2012 NFL Draft: Every Team's Best Draft Class Since 2000
Who doesn't love draft day? The prospect of getting a talented franchise QB, relentless pass-rushing defense end, or a speedy running back seems to get any football fan excited. And as April 26 arrives, fans can't help but look back on their best and worst memories of draft day.
All 32 NFL teams today have been built through the draft, especially the drafts from 2000 until today. So which draft class has been each team's best since 2000? This slideshow finds out.
Arizona Cardinals: 2004 Draft Class
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The Cardinals for the most part drafted averagely from the 2000's on, getting some good players here and there but without any one draft that stood out in particular. Well, except for an incredible 2004 draft:
1st round - WR Larry Fitzgerald
2nd round - OLB Karlos Dansby
3rd round - DT Darnell Dockett
4th round - C Alex Stepanovich
5th round - DE Antonio Smith
6th round - C Nick Leckey
7th round - QB John Navarre
The later rounds of the draft weren't too special, but the first three were about as good as they could get. Larry Fitzgerald remains a top three receiver with the best hands in the NFL, hands down. (Sorry, I had to.) Karlos Dansby, though now with the Dolphins, had a couple very solid years with Arizona. Darnell Dockett remains one of the NFL's best defensive linemen. The Cardinals definitely struck gold with this draft.
Atlanta Falcons: 2005 Draft Class
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From 2000 on, the Falcons have not been one of the better teams in the league at drafting. They've had several first round picks fail to live up to potential (TJ Duckett, Jamaal Anderson) but in 2005 they grabbed a few players that have been key to their current success.
1st round - WR Roddy White
2nd round - DE Jonathan Babineaux
3rd round - LB Jordan Beck
4th round - DE Chauncey Davis
5th round - OLB Michael Boley
5th round - OT Frank Omiyale
6th round - RB DeAndra Cobb
7th round - DT Darrell Shropshire
While this draft class is filled with no-names, it produced an absolute stud at receiver in Roddy White, and a solid defensive lineman in Jonathan Babineaux. And although Boley is no longer with the Falcons, his presence provided some stability at outside linebacker for four years. The Falcons haven't drafted well recently, but they knew what they were doing in 2005.
Baltimore Ravens: 2008 Draft Class
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Choosing between the Ravens' 2008 draft class and 2007 draft class, which boasted guards Marshall Yanda and Ben Grubbs, was hard work. However, the first two rounds of Baltimore's 2008 draft were home runs.
1st round - QB Joe Flacco
2nd round - RB Ray Rice
3rd round - OLB Tavares Gooden
3rd round - FS Tom Zbikowski
3rd round - OT Oniel Cousins
4th round - WR Marcus Smith
4th round - G David Hale
6th round - FS Haruki Nakamura
7th round - WR Justin Harper
7th round - RB Allen Patrick
Joe Flacco, while not a star yet, has shown flashes of brilliance as a quarterback and 2012 will be his do-or-die season. Meanwhile, Ray Rice has already emerged as a top running back with 6,612 yards from scrimmage and 29 total touchdowns in his career. The class also contains several marginal contributors.
Buffalo Bills: 2001 Draft Class
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Although none of the players drafted by the Bills in 2001 are currently with the team and in 2008 the Bills grabbed wide receiver Stevie Johnson in the seventh round, but the likes of Aaron Schobel and Nate Clements propel this class above the rest:
1st round - CB Nate Clements
2nd round - DE Aaron Schobel
2nd round - RB Travis Henry
3rd round - DT Ron Edwards
3rd round - OT Jonas Jennings
4th round - MLB Brandon Spoon
5th round - OT Marques Sullivan
6th round - DB Tony Driver
6th round - TE Dan O'Leary
6th round - CB Jimmy Williams
7th round - WR Reggie Germany
7th round - DT Tyrone Robertson
Like any draft class, not every pick in this class provided a valuable player, but it did give the Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel, who recorded 78 sacks in nine seasons with Buffalo as well as Travis Henry, who rushed for almost 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns with the Bills and even linebacker Brandon Spoon, who had one solid season in Buffalo. However, it is undoubtedly Schobel who puts this class above the rest.
Carolina Panthers: 2007 Draft Class
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There was no competition for best draft class for the Carolina Panthers. Although players such as Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, and DeAngelo Williams all arrived in Carolina in years other than 2008, it was without a doubt their best year in terms of rookie pickups.
1st round - LB Jon Beason
2nd round - WR Dwayne Jarrett
2nd round - C Ryan Kalil
3rd round - DE Charles Johnson
4th round - WR Ryne Robinson
5th round - TE Dante Rosario
5th round - LB Tim Shaw
7th round - CB CJ Wilson
The first three rounds of this draft were complete gold for the Panthers. Although Dwayne Jarrett hasn't exactly panned out as a receiver, Carolina secured two top players in Jon Beason and Ryan Kalil and Charles Johnson has had 20.5 sacks in his last two years. These three additions look like key additions to a promising young Panthers team that will be relevant for a long time.
Chicago Bears: 2000 Draft Class
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I was tempted to put the 2006 class which featured Devin Hester and Daniel Manning here, but Brian Urlacher and several others edged them out. Though Urlacher is the only player from the class still in the NFL, he has been the leader of Chicago's intimidating defense for over a decade:
1st round - MLB Brian Urlacher
2nd round - FS Mike Brown
3rd round - WR Dez White
3rd round - TE Dustin Lyman
4th round - DB Reggie Austin
6th round - RB Frank Murphy
6th round - K Paul Edinger
7th round - DE James Cotton
7th round - S Michael Green
Though players such as Mike Brown, Dez White, and Michael Green had several solid years in the NFL, the real star of this class is Brian Urlacher. For years he has been Chicago's best defender and leader, and it was he who almost led them to a Super Bowl title in 2006, not Rex Grossman. Though the Bears' draft class of 2000 only boasted one star, he has been one of the best defenders in the franchise's long and storied history.
Cincinnati Bengals: 2001 Draft Class
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The last two drafts for the Bengals have been home runs. Andy Dalton to AJ Green looks like Carson Palmer to Chad Ochocinco, Jermaine Gresham is one of the league's best young tight ends, and Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are rock solid defensive linemen. However, neither the 2010 nor 2011 draft class has been around long enough to prove themselves, and the 2001 class edges both out:
1st round - DE Justin Smith
2nd round - WR Chad Johnson (now Chad Ochocinco)
3rd round - TE Sean Brewer
4th round - RB Rudi Johnson
5th round - G Victor Leyva
6th round - LB Riall Johnson
7th round - WR TJ Houshmandzadeh
The Bengals are one of the best teams in the league at building through the draft, and this draft produced two dynamite receivers in Ochocinco and Houshmandzadeh, a playmaking defensive end in Justin Smith, and a running back who produced three 10+ touchdown years in Rudi Johnson. All of these players proved to be key assets to Cincinnati in the 2000s.
Cleveland Browns: 2007 Draft Class
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Although the 2006 draft class produced linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson and the 2007 class only provided two players of note, one of those players is Joe Thomas. End of story.
1st round - OT Joe Thomas
1st round - QB Brady Quinn
2nd round - CB Eric Wright
5th round - DB Brandon McDonald
6th round - DE Melila Purcell
7th round - DE Chase Pittman
7th round - WR Syndric Steptoe
Brady Quinn has been a bust so far in his NFL career, but Eric Wright has been solid so far in his and the real star of this class, Joe Thomas, is arguably the best offensive tackle in the league today and his presence has been welcomed on Cleveland's line.
Although none of the quarterbacks on the Browns recently have looked like long-term starters, Thomas has certainly done a great job protecting them and the Browns will want him around when they do find a franchise quarterback.
Dallas Cowboys: 2005 Draft Class
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The Cowboys have been a solid team in terms of drafting over the years. They have had their fair share of disappointments (Terrence Newman, Quincy Carter) as well as pleasant surprises (Marion Barber, Jay Ratliff). But there is absolutely no argument that the 2005 draft was their finest of this millennium:
1st round - OLB DeMarcus Ware
1st round - DE Marcus Spears
2nd round - LB Kevin Burnett
4th round - RB Marion Barber
4th round - DE Chris Canty
6th round - DB Justin Beriault
6th round - OT Rob Petitti
7th round - DT Jay Ratliff
This draft is solid from start to finish. The Cowboys start it off with one of the NFL's best defenders today in DeMarcus Ware, then they grab solid contributors such as Marion Barber and Chris Canty before topping it all off with Jay Ratliff in the seventh round. Not only did the Cowboys get a major steal in Ratliff, but they also secured the players that are now the anchors to their defense: Ratliff and Ware.
Denver Broncos: 2006 Draft Class
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Sorry Broncos fans, although the 2010 draft class featuring Tim Tebow has been solid so far, the players need another year to develop before they can be called the best. Besides that unfortunately the Broncos have not done very well with the draft, although the players from their 2006 class produced several good years:
1st round - QB Jay Cutler
2nd round - TE Tony Scheffler
4th round - WR Brandon Marshall
4th round - DE Elvis Dumervil
4th round - WR Domenik Hixon
5th round - G Chris Kuper
6th round - C Greg Elsinger
Although Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler, and Brandon Marshall were all talented young players who helped revive Denver's offense, they were all gone after four years due to trades. However, the Broncos are still reaping the benefits of taking Elvis Dumervil in the fourth, and he has recorded 52.5 sacks in five years. Guard Chris Kuper also starts and has maintained a solid level of play.
Detroit Lions: 2007 Draft Class
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Matt Stafford, Louis Delmas, and Brandon Pettigrew vs. Calvin Johnson Jr. is tough to call. Very tough to call. But in the end, Stafford has only had one healthy year with the Lions, Delmas is still developing and Pettigrew, though a well-rounded tight end, simply doesn't come close to matching Megatron's receiving skills. Though the Lions busted on three first round wideouts before Johnson, they hit a home run with him in 2007:
1st round - WR Calvin Johnson Jr.
2nd round - QB Drew Stanton
2nd round - DE Ikaika Alama-Francis
2nd round - FS Gerald Alexander
4th round - CB AJ Davis
4th round - G Manny Ramirez
5th round - LB Johnny Baldwin
7th round - CB Ramzee Robinson
Forget the likes of Drew Stanton and AJ Davis, Megatron turns this draft into a complete win for Detroit. He is without a doubt the best receiver in the NFL and he could be one of the greatest of all time when his career is over. Though his fellow 2007 draftees were only marginal contributors at best, Megatron was Detroit's best draft pick since Barry Sanders and he will be making plays for Detroit for a long time.
Green Bay Packers: 2005 Draft Class
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Though the 2009 draft gave the Packers defensive studs Clay Matthews and BJ Raji, it's hard to go against the class that produced the best quarterback in the NFL today, Aaron Rodgers, as well as star defender Nick Collins.
1st round - QB Aaron Rodgers
2nd round - FS Nick Collins
2nd round - WR Terrence Murphy
4th round - DB Marviel Underwood
4th round - LB Brady Poppinga
5th round - C Junius Coston
5th round - DB Mike Hawkins
6th round - DT Mike Montgomery
6th round - WR Craig Bragg
7th round - CB Kurt Campbell
7th round - G Will Whitticker
Although quantity isn't necessarily quality as shown by the nine draft picks after Collins and Rodgers, the talent and skill of the latter two make up for that talent drop-off. They were both instrumental in Green Bay's Super Bowl win over the Steelers and are two of the most important pieces to a team which will be one of the league's best for a long time.
Houston Texans: 2006 Draft Class
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The Texans are the NFL's youngest franchise, and they only just made the playoffs for the first time ever last year, but they have still had a number of solid draft classes. And in 2006, it seemed like GM Charlie Casserly could do no wrong:
1st round - DE Mario Williams
2nd round - MLB DeMeco Ryans
3rd round - OT Charles Spencer
3rd round - OT Eric Winston
4th round - TE Owen Daniels
6th round - RB Wali Lundy
7th round - WR David Anderson
Casserly completely nailed the first four rounds. First he grabbed Mario Williams, a freak athlete and elite defensive end for several years with the Texans. Then he took a solid inside linebacker in DeMeco Ryans, one of the league's best right tackles in Eric Winston, and a great receiving tight end in Owen Daniels.Though Williams, Ryans, and Winston all left the Texans this offseason, they played at a high level for many years and were instrumental in securing the franchise's first playoff win ever.
Indianapolis Colts: 2003 Draft Class
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The Colts from 2000 forward have had many misses but also many hits in the draft. The best product from the 2007 draft is Clint Session, who is average at best. However, the 2003 draft, undoubtedly the best since 2000, produced value in the early and late rounds:
1st round - TE Dallas Clark
2nd round - SS Mike Doss
3rd round - FS Donald Strickland
4th round - G Steve Sciullo
5th round - DE Robert Mathis
5th round - LB Keyon Whiteside
6th round - LB Cato June
6th round - OT Makoa Freitas
First, the Colts grabbed a favorite target for Peyton Manning in tight end Dallas Clark. Then, in the fifth round, they landed Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney's partner on the defensive line for almost a decade as well as a huge steal. The draft also produced linebacker Cato June, who had several solid seasons in the NFL. The Colts have had some great drafts and some awful drafts, but 2003 can definitely be filed as one of the better ones of the past few decades.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 2006 Draft Class
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Though Jacksonville's most recent draft was a disaster with the selection of Blaine Gabbert in the first round and they have never had much success drafting quarterbacks, they have actually produced several talented draft classes in their franchise's short history, but none more impressive than their 2006 class:
1st round - TE Marcedes Lewis
2nd round - RB Maurice Jones-Drew
3rd round - OLB Clint Ingram
5th round - LB Brent Hawkins
7th round - DE James Wyche
7th round - CB Dee Webb
Though none of the players from the third round on are still in the NFL and none were ever very significant, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis are Jacksonville's two best offensive players and although Lewis has put together a solid career so far, Jones-Drew completely blows him out of the water.
MJD, arguably the league's best running back, has already rushed for 7,000 yards and 62 touchdowns despite playing for a consistently mediocre team. The Jaguars are lucky to have this workhorse and can be thankful he fell to them in 2006.
Kansas City Chiefs: 2008 Draft Class
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When a team has 12 draft picks in one draft, usually they only end up taking three or four players of note if they're lucky. Not the Chiefs in 2008. Six of their picks that year turned into current starters who are some of the most important players on the roster and no other draft came close to this class:
1st round - DT Glenn Dorsey
1st round - OT Branden Albert
2nd round - CB Brandon Flowers
3rd round - RB Jamaal Charles
3rd round - TE Brad Cottam
3rd round - S DaJuan Morgan
4th round - WR Will Franklin
5th round - CB Brandon Carr
6th round - OT Barry Richardson
6th round - WR Kevin Robinson
7th round - DE Brian Johnston
7th round - TE Mike Merritt
That's right, current offensive tackles Barry Richardson and Branden Albert, starting corners Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr (although Carr departed for Dallas this offseason), starting running back Jamaal Charles, and starting defensive end Glenn Dorsey were all drafted by Kansas City in 2008. If not for this draft class, the Chiefs would be nowhere near playoff contention but due to the wisdom of GM Carl Peterson the Chiefs today are one of the better teams in football.
Miami Dolphins: 2008 Draft Class
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The draft and the Miami Dolphins do not get along well. The vast majority of their drafts since 2000 have consisted of little to no great additions or elite players. However, they did strike gold in 2008 with the first overall pick of the draft, grabbing a franchise left tackle in Jake Long:
1st round - OT Jake Long
2nd round - DE Phillip Merling
2nd round - QB Chad Henne
3rd round - DE Kendall Langford
4th round - G Shawn Murphy
6th round - RB Jalen Parmele
6th round - G Donald Thomas
6th round - RB Lex Hilliard
7th round - DE Lionel Dotson
I know, the draft still isn't very impressive. However, the addition of Jake Long was an extremely important one and he remains one of the best offensive linemen in the game. When the Dolphins do secure their franchise quarterback (whenever that may be) the city of Miami can rest assured that his blind side will be well defended by Jake Long.
Minnesota Vikings: 2003 Draft Class
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It was hard to make a decision between a draft class featuring Kevin Williams and E.J. Henderson and a draft class featuring Adrian Peterson, but ultimately longevity and reliability win the battle for the 2003 draft class, one which featured a few solid additions to the Vikings:
1st round - DT Kevin Williams
2nd round - LB E.J. Henderson
3rd round - WR Nate Burleson
4th round - RB Onterrio Smith
6th round - P Eddie Johnson
6th round - LB Michael Nattiel
7th round - WR Keenan Howry
Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL today, but his torn ACL may hurt his career and Kevin Williams and E.J. Henderson have been solid starters on Minnesota's defense for many years. Henderson has recorded 751 tackles in his career and Williams has notched 54.5 sacks. The Vikings definitely grabbed two studs in the first two rounds of the 2003 draft.
New England Patriots: 2000 Draft Class
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The Patriots know what they are doing on draft day, which makes it hard to choose just one class that is better than the rest. However, although the 2000 draft produced nothing special for New England in rounds one to five and seven, round six produced one of the best passers in the game today in Tom Brady, who has brought the franchise three Super Bowl wins.
2nd round - OT Adrian Klemm
3rd round - RB J.R. Redmond
4th round - OT Greg Randall
5th round - TE Dave Stachelski
5th round - DT Jeff Marriott
6th round - CB Antwan Harris
6th round - QB Tom Brady
6th round - DT Dave Nugent
7th round - OLB Casey Tisdale
7th round - RB Patrick Pass
That's right, hidden among players such as Patrick Pass and Dave Stachelski, Tom Brady entered the NFL and won three Super Bowls within his first five years. And though he hasn't had any success in the big game since 2005, Brady remains an elite quarterback and one of the best players in the NFL today. He has been the center of New England's entire team throughout his career and is one of the best draft steals of all time.
New Orleans Saints: 2006 Draft Class
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Though most remember the Saints' 2006 draft class for the failures of running back Reggie Bush, the draft boasted much more talent as the rounds went on. While Bush did have his moments with the team, 2006 was when the Saints were able to grab multiple playmakers on offense and defense which helped lead the team to a Super Bowl win in 2009:
1st round - RB Reggie Bush
2nd round - SS Roman Harper
4th round - G Jahri Evans
5th round - DE Rob Ninkovich
6th round - WR Mike Hass
6th round - CB Josh Lay
7th round - OT Zach Strief
7th round - WR Marques Colston
So although Bush never lived up to his status in New Orleans, after him the Saints were able to grab pass rushing safety Roman Harper, elite guard Jahri Evans, and Drew Brees's favorite target, Marques Colston. All three players contributed immensely to the Saints' magical 2009 Super Bowl-winning season and continue to play at a high level in New Orleans.
New York Giants: 2005 Draft Class
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Lots of teams would get concerned when going into a draft with only four picks and no first rounders. Not the Giants. GM Ernie Accorsi calmly selected a draft class that blew every other Giants draft class from its decade out of the water. Although the 2004 draft gave the Giants Chris Snee and eventually Eli Manning, this is what 2005 had to offer:
2nd round - CB Corey Webster
3rd round - DE Justin Tuck
4th round - RB Brandon Jacobs
6th round - DE Eric Moore
Though Eric Moore never really panned out in the NFL, the Giants drafted a solid and reliable starting corner as well as bruising running back Brandon Jacobs, who plowed his way to two 1000-yard rushing seasons as well as 56 touchdowns.
But the highlight of this class is Justin Tuck, who the Giants managed to steal in the third round. Today, Tuck has 45.5 career sacks and is widely regarded as one of the best defensive ends in the game. The Giants proved in 2005 that you don't need many picks to have a successful draft.
New York Jets: 2000 Draft Class
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In 2006 and 2007 the Jets had two solid drafts back to back in which they secured offensive and defensive playmakers such as Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis, but the 2000 draft trumps both due to the longevity of the players in it.
1st round - DE Shaun Ellis
1st round - LB John Abraham
1st round - QB Chad Pennington
1st round - TE Anthony Becht
3rd round - WR Laveranues Coles
5th round - WR Windrell Hayes
6th round - CB Tony Scott
7th round - DT Richard Seals
Though the Jets never really had much success in the early 2000s, the 2000 draft gave them a starting quarterback in Chad Pennington, reliable targets in Laveranues Coles and Anthony Becht, and two fearsome defenders in Shaun Ellis and John Abraham. None of the players are currently with the team, but they all made a name for themselves in New York and the Jets were lucky to have them.
Oakland Raiders: 2000 Draft Class
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Many like to laugh at the recent draft failures of the Oakland Raiders, who wasted first round picks on players such as Robert Gallery, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and JaMarcus Russell. However, in 2000 they actually produced a solid draft at least in terms of special teams.
1st round - K Sebastian Janikowski
2nd round - WR Jerry Porter
4th round - DT Junior Ioane
5th round - P Shane Lechler
7th round - TE Mondriel Fulcher
7th round - FS Clifton Black
Yes, in true Raider fashion, Oakland drafted a kicker in the first round. Although that is never, ever a smart decision, Sebastian Janikowski turned out to be one of the best kickers of the past decade and none have been able to rival his leg strength. Shane Lechler is also having one of the greatest careers in NFL history for a punter and in 2011 he booted a career long 80-yard punt. Jerry Porter also contributed as a wide receiver but Janikowski and Lechler make this draft class.
Philadelphia Eagles: 2002 Draft Class
Although Philadelphia's 2009 draft class gave them two budding stars in Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, they face great competition in the 2002 draft class. In the end, it wouldn't be fair to put them above players such as Brian Westbrook who were able to produce at a high level for a long time:
1st round - CB Lito Shepperd
2nd round - SS Michael Lewis
2nd round - CB Sheldon Brown
3rd round - RB Brian Westbrook
4th round - C Scott Peters
5th round - WR Freddie Milons
6th round - LB Tyreo Harrison
7th round - DE Raheem Brock
First, the Eagles were able to draft three out of four members of a solid starting secondary by taking Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, and Sheldon Brown. Then to put icing on the cake they selected Brian Westbrook in the third round, who during his prime was one of the league's most elusive and versatile players. The players from this draft class are a big reason why the Eagles made the Super Bowl in 2004.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 2003 Draft Class
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The Steelers seem to always be able to find at least one solid player in the draft, such as Ben Roethlisberger, Casey Hampton, or LaMarr Woodley. This makes it hard to determine which draft class has been Pittsburgh's best since 2000, but one player elevates the 2003 class to the winner: Troy Polamalu.
1st round - SS Troy Polamalu
2nd round - LB Alonzo Jackson
4th round - CB Ike Taylor
5th round - QB Brian St. Pierre
7th round - FB J.T. Wall
Ike Taylor has been a reliable starting corner for years in Pittsburgh, but Troy Polamalu makes this draft special. He is one of the most versatile players in the league and he can intimidate opponents and make plays from anywhere on the field. Polamalu is still one of the best players in the league and shows barely any signs of slowing down. He has been the leader and MVP of Pittsburgh's defense since he entered the league.
San Diego Chargers: 2000 Draft Class
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The 2004 and 2005 drafts have been the most memorable in recent history for the Chargers due to the Eli Manning trade and addition of players such as Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, but as with Pittsburgh's draft class one man elevates his year above the rest: LaDainian Tomlinson.
1st round - RB LaDainian Tomlinson
2nd round - QB Drew Brees
3rd round - CB Tay Cody
4th round - LB Carlos Polk
5th round - OT Elliott Silvers
5th round - LB Zeke Moreno
7th round - OT Brandon Gorin
7th round - DB Robert Carswell
Today's young defenders are lucky that the only LT they have to face is the broken-down Jets version. When LT was in his prime on the Chargers, he was truly scary. Few could stand up to his elusiveness and power, and he has rushed for over 13,000 yards and 145 touchdowns in his illustrious NFL career. Drew Brees was also respectable in his days with San Diego, but LT is undoubtedly one of the greatest Chargers of all time.
San Francisco 49ers: 2007 Draft Class
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Over the years the 49ers have been able to add players such as Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Shawntae Spencer through the draft, but they came mixed into different draft classes. Only one class provided a plethora of talent rolled into one year, and that was in 2007:
1st round - LB Patrick Willis
1st round - OT Joe Staley
3rd round - WR Jason Hill
3rd round - DE Ray McDonald
4th round - LB Jay Moore
4th round - S Dashon Goldson
4th round - DT Joe Cohen
5th round - CB Tarell Brown
6th round - RB Thomas Clayton
Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, and Dashon Goldson all in the same draft class? Sign me up! All three players have been exceptional so far in their NFL careers. Joe Staley does a great job protecting Alex Smith's blindside, Dashon Goldson can dish out hits and break up passes at safety, and Patrick Willis leads San Francisco's defense and is the best middle linebacker in the game today.
If not for these three players, the 49ers certainly would not have been able to make it to the NFC Championship in 2011 and would not have so bright a future ahead of them.
Seattle Seahawks: 2000 Draft Class
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When comparing the 2000 draft class to Seattle's other draft classes, there was no comparison. No other draft boasted talent like Shaun Alexander and Darrell Jackson from the 2000 draft. Though they both had primes that didn't last as long as many hoped, when Alexander and Jackson were at their best Seattle had one of the best offenses in the league:
1st round - RB Shaun Alexander
1st round - OT Chris McIntosh
2nd round - CB Ike Charlton
3rd round - WR Darrell Jackson
4th round - LB Marcus Bell
4th round - LB Isaiah Kacyvenski
6th round - WR James Williams
6th round - DT Tim Watson
6th round - DT John Hilliard
For five straight years, Shaun Alexander recorded 1,000-yard rushing seasons and during that time no one wanted a piece of him. He rushed for 87 touchdowns and was a monster who led the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL.
Darrell Jackson also played an important role on offense, recording three 1,000-yard receiving seasons with at least 53 receptions in every full year with Seattle. Though the Seahawks didn't win the Super Bowl with these two stars, they certainly came close due to their efforts.
St. Louis Rams: 2004 Draft Class
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Rams fans haven't had much to cheer for since the Greatest Show on Turf fell apart in the early 2000s, and the team hasn't had a happy draft history in the new millennium. However, the 2004 draft did give St. Louis a start running back who has been able to produce consistently despite the lack of talent around him:
1st round - RB Steven Jackson
3rd round - DE Anthony Hargrove
4th round - OLB Brandon Chillar
5th round - S Jason Shivers
6th round - QB Jeff Smoker
7th round - TE Erik Jensen
7th round - C Larry Turner
Though the Rams have consistently been one of the NFL's worst teams in the last few years, Steven Jackson has been able to produce at least 1,000 rushing yards each season since 2005, and he has scored 52 career rushing touchdowns. Sam Bradford is lucky to have Jackson in the backfield as he develops as a passer, as the best friend to a young quarterback is a solid running game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2006 Draft Class
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Bucs fans have every right to be mad at their management for the way they drafted in the early 2000s. Bust after bust kept falling to Tampa Bay in the form of players such as Michael Clayton and Cadillac Williams. However, Tampa Bay has gotten better at drafting recently and they were able to solidify the offensive line with some 2006 additions:
1st round - G Davin Joseph
2nd round - OT Jeremy Trueblood
3rd round - WR Maurice Stovall
4th round - CB Alan Zemaitis
5th round - DE Julian Jenkins
6th round - QB Bruce Gradkowski
6th round - TE TJ Williams
7th round - CB Justin Phinisee
7th round - DE Charles Bennett
7th round - TE Tim Massaquoi
Offensive line is probably the least glamorous position in football, but someone has to play it and Jeremy Trueblood and Davin Joseph both know how to play the position. The 2006 draft featured little more than these two players, but nevertheless they help protect Josh Freeman and the Bucs don't have many other talented players that they acquired through the draft.
Tennessee Titans: 2008 Draft Class
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Though Vince Young never turned out to be who the Titans thought he could be, he still had a few decent years with the team and his year's draft class also featured LenDale White and Stephen Tulloch. However, a certain 2000-yard single-season rusher's draft class has them beat, and I think we know who that is:
1st round - RB Chris Johnson
2nd round - DT Jason Jones
3rd round - TE Craig Stevens
4th round - DE William Hayes
4th round - WR Lavelle Hawkins
4th round - LB Stanford Keglar
7th round - CB Cary Williams
Chris Johnson is the only player from his draft class who has ever been more than a marginal contributor for the Titans, but his talent and ability helps them beat out every other Titans draft class since 2000. In his short career, Johnson has already rushed for 2000 yards in a single season and although he regressed slightly in 2011 there is no reason to believe he won't return to full form in 2012. Johnson is one of the fastest players in the NFL and someone Jake Locker will want in the backfield for a long time.
Washington Redskins: 2004 Draft Class
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The Redskins have developed a reputation as the laughingstock of the NFL due to their ineptitude in free agency and the draft. Though they picked up a few star players here and there, the vast majority of Washington's recent draft classes have been disappointments. However, the 2004 class did produce some talent:
1st round - FS Sean Taylor
3rd round - TE Chris Cooley
5th round - OT Mark Wilson
6th round - OT Jim Molinaro
Before Sean Taylor's tragic death, he was one of the hardest-hitting players in the league and looked like he would be one of the league's best defenders for many years. However, for the time he was alive he struck fear into opponents and added some credibility to the Redskins' defense.
Meanwhile, Chris Cooley remains the team's number one tight end and he has been a reliable target for the revolving door at quarterback for the past few seasons. Hopefully RGIII will learn to put him to good use when he enters Washington.