Looking at the 2004 NFL Draft Five Years Later

Todd FlemingAnalyst IApril 29, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to throw a pass against Darnell Dockett #90 of the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Most experts say it takes at least three years to effectively evaluate a draft.

Actually, five years is about the right time to evaluate a draft in terms of its overall impact to see which players boomed and which busted.

With that in mind, it is now time to evaluate the 2004 NFL Draft. 

This was one of the rare drafts that lived up to the hype surrounding it. It was high on drama (an astounding 28 trades in the first round, plus the Eli-Rivers Saga) as well as tragedy (the untimely death of superstar safety Sean Taylor).

What made it such a special draft was the impact it had—both positive and negative—on so many teams. It was a draft that helped turn around some of the NFL's top teams (Steelers, Cardinals, Giants, Chargers) while sinking a number of others (Lions, Browns, and Raiders).

The 2004 draft featured what was easily the best quarterback class since 1983, and may one day surpass even that class.

The top three quarterbacks taken that year (Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers) have already combined for three Super Bowl championships.

A fourth quarterback, Matt Shaub (third round pick), is also a quality starter. The only early bust at that position was J.P. Losman, taken by the Bills at No. 23.

This year's Super Bowl was a testament to the strength of that draft.

Larry Fitzgerald is the first wide receiver who can be legitimately compared to Jerry Rice in terms of his impact from that position. If you want to know when the Cardinals started turning around their franchise, look to 2004.

Besides Superman, Arizona also drafted its top two defenders, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett, that year.

On the AFC side of the ball, it is doubtful the Steelers would have added either of their two recent Lombardi trophies without Roethlisberger.

There was real strength at the top of the 2004 draft. Seven of the first eight picks—and 11 of the first 16—have played in Pro Bowls. There was also a number of special players selected throughout the draft's first four rounds.

Some of the top players at several other positions came out of that draft, including safety Bob Sanders, guard Chris Snee, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, running back Steven Jackson, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, and defensive end Jared Allen.

That year also featured one of the strongest groups of undrafted players, with wide receiver Wes Welker, running back Willie Parker, and tackle Jason Peters, among others, being added to rosters after not hearing their names called. 

Even the busts in that draft were not big by historic standards. Robert Gallery would have to be considered a bust since he was drafted to be a superstar left tackle, but he has developed into a good guard.

Not exactly Ryan Leaf or Brian Bosworth material.

The biggest losers of the draft were defined less by who they drafted and more by who they could have drafted.

All of the teams that drafted between picks five-11 in the first round passed on Roethlisberger, despite having needs at quarterback.

All of those teams (Washington, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Houston) have since tried to address that position, but some are still looking for an answer.

Cleveland is reminded twice a year that Big Ben could have, and should have, been drafted by them at No. 6 instead of Kellen Winslow, Jr.

Teams had excellent odds of drafting a top notch talent up through about the 25th pick. The last Pro-Bowler selected in the first round was Steven Jackson to the Rams at No. 24.

All in all, there were 14 future Pro-Bowlers selected in the first round and 10 more between rounds two through seven. Four additional future Pro Bowl players went undrafted.

The draft was a bit weak at the bottom. No impact players, with the possible exception of Michael Turner, were selected after the fourth round.

The big winners of that draft were the Steelers, Giants, Cardinals, Chargers, and Colts. Three of those teams got their franchise quarterback.

The Giants also added Chris Snee, while the Chargers brought in Shawn Merriman with the extra pick they got in the trade with the G-men. 

The Colts score high for adding Sanders to their roster despite not having a first round pick. All of these teams made significant strides forward.   

The big losers from the draft were the Raiders, Browns, Jaguars, Texans, and Bills. While there were a number of other uninspiring drafts, these teams all had the chance to draft franchise-changing players and missed them.

The 2004 draft ended up being arguably one of the biggest impact drafts of the last 20 years.

Plenty of sportswriters have rushed to declare winners and losers in the 2009 draft.  But, chances are when we look at the 2009 draft in 2014, the winners and losers list may look far different.

In other words, there is hope, Raiders fans.