Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
07 Apr 2006
by Michael David Smith
If NFL teams could do the 2000 draft all over again, several first-round picks would switch places with their sixth-round counterparts. Among the sixth-round picks who have far exceeded expectations are Tom Brady, Marc Bulger, and Mike Anderson, and among the high first-round picks who now look more like sixth-rounders are Courtney Brown, Peter Warrick and Ron Dayne.
Players selected in the 2000 draft have now completed their rookie contracts, so it seems like a good time to analyze that year's draft at each position, examining who the conventional wisdom before the draft held as the best player, the first player selected, who turned out to be the best player, the biggest bust, and the best value. (Note: For fans who enjoy revisiting past drafts, the best site on the Web is drafthistory.com.)
Conventional wisdom: Scouts agreed that it was a weak year for quarterbacks, with Marshall's Chad Pennington considered the best of the bunch, Hofstra's Giovanni Carmazzi considered the unheralded player with the big upside, and Louisville's Chris Redman or Tennessee's Tee Martin considered the players most likely to be able to start immediately. Scouts thought there might also be a couple of practice squad scrubs like Michigan's Tom Brady and West Virginia's Marc Bulger worth picking up toward the end of the second day.
Highest pick: Pennington, 18th overall to the Jets.
Best player: Brady, the sixth-round afterthought the Patriots picked up with pick No. 199 (16 spots after the Browns selected Southwest Texas State quarterback Spergon Wynn). The late Joel Buchsbaum, previewing the draft for Pro Football Weekly, wrote, "Brady really came on as a senior and threw the ball extremely well. ... Brady is tall, smart, dedicated, coachable and a good decision-maker." Still, neither Buchsbaum nor anyone else expected Brady to become a dependable starter, let alone a superstar.
Biggest bust: Carmazzi, whom the 49ers made the second quarterback taken (No. 65 overall). He never played in a regular-season NFL game.
Best value: Other than Brady, it was Marc Bulger, picked in the sixth round by the Saints. He became a Pro Bowler after leaving New Orleans and heading to St. Louis.
Other noteworthy picks: Tim Rattay, the seventh-round pick the 49ers grabbed on a lark to join Carmazzi in training camp. Rattay gave the 49ers a couple of decent years as an occasional starter before they decided Alex Smith was their future. Martin went in the fifth round to the Steelers and completed exactly six passes in his NFL career.
Conventional wisdom: Commentators were evenly split on who would emerge as the best player in what was seen as an excellent draft for running backs. Tennessee's Jamal Lewis had a great combination of speed and power, Virginia's Thomas Jones was known as a complete and durable back, and Wisconsin's Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne had great college production.
Highest pick: Lewis, No. 5 overall to the Ravens.
Best player: Alabama's Shaun Alexander, No. 19 overall to the Seahawks. Some questioned why Seattle would take a running back when Ricky Watters was already on the roster. But after backing up Watters as a rookie, Alexander has rushed for more than 1,000 yards every year since.
Biggest bust: Dayne, who carried 585 times for 2,067 yards (a 3.5-yard average) in five seasons with the Giants. About the only thing Dayne accomplished was taking away enough carries from Tiki Barber that it took Barber a few years longer than it should have to demonstrate that he can be an every-down back. (In fairness to Dayne, he looked good in limited action in Denver last year. Then again, who doesn't?)
Best value: Utah's Mike Anderson, No. 189 overall to Denver, became the league's rookie of the year. Little did anyone know at the time that he wasn't even the best sixth-rounder of his class.
Other noteworthy picks: Reuben Droughns was a smart pickup for the Lions in the third round, but, being the Lions, they only gave him the ball 30 times in two seasons before releasing him. He's since gone on to have back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, first in Denver and then in Cleveland. Commentators said the same thing about Trung Canidate that they said about Alexander: He was an odd selection for a team that already had a veteran running back. Unlike Alexander, Canidate didn't become the veteran's permanent replacement, although he did have a couple of decent years as a role player, both in 2001 in St. Louis and in 2003 in Washington.
Conventional wisdom: Florida State's Peter Warrick was seen as head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the pack. Vying for second-best receiver were Michigan State's Plaxico Burress, Florida's Travis Taylor, Jackson State's Sylvester Morris and USC's R. Jay Soward.
Highest pick: Warrick, No. 4 overall to the Bengals.
Best player: A close call. Burress, who went No. 8 overall to the Steelers, has 5,378 career yards and has been the No. 1 threat in both the Steelers' and the Giants' passing attacks, would probably be the choice of most analysts. But Warrick's college teammate, Laveranues Coles, who went No. 78 overall to the Jets, has slightly more career yards (5,501) and is a better route-runner.
Biggest bust: Warrick, who never emerged as a No. 1 receiver in Cincinnati, certainly qualifies. But the biggest disappointment has to be Soward, who was suspended several times for violations of the league's substance-abuse rules, and who finished his career in Jacksonville with 14 catches despite going No. 29 overall.
Best value: Texas A&M's Dante Hall, No. 153 overall to the Chiefs. Hall was a running back in college but projected to receiver in the NFL. He's become a mediocre offensive threat but a very good kick returner.
Other noteworthy picks: Taylor went No. 10 overall to the Ravens and never produced the way they thought he would. Morris went No. 21 overall to the Chiefs and looked promising but suffered several serious knee injuries.
Conventional wisdom: Bubba Franks of Miami had good size, good hands and good speed and was a clear No. 1 at the position.
Highest pick: Franks, No. 14 overall to the Packers.
Best player: Probably Franks, although with only 1,936 receiving yards in six years, he hasn't lit it up quite the way the Packers thought he would.
Biggest bust: With only Franks and West Virginia's Anthony Becht (picked by the Jets with their fourth and final first-round pick, No. 27 overall) going in the first round, there aren't a lot of busts to choose from. It was a mediocre crop of tight ends, but no individual player earned the bust label.
Best value: Erron Kinney, selected by the Titans out of Florida with the 68th pick overall, has been nearly as good a player as Franks.
Other noteworthy picks: After Kinney, the list of tight ends selected reads like a who's who of mediocre players that fans will only vaguely remember: Dave Stachelski to the Patriots from Boise State, James Whalen to the Buccaneers from Kentucky, Austin Wheatley to the Saints from Iowa, Jay Tant to the Cardinals from Northwestern, etc.
Conventional wisdom: Chris Samuels of Alabama was widely regarded as the best of the bunch and about as much of a sure thing as this draft had.
Highest pick: Samuels, No. 3 overall to the Redskins.
Best player: It's hard not to pick Samuels, who became an immediate starter. Both Chad Clifton of Tennessee, selected No. 44 overall by Green Bay, and Marvel Smith of Arizona State, selected No. 38 overall by Pittsburgh, have also become solid starters.
Biggest bust: Chris McIntosh of Wisconsin, selected No. 22 overall by Seattle, never panned out.
Best value: Mark Tauscher of Wisconsin, a college guard selected at No. 224 overall by the Packers, has moved to tackle and started 80 games for Green Bay. If you ever wonder how much of a crapshoot the draft is, remember that NFL scouts watched film of Wisconsin and came away thinking McIntosh was a first-rounder and Tauscher was a seventh-rounder.
Other noteworthy picks: Stockar McDougle of Oklahoma, selected No. 20 overall by the Lions, was the second offensive lineman drafted. He started 54 games in Detroit but never turned into anything more than a competent NFL lineman. He's currently fighting for a spot on the Jaguars' roster.
Conventional wisdom: Everyone loved the rare strength and athleticism of Penn State's Courtney Brown.
Highest pick: Brown, No. 1 overall, to the Cleveland Browns.
Best player: John Abraham, who played outside linebacker at South Carolina but moved to defensive end after the Jets selected him No. 13 overall. Now in Atlanta, Abraham, who was seen as a reach by many observers, has 53.5 career sacks. Brown, who was seen as a legitimate No. 1 overall selection, has 19.
Biggest bust: Erik Flowers of Arizona State, taken at No. 26 overall by the Bills. It's hard to imagine what the Bills were thinking when they took Flowers that high, as he didn't appear in any first-round projections. He had four sacks with the Bills, who released him after two years.
Best value: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, taken in the fifth round by the Packers out of San Diego State, has turned into a Pro Bowl defensive end after playing linebacker in college. Also note that Indiana's Adewale Ogunleye went undrafted after a serious knee injury during his senior season. Miami coach Dave Wannstedt, who kept a close eye on Indiana because his daughters went there, picked him up and stashed him on the roster for a year while his knee healed. He has since produced 40 career sacks.
Other noteworthy picks: Shaun Ellis, taken No. 12 overall by the Jets, has been overshadowed by Abraham but is a solid player, and significantly better than Brown. Darren Howard, taken No. 33 overall by the Saints out of Kansas State, has 44.5 career sacks with New Orleans and recently signed as a free agent with Philadelphia.
Conventional wisdom: No one disputed that Florida State's Corey Simon was the best prospect at the position, but many disputed whether he could stay healthy. In college Simon had multiple surgeries on both shoulders, plus knee and neck injuries. Some teams put him near the top of their draft boards; other teams dropped him completely.
Highest pick: Simon, No. 6 overall to the Eagles.
Best player: Simon, who proved the wisdom of the Philadelphia team doctors who cleared the team to take him: He missed only two games in five years with the Eagles before signing as a free agent with the Colts last year.
Biggest bust: It was a good crop of tackles with no major busts. Steve Warren of the Packers was the only defensive tackle taken on the first day of the 2000 draft who isn't still on an NFL roster.
Best value: Alfonso Boone was the Lions' choice with the 253rd selection of the draft, one before Mr. Irrelevant. But, being the Lions, they cut him in training camp, Chicago picked him up, and he has become an important part of a very good defensive line rotation in the Windy City.
Other noteworthy picks: Chris Hovan, taken by the Vikings out of Boston College with the 25th overall pick, developed into a good pass rusher but a liability against the run. Cornelius Griffin, taken by the Giants out of Alabama with the 42nd overall pick, has become a very good all-around lineman and rivals Simon as the best tackle to come out in 2000.
Conventional wisdom: LaVar Arrington of Penn State was seen as a uniquely talented linebacker with great strength, speed and leaping ability.
Highest pick: Arrington, No. 2 overall to the Redskins.
Best player: Brian Urlacher, the ninth overall pick by the Bears. Urlacher played strong safety in college at New Mexico, and his detractors say that shows in his inability to take on blocks, but there's no disputing that he has been that rare Top-10 pick who exceeds expectations.
Biggest bust: It's probably unfair to call a third-round pick a bust, but Virginia Tech's Corey Moore received a huge amount of media hype, with just about every football commentator alive singing the Bills' praises for drafting him at No. 89 overall. He played 10 games in his NFL career.
Best value: Some very good value picks, including the Giants grabbing Michigan's Dhani "Dancin' in the Street" Jones in the sixth round, Pittsburgh taking Colorado State's Clark Haggans in the fifth round, and Green Bay taking Ohio State's Na'il Diggs in the fourth round.
Other noteworthy picks: Julian Peterson of Michigan State, taken 16th overall by the 49ers, was an excellent linebacker before he was slowed by an Achilles injury. Keith Bulluck of Syracuse, taken 30th overall by the Titans, has had every bit as good a career as the more heralded Arrington. Marcus Washington, a defensive end at Auburn, was taken in the second round by Indianapolis and has become a very good pass-rushing linebacker, first with the Colts and now with the Redskins.
Conventional wisdom: Scouts saw 2000 as a down year for defensive backs, with no clear consensus No. 1 pick. Some liked the big-play ability of Cal's Deltha O'Neal, who doubled as a return man, while others liked the size of Jackson State's Rashard Anderson, and still others liked the intelligence and work ethic of Ohio State's Ahmed Plummer.
Highest pick: O'Neal, No. 15 overall to the Broncos.
Best player: Mike Brown, whom the Bears selected out of Nebraska at No. 39 overall, has had a good career as an important part of Chicago's division-winning defenses in both 2001 and 2005.
Biggest bust: Anderson, whose career was derailed by repeated positive drug tests. He started nine games for Carolina before a two-year drug suspension.
Best value: Mario Edwards was a very good cover corner at Florida State, and one of the biggest surprises of the 2000 draft was that he slipped all the way down to the sixth round, where the Cowboys selected him. Although he's now out of football, Edwards had four good years in Dallas.
Other noteworthy picks: Kenoy Kennedy, selected by the Broncos out of Arkansas with the 45th pick, has become one of the best coverage safeties in the league, shutting down tight ends both in Denver and in Detroit.
There weren't enough of them to give the position a full analysis, but we'll close by pointing out that in a year when the quality of the sixth round rivaled the quality of the first, even kickers got in on the act: Oakland's first-round pick, Sebastian Janikowski of Florida State, isn't nearly as good a kicker as Cincinnati's sixth-round pick, Neil Rackers of Illinois.
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