Athlon Sports looks back at recent drafts to see which picks worked out and which didn't
The 78th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting,” better known as the 2013 NFL Draft, will commence on Thursday. Thirty-two college players will hear their names called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when the first round of the draft is broadcast live on ESPN from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Following the first round, 222 more college players will be selected by all 32 NFL teams on Friday and Saturday. Every player that is picked will become a part of NFL history, 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 2000-08 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).
2005 NFL Draft
Alex Smith went No. 1 overall to the San Francisco 49ers, a decision that up until 2011 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 led the 49ers to a 6-2-1 start in 2012 before he was sidelined by a concussion and replaced by second-year pro Colin Kaepernick. The dual-threat from Nevada never looked back, leading San Francisco all the way to the Super Bowl. Kapernick's emergence made Smith expendable and San Francisco traded him to Kansas City in March. Smith will now get a chance to prove to new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid that he's the current and long-term answer under center.
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. Benson signed with Green Bay prior to the 2012 season, but a foot injury limited him to just 248 yards on the ground in five games.
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 Shawne 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 eight 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, none of the three are still with the team that drafted them. Bush first signed with Miami as a free agent in 2011 and did the same with Detroit in March, while Williams became the first defensive player to sign a $100-million contract as he left the Texans for Buffalo last March. Then there's Young, who ended up with Philadelphia in 2011 following his release by the Titans, and is desperately looking for another team that's willing to give him yet another chance. 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 was reunited with Cutler in Chicago following a trade from Miami last March.
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, as he's bounced around with three teams - Arizona, Houston and most recently Oakland. 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 last March, 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. After earning a Pro Bowl invite in 2010, Grimes struggled through two injury-plagued seasons and signed a one-year deal with Miami in March as he hopes to prove to the entire league that he's completely healthy.
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).
2008 NFL Draft
From a player perspective, this draft will most likely be known as the Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco draft, as the two franchise quarterbacks were taken in the first round by Atlanta and Baltimore respectively. Five years after the fact, however, this draft also can be described in one word – volatile.
During the draft itself, a total of 34 trades took place, which surpassed the previous record of 29 from the 2004 draft. Eight picks in the first-round alone swapped hands in addition to the four others that were involved in pre-draft trades.
Five years later, the movement associated with this draft hasn’t stopped either. Consider this: 13 of the 31 players taken in the first round who were on an NFL roster last season are no longer with the team that drafted them. This turnover includes Jake Long, who went No. 1 overall to Miami. The Dolphins made Long the first offensive lineman taken with the first pick since 1997 when St. Louis drafted Orlando Pace. The ironic thing is that Long is now a Ram himself, as he signed with St. Louis as a free agent this offseason.
Solid Picks: Virginia defensive lineman Chris Long went to St. Louis with the second pick, as the Rams tabbed the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie. Atlanta took Ryan with the next pick, making the Boston College quarterback the successor to Michael Vick, a decision the Falcons have not regretted for one moment.
Oakland took running back Darren McFadden at No. 4 while Denver and Kansas City found future franchise left tackles in Ryan Clady (No. 12) and Branden Albert (No. 15). Tennessee surprised some by taking East Carolina running back Chris Johnson with the 24th pick, but all Johnson has done is average 1,378 yards rushing per season, including 2,006 on the ground in 2009.
Flacco was taken by Baltimore with the 18th pick, a spot the Ravens weren’t in initially. The Ravens entered the draft with the No. 8 overall pick, but traded that to Jacksonville for the Jaguars’ first-round pick (No. 26), two third-round selections and a fourth-round pick.
The Ravens then packaged that pick, one of the third-round selections they got from Jacksonville and a fourth-round pick to swap places with Houston in the first round, moving up from No. 26 to No. 18. In the end, the Ravens ended up with Flacco, the Texans got left tackle Duane Brown, who earned first-team All-Pro honors last season, and the Jaguars used the No. 8 pick overall on Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey, who had eight sacks in three disappointing seasons in Jacksonville.
Besides Flacco, Baltimore also netted a workhorse running back in this draft, as the Ravens took Ray Rice in the second round (No. 55 overall). Chicago’s Matt Forte (No. 44) and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (No. 73) were also selected in this draft.
The second round of the 2008 draft saw 10 wide receivers go off of the board, the most notable being Jordy Nelson (Green Bay – No. 36) and DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia – No. 49). Later round picks for this draft that have worked out include Cliff Avril (Detroit – No. 92), Carl Nicks (New Orleans – No. 164), Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis – No. 205) and Stevie Johnson (Buffalo – No. 224). But again in keeping with volatility theme, Avirl, Nicks and Garcon are no longer with the teams that drafted them.
Busts: While the aforementioned Harvey is probably the biggest bust of the 2008 draft he’s not alone in this unflattering distinction. The New York Jets had high hopes for Vernon Gholston, whom they took with the fifth overall pick, but the former Ohio State star lasted just three seasons in the Big Apple and has since been signed and waived by two other teams.
Other first-round selections that haven’t exactly lived up to expectations include Sedrick Ellis (New Orleans – No. 7), Keith Rivers (Cincinnati – No. 9) and Jeff Otah (Carolina – No. 19), although in Otah’s case knee injuries are largely to blame.
Sleepers: Even though 252 players were selected in the 2008 draft, that didn’t mean there were no hidden gems. In fact, this draft had quite a few undrafted free agents that have gone on to become productive NFL players.
On offense alone, notable undrafted free agents included Danny Amendola (signed with Dallas originally), Davone Bess, BenJarvus Green-Eillis, Mike Tolbert and Danny Woodhead. Those on the defensive side of the ball included Kyle Arrington (originally signed with Philadelphia), Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Jerrell Freeman (Tennessee), Jameel McClain and Wesley Woodyard.
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