The Transformers paper (Attention is All You Need) was only a poster at NIPS 2017 (not even a spotlight let alone an oral presentation). I don’t know if anyone at the time predicted the impact it would have.
It’s hard to imagine a newsletter that could have picked out that paper at the time as among the most important of the hundreds included. For comparison, I think probably that at the time, there was much more hype and discussion of Hinton and students’ capsule nets (also had a NIPS 2017 paper).
I think this is generally true of ML research. It’s usually very hard to predict impact in advance. You could probably do pretty well with 6 months to a year lag though.
I will recommend the TWIML podcast which interviews a range of good researchers, but not only on the biggest stuff.
Super helpful, thanks for your answer!