It is the wish of every general manager and coaching staff to land Hall of Fame talent in a NFL Draft. Every now and again, such players rise above the rest and have great careers that lead to them being mentioned among the best to ever lace up a pair of football cleats. The modern day NFL Draft is now a media circus, an event that is featured on multiple television stations for hours upon hours.
This list serves as a reminder that it is how those draftees perform on the field that matters most. Follow along as we break down the 10 NFL draft years that yielded the most Hall of Fame players.
10. 1985 NFL Draft: 4 Hall of Famers
No disrespect meant to classes that had five Hall of Fame players, but it would be downright criminal to leave the ’85 Draft off of this list. Plenty of drafts throughout football history have contained to-be greats that were eventually enshrined in Canton.
The 1985 NFL Draft was responsible for two of the best football players to ever take the field.
Bruce Smith remains, to this day, the prototypical defensive end, and there hasn’t yet been another man to play the position as he did. Smith is still the only player in NFL history to record 200 official sacks, and he was twice named Defensive Player of the Year.
Just the name Jerry Rice speaks for itself. 13 Pro Bowls. Ten times a first-team All-Pro. Rice is the greatest wide receiver to ever live, and there may never be another like him.
9. 1974 NFL Draft: 5 Hall of Famers
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a historic and downright ridiculous draft class in ’74, leading to the Steelers becoming the NFL team of the decade. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were a dominant duo at the wide receiver position. Linebacker Jack Lambert was a cornerstone of one of the best defenses to ever take the field. Center Mike Webster was a steal as a fifth-round pick.
Books and television specials have been dedicated to teams that were partially built by this draft. Lost in the shuffle a bit is wide receiver Dave Casper. Casper was a first-team All-Pro on four occasions, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame First Team All-1970s Team.
8. 1981 NFL Draft: 6 Hall of Famers
Three of the greatest defensive football players to ever suit up in the NFL were found in the top 38 picks of this draft. Lawrence Taylor, the second overall selection, changed the way linebackers are viewed and evaluated. Ronnie Lott could play and star anywhere in the secondary. Linebacker Mike Singletary is up there with the best second-round picks in league history
In the greatness tier just beneath those three sits defensive end Howie Long. Linebacker Rickey Jackson, taken in the second round, is one of the most talented players to ever feature for the New Orleans Saints. He started in 225 of 227 of the games he played while with the club, and he had 128 career sacks and 1,173 career tackles. Offensive guard Russ Grimm, grabbed by the Washington Redskins with the 69th pick, was thrice a first-time All-Pro.
7. 1953 NFL Draft: 7 Hall of Famers
Patience was the name of the game in the ’53 NFL Draft. Of the six Hall of Fame players taken in the draft, Doug Atkins was the only first-round selection among them. Two, center Jim Ringo and linebacker Joe Schmidt, weren’t taken until the seventh round.
Tackle Rosey Brown is widely considered to be one of the greatest sleeper-picks in pro football history. Taken by the New York Giants with the 321st overall selection, Brown developed into a six-time first-team All-Pro. He was named to the Pro Bowl on nine occasions, and Brown was also a NFL Championship with the Giants.
6. 1968 NFL Draft: 7 Hall of Famers
When an offensive lineman is taken first overall, he has to prove that he was a better choice than any skill player that was on the board. Tackle Ron Yary did not let the Minnesota Vikings down. Yary became a mainstay on the Minnesota line two seasons into this career, and he remained in that role up through the end of the 1981 season. He was a first-team All-Pro each season from 1971 through 1976.
Defensive end Claude Humphrey, taken third overall by the Atlanta Falcons, won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, and he was a six-time Pro Bowler. Larry Csonka (eighth overall) won the MVP Award for Super Bowl VIII, and he was the 1979 AP Comeback Player of the Year.
5. 1983 NFL Draft: 7 Hall of Famers
The ’83 NFL Draft will forever be remembered for all of the drama surrounding where quarterback John Elway, who didn’t want to play for the Baltimore Colts, would end up. Somewhat lost in history is that six first round picks from that year went on to be Hall of Famers; an all-time great running back in Eric Dickerson, an all-time great offensive lineman in Bruce Matthews, and also Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, two of the greatest quarterbacks who never won a single Super Bowl.
Don’t forget about Richard Dent. Dent, snatched by the Chicago Bears with the 203rd pick, had 137.5 total career sacks in 15 seasons as a NFL player. His best year came in 1985 when, as a member of that historic Bears defense, Dent had 17 regular season sacks and also the only defensive touchdown of his pro career.
4. 1961 NFL Draft: 7 Hall of Famers
Football fans born in the 70s and 80s will remember Mike Ditka for the time he spent as a head coach. He was also a tremendous player in his day. Ditka made it to five Pro Bowls at a time when tight ends were used much differently than they are utilized in the modern NFL. He was the first tight end to ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The two biggest names, outside of Ditka, from this class to make it to Canton are Fran Tarkenton and Deacon Jones. Tarkenton was a quarterback decades before his time, the Russell Wilson and Johnny Manziel of his day who is eighth all-time in career passing yards and sixth all-time in career passing touchdowns. Jones was one of the greatest defensive ends in the history of pro football, an eight-time Pro Bowl choice and a five-time first-team All-Pro.
3. 1967 NFL Draft: 8 Hall of Famers
Of the eight Hall of Fame players taken in ’67, four were selected in the first round. Guard Gene Upshaw could have been the best of the entire bunch. Upshaw made it to seven Pro Bowls from 1968 through 1977, and he was a five-time first-team All-Pro. He played for the Raiders until he ended his playing days after the 1981 campaign. Upshaw had 207 regular season starts, and he made 217 appearances for the club.
Safety Ken Houston was an absolute steal at the 214th pick. Houston, who spent the first half of his career with the Houston Oilers before moving to the Washington Redskins, made it to every Pro Bowl from 1968 through 1979. He remains fourth all-time in interceptions returned for touchdowns.
2. 1957 NFL Draft: 9 Hall of Famers
If ranking on quality and not quantity, you could easily put this class at the top of the list. It all begins with Jim Brown, the greatest running back of all time and arguably the greatest professional football player to ever live. Along with Brown, the Cleveland Browns also acquired defensive tackle Henry Jordan and guard Gene Hickerson in this draft.
Yes, the Browns actually did once have front office members who knew how to properly handle drafts.
The Green Bay Packers hit on a four-time NFL Champion and a MVP with the first overall pick in Paul Hornung. Don Maynard would prove to be the best value get of this draft. Maynard, rejected by the New York Giants after being drafted by the club in the ninth round, was a hit in the AFL for the New York Titans/Jets. Maynard won AFL and NFL Championships, and he was named to the AFL First Team All-1960s Team.
1. 1964 NFL Draft: 10 Hall of Famers
The ’64 NFL Draft had a little bit of everything. Two players selected by the Cleveland Browns, wide receiver Paul Warfield and running back Leroy Kelly, were members of this class (it’s amazing those Browns teams didn’t win more than they did, but I digress). The Dallas Cowboys were responsible for three Hall of Fame players from this draft.
Track athlete and speedster Mel Renfro, who featured at cornerback and at safety for the Cowboys, was the 17th overall pick. Wide receiver Bob Hayes was taken 88th overall. Last, but certainly not least, is quarterback Roger Staubach. Staubach, the 129th pick of the draft, won two Super Bowl championships while with the Cowboys.