The top 10 NFL draft classes

With the NFL draft on tap next week, what better time to review the top 10 drafts in NFL history.

Players are ultimately judged by election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that’s the main criteria for this exercise. It’s difficult to rate and rank recent drafts, since many of those players – at least the good ones – are still active and years from Hall of Fame eligibility. Here’s the SL top 10:

1. 1957 – Green Bay selected Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung of Notre Dame with the first overall pick. Len Dawson (5th), Jimmy Brown (6th), right, and Jim Parker (8th) were also first rounders and Hall of Famers. In all, eight eventual Hall of Famers were picked, including Tommy McDonald in the third round, Sonny Jurgensen in the fourth, Henry Jordan in the fifth and Gene Hickerson in the seventh. Cleveland had three Hall of Fame picks in Brown, generally considered the best running back in history, Jordan, a defensive tackle, and Hickerson, who played offensive guard. Jordan played two years with the Browns before being traded to the Packers. Jon Arnett, John Brodie and Ron Kramer, standouts in their own right, were the second, third and fourth overall selections.

2. 1967 – This class also had eight Hall of Famers, four of them — Bob Griese, Floyd Little, Alan Page and Gene Upshaw – going in the first round. Ken Houston, Willie Lanier, Lem Barney and Rayfield Wright were the other HOFers in this draft class. Bubba Smith was the first overall pick, and other notables included Gene Washington, John Gilliam and Rick Volk. The classes of 1957 and 1967 have more Hall of Fame inductees than any others in NFL history.

3. 1983 – The greatest quarterback class ever. Hall of Famers John Elway, #1 overall, Jim Kelly (14th) and Dan Marino (27th) were all drafted in the first round, along with Todd Blackledge (7th), Tony Eason (15th) and Ken O’Brien (27th). HOFers Eric Dickerson (2nd), Bruce Matthews (9th) and Darnell Green,(28th) were also drafted in the first round. In total, a record six Hall of Famers were picked in round one. Richard Dent, another Hall of Famer, went in the eighth round.

4. 1974 – Pittsburgh built a dynasty with this draft, as wide receiver Lynn Swann (1st round), left, linebacker Jack Lambert (2nd), wide receiver John Stallworth (4th) and center Mike Webster (5th) were all eventually enshrined in Canton. Dave Casper of Oakland was drafted in the second round.

5. 1968: There weren’t a ton of iconic stats in this class, but there were six Hall of Famers – Elvin Bethea, Art Shell, Ron Yary, Charlie Sanders, Curley Culp and Larry Csonka. Ron Yary was the first overall pick, and Ken Stabler, Claude Humphrey and Harold Jackson were also 1968 class members.

6. 1981 – The Giants picked linebacker Lawrence Taylor second overall after the Saints selected running back George Rogers. Taylor and San Francisco first round pick safety Ronnie Lott were Hall of Famers, along with defenders Mike Singletary, Howie Long and Rickey Jackson, all picked in round two, and offensive guard Russ Grimm, a third-round selection. Perhaps the greatest defensive draft class ever.

7. 1989 – This top-heavy draft saw four Hall of Fame players selected in the first five picks – Troy Aikman (1st), Barry Sanders (3rd), Derrick Thomas (4th) and Deion Sanders (5th). Lem Barney and Willie Lanier, both second-round selections, are now enshrined in Canton as well.

8. 1964 – Bob Brown, Charley Taylor, Carl Eller and Paul Warfield were drafted in round one, Mel Renfro and Paul Krause in round two.

1952 – Les Richter, Ollie Matson, Huge McElheney and Frank Gifford were first-round selections and Gino Marchetti, right, was the first pick in round two. Marchetti and Matson played together at the University of San Francisco in 1951 before the Dons dropped football. A third member of that team, offensive tackle Bob St. Clair who passed away this week, was drafted in 1953. No other college football team ever had three future Pro Football Hall of Famers on the roster at the same time.

10. 1961 – Mike Ditka, Jimmy Johnson, Herb Adderley and Bob Lilly all went in the first round. Scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton was top pick in round three.

Recent vintage drafts

1992 – Four Hall of Famers were drafted — Willie Roaf and Jerome Bettis in round one, Michael Strahan in round two and Will Shields in round three.

1995 – Tampa Bay had two HOF picks in the first round, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Running back Curtis Martin went to New England in round three.

1998 – Peyton Manning was the first overall pick by Indianapolis. Charles Woodson went number four overall. Ryan Leaf, number two overall, was a huge bust.

2004 – Eli Manning went first overall to San Diego, then was shipped to the Giants for Philip Rivers. A third quarterback, Ben Rothelsberger, went 11th overall to Pittsburgh.

2007 – Some solid first round picks, including Calvin Johnson (2nd overall), Joe Thomas (3rd), Adrian Peterson (7th) and Marshawn Lynch (12th). All have worked out good. The first overall pick JaMarcus Russell by Oakland — not so good.

2011 – Cam Newton (1st), AJ Green (4th), Julio Jones (6th) and JJ Watt (11th) were starry first-round picks in this class.

The first draft

The first NFL draft was held in 1936. Hall of Fame tackle Joe Stydahar was picked by the Bears in the first round, #6 overall. Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans (2nd round), Wayne Millner Boston Redskins (8th) and Dan Fortmann (9th) were the other future Hall of Famers from this inaugural class.

The first overall pick that year was Jay Berwanger, the University of Chicago halfback and winner of the first Heisman Trophy. Berwanger was picked by the Eagles, who traded his rights to the Bears. However owner and coach George Halas could not convince Berwanger to sign with Chicago. He reputedly wanted $1,000 per game.

Berwanger later expressed regret that he did not accept Halas’ offer. After graduating, Berwanger worked briefly as a sportswriter (reputedly he wrote one of the first blogs) and later became a manufacturer of plastic car parts. He was very modest about the Heisman, and used the trophy as a doorstop in his library.

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New York athletes by the numbers

Over the years, New York athletes have worn some of the most famous numbers in all of sports. Icons like Babe Ruth (#3), Lou Gehrig (#4) and Joe DiMaggio (#5) sit atop a long and storied list of Yankees, who will have retired all single digit numbers as soon as they get around to Derek Jeter (#2). Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson wore #42, which has now been retired by major league baseball. Willie Mays wore #24 when he roamed center field for the New York Giants.

And there are so many more. Legends such as Lawrence Taylor (#56) with the New York Football Giants, Joe Namath (#12) with the Jets, Walt Frazier (#10) with the Knicks and Wayne Gretzky (#99) with the Rangers, just to name a few.

As you might expect, since there are more players per team and higher numbers in football, the Giants top our list of top New York athletes by number with 36. Every team is represented, even the Giants and Dodgers, who left New York for California in 1958. There are 21 Yankees, 16 Jets, 7 Mets, 6 Knicks, 5 Rangers, 3 Dodgers and Nets, 2 Devils and an Islander and baseball Giant on the list. If you’re counting with me that adds up to 101, with Casey Stengel (#37) getting the nod as both Yankee and Met manager.

Here are the top New York players by number from 0-99, with other candidates also listed. Competition was tough in some spots, most notably #10, where Walt Frazier edged out Pele, Eli Manning, Phil Rizzuto and Fran Tarkenton, and #42, where Mariano Rivera and Charlie Conerly failed to make the cut.

The New York numbers list:

0 – Orlando Woolridge (Nets)

Shane Larkin

1 – Pee Wee Reese (Dodgers)

Eddie Giacomin, Billy Martin, Earle Combs

2 – Derek Jeter (Yankees)

Brian Leetch

3 – Babe Ruth (Yankees)

Bill Terry, Harry Howell, Ken Daneyko

4 – Lou Gehrig (Yankees)

Mel Ott, Duke Snider, Tuffy Leemans, Scott Stevens

5 – Joe DiMaggio (Yankees)

Denis Potvin, David Wright

6 – Joe Torre (Yankees)

Tony Lazzeri, Carl Furillo

7 – Mickey Mantle (Yankees)

Mel Hein, Rod Gilbert, Ken O’Brien, Carmelo Anthony

8 – Yogi Berra (Yankees)

Bill Dickey, Walt Bellamy, Gary Carter

9 – Richie Guerin (Knicks)

Roger Maris, Graig Nettles, Andy Bathgate, Adam Graves, Clark Gillies, Hank Bauer, Charlie Keller

10 – Walt Frazier (Knicks)

Pele, Eli Manning, Phil Rizzuto, Fran Tarkenton, Brad van Pelt

11 – Mark Messier (Rangers)

Carl Hubbell, Lefty Gomez, Phil Simms

12 – Joe Namath (Jets)

Dick Barnett

13 – Don Maynard (Jets)

Alex Rodriguez, Mark Jackson, Odell Beckham, Dave Jennings

14 – Gil Hodges (Dodgers)

YA Tittle, Bill Skowron

15 – Thurman Munson (Yankees)

Red Ruffing, Earl Monroe, Dick Mcguire, Jeff Hostetler, John McLean

16 – Frank Gifford (Giants)

Whitey Ford, Dwight Gooden

17 – Keith Hernandez (Mets)

Vic Raschi

18 – Darryl Strawberry (Mets)

Don Larsen, Phil Jackson

19 – Willis Reed (Knicks)

Bryan Trottier, Dave Righetti, Jean Ratelle

20 –Allan Houston (Knicks)

Jorge Posada, Monte Irvin, Jimmy Patton, Joe Morris

21 – Paul O’Neill (Yankees)

Tiki Barber

22 – Mike Bossy (Islanders)

Dave DeBusschere, Allie Reynolds, Dick Lynch

23 – Don Mattingly (Yankees)

Bobby Nystrom

24 – Willie Mays (Giants)

Bill Bradley, Derrell Revis, Robinson Cano, Ottis Anderson

25 – Bill Mclchionni (Nets)

Dick Nolan, Jason Giambi, Joe Pepitone, Bill Cartwright, Mark Collins

26 – Patrik Elias (Devils)

Wade Boggs, Orlando Hernandez

27 – Rodney Hampton (Giants)

Scott Niedermayer, Alexi Kovalev

28 – Curtis Martin (Jets)

Al Leiter

29 – Catfish Hunter (Yankees)

Alex Webser

30 – Martin Brodeur (Devils)

Bernard King, Henrik Lundqvist, Dave Meggett, Eddie Lopat, John Davidson

31 – Dave Winfield (Yankees)

John Franco, Mike Piazza, Billy Smith

32 – Julius Erving (Nets)

Elston Howard, Sandy Koufax, Al Blozis

33 – Patrick Ewing (Knicks)

David Wells

34 – Charles Oakley (Knicks)

John Vanbiesbrouck, Don Chandler

35—Mike Richter (Rangers)

Mike Mussina

36 – David Cone (Yankees)

Jerry Koosman

37 – Casey Stengel (Yankees/Mets)

38 – Bob Tucker (Giants)

Johnny Blanchard

39 – Roy Campanella (Dodgers)

40 – Joe Morrison

Lindy McDaniel, Mark Pavelich

41 – Tom Seaver (Mets)

Matt Snell

42 –Jackie Robinson (Dodgers)

Mariano Rivera, Charlie Conerly

43 – Spider Lockhart (Giants)

Jeff Nelson

44 – Reggie Jackson (Yankees)

John Riggins, Ahmad Bradshaw

45 – Emlen Tunnell (Giants)

Tug McGraw, John Franco

46 – Andy Pettitte (Yankees)

Bill Baird

47 – Luis Arroyo (Yankees)

48 – Jacob deGrom (Mets)

Andy Pafko, Kenny Hill, Bobby Humphrey

49 – Ron Guidry (Yankees)

Erich Barnes

50 – Ken Strong (Giants)

51 – Bernie Williams (Yankees)

52– Buck Williams (Nets)

Jon Schmitt, CC Sabathia

53 – Harry Carson (Giants)

Don Drysdale

54 – Goose Gossage (Yankees)

55—Hideki Matsui (Yankees)

Ray Wietecha

56 –Lawrence Taylor (Giants)

57 – Johan Santana (Mets)

John Wetteland, Mo Lewis

58 – Carl Banks (Giants)

59 – Kyle Clifton (Giants)

Michael Boley

60 – Larry Grantham (Jets)

D’Brickeshaw Ferguson, Brad Benson

61 – Rick Nash (Rangers)

62 – Al Atkinson (Jets)

Joba Chamberlain, Carl Hagelin

63 – Karl Nelson (Giants)

64 – Jim Burt (Giants)

65 – Joe Fields (Jets)

Bart Oates

66 – Jack Stroud (Giants)

David Diehl, Randy Rasmussen

67 – Dave Herman (Jets)

Bill Ard, Kareem McKenzie

68 – Kevin Mawae (Jets)

Jaromir Jagr,Dellin Betances

69 – Rich Seubert (Giants)

70 – Sam Huff (Giants)

Leonard Marshall

71 – Dave Tollefson (Giants)

72 – Ose Umenyiora (Giants)

73 – Joe Klecko (Jets)

74 – Nick Mangold (Jets)

75 – George Martin (Giants)

Jim Katcavage, Winston Hill

76 – Rosey Grier (Giants)

Jumbo Elliott, Chris Snee

77 – Phil Esposito (Rangers)

Dick Modzelewski

78 – Jerome Salley (Giants)

Marvin Powell

79 – Roosevelt Brown (Giants)

80 – Victor Cruz (Giants)

John Elliott, Wayne Chrebet, Jeremy Shockey

81 – Andy Robustelli (Giants)

Amani Toomer, Gerry Philbin

82 – Mario Manningham (Giants)

Mark Ingram

83 – George Sauer (Jets)

84 – Harland Svare (Giants)

Zeke Mowatt

85 – Del Shofner (Giants)

Wesley Walker

86 – Verlon Bigggs (Jets)

Lionel Manuel

87 – Howard Cross (Giants)

Pete Lammons, Domenik Hixon

88 – Al Toon (Jets)

Pat Summerall, Eric Lindros

89 – Mark Bavaro (Giants)

90 – Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)

Dennis Byrd

91 – Justin Tuck (Giants)

John Tavares

92 – Michael Strahan (Giants)

93 – Marty Lyons (Jets)

94 – John Abraham (Jets)

95 – Frank Ferrera (Giants)

96 – Barry Cofield (Giants)

97 – Mathias Kiwanuka (Giants)

98 – Jesse Armstead (Giants)

Fred Robbins

99 – Wayne Gretzky (Rangers)

Mark Gastineau, Steve DeOssie