NFL GM Power Rankings: The Top 10
Who is the best general manager in the NFL?
It’s a simple question, but the answer is much more complicated. There is no standard by which GMs are graded. There is, however, a curve. It’s a “what have you done for me lately” league. Those GMs who are currently presiding over winning teams (i.e. Jason Licht, Brett Veach) tend to get a pass on past mistakes (like drafting a kicker in the second-round who flamed out immediately).
What we’ve tried to do at The Draft Scout is take away recency bias and perception. We’ve looked at longevity, coaching hires, trades, free agency and of course selections made in the NFL draft to determine which GM is the best.
But this is a power ranking, which means these are meant to be updated and changed. It also means some of this ranking (arguably a lot of it), is based on the author’s view of the moves the GMs have made. The ultimate goal, though, is an unbiased and objective look at the league’s top decision-makers.
Here’s our look at the top 10 GMs in the NFL, with the full list available Wednesday June 23.
*GMs with less than two seasons on the job are not yet ranked. They’ll be listed in the full version.
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1. Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers
Best Move: Minkah Fitzpatrick trade
Worst Move: Terrell Edmunds
First Year on Job: 2000
Colbert has overseen the continued stability of the Pittsburgh Steelers since becoming general manager, including becoming the team’s first ever general manager after having the title “Director of Football Operations” from 2000-2010. Colbert successfully navigated replacing legendary head coach Bill Cowher with Mike Tomlin, he’s overseen the roster for two Super Bowl wins, he’s helped manage difficult personalities (Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell), kept a competitive roster around an expensive veteran quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) and hit on draft picks high, low, and major trades (Minkah Fitzpatrick, Devin Bush) that have bolstered the roster.
Colbert hasn’t hit on all his picks—Terrell Edmunds was a surprise first-rounder and the team didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, and early 2000s misses like Rashard Mendenhall definitely hurt—but the Steelers’ roster and winning continuity are a credit to Colbert’s ability to acquire talent via the draft, trades and free agency. Not to mention All-Pro and Hall of Fame caliber talents he’s drafted like Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro and T.J. Watt.
How he manages the future of the quarterback position post-Roethlisberger will ultimately be his legacy which leaves room for Colbert to slip down the rankings in the future.
Update: This article previously incorrectly stated that Colbert took the job in 2016, which is when his title officially changed to Vice President/General manager. Colbert has been employed in a decision-making capacity since 2000 as director of football operations or general manager. We regret the error and have updated this post to reflect the change.
2. Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
Best Move: Darius Leonard
Worst Move: Malik Hooker
First Year on Job: 2017
In just a few short years on the job, Chris Ballard has verified his reputation as one of the best evaluators in the NFL. A long-time top of the list general manager candidate, Ballard took the Colts’ job and promptly lost franchise quarterback Andrew Luck to retirement but worked through that shock and built a winning team with a rock-solid offensive line and defense.
Ballard’s first Round 1 selection (Malik Hooker) looked to be a steal at the time, but the former No. 15 overall pick in the draft has struggled with injuries and isn’t on the roster four years later. Outside of that and some middle round edge-rushers who haven’t popped yet, Ballard has been very good.
The ranking of Ballard currently hinges on the play of Carson Wentz, whom the Colts acquired in a trade after a disastrous 2020 season for the quarterback in Philadelphia. If Wentz returns to his former top-tier play, Ballard will look like even more of a genius.
3. Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott (2017), Buffalo Bills
Best Move: Stefon Diggs trade
Worst Move: Zay Jones
First Year on Job: 2017
It would be easy to blame Beane and McDermott for trading out of the selection that was ultimately Patrick Mahomes II in the 2017 NFL draft, but the team used that trade to select TreDavious White and then Josh Allen in 2018, so even if he passed on the best player in the NFL Beane still built a contending roster thanks to that move so it’s hard to argue against.
In Buffalo, the Bills have a perfect blend of head coach and general manager philosophies and it’s worked to the tune of the team becoming the team to beat in the AFC East and a conference title contender with a young roster full of stars and potential blue chippers.
Beane and the Bills have hit in the NFL draft on White, Allen and others while also showing he knows how to work the trade market in acquiring Stefon Diggs before the 2020 season. That ability to find players in all three phases of the off-season (draft, free agency, trades) is why Beane is one of the NFL’s best with a roster that seems to be only getting better.
4. Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints
Best Move: 2017 NFL draft
Worst Move: Marcus Davenport trade-pick
First Year on Job: 2002
Loomis nailed the most important aspects of the job when hiring Sean Payton and Drew Brees, so he started on second base but still had to build a solid team around the two. He did that by investing in the offensive line, taking a chance on a second-rounder at receiver who would go onto break the NFL single-season catch record, and by dominating the 2017 NFL Draft with arguably the best single class in the modern era.
In 2017, the Saints landed Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk and Alvin Kamara—three of the best in the league at their respective positions. But Loomis also selected Marcus Williams and Trey Hendrickson, who have been highly productive defenders for the last four years. When you oversee the best draft class in the modern era, your stock stays pretty high.
Loomis’ future ranking will be heavily influenced by how the team answers the quarterback question post-Drew Brees and manages a tricky salary cap situation, but the cupboard is stocked for Payton in 2021 and beyond.
5. Jason Licht, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Move: Tom Brady signing
Worst Move: Roberto Aguayo
First Year on Job: 2014
You would think drafting a kicker in the second round only to see him flame out in spectacular fashion would doom a general manager. Or even spending the No. 1 overall pick on Jameis Winston to see him leave town after five years with so much potential but so little to show for it.
But Jason Licht kept his job and quietly built a roster that just needed a steady hand at quarterback. He added Mike Evans in his first draft and still added Chris Godwin. He built a fast, young secondary full of non-first-rounders. He lured Bruce Arians to Tampa in a coaching move that paid off hugely. Oh, and he signed the greatest quarterback of all-time to a free agent deal and won a Super Bowl.
Licht deserves all the praise for continuing to build the Tampa roster instead of attempting to blow things up. Doing so allowed Tampa to be a destination Brady gave serious consideration to. And the rest is history.
Now Licht has a dangerously good roster and a legitimate chance at a Super Bowl repeat.
6. Jon Robinson, Tennessee Titans
Best Move: AJ Brown
Worst Move: Isaiah Wilson
First Year on Job: 2016
A late trade for Julio Jones helped push Jon Robinson up the rankings, but his crafty moves like the Jones trade or signing Ryan Tannehill have built Robinson’s reputation as one of the league’s best evaluators.
Robinson has the odd distinction of being a solid drafter but not a great one, and he’s missed on a few key moves (Isaiah Wilson, Vic Beasley), but he’s managed to maintain the top players he inherited and build the roster to where the Titans are now an annual contender.
From signing Tannehill to drafting A.J. Brown, Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans; Robinson might not have a huge list of home run moves in his five seasons, but he’s consistent and has turned the Titans into a winner.
7. Rick Spielman, Minnesota Vikings
Best Move: Justin Jefferson
Worst Move: Laquon Treadwell
First Year on Job: 2012
Rick Spielman doesn’t get enough credit for the team he’s built. Sure, you can say they’ve overpaid for Kirk Cousins, but that move instantly made the team capable of contending in an NFC North that has been home to one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers).
Spielman also built a dangerous wide receiver corps (twice), rolled the dice and landed one of the NFL’s best running backs (Dalvin Cook) in Round 2, and has otherwise paired well with head coach Mike Zimmer to keep the defense competitive outside of last season.
Spielman may not have a signature move that elevates his status in the eyes of fans, but selecting Justin Jefferson in 2020 could ultimately be that transaction Spielman becomes known for.
8. Brett Veach, Kansas City Chiefs
Best Move: Tyrann Mathieu signing
Worst Move: Breeland Speaks
First Year on Job: 2017
You might be wondering why the selection of Patrick Mahomes isn’t listed as Veach’s best move, but we have to remember that while Veach may be responsible for getting Andy Reid hooked on Mahomes’ tape, he wasn’t the GM when that draft took place. John Dorsey was.
Veach took the top job soon after the 2017 NFL draft and finalized the roster moves that would make the Kansas City Chiefs arguably the best team in football the last three years with back-to-back-to-back AFC title game appearances and back-to-back Super Bowl berths with one ring to show for it. Veach’s ability to be aggressive in acquiring free agents and giving up draft picks for proven stars, plus his finds in the middle rounds (L’Jarius Sneed looks like a future star) makes him the perfect complement to Reid’s coaching style.
How well the rebuilt offensive line in Kansas City performs will ultimately shape Veach’s ranking, but he’s a young evaluator on the rise in our eyes.
9. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Best Move: Tom Brady
Worst Move: 2nd round DBs
First Year on Job: 2000
I’ve often said that Bill Belichick the head coach saves Bill Belichick the general manager, but you don’t become the greatest coach of all-time and own six Super Bowl rings as head coach without being pretty darn good at player evaluation.
Belichick, more than any other GM in the NFL, is under the largest microscope. His misses are arguably more well-known due to his status and due to the longevity with which he’s done the job. But there have also been plenty of hits, including Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft and more recently finding players like Trey Flowers on Day 3.
And let’s remember, the job of a GM isn’t just about drafting. Belichick has owned the NFL over the last two decades when it comes to low-cost free agents who are big-time contributors, he’s taken on many reclamation projects that worked wonders (Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, etc.) and has a reputation as a person you simply do not trade with (even if Chandler Jones has hurt that perception).
Belichick the GM isn’t perfect, and his draft record is not elite, but as an overall general manager he’s still one of the best.
10. Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Best Move: Dak Prescott (recent)
Worst Move: Morris Claiborne (recent)
First Year on Job: 1989
It’s hard to separate the myth of Jerry Jones from the reality of how the Dallas Cowboys are ran—and some of that is due to the influence of Stephen Jones and Will McClay—but there is no doubting that despite a Super Bowl drought dating back to 1995, this has been one of the NFL’s better rosters for a large portion of that time.
More recently, Jones gave up some power and control in the off-season and it’s helped turn the tide on his beloved team. The Dak Prescott selection was magical at a time when Tony Romo was the team’s starter. The same could be said for how Dallas invested in the offensive line via the NFL draft when that wasn’t the popular thing to do.
Detractors will point out that Jones’ team hasn’t won a Super Bowl, but during the Belichick-Brady era of the NFL not many teams have outside of New England. A Super Bowl ring is the ultimate goal, but Jones’ ability to draft, recruit and work the trade market has kept Dallas competitive more years than not.