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?
24 Apr 2007
by Michael David Smith
What were the Browns thinking when they drafted Gerard Warren in 2001, even though Richard Seymour was still on the board? What were the Bears thinking when they drafted David Terrell, even though Santana Moss was still on the board? With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we present here a review of the 2001 NFL draft, looking at the good picks, the bad picks, and the things every general manager knows now and wishes he had known then.
Conventional wisdom: Everyone agreed that Virginia Tech's Michael Vick was a unique talent, but no one was quite sure whether he was going to be a good enough passer to be an elite NFL player. Six years later, everyone agrees that Michael Vick is a unique talent, but no one is quite sure whether he is ever going to be a good enough passer to be an elite NFL player.
Highest pick: Michael Vick, Virginia Tech, first overall to the Falcons
Best player: Drew Brees, Purdue, 32nd overall to the Chargers. That's an easy choice.
Biggest bust: You could argue that, given how much the Falcons have invested in him, Vick was a bust. But if you don't count Vick, there wasn't any major quarterback bust in the 2001 draft. The closest thing is probably Marques Tuiasosopo, the Raiders' second-round pick, who spent six years in Oakland but started just two games. He recently signed with the Jets.
Best value: Without a doubt, the best value was Brees, as the Chargers' second-round pick.
Other noteworthy picks: Dallas surprised a lot of people by choosing Georgia's Quincy Carter in the second round. Carter looked OK as a rookie but wasn't willing to work hard enough to improve, and after falling into trouble with the league's substance-abuse policy, he was released.
Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke of Florida State lasted until the fourth round, when the Panthers took him. He won the starting job as a rookie but lost it after that.
Conventional wisdom: Just about everyone agreed that LaDainian Tomlinson was the best back in the draft, although Deuce McAllister of Ole Miss had a few supporters. Some folks thought McAllister was a better all-around player and more ready to step in and contribute immediately.
Highest pick: LaDainian Tomlinson, Texas Christian, fifth overall to the Chargers
Best player: Tomlinson. Chargers general manager John Butler made no attempt to hide that Tomlinson was the highest player on his draft board. So for Butler to trade down from the top spot, pick up Tomlinson with the Falcons' pick (fifth overall), and grab a couple of extra later picks, was an outstanding move and one that helped build the Chargers into the elite team they are today.
Biggest bust: Michael Bennett of Wisconsin wasn't a bad player for the Vikings, but he wasn't as good as Minnesota hoped. The Vikings might have reached a bit to select Bennett, thinking they had to choose a running back to replace the retired Robert Smith.
Best value: The best of the second-day picks was Auburn's Rudi Johnson, whom the Bengals chose in the fourth round.
Other noteworthy picks: The Saints, who already had Ricky Williams, drafted McAllister anyway. That was the first sign that they'd send Williams packing, which they did a year later.
Chicago took Michigan's Anthony Thomas in the second round, and he made an instant impact as a rookie. He never did much of anything after that, but he may get one more chance. As of right now, he's the starter in Buffalo for 2007.
Conventional wisdom: Everyone loved this wide receiver class, but there was quite a bit of disagreement about who was the best of the bunch. Was it Michigan's David Terrell, North Carolina State's Koren Robinson or Miami's Santana Moss?
Highest pick: Terrell, eighth overall to the Bears
Best player: Too close to call between Oregon State's Chad Johnson, the Cincinnati Bengals' second-round pick, and Utah's Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers' third-round pick. As a rookie Smith made an immediate impact as a kick returner, and he's developed into one of the league's best offensive threats. Johnson was the Bengals' third receiver as a rookie and has been one of the league's elite receivers since winning a starting job his second season.
Biggest bust: There are a lot of choices for this category: Terrell was a bust for the Bears. Robinson's off-field problems kept him from reaching his promise with the Seahawks. UCLA's Freddie Mitchell, the Eagles' first-round pick, talked a bigger game than he played. But if I have to choose one, I choose Terrell.
Best value: A tie between Smith and Oregon State's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Bengals' seventh-round choice.
Other noteworthy picks: Rod Gardner of Clemson, the Redskins' first-round pick, seems like a Dan Snyder choice: More style than substance. But don't blame Snyder for choosing Gardner. It was actually coach Marty Schottenheimer who was making the decisions in the Redskins' war room on draft day 2001.
Indianapolis took Miami's Reggie Wayne with the 30th pick overall. He had the best season of his career last year.
Conventional wisdom: Arizona State's Todd Heap was the clear top choice in a tight end class that was generally considered fairly weak.
Highest pick: Todd Heap, Arizona State, 31st overall to the Ravens
Best player: A close call between Heap and North Carolina's Alge Crumpler, the Falcons' second-round pick, who became Vick's favorite target.
Biggest bust: No true busts, but San Jose State's Sean Brewer, the third tight end off the board, didn't produce as much as the Bengals expected him to when they chose him in the third round.
Best value: Arizona's Brandon Manumaleuna, the Rams' fourth-round pick, was mostly a blocking tight end and therefore seemed like a strange fit in the Mike Martz offense, but he's had a solid NFL career.
Other noteworthy picks: Eric Johnson, the 49ers' seventh-round pick out of Yale, showed promise but had a hard time staying healthy. He recently signed as a free agent with the Saints.
Conventional wisdom: There were two tackles whom every draft analyst loved: the enormous Leonard Davis of Texas and the agile Kenyatta Walker of Florida. Michigan had three offensive linemen who made scouts drool in guard Steve Hutchinson and tackles Jeff Backus and Maurice Williams. Nebraska's Dominic Raiola was the best of a mediocre class of centers.
Highest pick: Leonard Davis, Texas, second overall to the Cardinals
Best player: Hutchinson, the 17th overall pick of the Seahawks, has developed into one of the elite guards in the NFL. He has had a bigger impact than any of the tackles.
Biggest bust: None. You can call all three first-round tackles -- Davis, Walker, Backus -- disappointments because none has turned into a great player. But they've all started plenty of games for the teams that drafted them, so you can't really call any of them busts.
Best value: Purdue's Matt Light was a great choice for the Patriots in the second round, and Georgia's Jonas Jennings was a great choice for the Bills in the third round.
Other noteworthy picks: People were shocked when Walker fell all the way to 14th, where Tampa Bay traded up to draft him. But Walker never developed into the kind of offensive lineman just about everyone expected he would.
Conventional wisdom: It was supposed to be a very deep draft for defensive linemen, and nine of them ended up going in the first round. Scouts thought Florida's Gerard Warren was such a great athlete that he was a can't-miss prospect at defensive tackle. Missouri's Justin Smith was a good pass-rushing end, although opinion was more divided on what kind of pro he would be.
Highest pick: Gerard Warren, Florida, third overall to the Browns
Best player: Richard Seymour, Georgia, sixth overall to the Patriots. There was talk of the Patriots taking one of the wide receivers -- Terrell or Robinson -- with that pick, and there was talk that the Seahawks were praying that Seymour would still be around when they were on the clock. Just think how much worse the Patriots would have been and how much better the Seahawks would have been in recent years if Seymour had gone to Seattle and one of the receiving busts had gone to New England.
Biggest bust: Several options: Warren was a hugely expensive disappointment for Cleveland. Green Bay wanted Seymour but settled for defensive end Jamal Reynolds of Florida State with the 10th overall pick, and he never did much of anything. The Rams took two defensive linemen in the first round: Damione Lewis of Miami No. 12 overall, and Ohio State's Ryan Pickett No. 29 overall. Neither one lived up to expectations.
Best value: Marcus Stroud, Seymour's college teammate, was seen as a reach when Jacksonville took him 13th overall. And while the scouts were right that Stroud isn't as good as Seymour, he's developed into one of the league's better defensive tackles.
Texas nose tackle Casey Hampton was an excellent choice to the Steelers with the 20th pick overall.
Maryland's Kris Jenkins (Carolina) and Texas's Shaun Rogers (Detroit) were good picks in the second round who might have been great picks if they could stay healthy. Ditto for the Broncos' third-round pick, Iowa State's Reggie Hayward, who's been a very good player when healthy but has played just 63 games.
Other noteworthy picks: The San Francisco 49ers thought Cal defensive end Andre Carter would be a pass-rushing demon when they chose him seventh overall. He spent five good (but not great) years in San Francisco before signing with the Redskins.
Conventional wisdom: If you wanted a linebacker who could step in and start right away, you had to draft Miami's Dan Morgan, who was seen as, by far, the best linebacker in this draft. Morgan had size, speed and toughness. After him there was a huge drop-off in talent in what was seen as a generally weak linebacker class.
Highest pick: Dan Morgan, Miami, 11th overall to the Panthers
Best player: The scouts were right; Morgan was the best linebacker in this draft class -- at least when he could stay on the field. Unfortunately, Morgan has had several injuries, especially some severe concussions, and he's played in just 56 games in six seasons. Morgan has said he wants to keep playing, but when you're dealing with repeated brain injuries, that seems like a bad idea.
Biggest bust: The Eagles' second-round pick, Quinton Caver of Arkansas, was a disappointment. He looked like he had the ideal size and athleticism, but he never made much of an impact in Philadelphia or in his later stints with Dallas and Kansas City.
Best value: Edgerton Hartwell of Western Illinois was a great value for the Ravens in the fourth round, although he later became a terrible value for the Falcons when they paid him $26 million and injuries limited him to just 13 games in Atlanta. Clemson's Keith Adams, the Titans' seventh-round pick, has become a very good player and was a very good value.
Other noteworthy picks: Georgia's Kendrell Bell was the second linebacker off the board, going to the Steelers with the 39th pick. His career got off to a very good start, with nine sacks as a rookie, but he missed 17 games in his next three seasons in Pittsburgh, and hasn't been nearly as good the last two years in Kansas City.
Conventional wisdom: There wasn't any one defensive back who looked like a sure thing, but it was thought to be a deep class. As it turned out, six defensive backs went in the first round, all between the 20th and 28th picks. Adam Archuleta was a good but not great player at Arizona State, but his workout numbers were incredible: He was fast enough to play safety but stronger than a lot of defensive linemen. That made scouts salivate. Ohio State's Nate Clements had the look of a lockdown corner.
Highest pick: Adam Archuleta, Arizona State, 20th overall to the Rams
Best player: North Carolina safety Adrian Wilson, selected in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals. If he played for any other team, Wilson would be recognized as one of the league's elite defensive players. Wilson narrowly gets the "best player" nod here over Clements. It remains to be seen whether Clements will be worth the enormous free-agent contract he just signed with San Francisco, but he was definitely worth the 21st overall pick for Buffalo.
Biggest bust: Willie Middlebrooks, Minnesota, 24th overall to the Broncos. Middlebrooks played special teams almost exclusively and is now out of the league.
Cornerback Will Allen of Syracuse hasn't had a terrible NFL career, but considering that the Giants gave up their first-, third-, and sixth-round picks to move up and take him, he didn't live up to expectations.
Best value: Wilson. To get such a great player in the third round is positively un-Cardinal-like.
Other noteworthy picks: Mississippi State cornerback Fred Smoot was a great choice for the Redskins in the second round. Smoot at one point looked like a sure-thing first-round pick, but there were concerns about his attitude. He made an instant impact with the Redskins.
Other classics in the Six Years Later series:
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