If you take a look at the teams that represented the AFC in the NFL playoffs last season, you'll see a who's who of teams that succeed in the NFL draft.
Flashy free agent signings can offer a roster a boost, but the foundation of a team is built through the draft. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens understand this. Just about every major contributor on the team was an original draft pick, and they do a great job of cultivating the talent they bring in.
With the 2013 draft now in the books, we can examine which AFC teams took the necessary steps to either become real contenders in their division or continue their current dominance. Here were the teams that had the best draft in each division.
There could be something special brewing down in Miami.
By getting aggressive in free agency and bringing in Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe, the Dolphins showed they are serious about turning things around and challenging the Patriots in the division. Their draft just made that point more emphatic.
The Dolphins made a big splash in the first round by trading up and taking Oregon's Dion Jordan. His athleticism and versatility should make him an instant impact player on a defense that already boasts Cameron Wake in the pass-rush department.
From there, Dolphins brass just did a great job of addressing needs with good value picks.
Day 2 selection Jamar Taylor (CB, Boise State) should be able to contribute right away and they got a lineman with a high ceiling in Round 3 in Dallas Thomas (OT/OG, Tennessee).
But grabbing Jelani Jenkins (LB, Florida), Dion Sims (TE, Michigan State) and Mike Gillislee (RB, Florida) with three consecutive late-round picks was the icing on the cake.
The Dolphins are set up to do big things with this draft.
The Ravens didn't win the Super Bowl last season by chance. They're consistently a great drafting team and that's why they're successful as an organization.
This year, they picked up the heir apparent to Ed Reed's safety position in Matt Elam in Round 1, then went to work on building up a front seven that lost Paul Kruger, Ellerbe and Ray Lewis.
Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State) was a huge value pick at No. 56 overall. He's the kind of athlete that has the versatility to play multiple positions in the Ravens 3-4 defense.
Third-round selection Brandon Williams (DT, Missouri Southern State) is a big body in the middle that could develop into the team's full-fledged nose tackle.
Picking up John Simon (DE, Ohio State) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE, Notre Dame) in the later rounds shows off the kind of self-awareness the Ravens always have. Both are perfect fits as 3-4 defensive ends that will contribute in the rotation.
Yet another good draft by Ozzie Newsome and Co.
When it comes to the AFC South draft classes, the rich got richer with the Texans draft.
They may have finally found a dangerous complement to Andre Johnson in DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson) in Round 1. They grabbed an enforcer for their secondary in second-round selection D.J. Swearinger (S, South Carolina).
But where they really nailed the draft was with their back-to-back selections of pass rushers with pick No. 95, Sam Montgomery (DE, LSU) and pick No. 124, Trevardo Williams (DE, Connecticut).
Montgomery and Williams are both explosive pass-rushers that should be able to contribute right away on passing downs. Finding that kind of value in the middle rounds is crucial to having a good draft, and the Texans certainly did that.
The annual tradition of laughing at Oakland's draft-day decisions may be over. New GM Reggie McKenzie did really well in his debut draft.
They made a big splash right off the bat by trading away the No. 3 overall pick to the Miami Dolphins. In return, they moved back to No. 12 and picked up the 42nd pick overall. For a team that didn't have a second-round selection, that was big.
The Raiders used the two picks on D.J. Hayden (CB, Houston) and Menelik Watson (OT, Florida State). Hayden could become a shutdown corner if he can remain healthy after a near-death experience in November raised concerns about his health.
Watson is raw right now, but he has the athleticism to become a bookend left tackle. Finding a potential shutdown corner or bookend left tackle makes a draft successful. The Raiders may have done both.
In addition to the first two selections, the Raiders may have made the most underrated pick in the division when they took Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas) in the fourth round.
Other teams in the division, especially the Chargers, put together good classes. But the Raiders may have found three foundational players with their haul.
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