NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2

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Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't

<p> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft will commence on Thursday night, marking the 77th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting.” From Thursday through Saturday 253 college players will hear their names called, adding their name to the NFL history books, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

Indeed, as history will tell, some past drafts have become more known for the players who were selected and did not enjoy success in a NFL uniform than those that did. There are also those players who did not hear their names called in the draft, but signed on with a team as an undrafted free agent and would eventually become solid players, if not All-Pros.

Here is a look back at the 1998-2007 drafts, as we reminisce and see which picks panned out for teams (Solid Picks), and those that failed miserably (Busts), as well as acknowledging those players that didn’t let disappointment on draft day get in the way of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL (Sleepers).

Note: Part 1 will cover drafts from 1998-2002, Part 2 will cover the 2003-2007 drafts.

2003 NFL Draft
Cincinnati tabbed Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer with the first overall pick. Palmer didn’t play at all in his rookie season but was the Bengals’ starter in 2004 and enjoyed seven fairly productive seasons there. Injuries took their toll on him starting with a significant suffered in the 2006 AFC Playoffs and later an elbow issue that resulted in him missing most of the 2008 season. Palmer’s tenure in Cincinnati came to a messy end as the team began the 2011 season without him before eventually trading him to the Oakland Raiders.

Solid Picks: They don’t get more solid than Andre Johnson, who Houston took with the second overall pick. The wide receiver from Miami is not only solidly built, but he’s a solid and steady contributor, with five 1,100-yard receiving seasons and a total of 706 receptions in nine seasons with the Texans.

The Panthers took Jordan Gross, who has established himself as a franchise tackle, with the eighth pick, and the Ravens found another defensive star in the first round, this time Terrell Suggs (No. 10). The Steelers also did pretty well in taking Troy Polamalu at No. 16, while the Raiders drafted their own All-Pro defensive back in Nnamdi Asomugha with the second-to-last pick in the first round.

Offensively, the Colts took tight end Dallas Clark (No. 24) in the first round, while the Cowboys took fellow tight end Jason Witten (3rd, No. 69) in the third round. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin (Cardinals – 3rd, No. 54) and Brandon Lloyd (49ers – 4th, No. 124) also came out of this draft.

On the defensive side, some of the stalwarts that were drafted in 2002 include Osi Umenyiora (Giants – 2nd, No. 56), Lance Briggs (Bears – 3rd, No. 68), Asante Samuel (Patriots – 4th, No. 120), and Robert Mathis (Colts – 5th, No. 138).

Busts: Detroit’s lack of successful first-round picks continued in 2003 when they selected Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers with the second pick. Unfortunately, the local collegiate hero never grew up and his lack dedication and maturity combined with some bad luck with injuries sabotaged his brief time in the NFL. In three forgettable seasons with the Lions, Rogers caught a grand total of 36 passes and scored four touchdowns in just 15 games. Dewayne Robertson (No. 3) never really had the impact of a top 5 pick in his six-year career, but he lasted longer than fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, whom New Orleans took with the fifth pick. Sullivan had 1.5 sacks in 36 games in his three seasons with the Saints.

In fact, of the eight defensive linemen taken in the first 15 picks of the 2003 draft more washed out than panned out. Suggs, Kevin Williams (Vikings – No. 9) and Ty Warren (Patriots – No. 13) all worked out in one degree or another, while Robertson, Sullivan, Jimmy Kennedy (Rams – No. 12), Michael Haynes (Bears No. 14), and Jerome McDougle (Eagles – No. 15) never really lived up to their first-round billing.

Sleepers: After the draft, San Diego signed a college basketball player as an undrafted free agent and it’s arguably one of the best moves the franchise has ever made. The Chargers took a chance on Antonio Gates, who was a forward on the Kent State basketball team, but has developed into one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Gates was named first-team All-Pro from 2004-06 and has 593 receptions, 7,783 yards receiving and 76 touchdowns in nine seasons. The Chargers found another hidden gem in 2003 in offensive lineman Kris Dielman. Dielman retired in February, after a nine-year career in which he was a two-time All-Pro selection and was invited to four Pro Bowls.

Similar to San Diego, Dallas took a chance on a small-college quarterback by the name of Tony Romo. Romo joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and after watching from the sidelines for two seasons, became the starter in 2006. Outside of injury, Romo has been under center since then and has earned three trips to the Pro Bowl in his six seasons as the starter. One of the most criticized quarterbacks in the league, by analysts, fans and even teammates alike, Romo has thrown for nearly 21,000 yards with 149 touchdowns and 72 interceptions in 105 career games, 77 of those starts.

2004 NFL Draft
The 2004 draft will probably go down in history as the Eli Manning draft. When Eli and his famous father, Archie, made it known that the younger Manning had no desire whatsoever to play for San Diego, the holders of the No. 1 overall pick, the Chargers orchestrated a trade with the New York Giants.

The Giants got the rights to the No. 1 pick in exchange for their first- and third-round pick in the 2004 draft and their first- and fifth-round selections in 2005. The Giants got Manning, who has since won two Super Bowls, and the Chargers took Philip Rivers with the fourth overall pick.

The Chargers also selected kicker Nate Kaeding with the 2004 third-round pick they got, and took Shawne Merriman in 2005 with the first-round pick (No. 12 overall) they received from the Giants. The Chargers ended up trading the extra fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for offensive lineman Roman Oben. Oben was a reliable starter for about two seasons for the Chargers before retiring from football in 2008. All in all, this ended up being a win-win trade for both teams, although Rivers has yet to enjoy the postseason success that Manning has.

Solid Picks: Arizona took Larry Fitzgerald with the third pick and the former Pitt Panther has certainly thrived out in the desert. The 2004 NFL Draft could end up being known as one of the best quarterback drafts of all time as besides Manning and Rivers, Pittsburgh got Ben Roethlisberger at No. 11. Manning and Big Ben combined have already won four Super Bowls. Matt Schaub (No. 90) was taken by Atlanta in the third round and after being traded to Houston in 2007, he has developed into one of the top starters in the league.

Later in the first round, New England took Vince Wilfork (No. 21) and St. Louis drafted running back Steven Jackson (No. 24). The Chargers also got reliable center Nick Hardwick in the third round (No. 66) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (No. 98) in the fourth round of this draft, adding to an impressive haul.

Kansas City drafted Jared Allen (No. 126) in the fourth round, who has become a four-time All-Pro and one of the most productive pass rushers with first the Chiefs and now the Vikings. San Diego’s 2004 draft bounty continued with running back Michael Turner in the fifth round (No. 154). The backup to LaDainian Tomlinson his first four years, Turner signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2008 and has rushed for more than 5,200 yards 50 touchdowns in four seasons in Atlanta.

Busts: Considering he started 12 games for Seattle last season, it may be too harsh to label Robert Gallery a “bust.” Still, no one can really argue that the offensive lineman has not lived up to his billing when he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Raiders in 2004. A trio of wide receivers never developed into the first-round talents they were drafted as, headlined by Roy Williams, who the Lions took at No. 7. In fairness, Roy was not as bug a bust as Reggie Williams, who the Jaguars took with the ninth pick, or Michael Clayton (Buccaneers – No. 15). Unlike, Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman (No. 22) did not pan out as an NFL quarterback, which was bad news for the team that drafted him in the first round, the Bills.

Sleepers: One wide receiver that didn’t get drafted, but certainly panned out was Wes Welker. The diminutive Welker from Texas Tech was signed by San Diego as an undrafted free agent, but was released before the 2004 season even started. Just think how good the Chargers’ ’04 draft would have been if they had kept Welker?

Welker signed with Miami where he was used mostly on special teams. He finally started seeing action at wide receiver in 2005 and prior to the 2007 NFL Draft was traded to New England for second- and seventh-round picks. All Welker’s done with the Patriots so far is catch 554 passes in five seasons, including leading the NFL three different times, along with 6,105 yards and 31 touchdowns.

The Dolphins ended up with Samson Satele and Abraham Wright, the two players they drafted with the picks they got from the Patriots for Welker, and in many instances a front-row seat to the damage Welker and Tom Brady have done together. Welker is 7-2 in career meetings against his former team, with 75 receptions for 981 yards and four scores in those games.

2005 NFL Draft
Alex Smith went No. 1 overall to the San Francisco 49ers, a decision that up until last season seemed to have “bust” written all over it. Prior to the 2011 season, Smith had gone 19-31 as the 49ers’ starter, with more interceptions (53) than touchdown passes thrown. In 2011, however, he turned things completely around, tossing 17 touchdown passes to just five interceptions and more importantly, leading his team to a 13-3 record, the NFC West title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Smith also showed he could make plays with his legs, which not only earned him the confidence of head coach Jim Harbaugh, but a new contract that should secure his status as the 49ers' starting quarterback moving forward.

Solid Picks: Similar to Smith, Cedric Benson seemed like a bust early, but he has since proven otherwise. Chicago took Benson out of Texas with the fourth overall mark in 2005, but the running back lasted just three tumultuous seasons in the Windy City. The Bears released Benson during the 2008 offseason due in large part to two alcohol-related incidents. Cincinnati took a chance on Benson before the start of the ’08 season, and Benson responded by rushing for 747 yards, or more than he previously done in any of his seasons with the Bears, in just 12 games. However, he was just getting started. Benson followed up his first season with the Bengals by rushing for a career-high 1,251 yards, the first of three straight 1,000-yard campaigns.

As far as the 2005 draft went, the majority of the impact players that were taken came outside of the top 10. At No. 11 Dallas took sack-master DeMarcus Ware, followed by the Chargers selecting the aforementioned Merriman with the first-round pick they received in the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade, and Kansas City tabbed linebacker Derrick Johnson at No. 15.

The big prize, however, of the first round was none other than Aaron Rodgers, who Green Bay took at No. 24. At the time, the decision was largely criticized, if for no other reason the presence of one Brett Favre. Three seasons later, however, when Rodgers took the reins from the departed Favre, the Packers were the one getting the last laugh as the quarterback won a Super Bowl and was named the NFL MVP within his first four seasons as a starter. Atlanta and Pittsburgh also have gotten great returns out of their 2005 first-round picks in wide receiver Roddy White (No. 27) and tight end Heath Miller (No. 30).

The second round saw both Vincent Jackson (San Diego – No. 61) and Frank Gore (San Francisco – No. 65) go off the board, with the New York Giants landing defensive line stalwart Justin Tuck (No. 74) in the third round.

Busts: Ronnie Brown (Miami – No. 2) has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, while Braylon Edwards (Cleveland – No. 3) has no one to blame but himself for failing to capitalize on his talents and lost potential. Tennessee also learned a hard lesson when it comes to players with lots of upside but character question marks galore when the Titans selected Adam “Pacman” Jones with the sixth pick. Jones has since ended up in Cincinnati and appears to have gotten his act together and is well aware of the opportunity he wasted in Tennessee.

Busts among the top 10 players drafted also included wide receivers Troy Williamson (Minnesota – No. 7) and Mike Williams (Detroit – No. 10). For the Lions, Williams represented the third straight wideout taken with a top 10 pick that did not pan out, not to mention the selection of Joey Harrington with the third overall pick in 2002. No wonder the Lions didn’t make to the playoffs at all during the 2000s.

Sleepers: Cleveland signed Joshua Cribbs, their dynamic return specialist and versatile offensive weapon as an undrafted free agent, while New England signed kicker Robbie Gould. Gould never kicked for the Patriots, but he has for the Bears the last seven seasons, making it to the Pro Bowl and earning All-Pro honors in 2006.

2006 NFL Draft
Houston decided to take Mario Williams No. 1 overall in 2006, bypassing 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, who went to New Orleans with the second pick. Tennessee followed at No. 3 by taking quarterback Vince Young. Young went on to win 2006 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, Williams made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and ’09, and showed flashes of his amazing athleticism and play-making ability in isolated moments early on with the Saints.

However, entering the 2012 season, none of the three are still with the team that drafted them. Bush signed with Miami as a free agent in 2011, Williams became the first defensive player to sign a $100-million contract as he left the Texans for Buffalo in March, and Young, who was with Philadelphia last season following his release by the Titans, is still looking for team to join. How quickly things can change in the NFL.

Solid Picks: After the first three, teams fared a little better with their early first-round selections. The Jets took dependable tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson with the fourth pick, followed by linebacker A.J. Hawk to Green Bay, and tight end Vernon Davis to San Francisco. At No. 11 Denver selected quarterback Jay Cutler, who put up decent numbers with the Broncos before being traded to Chicago in March 2009. Baltimore got one of the centerpieces of their defense at No. 12 when they picked Haloti Ngata. Carolina and Indianapolis both used their late first-round picks on running backs and neither team came away disappointed with DeAngelo Williams (No. 27) or Joseph Addai (No. 30).

Second-round standouts from the ’06 draft include Roman Harper (New Orleans – No. 43), Greg Jennings (Green Bay – No. 52), Devin Hester (Chicago – No. 57) and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville – No. 60). Players taken in the fourth round included All-Pro offensive lineman Jahri Evans (New Orleans – No. 108) and Brandon Marshall (Denver – No. 119), who is now reunited with Cutler in Chicago after being traded from Miami.

Busts: Bush was not the only Heisman winner taken in the top 10 in 2006 as Matt Leinart, the ’04 recipient, was drafted by Arizona with the tenth pick. Leinart’s yet to make any sort of impact in the NFL, first with the Cardinals and now in Houston where he’s the backup to Schaub. Defensive back Tye Hill didn’t play like the top-15 player he was drafted in his brief 40-game career with St. Louis.

Sleepers: Although he was drafted, I am still labeling Cortland Finnegan as a sleeper. Tennessee selected the relatively unknown defensive back from Samford in the seventh round (No. 215) and no one really had any idea what to expect from the small-college prospect. All Finnegan did was develop into an All-Pro cornerback and he cashed in as a free agent this offseason, signing a five-year, $50 million deal to reunite with Jeff Fisher, the head coach who drafted him, in St. Louis.

Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin and Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes both went undrafted in ’06, but have since established themselves as standouts at their respective positions with the teams that took a chance on them.

2007 NFL Draft
Oakland took JaMarcus Russell, the tall, athletic quarterback with a big arm out of LSU, with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and there’s no question it’s a decision they would love to take a mulligan on. Following a lengthy hold out that extended into Week 1 of his rookie season, Russell signed a six-year contract worth more than $60 million with nearly half of that guaranteed. Russell proceeded to play in just four games in ’07 and a total of only 31 in his oh-so-brief NFL career. Russell never took advantage of his seemingly endless potential, which coupled with his well-earned reputation for being lazy and undisciplined, cemented him as the biggest bust in NFL history this side of Tony Mandarich.

Solid Picks: At least Detroit finally got a top 10 pick right. After years of swings-and-misses, the Lions finally hit one out of the park in taking Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the second overall pick. Besides quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s premier pass-catchers, CJ also seemingly ended the Lions’ “curse” with first-round picks, as evidenced by quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 and Ndamukong Suh, who they took with the second pick in 2010.

After Johnson, Cleveland took franchise left tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick and four selections later Minnesota chose running back Adrian Peterson, who’s worked out pretty well, wouldn’t you say? The impact talent didn’t stop there, however, as San Francisco tabbed Patrick Willis, the heart and soul of their defense, at No. 11, Marshawn Lynch went to Buffalo with the 12th pick, Darrelle Revis to the Jets at No. 14, Dwayne Bowe to Kansas City at No. 23, and the 49ers hit paydirt once again with tackle Joe Staley at No. 28.

Pittsburgh took LaMarr Woodely (No. 46) and Carolina chose Ryan Kalil (No. 59) in the second round. Green Bay got reliable kicker Mason Crosby in the sixth round (No. 193), while the New York Giants waited even longer, using a compensatory pick at the end of the draft, to select running back Ahmad Bradshaw (7th – No. 250).

Busts: Even though Russell is by far and away the biggest bust of the 2007 draft, if not all time, he was not alone. Other first-round picks that didn’t pan out included Jarvis Moss (Denver – No. 17), quarterback Brady Quinn (Cleveland – No. 22), and wide receiver Craig Davis (San Diego – No. 30). At least Davis has an appropriate nickname in regards to his NFL performance, “Buster.”

Sleepers: No real stand out among the crop of undrafted free agents, but this year did produce running back Pierre Thomas (signed with New Orleans), wide receiver/return specialist Eric Weems (signed with Atlanta, now with Chicago), and quarterback Matt Moore (signed with Dallas, now with Miami).

by Mark Ross, published on April 25, 2012

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NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
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