The AFC North blog continues its series on the top draft classes of the past decade in the division. Wednesday we take a look at the Baltimore Ravens.
No. 3: Class of 2003
Analysis: The Ravens hit big early in 2003 and also did well in the middle rounds. Suggs is the jewel of this class in the first round. Suggs had top-five talent, but his lack of straight-line speed helped him fall to the Ravens, who had no problem taking him at No. 10. He was part of a two-player first round for Baltimore that also included a bust in quarterback Kyle Boller (No. 19). Baltimore also found long-time starting linebacker Johnson in the fourth round. Johnson has been one of the most consistent and durable players for the Ravens. Other contributors such as Franklin, Mughelli and Pashos have contributed in Baltimore, but eventually moved on to get more playing time with other teams.
No. 2: Class of 2006
Analysis: I remember sitting in the Cleveland Browns' media room while covering the team in 2006 when the No. 12 pick came up. Ngata was still on the board, and so was linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. I liked Ngata for Cleveland, but I also knew the Browns liked both players. So Cleveland traded the pick to a division rival, allowed the Ravens get Ngata, and I immediately knew it was a mistake. I even wrote in the opening graph of my story that Cleveland "walked into dangerous territory" with that trade, which you can see here. The Ravens have a player who, five years later, is arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Baltimore also hit on Landry, a starting safety, in the fifth round, and Koch in the sixth round. Koch is one of AFC's top punters.
No. 1: Class of 2008
FlaccoAnalysis: It's still early, but the 2008 draft is filled with talent, depth and young players who will only improve. Anytime you land a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft, that weighs extra. Flacco has led Baltimore to the playoffs all three years in the league, and set career highs in yards (3,622), touchdowns (25), and passer rating (93.6) this past season. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the league's best talent evaluators, but he's struggled finding quarterbacks in the draft until selecting Flacco. Rice has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 1,200 rushing yards and has been to one Pro Bowl. The Ravens also added depth and part-time starters in the later rounds with offensive tackle Oniel Cousins and young safeties Zbikowski and Nakamura. All three draft classes are pretty close, because the Ravens are consistent. But if Flacco and Rice continue to get better and eventually lead Baltimore to the Super Bowl, that will separate the 2008 class.
On Thursday, we will take a look at the best draft classes of the Cleveland Browns. Then, on Friday, we will rank the top classes of the past 10 years in the division.