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Every AFC team's best draft class in history

The 2014 NFL Draft is just days away. As such, Around The League is breaking down the best draft class of all time for each AFC team. Look for the breakdown of each NFC team here.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills


Buffalo Bills 1985
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
1
Bruce Smith
DE
279
11
HOF & most career sacks
4
86
Andre Reed
WR
234
7
3
57
Frank Reich
QB
118
0
Authored largest comeback in NFL history
2
42
Chris Burkett
WR
131
0
Led NFL in yards per catch, 1986
4
112
Dale Hellestrae
OT
205
0
Won 3 Super Bowls with Cowboys
7
169
Ron Pitts
DB/PR
66
0
NFL broadcaster


If you ever doubt the virtuosity of Bill Polian, consider the history of the Bills franchise before and after his arrival on the scene. Outside of back-to-back AFL championships in 1964-65, the Bills' only taste of success has been the Polian-constructed span of 1988-96 -- featuring four Super Bowl appearances and eight playoff berths in nine seasons.

Following general manager Terry Bledsoe's February heart attack, pro personnel director Polian and chief college scout Norm Pollom began splitting duties leading up to the 1985 NFL Draft. Armed with nine picks in the first five rounds, the duo ended up building the backbone for the AFC's dominant team of the next 10 years.

Smith is not only the best defensive player in franchise history, but also the NFL's career leader in sacks and member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s and 1990s. Finally elected to the Hall of Fame early this year, Reed earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections and owns every relevant Bills receiving record.

Along with Earl Morrall, George Blanda and Don Strock, third-round pick Frank Reich belongs in the discussion for top backup quarterbacks of all time. He led the Bills on a 38-3 run to overtake the Oilers in the NFL's largest-ever comeback before handing the reins to Jim Kelly for Super Bowl XXVII.

The '85 draft also produced deep threat Chris Burkett, three-time Super Bowl champion Dale Hellestrae and future NFL broadcaster Ron Pitts.

Fun fact: The Bills selected North Carolina defensive back and future NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks in the second round of the 1994 NFL Draft.

Miami Dolphins


Miami Dolphins 1983
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
27
Dan Marino
QB
242
9
8
223
Mark Clayton
WR
158
5
18 TDs in 1984
12
334
Anthony Carter
WR
140
3
Signed with USFL, starred with Vikings
6
167
Reggie Roby
P
238
3
One of the best punters of the 1980s
9
250
Mark Brown
LB
107
0
Five-year starter in Miami
2
55
Mike Charles
NT/PR
101
0
Started 16 games in 1985


The first round of the 1983 NFL Draft was a "transformative" moment for the league, as outlined in ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary "Elway to Marino" The Steelers' decision to pass on hometown hero Marino in favor of Texas Tech defensive lineman Gabriel Rivera changed the course of two franchises.

The '83 class gets the nod primarily on the strength of the Marino-to-Clayton connection that took the NFL by storm in 1984. Both players set single-season records for touchdowns at their respective positions before falling to the 49ers in Super Bowl XVIII. At one point in time, the Marino-Clayton tandem was the most prolific in NFL history.

Already boasting the prodigious "Marks Brothers," the Dolphins' aerial attack would have featured 12th-round pick Anthony Carter had they not traded the USFL superstar's rights to the Vikings in 1985.

That offensive prowess shouldn't overshadow the impact of one of the handful of African American punters in NFL history. Roby played 16 seasons as a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the premier punters of his era.

Fun fact: The 1970 draft featured separate trades that netted the Dolphins future Hall of Fame selections Paul Warfield and Nick Buoniconti in exchange for first- and fifth-round picks, respectively.

New England Patriots


New England Patriots 1995
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
23
Ty Law
CB
203
5
NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
3
74
Curtis Martin
RB
168
5
2
57
Ted Johnson
LB
125
0
3-time Super Bowl champion
4
112
Dave Wohabaugh
C
128
0
4-year starter in New England
3
88
Jimmy Hitchcock
CB
101
0
Started 20 games in 3 seasons with Patriots


For an organization that has dominated the AFC for a decade and a half, the Patriots surprisingly lack a definitive, franchise-altering draft class. If not for Aaron Hernandez's fall from grace, the 2010 class featuring Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty and Brandon Spikes would offer that potential.

The 1995 class not only helped propel the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI versus the Packers, but also teamed with the 1996 class (Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi, Terry Glenn) to lay the groundwork for a trio of Lombardi Trophies in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

A member of the 2000 All-Decade Team, Ty Law produced a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown that was integral to the shocking upset over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Starting linebacker Ted Johnson helped the Pats to four Super Bowl appearances in 10 seasons.

Although Curtis Martin went on to a Hall of Fame career, his Patriots career was cut short in 1998 when the Jets signed him away with help from contract consigliere Mike Tannenbaum's "poison pill" innovation.

Fun fact: Tom Brady is the only member of the 2000 draft class to start for more than one season with the Patriots.

New York Jets


New York Jets 1977
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
6
144
Joe Klecko
DT
155
4
Integral part of "New York Sack Exchange"
1
4
Marvin Powell
OT
133
5
Ex-President of NFLPA, 5-time Pro Bowl
2
33
Wesley Walker
WR
154
2
Led NFL in receiving yards, 1978
8
200
Dan Alexander
G
192
0
13-year starter
4
90
Scott Dierking
RB
110
0
Succeeded John Riggins as starter
7
195
Kevin Long
FB
73
0
Led Jets in rushing, 1978
9
227
Matt Robinson
QB
69
0
Jets' starting QB, 1978
10
256
John Hennessy
LB
46
0
18-game starter over 3 seasons


If the 1964 and 1965 drafts were combined into one mega class, they would be the runaway winners for the Jets. Without those two drafts featuring Joe Namath, running back Matt Snell and defensive ends Gerry Philbin and Verlon Biggs, there would have been no Super Bowl III "guarantee" and subsequent upset over the heavily-favored Colts.

In other words, the NFL-AFL merger would have gone down quite differently.

The 1977 class helped the Jets reach the playoffs four times, including the 1982 AFC Championship Game.

One of three Jets players (Joe Namath, Don Maynard) to have his number retired, the versatile Klecko was a key member of the famed "New York Sack Exchange" defensive line that generated 66 sacks in 1981.

In addition to being one of the most decorated linemen in Jets history, Powell wrote a newspaper column and was elected president of the NFLPA during his playing days. A career Jet, Walker remains second only to Maynard on many of the franchise receiving records.

The '77 group also produced a 13-year starter, the backfield tandem that succeeded John Riggins and the 1978 starter at quarterback.

Fun fact: Klecko is the only player to be named to the Pro Bowl at three different positions (defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle).

AFC North


Baltimore Ravens


Baltimore Ravens 1996
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
26
Ray Lewis
LB
228
13
Greatest middle linebacker in history?
1
4
Jonathan Ogden
OT
177
11
5
153
Jermaine Lewis
WR
111
2
One of most dynamic returners of era
2
55
DeRon Jenkins
CB
93
0
Started 30 games in Baltimore


Ranked No. 6 on NFL Network's list of the Top 10 draft classes of all time, the first draft in Ravens history set the tone for one of the most consistently successful franchises over the past two decades.

In the conversation with Dick Butkus for greatest middle linebacker in NFL history, Ray Lewis was at the heart of two Super Bowl champions. The other first-round draft pick, Jonathan Ogden, rivals Orlando Pace and Walter Jones as the premier left tackle of an era that inspired best-selling author Michael Lewis' "Blindside."

Not to be overlooked, fifth-round draft pick Jermaine Lewis generated six punt-return touchdowns in his career, highlighted by an eye-popping 16.1 yards per return during the 2000 Super Bowl season.

Fun fact: Until Torrey Smith in 2011, the Ravens failed to draft a single wide receiver capable of recording a 1,000-yard season in Baltimore.

Cincinnati Bengals


Cincinnati Bengals 2001
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
4
DE
205
5
One of the premier 3-4 ends of his career
2
36
Chad Johnson
WR
165
6
Best wide receiver in franchise history
7
204
T.J. Houshmandzadeh
WR
146
1
Led NFL in receiving, 2007
4
100
Rudi Johnson
RB
95
1
Averaged 1,400 & 12 TDs, 2004-2006


The 1969 draft class offers one of the NFL's great "what-if" scenarios. Second-round middle linebacker Bill Bergey earned five Pro Bowl berths in 12 seasons with the Bengals and Eagles. Sixth-round cornerback Ken "The Rattler" Riley ranks fifth all time with 65 career interceptions.

It was No. 5 overall pick Greg Cook, though, who would have cemented this draft as the franchise's best had the golden-armed 1969 AFL Rookie of the Year not lost his promising career to a shoulder injury.

Although the 1984 draft produced Boomer Esiason and three more starters from Super Bowl XXIII, it doesn't match the star power of the 2001 class with two of the most productive wide receivers in franchise history, a leading rusher and a premier defensive end.

Fun fact: All-Pro defensive end Mike Reid, the Bengals' first-round pick in 1970, left the game at the height of his powers to become a country music singer who would end up in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Cleveland Browns


Cleveland Browns 1957
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
6
Jim Brown
RB
118
9
Top-5 player in NFL history
7
78
Gene Hickerson
G
201
6
5
52
Henry Jordan
DT
163
4
Went onto HOF career with Packers
2
17
Milt Plum
QB
129
2
1960 QB rating of 110.4 stood for 30 years


After watching the NCAA's best athlete letter in lacrosse, basketball, track and football at Syracuse, five teams passed on the greatest running back in NFL history. Despite hanging up his spikes to chase an acting career, Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing a record eight times and was rated the No. 2 player of all time by NFL.com in 2009.

Brown wasn't the only Hall of Fame selection from the 1957 class, though. With six Pro Bowl nods in 15 seasons, guard Gene Hickerson earned a bust in Canton in 2007. Drafted in the fifth round, defensive tackle Henry Jordan went on to a Hall of Fame career with Vince Lombardi's Packers after being traded for Bob Jarus.

Drafted at No. 17 overall, Milt Plum's 110.4 passer rating in 1960 stood as a record for 30 years until Joe Montana's (112.4) career year in 1989.

Fun fact: The 1978 draft produced Hall of Fame tight end and current Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome plus 19-year linebacker Clay Matthews, father of the Green Bay Packers star.

Pittsburgh Steelers


Pittsburgh Steelers 1974
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
2
46
Jack Lambert
LB
146
9
Best linebacker of 1970s
5
125
Mike Webster
C
245
9
In discussion of greatest NFL centers
1
21
Lynn Swann
WR
116
3
HOF, Super Bowl X MVP
4
82
John Stallworth
WR
165
3
4
100
Jimmy Allen
DB
110
0
2-time Super Bowl champion


The consensus pick as the greatest draft class in NFL history, the 1974 Steelers class boasts four Hall of Fame selections and another two-time Super Bowl champion.

A rangy middle linebacker and bone-crushing hitter, Lambert was the final key to Bud Carson's Cover-2 scheme that produced the Steel Curtain defenses responsible for four Lombardi trophies.

Swann and Stallworth were one of the most dynamic wide-receiver duos of the 1970s. Before his life devolved into tragedy, Webster was viewed as Jim Otto's primary competition for the greatest center of all time.

Without the '74 class, there is no Steelers dynasty.

Fun fact: From 1969 through 1974, the Steelers drafted at least one Hall of Famer in every year save 1973.

AFC South


Houston Texans


Houston Texans 2006
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
1
DE
114
3
Franchise leader in sacks
2
33
LB
118
2
Defensive Rookie of the Year, 2006
4
98
TE
100
2
Best tight end in franchise history
3
66
OT
124
0
6-year starter in Houston
7
251
David Anderson
WR
67
0
82 receptions over 6 seasons


For pure historical impact, the 2003 and 2011 drafts featuring Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt stand out. The problem is the lack of depth in those two classes.

Armed with the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, Charlie Casserly eschewed playmaking scat back Reggie Bush and bucked conventional wisdom by selecting pass rusher Mario Williams. It was the correct call. Although Williams shuffled off to Buffalo via the richest contract for a defensive player in history, he remains the Texans' all-time leader in sacks.

That same class also produced the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year (Ryans), the best tight end in franchise history (Owen Daniels) and a six-year starter at right tackle (Winston).

Fun fact: Fresno State's David Carr was the first pick in Texans' history back in 2002. His younger brother, Derek Carr, could be the organization's second-round pick in next week's draft.

Indianapolis Colts


Baltimore Colts 1963
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
2
19
John Mackey
TE
139
5
HOF, NFL's greatest tight end before 1980
1
5
Bob Vogel
OT
139
5
Johnny U's blindside protector
4
47
Jerry Logan
S
140
3
Six return TDs, Super Bowl X champion
7
89
Willie Richardson
WR
109
2
First-team All-Pro, 1967
2
24
Butch Wilson
TE
82
0
Mackey's backup for 5 years
11
145
Winston Hill
OT
198
8
Signed with Jets, started 14 years


The 2003 class (Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark, Cato June) propelled Indianapolis to its only Super Bowl victory. The loaded 2012 class has the potential to go down as one of the greatest offensive drafts in history.

We have to go back to Baltimore in 1963, however, to find the franchise's most decorated draft class.

John Mackey and Mike Ditka were unanimously viewed as the best tight ends ever to take the field until Kellen Winslow introduced the new breed in the 1980s. Five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Bob Vogel protected Johnny Unitas blindside for a nearly decade. Jerry Logan was one of the premier playmaking safeties of his era. Willie Richardson was a first-team All-Pro as Johnny U's top target in 1967.

On the strength of the '63 stars, the Colts won one Super Bowl and made the trip to two other championship games in the 1960s.

Fun fact: Offensive tackle Winston Hill, selected in the 11th round, made the Pro Bowl eight times with the Jets after being released by the Colts in Aug. 1963.

Jacksonville Jaguars


Jacksonville Jaguars 1995
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
2
Tony Boselli
LT
91
5
NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
1
19
James Stewart
RB
101
0
Third on franchise rushing list
4
99
Rob Johnson
QB
48
0
Traded to Bills for RB Fred Taylor
3
71
Chris Hudson
S
77
0
3-year starter in Jacksonville
2
64
Bryan Schwartz
LB
55
0
3-yearstarter in Jacksonville
2
40
Brian DeMarco
G
63
0
Part-time starter over 4 seasons


There's no obvious candidate for the best class in Jaguars history. The 2002 draft produced quarterback David Garrard, defensive tackle John Henderson and linebacker Akin Ayodele. The 1996 draft turned up pass rushers Kevin Hardy and Tony Brackens in addition to cornerback Aaron Beasley.

For the franchise's best, I'd nominate the first one that featured NFL 1990s All-Decade Team left tackle Tony Boselli. If Jimmy Smith isn't the greatest player ever to suit up for the Jaguars, it's Boselli.

The Jaguars also picked multiyear starters in running back James Stewart, middle linebacker Bryan Schwartz, guard Brian DeMarco and safety Chris Hudson.

Thanks to a solid draft and veteran pickups such as Smith, Keenan McCardell and Mark Brunell, the Jaguars avoided the pitfalls of almost every other expansion team in history.

Fun fact: Fourth-round pick Rob Johnson was traded three years later for a first-round draft pick that was used to select Fred Taylor, the franchise's rushing leader.

Tennessee Titans


Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers 1987
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
20
Haywood Jeffires
WR
132
3
Led NFL in receiving, 1991
6
147
Al Smith
LB
125
2
Second in franchise history in tackles
10
258
Curtis Duncan
WR
102
1
Integral place in Warren Moon's run-and-shoot
1
3
RB
65
0
Traded to Cowboys for Darryll Lewis
3
64
Cody Carlson
QB
45
0
Fine backup, but flopped as Moon's heir apparent
5
133
Spencer Tillman
RB
115
0
College Football Today analyst
11
287
John Davis
G
104
0
Started on Bills' Super Bowl squads


The Titans lack a historical draft class, which leaves the Houston Oilers responsible for the top handful of drafts in franchise history.

The highlight is the 1987 haul that allowed Warren Moon to excel in the signature run-and-shoot attack of the early 1990s.

Operating out of a four-wide spread, Haywood Jeffires and Curtis Duncan combined for 837 receptions and 10,054 yards from 1987 to 1995. On the other side of the ball, linebacker Al Smith perennially led the team in tackles while notching a pair for Pro Bowl appearances.

Fun fact: Fifth-round pick Spencer Tillman played 115 games in the NFL, but is best known an analyst on CBS' "College Football Today."

AFC West


Denver Broncos


Denver Broncos 1983
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
1
John Elway*
QB
234
9
*Acquired from Colts, 5-time AFC champion
12
310
Karl Mecklenburg
LB
180
6
Second-most sacks in franchise history
8
197
QB
119
0
Elway's backup, winningest coach in Texans history
10
254
Walt Bowyer
DE
61
0
Part-time starter for 4 seasons
3
60
Clint Sampson
WR
59
0
Caught 66 passes over 4 seasons
2
31
Mark Cooper
G
31
0
Interior swingman for 4 seasons


The Orange Crush defense that drove the Broncos to Super Bowl XII was largely constructed via the loaded draft classes of 1973 and 1975.

If we include the blockbuster trade that sent John Elway to Denver, though, the 1983 draft had greater impact on the franchise's legacy.

That draft produced the dominant offensive player (Elway) and defensive player (linebacker Karl Mecklenburg) on the 1980s Broncos that appeared in a trio of Super Bowls. Elway went on to win a pair of Super Bowl rings after the "Snow Goose" retired.

Fun fact: The 1983 draft also produced Gary Kubiak, who backed up Elway for nearly a decade before finding a measure of success as the winningest coach in Texans history.

Kansas City Chiefs


Kansas City Chiefs 1963
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
1
1
Buck Buchanan
DT
182
8
Hall of Famer, Super Bowl IV champion
7
56
Bobby Bell
LB
168
9
Hall of Famer, Super Bowl IV champion
1
8
Ed Budde
G
177
7
All-time All-AFL Team
11
88
Jerrel Wilson
P
217
3
All-time All-AFL Team
24
192
Dave Hill
RT
150
0
11-year starter in Kansas City
6
58
George Saimes
S
121
5
Traded to Bills, All-Time All-AFL Team
15
120
Joe Auer
RB
51
0
Traded to Bills, started 1 season


There's no debating the 1963 class' merit as the finest in Chiefs' history, as it laid the groundwork for one of the greatest defenses the NFL has seen.

The early 1960s Chiefs of Lamar Hunt and Hank Stram got a jump on the rest of the football world, targeting the best players from historically black colleges in the South. At a time when professional football kept an unofficial quota on African Americans, Stram's club fielded a defense filled with black stars such as Hall of Fame players Buck Buchanan and Bobby Bell.

In addition to those two, the '63 group featured All-Time All-AFL guard Ed Budde and long-time right tackle Dave Hill. The 11th round also turned up Jerrel Wilson, the greatest punter in AFL history as well as the longest-tenured Chief.

Those five players would go on to notch an AFL championship in 1966 and the Super Bowl title in 1970.

Fun fact: The 1963 class could have featured All-Time All-AFL safety George Saimes, but the Chiefs traded him to the Bills after the draft.

Oakland Raiders


Oakland Raiders 1968
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
3
80
Art Shell
LT
207
8
Hall of Famer, 1970s All-Decade Team
2
52
Ken Stabler
QB
184
4
NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
7
190
George Atkinson
S
144
2
Hard hitter on Super Bowl XI champions
11
277
Marv Hubbard
FB
103
3
Physical fullback averaged 4.82 YPC
4
110
Charlie Smith
RB
95
0
Teamed with Hubbard in potent backfield
11
298
Chip Oliver
LB
28
0
Started 16 games over 2 years in Oakland


The Raiders played in six conference championship games during the 1970s, due in large part to the contributions of the 1968 draft class.

Ken Stabler was the AFC's answer to Roger Staubach, as an improvising scrambler who often came through in the clutch. He was protected by Hall of Fame selection Art Shell, left tackle on the 1970s All-Decade Team.

The draft also produced backfield stars Marv Hubbard and Charlie Smith, forming one of the NFL's most potent tag-teams of the early 1970s. Not to be forgotten is hard-hitting safety George Atkinson, who famously rendered Lynn Swann unconscious with a forearm smash to the back of the head in 1976.

Fun fact: When Raiders owner Al Davis was suing the NFL in 1982, one owner stationed a parrot trained to squawk "F you, Al Davis" at the entrance to the league's annual meeting.

San Diego Chargers


San Diego Chargers 1975
Round
Pick
Player
Position
Games
Misc
2
33
Fred Dean
DE
141
4
HOF, 1981 UPI Defensive Player of the Year
1
8
Gary "Big Hands" Johnson
DT
157
4
Franchise record 17.5 unofficial sacks in 1980
2
30
Louie Kelcher
DT
116
3
"Bruise Brothers," Chargers MVP in 1977
6
136
Billy Shields
LT
142
0
8-year starter in San Diego
1
22
CB
109
0
8-year starter in San Diego
7
164
Rickey Young
FB
131
0
One of best receiving RBs in his era
3
73
Mike Fuller
S/PR
114
0
Explosive punt returner, 4-year starter at safety


Former Bolts general manager A.J. Smith deserves plenty of credit for the 2001, 2004 and 2005 draft hauls that generated LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Shaun Phillips, Michael Turner, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles and Shawne Merriman.

For the best class in franchise history, though, we have to go back to 1975 for a trio of defensive stars that added bite to the Chargers' "Air Coryell" offense.

The first three rounds turned up Hall of Fame pass rusher Fred Dean and All-Pro defensive tackles Gary "Big Hands" Johnson and Louie Kelcher. That mammoth defensive line, coined the "Bruise Brothers," wreaked havoc on the AFC West, combining for 60 sacks in 1980 before Dean forced a trade to the 49ers.

Fun fact: Dreaded for giving opponents a "Louie Kelcher hangover," the 6-foot-6, 285-pound defensive tackle sported size 16 1/2 EEEE cleats and a 16.5 ring finger.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" breaks out the crystal ball and predicts the potential surprises that could shake up the NFL Draft.

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