NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For exercises like this, we're looking only at the Tennessee Titans, not the Houston Oilers. Two classes stand out, and they were back to back. The 1999 class included first-rounder Jevon Kearse, who provided the pass-rush boost the team needed to advance to its one and only Super Bowl. A year later the class also featured four key contributors. For me, the splash of The Freak gives 1999 a slight edge. Here's a closer look at the key pieces of that draft:
Jevon Kearse, DE, Florida, first round, 16th overall: Kearse exploded onto the scene with a rookie-record 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, providing the sort of charge to the pass rush the Titans needed to move from perennial 8-8 team to AFC champions in their first season as the Titans. He had 36 sacks in his first three seasons, before a foot injury derailed him.
John Thornton, defensive tackle, West Virginia, second round, 52nd overall: A solid piece of a solid defensive line for his four years with the Titans, though he lost most of one season because of an injury. He went on to play an additional six years in Cincinnati and is now an agent whose clients include Browns coach Hue Jackson and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.
Zach Piller, guard, Florida, third round, 81st overall: In an eight-year career, he manned left guard for the bulk of the time for a quality line that protected Steve McNair and blocked for Eddie George. He brought the Titans a high degree of toughness and accountability.
Donald Mitchell, cornerback, SMU, fourth round, 117th overall: He missed the second of his four seasons because of injury but was a quality piece in the team's nickel packages, which were crucial to the franchise's success.
Next-best Titans draft class: In 2000, the Titans landed a stalwart outside linebacker in Keith Bulluck, a productive tight end in Erron Kinney, a solid linebacker in Peter Sirmon and a quality defensive lineman in Robaire Smith. Combined with the 1999 class, that's eight key contributors for a team that was a factor in the AFC. I suppose the 2008 class could make a case (with Chris Johnson, Jason Jones, Craig Stevens, William Hayes and Cary Williams), though some of it did more elsewhere than in Nashville.