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Monday, March 7, 2011
Top Steelers drafts since 2000

By James Walker
ESPN.com

This week we kick off our series on the top draft classes in the AFC North of the past decade.

We will hit one team each day, starting Monday with the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Friday, we will compile the best of the best and rank the top draft classes overall in the division.

Let's get it started.

No. 3: Class of 2003

Best picks: S Troy Polamalu (first round) and CB Ike Taylor (fourth round)

Polamalu
Analysis: The Steelers had a limited number of picks in this draft, because they traded up to get a player they really liked in Polamalu. Pittsburgh was confident Polamalu was special, and it was the right call. Polamalu, the NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is putting together a Hall of Fame career and already has led Pittsburgh’s defense to three Super Bowl appearances and two titles. That pick alone makes this class worthy of consideration. But the Steelers also landed No. 1 cornerback Taylor in the fourth round, making this draft the hallmark of the team’s secondary for years to come. Pittsburgh only had five picks in 2003 and hit home runs on two.

No. 2: Class of 2002

Best picks: G Kendall Simmons (first round), WR Antwaan Randle El (second round), S Chris Hope (third round), LB Larry Foote (fourth round), DE Brett Keisel (seventh round)

Keisel
Keisel
Analysis: This class lacks the star power, but has a ton of depth with five starters. Arguably the best player to come out of this draft is Keisel, who was the final pick for Pittsburgh in 2002 and No. 242 overall. Keisel, 32, remains a longtime starter for the Steelers, and qualified for his first Pro Bowl as an alternate this past season. Hope and Simmons were both good players who eventually bolted for free agency. Hope has started for the Tennessee Titans the past five seasons. Randle El and Foote won three combined Super Bowl rings with the Steelers, and remain role players on the team.

No. 1: 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)

Woodley

Woodley


Analysis: The 2007 draft has stars and depth, making it Pittsburgh's best class of the past decade. The Steelers are never shy to draft linebackers, and they took Timmons and Woodley with back-to-back picks, building their foundation for years to come. Both are now starters entering their prime. Woodley already has one Pro Bowl and became the second Steeler to record three consecutive years of double-digit sacks. After hitting big in the first two rounds, Pittsburgh landed three role players in the middle rounds with Gay, Spaeth and Sepulveda. They each contributed to Pittsburgh's past two Super Bowl runs to varying degrees, although Sepulveda has mostly battled knee injuries in his career.

On Tuesday we will take an in-depth look at the draft classes of the Cincinnati Bengals.