The conventional wisdom is that the best way to build or maintain an NFL championship team is through the draft. So...I went back 5 years, and reviewed the performance of the top 5 AFC teams in the 2004 NFL draft.
Who are the top 5 AFC teams? In alphabetical order, the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, and the Tennessee Titans.
I graded each player selected on a 0-5 point basis. Player rating are affected by whether they're still with the team, the quality of a player they were, and durability. A "5" player is a perennial pro-bowler (the grade for a true franchise QB is doubled...since these guys are so hard to find). A "4" is a very good starting player...a "3" is a starting player...a "2" is a starter/reserve...a "1" is a player who has contributed something to the team...while a "0" is a player who won't be discussed because he was, basically, a washout.
Based on this numerical system, any team scoring a 4 or below gets an "F"...anything from 5-7 is a "D"...from 8-10 a "C" from 11-14 a "B"...anything from 14-17 is an "A", and anything above that is an "A+". I've included the grade assigned by draft guru Mel Kiper, given immediately after the draft concluded for that year.
2004 NFL Draft:
A.) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: 12 points, Grade B (Mel Kiper: C)
1.) SS Bob Sanders (44th overall): A great player when able to stay on the field. Injuries clearly have hampered him over the past two years, as he is paying the price of playing up too much in the box. Still, Sanders was a primary reason why the Colts won their lone championship in 2006. GRADE: 4;
2.) OT Jake Scott (141st overall): Scott was a 3 year starter at OT, before signing with the Titans as a free agent. GRADE: 3;
3.) CB Jason David (125th overall): David was a starting CB for a couple of seasons before signing as a free agent with the Saints. GRADE: 2;
4.) TE Ben Hartsock (68th) , LB Gilbert Gardner (69th), and QB Jim Sorgi (193rd): All three made some contributions...some more than others. Only Sorgi remains on the team: GRADE: 1, each.
B.) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: 7 points, Grade D+ (Mel Kiper: B+)
1.) NT Vince Wilfolk (21st overall): Has been the backbone of the Pats 3-4 defense, practically since day one. Extremely durable. GRADE: 4;
2.) TE Ben Watson: (32nd overall): Though Watson has has his moments, they've been too few and far between. Has missed lots of time due to injury. GRADE: 2;
3.) DE Marquise Hill (#63...may he rest in peace), safeties Guss Scott (#95), Dexter Reid (#113), and RB Cedric Cobbs (#128): These guys contributed little, or nothing. Hill might have developed into a decent player...but Scott and Reid, especially, were major disappointments: GRADE: 1, collectively.
C.) PITTSBURGH STEELERS: 14 points, Grade A- (Mel Kiper: C+)
1.) QB Ben Roethlisberger (#11 overall): Perhaps the finest of some very fine selections by the Steelers over the years. Roethliberger is a true franchise QB. He deserves mention in the same company as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Has already acquired two SB rings. GRADE: 10...since his "5" is doubled;
2.) OT Max Starks (#75): Solid OT. GRADE: 3;
3.) CB Ricardo Colclough (#38), LB Nathaniel Adibi (#145): Colclough was extremely disappointing. GRADE: 1 (collectively);
D.) SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: 21 points, Grade A+ (Mel Kiper: B+)
1.) QB Philip Rivers (#5 overall): Technically, Eli Manning, at #1 overall, was their selection. But the Chargers wisely traded Eli for Rivers, a 3rd round draft choice (which they used to select Nate Kaeding), and the Giants' #1 pick in 2005 (which turned out to be Shawne Merriman). This was the greatest/best trade in Charger history. Though not in Roethlisbergers' category yet, Rivers is beginning to approach the Brady/Manning rarified air. GRADE 8 (a "4" doubled due to pro-bowl QB status);
2.) LB Shawn Phillips (#98): Solid starter at OLB. Is to Shawn Merriman what Robert Mathis is to Dwight Freeney in Indy. GRADE: 3
3.) C Nick Hardwick (#66): Solid starter at C, pretty much from the get go. GRADE: 3;
4.) DE Igor Olshansky (#35): Good rotational defensive lineman. No longer with team. GRADE: 2;
5.) RB Michael Turner (#154): Great selection in the late rounds. Turner was a top flight reserve, who blossomed into a star after leaving through free agency, to Atlanta. GRADE: 2;
6.) K Nate Kaeding: (#65): One of the better FG kickers in the game. Good range. But, has had some gagging problems in big games. GRADE: 2;
7.) OT Shane Olivea (#209): Contributed some as a reserve. No longer with the team. GRADE: 1.
E.) TENNESSEE TITANS: 7 points, Grade D (Mel Kiper: A-)
1.) DE Antwan Odom (# 57 overall): Solid DE, but now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals through free agency. GRADE: 2;
2.) DT Randy Starks (#71): Decent rotational DT. Now a member of the Miami Dolphins. GRADE: 2;
3.) TE Ben Troupe (#40): His career has in some ways mirrored that of Ben Watson...but not as good a player as Watson. No longer with the team. GRADE: 1;
4.) DE Travis LaBoy (#42): Rotational defensive lineman...now playing in Arizona. GRADE: 1;
5.) Remaining members of 2004 draft class: GRADE: 1 (out of generousity)
1.) The importation of their 2004 draft class marked the beginning of the ascention of the San Diego Chargers. It was perhaps the finest draft by any team during the past decade.
2.) Drafting Ben Roethlisberger saved the Pittsburgh Steelers from the throws of mediocrity...and made them a league power once again. Why can't the Lions get players like that?? Because they took WR Roy Williams of Texas at #7...and the Cleveland Browns passed on him at #6 in favor of Miami TE Kellen Winslow, Jr.
3.) The selection of 5' 8" SS Bob Sanders turned the Indianapolis Colts defense into a solid group.
4.) NT Vince Wilfolk, acquired in a trade the previous year, when the Patriots traded down out of the first round with Baltimore (the Ravens took QB Kyle Boller), saved this draft from becoming a total wash-out for the Patriots. Wilfolk has anchored the Pats' 3-4 for the past 5 years.
5.) Tennessee were still the Tuxedos after this draft.