Manager Bob Ferguson for the team (under General Manager Rod Graves from 2002-2012) for being unable to retain the quality players he drafted.
Total CarAV: 287
The Bears entered the 2003 draft with the #4 selection in the first round, but traded down twice in the first round (with the Jets and Patriots) before finally selecting Michael Haynes with the 14th selection. In doing so, the Bears netted both of the Jets first round picks (#13 and #22) and their 4th round pick (#116) as well as the Patriots 6th round pick (#193). In the end, Chicago exited the draft with the most players (12) of any team as well as the top player from this class (Lance Briggs) who they nabbed in the third round. Both Briggs and second round pick Charles Tillman were All Pro players and have been to 9 total Pro Bowls and both were decade-long starters. The Bears overcame a total bust of a first round pick in Haynes to exit with one of the best draft classes in the decade.
Total CarAV: 290
This draft is best known for producing the receiving corps that brought the Bengals offense out of the dark ages. Say what you will about Ochocinco and TJ Douchemandzadeh, but they combined for nearly 1400 career catches, over 18,000 yards and 111 touchdowns. Much like the 2001 Cardinals, who also had a Top 5 pick in this draft, the Bengals were unable to maximize the value of their top pick as Justin Smith did not become a Pro Bowl player until he left for San Francisco in 2008 where he became an anchor for the 49ers 3-4 front. In his own right, Rudi Johnson was a very good running back for the Benglas and the offensive skill players from this draft laid the groundwork for the team that Carson Palmer would take over in 2003.
Total CarAV: 291
I would challenge you to find any team in this entire decade that had as good of a first three rounds as Arizona had in 2004. All three of the players they selected have started every year of their career with two becoming Pro Bowlers (Fitz and Dockett, though you could argue that Dansby should have been a Pro Bowler at some point too). Dockett and Dansby became anchors on the interior of the Cardinals defense while Fitz has had to struggle through some horrendous quarterback play, he was arguably the best receiver in the league while Kurt Warner was under center. Antonio Smith was a starter on the Cardinals team that went to the Super Bowl in 2008 but left for Houston in Free Agency in 2009 where he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011 playing opposite rookie JJ Watt.
Total CarAV: 299
The 2000 New York Jets have the disticntion of being the only team in NFL history to have four selections in the first round of the draft. The Jets entered the draft with four first round selections: their own pick (18th), two they acquired from Tampa Bay (13th and 27th) in exchange for Keyshawn Johnson and the 12th overall selection, and the Patriots first rounder (16th) which the Jets received in exchange for head coach Bill Belichick. The Jets would execute a draft-day trade with the 49ers to move up from 16th to 12th. To their credit, the Jets made the most of two of these picks, landing All Pro DE John Abraham and Pro Bowler Shaun Ellis, both of whom were decade-long starters. The Jets were the only team to select a quarterback in the first round, taking what many deemed as the best signal-caller available in Chad Pennington, who wound up being the third best quarterback in the draft behind 6th rounders Marc Bulger and......Tom Brady. The Jets also landed the second best WR from this draft in Laveraneus Coles in the 3rd round.
Total CarAV: 300
This is the third team from the 2001 draft appearing on this list, which should be an indication of just how good that draft class was. The Chargers entered 2001 with the top pick but were unable to work out a contract with Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick, so they pulled the trigger on a trade with the Falcons, landing the 5th overall pick, Atlanta's third round pick and 2002 second rounder. The Chargers had traded away their 3rd round pick in this draft the prior year, so getting back into the third round was a good move for San Diego. However, it was really what the Chargers did with their first two picks that defined this draft. With the #5 selection they took explosive running back LaDanian Tomlinson who became a 3-time All Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler and 10-year starter. They added to the Tomlinson selection by taking Drew Brees in the second round, netting GM John Butler the two best players from this draft class. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they would find themselves back in the same position a few years later. Eventually, GM AJ Smith would under-offer Brees, prompting him to leave for New Orleans in Free Agency where he would become an All-Pro in his first season and reach 7 Pro Bowls in 8 years.
Total CarAV: 306
The 2004 Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in the league, but they were fortunate enough to have two first round picks in 2005 after acquiring Buffalo's pick in a trade for their first rounder the year before. Dallas used their 3 selections in the Top 50 to revamp their front 7, drafting 3 players that would play in over 100 games. They added two more defenders that would anchor their front seven in Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff in the later rounds of the draft. The 2005 draft marked a watershed for Dallas' pass rush and they became one of the better defenses in the league over the second half of the decade, anchored by 4-time All Pro DeMarcus Ware.
Total CarAV: 314
The Saints laid the groundwork for their Super Bowl Championship in the 2006 offseason. They started by signing QB Drew Brees and followed with one of the best drafts of the decade. The 2006 draft is notorious for the "busts" at the top of the draft - most notably Vince Young and Matt Leinart, and even though Reggie Bush never reached his full potential with New Orleans, he still played a role in their eventual championship team. Furthermore, the Saints found small school steals in tackle-to-guard conversion project Jahri Evans out of Bloomsburg and WR Marques Colson from Hofstra. Evans actually rates as the best player from this draft and was an All-Pro for 4 straight seasons from 2009-2012. Colston actually ranks as the 6th best player from this draft and Bush as the 10th, meaning that in addition to adding Drew Brees, GM Mickey Loomis drafted 3 of the top 10 players from this draft class.
Total CarAV: 378
The best draft of the 2000s actually should score even better because it counts Eli Manning's CarAV of 89 instead of Philip Rivers' CarAV of 107. With Rivers included, this draft class would have a total CarAV of 396, blowing away any other draft class from this decade. For reference, the Steelers 1974 Draft Class (commonly thought of as the best ever as the Steelers landed 4 Hall of Famers) had a total CarAV of 441. The 2004 Chargers class (counting Rivers instead of Manning) has an outside shot of surpassing that number if Rivers can put together 4-5 more high quality seasons. The two examples of the Chargers on this list should be evidence that great draft classes can be had if the team trades out of the #1 overall pick. In fact, 3 of the 10 teams on this list had selections in the Top 4 and traded down. This year was essentially a redux of 2001 where Eli Manning publicly stated before the draft that he refused to play in San Diego. The Chargers picked him any way with the top pick and promptly traded him to the Giants for 4th pick Philip Rivers and 3 other picks. The Chargers turned the Giants 3rd round pick into kicker Nate Kaeding, who would have an All-Pro season. The Chargers used this draft class to totally rebuild their team and were able to become competitors based on the foundation they laid in the 2004 draft. Unfortunately for them, GM AJ Smith's thrifty ways (which played a role in Brees' departure two years later) would come back to bite them in the end as player after player departed in free agency because the Chargers refused to pay them.
Bottom of the Barrel
Total CarAV: 39
The 2000 Oakland Raiders had their first winning season since moving back to Oakland and reached the AFC Championship game where they fell to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Ravens. The Raiders made a few trades in the later rounds, trading their 4th round pick to St Louis for a reserve tight end, but on the whole this was just a bad draft class. There really wasn't a failing of management to put the team behind the 8 ball in this draft (which we will see as we move up these rankings), they just made terrible selections. Second round pick Marques Tuiasosopo is now more famous for being involved in Catfishing Manti Te'o than for anything he did on the football field. The Raiders had enough talent on their roster to ride out this bad draft for a few years (and even reached the 2002 Super Bowl), but the misses in this draft caught up with them and after they felt the salary cap pinch after their AFC Championship, the team lacked the depth on the roster to recover. The Raiders have not had a winning season since that 2002 year with the high-water mark being their 8-8 campaigns in 2010 and 2011.
Total CarAV: 37
The Redskins landed a fantastic player in Brian Orakpo who has been to 3 Pro Bowls in his 5 years in the league. The problem with this draft is that the rest of their selections have given Washington absolutely nothing. The Redskins traded away their second round pick for defensive end Jason Taylor from Miami. Taylor played only 1 season (starting only 8 games) for Washington in 2008 before going back to Miami in Free Agency. The Redskins had also traded away their 4th round pick to the Jets for guard Pete Kendell in 2007 who played two good seasons for the Redskins but was off their roster by the time the 2009 draft rolled around. This made two 2009 draft picks that the Redskins traded away that were no longer on their roster by the time the 2009 draft took place. One of the themes of the 10 worst drafts of the decade is that teams mortgaged their futures to make big trades or big moves up in previous drafts. While a 2nd and a 4th round pick aren't a huge price to pay, the Redskins have obviously had issues with defensive depth over the last few seasons, despite using most of this draft on defensive players.
Total CarAV: 37
Tampa Bay gave up their first and second round picks in 2002 (as well as their 2003 1st, 2004 2nd and $8 million) to the Raiders for the coaching services of Jon Gruden. One could argue that the move paid off as Gruden led the 2002 Buccaneers to a win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden's first draft class with the Bucs was nothing spectacular, but the team was already so loaded that they still won the Super Bowl despite the terrible draft class (outside of 5th rounder Jermaine Phillips). Much like the Redskins 2009 draft, the Bucs landed one good player and got basically zero value from the rest of this draft class.
Total CarAV: 35
The Falcons pulled off a 3-team trade in 2006 to land defensive end John Abraham who had been given the franchise tag by the Jets. The Falcons sent their first round pick to the Broncos who gave their first round pick to the Jets in exchange for the Jets sending Abraham to Atlanta. Even though the Falcons had a poor draft class in 2006, Abraham played 7 seasons and had 68.5 sacks and had a Career Approximate Value of 62 during his time with the Falcons, almost double the value of this entire draft class. At the end of the day, only one defensive end from the 2006 class (Tamba Hali) has a better CarAV than Abraham had with the Falcons, so this is one of the rare instances where trading away a first round pick actually worked out. The Falcons did get a little trade-happy on draft day when they sent their 2nd, 3rd and 5th round pick to Green Bay for the Packers 2nd and 5th in order to move up to take Jimmy Williams, who never materialized as a starter. The Packers used the Falcons 2nd rounder to take OT Darren Colledge (CarAV 52, 8-year starter).
Total CarAV: 34
In 2008, GM Phil Savage was entering his 4th year as Browns GM which was the longest anyone had held the post since 1992. The Browns signed Savage to a 4-year extension before the 2008 season and promptly fired him in December after they went 4-12. The Browns didn't have a selection until the 4th round of the 2008 draft. Savage traded away their first round pick the previous year in order to move up in the 2007 draft to select Brady Quinn. In an attempt to rebuild his defensive front, Savage traded his 2008 second rounder to the Packers for DT Corey Williams who played just 2 seasons for the Browns and his third rounder (along with CB Leigh Bodden) to the Lions for Shaun Rogers. In the 4th round, the Browns traded up (again with Dallas) giving up their 4th and 5th round picks. Inexplicably, the Browns then traded away their 2009 third rounder to the Cowboys (again!) to get back into the 2008 4th round. The only reason the Browns 2008 draft rates this highly is because they nabbed Ahtyba Rubin in the 6th round (in a pick they got for sending Charlie Frye to Seattle. Savage wasn't quite done though - he sent a 2009 5th rounder to the Eagles to get back the 6th round pick he had given them for center Hank Fraley. When the dust settled, Savage had dealt away 6 of his 2008 picks and 2 of the Browns 2009 picks along with QB Charlie Frye and CB Leigh Bodden for Brady Quinn, Shaun Rogers, Corey Williams and a draft class that netted only two players of value and only one that would become a starter.
Total CarAV: 33
Jacksonville's struggle to find a pass rush is now reaching half a decade, partially because of the utter failure of the 2008 draft. The first mistake the Jaguars made was to trade away 4 picks (a 1st, two 3rds, and a 4th) to move up from 26th to 8th to take Harvey, the athletically gifted pass rusher out of Florida. One of the 3rd round picks the Jaguars traded away was one they had acquired from Buffalo in exchange for DT Marcus Stroud (who started 45 games in 3 seasons with Buffalo). At the time, Harvey was considered the second best pass rusher in the class behind Ohio State's Vernon Gholston, but both proved to be busts. On the whole, 2008 was a disappointing class of pass rushers. From this class, only Groves is still in the league, and in order to take him the Jaguars traded up (sending Tampa a 2nd, 5th and 2009 7th). The Jaguars accepted a trade down in the 5th round so that Dallas could trade up to take DB Orlando Scandrick (CarAV15, 88 games played) who drastically out-performed Trae Williams who Jacksonville took later in the round. The Jaguars traded away their 6th round pick to the Vikings for WR Troy Williamson who started only 2 games in 2 seasons and had 8 receptions for the Jaguars. At the end of the day, this draft serves as a warning against making big moves up the board (as Jacksonville did in the 1st round - moving up 18 spots, and in the 2nd round - 6 spots).
Total CarAV: 32
Dallas mortgaged their future in an attempt to win now in 2000, trading two first round picks (2000 and 2001) to Seattle for WR Joey Galloway. Galloway played in only 1 game in 2000 and only had 2300 yards receiving in 4 seasons with the Cowboys. The Seahawks used Dallas' first round pick to select RB Shaun Alexander, who would become the centerpiece of their offense. The Cowboys also dealt their 3rd round pick to Seattle for WR James McKnight who posted 926 yards and 2 TDs in 1 season with Dallas. All told, the Cowboys traded two first round picks (that became Shaun Alexander and Koren Robinson) and a third round pick (that became Darrell Jackson) for Galloway and McKnight. Dallas got a combined 94 games, 203 receptions, 3267 yards and 14 TDs from Galloway and McKnight wile Jackson alone was a 7-year starter who had 499 receptions, 7132 yards and 51 TDs. The Cowboys only drafted one player in 2000 who would become a starter, easily making this one of the worst drafts of the decade.
Total CarAV: 29
For as good as the Chargers were in the 2001 and 2004 drafts, their 2008 slate was equally as bad. The Chargers were coming off a 2007 campaign where they won the AFC West by 4 games and lost in the AFC Championship game to the undefeated Patriots. Halfway through the season they executed a trade with Miami for WR Chris Chambers in which Miami got the Chargers second round pick in 2008. The Chargers were also without a 3rd round pick (traded away during the 2007 draft to move up for Eric Weddle) and 4th round pick (used to select DB Paul Oliver in the 2007 Supplemental Draft). Even if Oliver's CarAV of 9 is added to this draft class, the 2008 Chargers would still find themselves on this list (though in 9th place instead of 3rd). The Chargers best player from this draft, Antoine Cason, has only been the 51st best player despite being the 27th overall pick. The worst move came in the third round when San Diego traded their 5th round pick and 2009 second rounder to New England to move up to take LSU RB Jacob Hester. The next running back off the board was Jamaal Charles, the 10th best player from the 2008 draft class. In the end, San Diego mortgaged this draft to try to acquire players for the 2007 season then turned around and mortgaged their 2009 draft (which was only salvaged by their selection of All Pro guard Louis Vasquez in the 3rd round) in order to move up to take Hester.
Total CarAV: 29
Remember the awesome draft the Cowboys had in 2005? Part of their ability to revamp their front 7 came from securing Buffalo's 2005 first rounder in a 2004 trade. The Bills traded 2 picks in 2004 and their 2005 first rounder to Dallas in order to draft QB JP Losman. Without a first round pick, the Bills had only 6 picks in 2005 and got zero value out of half of them. A year after picking WR Lee Evans in the first round, they selected Roscoe Parrish with their first pick, passing on Vincent Jackson. Only one of the Bills selections from this draft became a primary starter, and that was only for one season. The Bills have not had a winning season since selecting this draft class.
Total CarAV: 18
Jerry Jones finds his way on to this list once again. Amazingly, Dallas had more selections (12) than anyone else in this draft, but did not make a pick in the first two rounds after trading their first round pick to Detroit for WR Roy Williams (who they would release in 2011) and trading their second round pick to Buffalo for the Bills 3rd and 4th round picks. In a draft that produced 42 multi-year starters after the Top 70 picks, Dallas managed to draft none of them. Arguably, Dallas would have been much better served to not trade away their top two picks and would have had their choice of Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt in the first round if they wanted a wide receiver (or Clay Matthews if they wanted a pass rusher opposite Ware). At the end of the day, Jerry Jones trying to make a big splashes in free agency by trading for wide receivers is never a good idea.