The best draft classes in NFC West history?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ESPN Stats & Information ranked the 49ers' 1981 draft class as the best since 1967 among current NFC West teams using a formula rewarding points for career milestones.

The formula values only past performance, one reason Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin do not yet qualify among the top 10 draft choices in Cardinals history. This package is available to Insider subscribers, but I'll summarize the NFC West results here:

  • 1981 49ers draft (5th overall): Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson helped make this one of the NFL's best draft classes over the last four decades.

  • 1971 Rams draft (12th): Isiah Robertson and Jack Youngblood were both first-round choices that year.

  • 1971 Cardinals draft (23rd): Dan Dierdorf and Mel Gray enjoyed long and productive careers.

  • 1990 Seahawks draft (26th): Cortez Kennedy and Chris Warren set apart this class.

The formula doesn't differentiate between a player's production for his original team and the success he enjoyed elsewhere. It rewards Super Bowl performances, one reason the 49ers' 1981 class ranked so high. Every team's highest-rated draft qualified for consideration, sometimes at the expense of higher-rated classes from other teams (explaining why the Texans' 2006 draft class ranked 32nd, while the 49ers' 1985 class featuring Jerry Rice didn't make the list).