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mesaSteeler
03-11-2011, 01:28 PM
Top AFC North draft classes
March, 11, 2011
Mar 11 1:30 PM ET

By James Walker
Throughout the week, the AFC North blog has gone through every draft class of the past decade for the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. Now it's time to rank the best of the best.

In our final installment, here are the top three drafts in the division since 2000:

No. 3: Steelers class of 2007

Best picks: LB Lawrence Timmons (first round), LB LaMarr Woodley (second round), TE Matt Spaeth (third round), P Daniel Sepulveda (fourth round), CB William Gay (fifth round)

Analysis: Pittsburgh's 2007 class finished third overall with a good combination of stars and depth. Timmons and Woodley are projected to be key cogs in Pittsburgh's linebacking corps for a long time. And Spaeth and Gay both play key backup roles in Pittsburgh, last season's AFC champions. Sepulveda has been an interesting case, because he's a solid punter when healthy. But a pair of ACL tears have cut two seasons short.

No. 2: Ravens class of 2008

Best picks: QB Joe Flacco (first round), RB Ray Rice (second round), S Tom Zbikowski (third round), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth round)

Analysis: Flacco has led the Ravens to three consecutive playoff appearances. He is getting better every year and looks like the first long-term solution at quarterback for Baltimore in franchise history. Rice has already developed into one of the NFL's top running backs and has been to one Pro Bowl. He posted back-to-back seasons of at least 1,200 rushing yards in 2009 and 2010. Zbikowski and Nakamura are important reserves in the secondary and may compete for a starting job next season. Zbikowski started the first six games in 2010 and played solid football while Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed (hip) was on the physically unable to perform list.

No. 1: Bengals class of 2001

Best picks: DE Justin Smith (first round), WR Chad Johnson/Ochocinco (second round), RB Rudi Johnson (fourth round), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (seventh round)

Analysis: Surprise! The top draft class of the past decade in the division comes from the Bengals, whose infamous track record with personnel decisions have led to zero playoff victories in 21 years. But Cincinnati hit it big in 2001, landing four quality starters in Smith, Ochocinco, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh. This core led to Cincinnati's first of two playoff runs last decade in 2005. But the Bengals failed to take advantage and time eventually ran out for this stellar class. Smith, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh all bolted via free agency. Ochocinco remains the only player on the Bengals' roster from the 2001 draft, and he could be traded this offseason.

(Mucho Stinko a "quality star"! Please, he's a whiny, overrated, pile of crap who is a a locker room cancer. - mesa)