The NFL Draft is all about hope. It doesn’t matter how poorly your team played last season (I’m looking at you Cleveland), this is the time of year where anything can happen. Just think of all those times you were watching the draft and your team selected Ki-Jana Carter or David Klingler and you thought to yourself, this is going to be the year!
I’m a Bengals fan and no, they weren’t.
As the NFL offseason moves along and hope springs eternal, we look back at the 2000s and what might have been.
Full disclosure here, 2000 is a tough draft to do, especially to start with, as I was a student at Penn State with Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington, the top two picks in the draft. I Actually ran into Arrington a couple of times on campus. When the three of us were there, PSU was one of the top teams in the nation and these guys were two of the defensive anchors. They looked like can’t miss prospects coming out of college, but didn’t live up to expectations.
There are a few surprises in-store as you go through the years. How might Ben Roethlisberger have done as quarterback of the Oakland Raiders? Or Adrian Peterson running for the Lions? Alas, those teams didn’t opt to go in those directions and we look back and think what might have been.
It’s also amazing how many lousy players were selected with top selections during the decade. No wonder some of these franchises toiled at the bottom during prolonged stretches.
So go ahead, let yourself daydream about NFL what-if’s as we inch closer towards the actual season. For now, it’s about the hope and hype of what might be.
20 2000 - No. 1 - Cleveland Browns - Brian Urlacher
First-overall selection DE Courtney Brown played well in his rookie season, but got injured in his second year and was never the same. You’d think Tom Brady would be the selection here, but it’s not that clear. In 1999, Cleveland thought they’d selected their franchise starter in Tim Couch. It was too early for them to shift gears and needed help on the defensive side. Brian Urlacher was taken just eight slots later by the Bears and went on to play 13 seasons, making four All-Pro teams and 10 Pro Bowls. He tallied 1,040 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 22 INTs starting 180 of a possible 206 games. Urlacher could have been the building block the Browns needed.
19 2000 - No. 2 - Washington Redskins - Tom Brady
It pains me to say LB LaVar Arrington wouldn’t be the logical selection at No. 2. I was a LaVar fanboy in college. He was a solid pro for four seasons before injuries derailed his career. Around this time the Redskins were in the market for a QB. Brad Johnson was a Pro Bowler in 1999, but 2000 would be his last in Washington. Tom Brady could have sat on the bench for a season and stepped in to the starting role in 2001, much like he did in New England. I’m not gonna rattle off any stats here, you know how good he is.
18 2001 - No. 1 - Atlanta Falcons - LaDainian Tomlinson
What a long, strange trip it’s been for Michael Vick. As of 2015, he’s still an active player, but had his last great season in 2010 when he was the talk of the league, passing for just over 3,000 yards, rushing for nearly 700 and scoring 30 total TDs to go along with six INTs in just 12 games. Atlanta needed a quarterback in 2001, but a running back would have helped as well. In 2000, Jamal Anderson led the team in rushing with just over 1,000 yards and six TDs after returning from a knee injury. He blew out his other knee in 2001. The Falcons cold have had LaDainian Tomlinson who was, for a time, the best player in the NFL. From 2001-07, Tomlinson rushed for 10,650 yards and scored 129 total offensive TDs.
17 2001 - No. 2 - Arizona Cardinals - Steve Hutchinson
Arizona was looking for help on its offensive line at No. 2, but picked the wrong player. Actual pick Leonard Davis played 12 seasons and ended up making three Pro Bowls with Dallas from 2007-09, but Steve Hutchinson was an anchor on the o-line for five seasons in Seattle and six in Minnesota. He was named an All-Pro five times and made every Pro Bowl team from 2003-2009 before retiring after the 2012 season.
16 2002 - No. 1 - Houston Texans - Julius Peppers
The Texans needed to make a splash with their first ever selection, but they should have looked elsewhere. You can’t put all of Houston’s struggles on no. 1 pick David Carr, who never had good protection, which led to him being the most sacked QB in the NFL for three of his first four seasons. Houston needed help at every position and could have had a stalwart on their defensive line had they selected the player who went second overall, Julius Peppers. A three-time All-Pro, Peppers made his ninth Pro Bowl team in 2015 as a member of the Packers. He’s totaled 136 sacks in his career, forced 48 fumbles and collected 11 INTs.
15 2002 - No. 2 - Carolina Panthers - Ed Reed
And with Peppers taken first overall, the Panthers still get themselves a likely future Hall of Famer in Safety Ed Reed at no. 2. From 2002-2012, Reed made nine Pro Bowls and was selected to five All-Pro teams. He led the league in INTs three times and tallied 64 over his career. He also holds the league’s record for interception return yards with 1,590. He also holds the record for career INTs in the postseason with nine and was named to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade team.
14 2003 - No. 1 - Cincinnati Bengals - Kevin Williams
Hard to argue here with Carson Palmer as the top selection. He was a Heisman Trophy winner at USC and has gone on to a solid pro career. But as Palmer sat his rookie season, Jon Kitna helped turn the Bengals around from 2-14 in 2002 to 8-8 in 2003. The Bengals were dead last on defense in 2002 and needed help on that side of the ball. DT Kevin Williams missed just two starts for the Vikings between 2003 & 2010 and was selected to six Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams. He recorded 49.5 sacks over that span and could have been fierce alongside Justin Smith on the defensive line.
13 2003 - No. 2 - Detroit Lions - Andre Johnson
No. 2 pick Charles Rogers was an all-time bust, no question about it. He played in just 15 games, starting nine in three seasons with Detroit. He caught a total of 36 passes for 440 yards & four TDs. Since his release before the 2006 season, Rogers has had multiple run-ins with the law. The Lions were still confident in Joey Harrington in 2003 and likely wouldn’t have selected him if Palmer was available.
If it was a WR that Detroit wanted, they could have picked Andre Johnson, who was subsequently selected just after Rogers by the Houston Texans. From 2003-13, Johnson amassed 927 receptions for nearly 13000 yards and 61 TDs. He led the league twice in catches and also receiving yards.
12 2004 - No. 1 - San Diego - Jared Allen
Drew Brees has proven himself to be one of the best QBs of his era, but in 2003 he led the Chargers to a 2-9 record and there were question marks. So San Diego drafted Eli Manning No. 1 and traded him for Philip Rivers who is with the team to this day. Not a bad pick, but consider that Brees turned things around in 2004, leading the team to an 11-4 record, making his first of nine Pro Bowls.
Think if they had instead used the pick to select DE Jared Allen, who led the league in sacks twice over his 12-year career and tallied 136 sacks in total. He’s a four-time All-Pro and in 2003, the Chargers’ defense ranked 31st in the NFL. Think he could have helped?
11 2004 - No. 2 – Oakland Raiders – Ben Roethlisberger
In 2003, the QB tandem of Rich Gannon and Rick Mirer led the Raiders to a 4-12 record. Instead of drafting a signal-caller in 2004, Oakland opted to get more protection at no. 2 for free-agent signee Kerry Collins. The team proceeded to go 5-11 that season. Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, has won two Super Bowls as a member of the Steelers and seems like he could have been the perfect Raiders quarterback. He’s big, he can move, and he can throw the deep ball. He’s thrown for just under 43,000 yards in 12 seasons with 287 total TDs.
10 2005 - No. 1 - San Francisco - Aaron Rodgers
You think the 49ers want a do-over? No. 1 pick Alex Smith did become a pretty good NFL quarterback, but it took like six seasons for him to get there. Aaron Rodgers rode the pine being Hall of Famer Bret Favre, but was pretty spectacular from his first season as a starter in 2008. Who knows how well he might have played in those previous three seasons where he saw minimal action, but Rodgers has led the Packers to a Super Bowl win and he’s become one of the best QBs of the past decade. Just over 32,000 passing yards, 257 TDs, 65 INTs and two league MVP Awards. Imagine if it was Montana, Young, Rodgers. That’s a QB dynasty.
9 2005 - No. 2 - Miami Dolphins - Frank Gore
Selection Ronnie Brown was an average running back, going over 1,000 yards just once over his 10-year career, scoring a total of 40 TDs. If it was a runner the Dolphins wanted, they should have looked in their own backyard at Frank Gore. The University of Miami alum has rushed for more than 12,000 yards over his 11-year career, tallying another 3,150 through the air to go along with 82 total TDs. By comparison, Gore averaged more than 70-yards-per-game on the ground in eight different seasons while Brown only accomplished the feat three times. This is the same time the Ricky Williams saga was happening and the Dolphins couldn’t rely on him.
8 2006 - No. 1 – Houston Texans - Jahri Evans
Mario Williams has had a good career, but I don’t know that it’s been no. 1 overall pick good. He’s recorded 96 sacks in 10 seasons with the Texans, Bills and this upcoming season he takes his talents to South Beach to join the Dolphins. But in 2006 what the Texans needed was someone to protect QB David Carr, who was sacked 68 times, most in the league by a whopping margin of 19.
In the fourth round the Saints selected offensive lineman Jahri Evans, who was brought in to help protect free-agent signee Drew Brees and has done so ever since. Evans was named to every All-Pro team from 2009-12 and has been a Pro Bowler six times. Sure Evans was from a small school which would have made his selection at number one even more crazy, but someone should have done their homework.
7 2006 - No. 2 - New Orleans - Maurice Jones-Drew
Some thought Reggie Bush would be the second-coming of LaDainian Tomlinson and in his rookie season, the former Heisman Trophy winner and no. 2 selection looked like he might live up to the hype, rushing for 565 yards and catching 88 passes (which led the team) for 742 yards and a total of eight TDs. He never played that well again for the Saints, but rushed for over 1,000 yards for the Dolphins and Lions. Imagine if the Saints had selected Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the league in rushing in 2011 and gained more than 11,000 yards over his nine-year career to go along with 79 total TDs on offense. Bush has gained 2000 less yards and scored 26 fewer TDs.
6 2007 - No. 1 - Oakland Raiders - Joe Thomas
Where to even begin. No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell was a bust with a capital B. Over three NFL seasons he played in 31 games, throwing for a total of just over 4,000 yards, 18 TDs and 23 INTs. A QB putting up those stats in a single season today would be worried about his job, let alone doing this over the span of three. Oakland did need a quarterback, but they also had zero protection on their offensive line, surrendering 72 sacks in 2006, which was tops in the NFL. Some guy named Joe Thomas could have been selected here. He’s only been to the Pro Bowl in every one of his nine seasons, named an All-Pro in six times and hasn’t missed a start. And this has been as a member of the Browns!
5 2007 - No. 2 - Detroit Lions - Adrian Peterson
No. 2 pick Calvin Johnson was a very good wide receiver over his nine-year career, leading the league in receptions once and receiving yards twice. He caught 731 total passes for more than 11,600 yards and 83 TDs. But Detroit could have used a running back in 2007 when Kevin Jones was their starter. They could have had Adrian Peterson lining up for them instead of being forced to see him twice a year as a member of the Vikings. Peterson has rushed for more yards than Johnson had receiving, scored 18 more TDs on offense and is a member of the 2000-yard club. He’s also done it in 15 fewer games.
4 2008 - No. 1 - Miami Dolphins - Matt Ryan
Jake Long wasn't a bad pick for the Dolphins. He played on Miami’s offensive line for five seasons, making the Pro Bowl four times, selected an All-Pro once. In the second round, Miami selected Chad Henne to be the team’s long-term answer at QB. He wasn’t. The Dolphins could have picked Matt Ryan, who instead went to Atlanta third overall and has thrown for nearly 33,000 yards and 202 TDs in eight seasons, leading the Falcons to the playoffs four times.
3 2008 - No. 2 - St. Louis - Joe Flacco
No. 2 pick Chris Long was released by the Rams this offseason just as the team was in the process of moving to Los Angeles. It would have been cool seeing as his father Howie played for the L.A. Raiders from 1982-93. He’s been a pretty solid player tallying 54.5 sacks and five fumble recoveries over his career and recently signed with the Patriots. But in 2008, and still today, the Rams need a quarterback. They could have had one in Joe Flacco, who’s amassed 75-47 record with the Ravens, throwing for more than 28,000 yards, 162 TDs and 102 INTs. He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in 2012 and was named the game’s MVP.
2 2009 - No. 1 - Detroit Lions - Clay Matthews
Detroit had the worst defense in the NFL in 2008 and continued the trend in 2009 after picking Matthew Stafford first overall instead of looking for a defensive playmaker. Now this isn’t to say that Stafford hasn’t performed. He’s probably the second best player in this draft behind LB Clay Matthews a player the Lions might have been smart selecting first overall. Matthews has a total of 67.5 sacks, six INTs and 12 forced fumbles. He’s a one-time All-Pro & six-time Pro Bowl selection and he’s one of the team’s leaders, named a captain during the 2016 NFL playoffs.
1 2009 - No. 2 – St. Louis Rams – Matthew Stafford
And here we are, for a second year in a row the Rams are picking second and again they fail to select a quarterback (Mark Sanchez was available at No. 2 in the actual 2009 draft). Matthew Stafford has thrown for nearly 26,000 yards, 163 TDs and 98 INTs in seven seasons with the Lions. He’s also rushed for 12 scores. The team decided to continue trotting out starter Marc Bulger as the team finished 2-14 in 2008 and 1-15 in 2009.