Draft class appraisal
Analyzing every first round from 1995 through 2004
Posted: Thursday March 29, 2007 12:18PM; Updated: Thursday March 29, 2007 4:57PM
I learned two important things after writing last week's column on the recent struggles of defensive linemen selected first overall in the NFL Draft. One is that there are a hell of a lot of readers who thought I had overlooked Lee Roy Selmon and Ed "Too Tall" Jones, when, in fact, I was discussing the failures of defensive linemen drafted within the last 30 years. The other is that there are a handful of readers out there who think the 2000 draft class produced some of the worst first-round picks in recent history, including its top selection and the inspiration for last week's column, Cleveland Browns defensive end Courtney Brown. It was this second lesson that got me to roll back my sleeves and delve into some draft evaluations for this week's column.
The way I look at this, it's best to start with some basic ground rules. I agree with the popular notion that it takes at least three years to know what any given draft class has to offer, so I'm skipping the last two and focusing on those between 1995 and 2004. I'm only going to worry about the first-round picks, because they're the most scrutinized players. And I'm using four standards to assess the success of the first-round classes: 1) the overall number of busts; 2) the number of players who disappointed with their original teams but produced elsewhere; 3) the number of players who blossomed into solid starters; and 4) the number of players who played in at least one Pro Bowl.
Here's what I discovered:
The deepest first-round class in the 10-year window was the 2004 crop: Though four other draft classes have produced more Pro Bowl players, no other group has generated more stars and solid starters. Aside from two clear-cut busts (Green Bay cornerback Ahmad Carroll and 49ers wide receiver Rashaun Woods), most of the players in this class are making some kind of impact on their respective teams. Half of the first 10 picks (Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, San Diego's Phillip Rivers, Washington's Sean Taylor, Detroit's Roy Williams and Atlanta's DeAngelo Hall) have already played in a Pro Bowl. The 11th overall selection (Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger) is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. And when you really study the top 18 picks in that class, 14 already look like they'll be long-time, high-producing stars in this league. It's tough to beat those kinds of numbers.
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