- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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NFL draft classes tend to be judged and evaluated based on the results of its top picks. Using that line of logic, it would be easy to give the Chicago Bears' class of 2008 low marks after the Tuesday release of former first-round pick Chris Williams (No. 14 overall), who appears destined to be a career backup offensive linemen, at best.
But compared to the rest of Jerry Angelo's drafts in the final seven years he served as Bears general manager, a strong case can be made that 2008 was his best since 2005.
The general rule of thumb when analyzing a draft is to wait three years, so with that in mind, let's exclude Angelo's final two classes (2010-11) from the debate.
There are currently five members from the Bears' 2008 draft still 53-man roster after the club swapped out Williams for cornerback Zack Bowman, the highest total of any draft class, including the most recent crop from 2012 that was selected by new Bears general manager Phil Emery.
"We actually sat around and talked about that back in training camp, that we seem to have the most guys left on the team," Earl Bennett said. "I think it's a nice accomplishment. Of course, we're going to miss Chris, and I was surprised he got let go, but I've played with Chris for seven years or so going to back to college at Vanderbilt. I know he's a good player. He just needs to find the right fit. But we're still a good draft class without the No. 1 guy."
The 2008 group also leads the way in combined games started in a Bears uniform by any individual draft class under Angelo going back to 2005. Of course, several picks along the way were traded to add veteran players who thrived in Chicago, such as defensive end Adewale Ogunleye (2005), special teams ace/linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (2006) and quarterback Jay Cutler (2009). But even taking into account those players, the 2008 class leads the way with 181 combined starts from 2005-09.
Although it should be mentioned that nickel back D.J. Moore is treated like the 12th starter on defense, which would boost the totals of the 2009 class.
Those numbers did not surprise reserve safety/special teams contributor Craig Steltz, who is one of four players from 2008 to receive a second contract from the Bears -- not counting Bowman who was allowed to leave in free agency when his original rookie deal expired.
"I know I'm biased, but it's a good class," Steltz said. "It's hard to keep a class together because every year the team is basically trying to draft your replacement. But even without Chris (Williams), we've still got a Pro Bowl running back in Matt (Forte), a solid receiver in Earl (Bennett) and a starting tight end in Kellen (Davis). I'm proud of the 2008 class.
"The Chris thing is tough because when you come in with guys you tend to be protective of them and care about them, but we're still a pretty good group."