The premise of this project is not to identify the best NFL players to be drafted in recent seasons, but instead to identify the 32 best prospects to come out in the past five years. In other words, if I had to rank all of the players I've evaluated in the past five draft classes with zero benefit of knowing what they went on to become in the NFL, what would that ranking look like?
I developed this ranking by ordering my final player grades for each of the past five years. This required a little after-the-fact subjectivity, as comparing guys with the same grades from different seasons can be tricky, but I put myself on the honor system and tried to do my best to remember how I felt about prospects at the time they were coming out.
Here is my Top 32 of the past five draft classes, including each prospect's grade and notes from the scouting reports from when they were coming out.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (2012)
Then: I gave Luck the highest grade of any player I've ever evaluated, as he was as close to a can't-miss prospect as you could get. "Rare grasp of the offense. ... Ideal mental and physical toughness. ... Short-to-intermediate anticipation and accuracy are outstanding. ... Other QB prospects are faster and more dangerous but few have better pocket presence."
Now: Luck was selected No. 1 overall in 2012 and is entering his third season as the Colts' starting quarterback and coming off back-to-back postseason appearances. He's been a top-11 finisher in ESPN Total QBR each season, and looks well on his way to becoming a star quarterback at the NFL level.
2. Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M (2011)
Then: Miller was my top-ranked player in the 2011 class. "An explosive speed rusher off the edge. ... Closing burst is exceptional and is relentless getting to QB. ... Possesses explosive power in the upper body [and] very good overall range [versus the run]."
Now: Miller was the No. 2 overall pick by the Broncos in 2011, and he got off to an excellent start to his career, recording a combined 30 sacks, eight forced fumbles and one interception through his first two seasons. He was suspended six games to begin the 2013 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and was then lost to a season-ending torn ACL in December.