If you hadn’t seen, over the past three weeks I’ve been breaking down every draft pick between 2008 and 2010 to see which teams got the best value out of their selections.
It stands to reason that I’d follow that up by sorting out which I think were the best draft classes over that period. More than just adding up the grades (because you can whiff on picks and still have a successful draft) I’ve looked at which teams got the most from their choices and, in turn, did the most good for their franchise.
Here are my Top 10 draft classes between 2008 and 2010:
10. Green Bay Packers (2008)
Starters Found: Jordy Nelson (WR), Jermichael Finley (TE) and Josh Sitton (G)
Contributions From: Matt Flynn (QB)
Best Pick: Josh Sitton
Summary: So they didn’t get an awful lot of guys from this draft, but they did land three who turned into stars. Finley hasn’t put it together for an entire season, but he’s still the type of hybrid tight end/receiver that defenses hate to deal with. When you factor in drafting the league’s second-best right guard and one of the league’s premier deep threats, it was a draft that helped propel the Packers to where they are today.
9. Carolina Panthers (2008)
Starters Found: Jonathan Stewart (RB), Jeff Otah (T), Charles Godfrey (S), Dan Connor (LB), Geoff Schwartz (G) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (G)
Contributions From: Gary Barnidge (TE) and Nick Hayden (DT)
Best Pick: Jonathan Stewart
Summary: The class that could have been. Almost didn’t make the list because–despite how good a draft the Panthers had–they really failed to take advantage of it. Take Jonathan Stewart, one of the most elusive backs in the league, but have to settle for a rotation that leaves you wanting to see him get more touches. Then you have the perennially-injured Jeff Otah who looked great on the field but just can’t get healthy. Throw in how long it took Carolina to realize Dan Connor is their best linebacker coming downhill, and then not even tendering Geoff Schwartz after his stellar 2010 season and you’re left with a class that didn’t have the impact it should. They got more out of a draft than you’d expect, but maybe not as much as the talent they drafted suggested they should.
8. Seattle Seahawks (2010)
Starters Found: Russell Okung (T), Earl Thomas (S), Golden Tate (WR) and Kam Chancellor (S)
Contributions From: Walter Thurmond (CB) and Anthony McCoy (TE)
Best Pick: Kam Chancellor
Summary: But for the injury to Thurmond you’re probably looking at five starters from the same draft class. As it is, the four will do, and though Okung has been something of a disappointment, finding a playmaking safety duo that complements each other was real smart drafting. Throw in a very sure-handed Golden Tate (who is extremely dangerous after the catch) and that’s enough to make you forget about Anthony McCoy getting on the field so much.
7. Tennessee Titans (2009)
Starters Found: Kenny Britt (WR), Sen’Derrick Marks (DT), Jared Cook (TE), Gerald McRath (LB) and Jason McCourty (CB)
Contributions From: Javon Ringer (RB)
Best Pick: Jason McCourty
Summary: What is it with the Titans being able to turn low round corners into stars? McCourty is that and has been superb the past two years, now getting a chance to be his team’s top dog at the spot. Add in two mismatches in the receiving game (Britt and Cook) and that’s more than you’d normally hope for from a draft–three real difference-makers. That they’ve found a capable back-up running back and a linebacker who didn’t embarrass himself when he started in 2010, and you’ve done alright. If only Sen’Derrick Marks wasn’t such a disappointment.
6. Oakland Raiders (2010)
Starters Found: Rolando McClain (LB), Lamarr Houston (DE) and Jared Veldheer (T)
Contributions From: Jacoby Ford (WR) and Stevie Brown (S)
Best Pick: Jared Veldheer
Summary: McClain hasn’t always impressed Raider Nation, but he’s performed well enough to be a success without having the kind of impact you might want from a Top 10 overall pick. The real stars of this class come later: Veldheer proving an absolute steal in the third and Houston being a constant producer since Day 1. While Brown wasn’t a stud and was eventually released, Ford has brought with him playmaking on special teams and offense that has made a real difference.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (2010)
Starters Found: Eric Berry (S), Jon Asamoah (G), Tony Moeaki (TE) and Kendrick Lewis (S)
Contributions From: Dexter McCluster (WR) and Javier Arenas (CB)
Best Pick: Eric Berry
Summary: Something of an asterisk on this class, because arguably the two best players have played one year’s worth of football in the NFL. Still enough was seen of Berry and Moeaki to back them, while the Chiefs also found late round starters in Asamoah and Lewis, both of whom have looked extremely comfortable on the field. Throw in Dexter McCluster and the excellent Javier Arenas (not just a fine punt returner but solid slot cornerback) and you’ve got a draft class that significantly upgraded the roster.
4. Houston Texans (2009)
Starters Found: Brian Cushing (LB), Connor Barwin (LB) and Glover Quin (S)
Contributions From: Antoine Caldwell (G), James Casey (TE), Brice McCain (CB) and Troy Nolan (S)
Best Pick: Brian Cushing
Summary: Just the three starters, but given the way the Texans change things up on offense and how often they’re in their dime defense, they’ve managed to turn essentially everyone of their picks (bar Anthony Hill) into a significant contributor. That’s a huge achievement that no other team has got close to in recent years. Cushing is the star and Barwin proved extremely productive in his third year, but spare some time to applaud the picks of Caldwell (played well enough in 1,145 snaps that the Texans could allow Mike Brisiel to walk), McCain (excelled in the slot), and Casey (a dynamic, versatile playmaker). These guys all contributed to the Texans’ success.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (2008)
Starters Found: Glenn Dorsey (DE), Branden Albert (T), Brandon Flowers (CB), Jamaal Charles (RB), Brandon Carr (CB) and Barry Richardson (T)
Contributions From: Brad Cottam (TE) and Will Franklin (WR)
Best Pick: Jamaal Charles
Summary: Wow. Six starters, most of whom have been so since Day 1. Finding one cornerback in a draft is rare, but to land two starters is near impossible. That alone makes the draft successful, but factor in landing a franchise left tackle and perhaps the most dangerous running back in the league? It makes you look past how Barry Richardson has played, and gets you looking at Dorsey for what he is: a player who may have been over-drafted but has become a seriously important part of their base package.
2. New England Patriots (2010)
Starters Found: Devin McCourty (CB), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Jermaine Cunningham (DE/ OLB), Brandon Spikes (LB), Aaron Hernandez (TE) and Brandon Deadrick (DE)
Contributions From: Zoltan Mesko (P)
Best Pick: Rob Gronkowski (TE)
Summary: Any time you find six starters from one draft you know you’ve done well. What’s more is these guys haven’t just been put on the field out of principle, they’ve played to a level that shows they deserve to be on it. The stars of the class are obviously the tight end duo of Hernandez and Gronkowski, a duo that combined for a frankly ridiculous +51.4 receiver grade last year. That said, we shouldn’t forget the year McCourty had in 2010 (he was our rookie of the year) and the impact Spikes has been able to make when on the field. A downhill nightmare for offenses, he’s earned a +26.0 grade over two years for his work in run defense.
1. Atlanta Falcons (2008)
Starters Found: Matt Ryan (QB), Sam Baker (LT), Curtis Lofton (LB), Thomas Decoud (S) and Kroy Biermann (DE)
Contributions From: Harry Douglas (WR) and Chevis Jackson (CB)
Best Pick: Matt Ryan
Summary: When your team isn’t very good, you need an almighty draft to turn it around. So it proved for Atlanta who went from worst in their division to the playoffs on the back of one incredible draft class that defined the Dimitroff regime. Matt Ryan being the player Atlanta hoped he would be from the outset made this class, but finding a quarterback on defense (Lofton), a solid safety (Decoud), and a man who could generate constant pressure (Biermann) all helped Atlanta have four winning seasons on the bounce.