Best NFL rookie classes, 2004-12

Ben Volin’s choices for the best single-year acquisitions — draft picks and undrafted free agents — of players that still remain with their original teams (since 2004, in chronological order):

Arizona Cardinals 2004

WR Larry Fitzgerald (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)


DT Darnell Dockett (3d round; starter, Pro Bowler)

Comment: Rare to get two 10-year players and future Ring of Honor inductees in the same draft.

New Orleans Saints 2006

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G Jahri Evans (4th round; starter, Pro Bowler)

WR Marques Colston (7th round; starter, Pro Bowler)

RT Zach Strief (7th round; starter)


Comment: Saints nab three starters and two Pro Bowlers with middle- and late-round picks.

San Francisco 49ers 2007

LT Joe Staley (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

LB Patrick Willis (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

DT Ray McDonald (3d round; starter)

Comment: Pretty impressive to have three players from 2007 still on the team, two of whom are still Pro Bowler-caliber.

Cincinnati Bengals 2010

TE Jermaine Gresham (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

DE Carlos Dunlap (2d round, starter)

DT Geno Atkins (4th round; starter, Pro Bowler)

LB Vincent Rey (undrafted)

Comment: Gresham and Dunlap are solid starters, and Atkins was a steal in the fourth round.

San Francisco 49ers 2010

G Mike Iupati (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

RT Anthony Davis (1st round; starter)

LB NaVorro Bowman (3d round; starter, Pro Bowler)

CB Tramaine Brock (undrafted)

Comment: Solidified their offensive line with two great picks in Iupati and Davis, and found a Pro Bowler linebacker in the third round.

Seattle Seahawks 2010

LT Russell Okung (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

S Earl Thomas (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

S Kam Chancellor (5th round; starter, Pro Bowler)

TE Anthony McCoy (6th round)

Comment: Seahawks nailed their two first-round picks, and hit the jackpot with Chancellor in the fifth.

Denver Broncos 2011

LB Von Miller (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

S Rahim Moore (2d round; (starter)

G Orlando Franklin (2d round; starter)

LB Nate Irving (3d round)

S Quinton Carter (4th round)

TE Julius Thomas (4th round; starter, Pro Bowler)

TE Virgil Green (7th round)

CB Chris Harris (undrafted; starter)

Comment: Found a franchise cornerstone in Miller, a gem in Thomas in the fourth round, and a solid starter in Harris as an undrafted free agent.

San Francisco 49ers 2011

LB Aldon Smith (1st round; starter, Pro Bowler)

QB Colin Kaepernick (2d round; starter)

CB Chris Culliver (3d round; starter)

RB Kendall Hunter (4th round)

C Daniel Kilgore (5th round; starter)

FB Bruce Miller (7th round; starter)

NT Ian Williams (undrafted; starter)

LB Michael Wilhoite (undrafted)

Comment: Found a franchise QB in the second round, solid starters in the middle rounds, and a nice one in Williams in undrafted free agency. And say what you will about Smith, but there’s no doubting his talent.

New York Jets 2011

DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1st round; starter, All-Pro)

NT Kenrick Ellis (3d round)

RB Bilal Powell (4th round; starter)

WR Jeremy Kerley (5th round; starter)

LB Nick Bellore (undrafted)

Comment: Wilkerson is one of the best 30th overall picks in recent memory, and they found solid starters in the middle rounds in Powell and Kerley.

Seattle Seahawks 2011

G James Carpenter (1st round; starter)

LB K.J. Wright (4th round)

CB Richard Sherman (5th round; starter, Pro Bowler)

CB Byron Maxwell (6th round; starter)

LB Malcolm Smith (7th round; starter)

S Jeron Johnson (undrafted)

WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted, starter)

Comment: Draft jackpot: solid starters in the fifth, sixth, seventh rounds, and free agency. And the fifth-rounder, Richard Sherman, is one of the best young players in the game.

Seattle Seahawks 2012

DE Bruce Irvin (1st round; starter)

LB Bobby Wagner (2d round; starter)

QB Russell Wilson (3d round, starter)

RB Robert Turbin (4th round)

LB Korey Toomer (5th round)

CB Jeremy Lane (6th round)

DE Greg Scruggs (7th round)

RG J.R. Sweezy (7th round; starter)

CB Chandler Fenner (undrafted)

WR Jermaine Kearse (undrafted)

WR Phil Bates (undrafted)

CB DeShawn Shead (undrafted)

Comment: Surprise first-round pick Irvin has been great, Wagner is a future Pro Bowler, and Wilson already led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, Taylor Mays was listed as a draft pick of the Bengals in 2010. He was drafted by San Francisco.

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