Forgotten First Rounders: 2001
It’s been over a decade since the 2001 draft – a pretty decent crop of players. Outside of controversial (both in terms of off-field activity and on-field value) QB and 1st overall pick Michael Vick, the 2001 first round also netted some soon-to-be Hall of Famers and some guys who have an outside chance of making the HOF: LaDanian Tomlinson, Justin Smith, Richard Seymour, Steve Hutchinson and Reggie Wayne. Other notable 2001 first rounders include Andre Carter, Casey Hampton, Jeff Backus, Leonard Davis, Todd Heap, Deuce McAllister, Marcus Stroud and Santana Moss. In 2011, an impressive 16 of the 31 1st rounders were still active 11 seasons after being drafted (Vick, Tomlinson, Smith, Seymour, Hutchinson, Wayne, Hampton, Carter, Backus, Davis, Moss, Heap, Gerard Warren, Nate Clements, Ryan Pickett and Will Allen). The last 4 might not have lived up to their 1st round hype (and might have been considered busts by their original drafting team’s fans) but all 4 have survived and played well at times (and struggled at others).
Still, as with any 1st round, there were big time busts – David Terrell and Jamal Reynolds atop that list. 9th overall pick Koren Robinson never lived up to his (inexplicable) pre-draft hype though he contributed enough (barely) to escape true bust status. But between the long-lasting stars and journeymen and the epic flops, there are always the forgotten. Here are a few of the guys who – like this year’s crop of 1st rounders – fans were anxious to see suit up in their first training camps in the summer of 2001 but failed to make much of an impression:
Damione Lewis – DT- 12th Overall – St. Louis Rams:
Somehow, Lewis stuck around for a decade (last active in 2010 for Houston) as a backup and rotational DT. He didn’t make it past his rookie contract in St. Louis, starting just 29 of 69 games with the Rams. Only 3 times in his career did he start more than 8 games (2004,2008,2009). The Rams took 2 DT’s in the first (Lewis and Pickett) and missed the mark both times. Between their 2 picks, the Jaguars took Stroud. The next 2 DT’s after Pickett (29th overall): Kris Jenkins and Shaun Rogers. One has to wonder if the Greatest Show On Turf could have pulled off another Super Bowl win with one of those other DT’s anchoring their interior DL
Rod Gardner – WR – 15th Overall – Washington Redskins
Gardner is a great example of a guy who looked better on paper than he did on the field. His first season with Washington, he racked up 741 yards on 46 catches – an impressive 16.1 YPC. His 2nd season, he hauled in 71 receptions for 1006 yards. After that though, things went downhill. He caught 59 passes in his 3rd year and 51 in his 4th. If this were 2004 and we only had his stats to go by, we’d probably think he was a fairly useful NFL WR with a solid career ahead of him. However, after his 4 years in Washington (61 games started, 227 catches, 2997 yards, 22 TD’s), Gardner went on to play in just 26 more games and caught only 15 more passes. Watching Gardner in his first (best) two seasons, it was apparent he wasn’t the player that his somewhat impressive stats made him out to be. He just happened to be the best WR on two teams with terrible receiving corps (former 1st round mediocrity Michael Westrbook started opposite Gardner in 2001 and undrafted Derrius Thompson in 2002).
Adam Arcuhleta – S – 20th Overall – St. Louis Rams
Speaking of what could have been with the Greatest Show on Turf – Rams fans are probably apathetic over their recollection of Archuleta. The once promising DB was taken by St. Louis between their two underwhelming DT’s. As with Pickett and Lewis, Archuleta didn’t stick past his rookie contract and, while he outperformed the pair of DT’s, he didn’t last long enough with the team to be a true cornerstone player. He had a good start to his career, including piling up 102 tackles in 2002. However, after signing what was at the time the largest free agent contract ever for a safety with the (who else) Washington Redskins, Archuleta’s career tanked and he was out of the league 2 years later. A fairly traditional strong safety, and former college linebacker, Archuleta couldn’t adapt to the new pass-friendly NFL and back injuries didn’t help his coverage abilities.
Willie Middlebrooks – DB – 24th overall – Denver Broncos
Middlebrooks belongs in the “total bust” category, but he’s a guy who was taken low enough in the 1st round to not be a truly memorable flop. He didn’t have a ton of hype coming out of college. He wasn’t a huge reach or interesting story. He was just a pretty good college prospect who never panned out. 56 games played in 5 seasons and only 2 games started. His first 3 years in Denver, he played in 39 games with 6 tackles, 1 pass defensed and 0 INT’s.
Freddie Mitchell – WR – 25th overall – Philadelphia Eagles
“Fred-Ex” is only remembered for his brash personality and pre-Super Bowl antics. On-field, he was useless. He ended his brief 4 year career with 90 catches for 1263 yards in 63 games. 5 picks later, the Colts drafted Reggie Wayne. Chad Ochocinco went 11 picks later.
Jamar Fletcher – DB – 26th overall – Miami Dolphins
Fletcher is one of those guys who was useful at times, but never really a good player outside of special teams. He bounced around as a kick coverage guy and backup DB – playing for 5 teams in 8 years. He did managed to play in 105 games, though only started 12.
Michael Bennett – 27th overall – Minnesota Vikings
Bennett is a guy who I thought of a few times in the run-up to the 2012 draft. Like some of this year’s fringe 1st round RB’s (or guys who were being graded as late 1st-2nd round prospects), he was a guy with explosiveness and elusiveness but questions about his durability and overall skill set. Foot and knee injuries derailed his career in his 3rd season, but his first 2 years were impressive as a speed back in Minnesota’s Randy Moss/Daunte Culpepper era offense. His 2002 campaign saw him put up 255 carries for 1296 yards – an impressive 5.1 YPC. He stuck around for parts of 10 seasons but only played in 16 games twice (2002 and 2005) and never came close to replicating his early success after his 3rd season.
Derrick Gibson – 28th overall – Oakland Raiders
Just one of many Raiders 1st round picks in the 2000’s who failed to pan out. Gibson was a forgettable safety who started less than half of the games he played in Oakland and was out of the league after 5 marginal seasons.