Few drafts in any pro sporting league have a class as strong as the 1989 NFL draft. From Hall of Fame quarterbacks to historical busts, the draft was not heavy in one position; it had a buffet of talent across the board. Some triumphed, others fizzled out, but it’s hard to picture any league having a class as stacked as the first round of the 1989 NFL draft.
The 1989 NFL draft picks
From Troy Aikman to Keith DeLong, the first round alone had a little bit of everything. Hall of Fame defenders, running backs, and playmakers may not have known it at the time. But they were embarking on something special. As Pro Football Reference reports, the list had Hall of Famers, Pro Bowlers, and a few who didn’t work out:
- Dallas Cowboys – Troy Aikman, QB (retired in 2000)*
- Green Bay Packers – Tony Mandarich, T (retired in 1988
- Detroit Lions – Barry Sanders, RB (retired in 1988)*
- Kansas City Chiefs – Derrick Thomas, LB (retired in 1999)*
- Atlanta Falcons – Deion Sanders, DB (retired in 2005)*
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Broderick Thomas, LB (retired in 1997)
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Tim Worley, RB (retired in 1994)
- San Diego Chargers – Burt Grossman, DE (retired in 1994)
- Miami Dolphins – Sammie Smith, RB (retired in 1992)
- Phoenix Cardinals – Eric Hill, LB (retired in 1999)
- Chicago Bears – Donnell Woolford, DB (retired in 1997)
- Chicago Bears – Trace Armstrong, DE (retired in 2003)
- Cleveland Browns – Eric Metcalf, RB (retired in 2002)
- New York Jets – Jeff Lageman, DE (retired in 1998)
- Seattle Seahawks – Andy Heck, T (retired in 2000)
- New England Patriots – Hart Lee Dykes, WR (retired in 1990)
- Phoenix Cardinals – Joe Wolf, T (retired in 1997)
- New York Giants – Brian Williams, C (retired in 1999)
- New Orleans Saints – Wayne Martin, DE (retired in 1999)
- Denver Broncos – Steve Atwater, DB (retired in 1999) *
- Los Angeles Rams – Bill Hawkins, DE (retired in 1992)
- Indianapolis Colts – Andre Rison, WR (retired in 2000)
- Houston Oilers – David Williams, T (retired in 1997)
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Tom Ricketts, G (retired in 1993)
- Miami Dolphins – Louis Oliver, DB (retired in 1996)
- Los Angeles Rams – Cleveland Gary, RB (retired in 1994
- Atlanta Falcons – Shawn Collins, WR, (retired in 1993)
- San Francisco 49ers – Keith DeLong, LB (retired in 1993)
* indicates Hall of Fame Career
Who were the winners of the 1989 NFL draft?
Many of the winners are apparent even to the most casual NFL fans. The Hall of Fame even has a section dedicated to the future inductees. Troy Aikman was the Cowboys’ face during their short dynasty during the early 1990s, and on top of that, was the first pick under new owner Jerry Jones. Derrick Thomas also enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, making life a living hell for quarterbacks like Aikman.
One of the first non-seniors drafted under a new rule, many cite Barry Sanders as one of the greatest running backs in history.
Furthermore, Deion Sanders, who made it to the MLB, kicked off his long career in this draft. Steve Atwater may not have been a top-five pick, but he quickly showed that this was a mistake, spending a decade in the league as one of the best defensive backs in the country.
Other players, like Andre Rison, Eric Metcalf, and Trace Armstrong, may not have made it to the Hall of Fame, but their legacies speak for themselves. However, not everyone was as lucky as them.
Were there any losers?
Picket at any other time, Tony Mandarich may have gone down as a decent, albeit unspectacular tackle. However, as the only player from the top five not to make it to the Hall of Fame, his name is synonymous with draft failure. Mandarich, who openly spoke about his addiction to pills and alcohol on top of questionable training methods throughout his career, had too many demons to reach the hype.
Others, like Sammie Smith and Bill Hawkins, were decimated early on by poor performance and bad injury luck. However, while many of these players went down as solid role players, Fans and experts cannot understate the sheer depth of this round.
There’s a reason that 1989 is one of the most incredible classes ever. It didn’t just have a heavy presence of future Hall of Famers. Most of the first-round players enjoyed decent success, even if it was short-lived. While others busted out, the ones who made a name for themselves still resonate in NFL circles over 30 years after the Commissioner called their names to football’s biggest stage.