The 10 Best NFL Draft Picks of the Last Decade
The 2009 draft is over. At least some fans in all 32 NFL cities are convinced that their teams have drafted the players they'll need to win the Super Bowl. In some cases, they may well be right.
In other cases, not so much.
Based on history, there are few things we can guess about this year's draft. If history holds, Matthew Stafford has about a 50 percent chance of being a boom...or a bust.
Most of the high-impact players will come out of the first round, although several of those picks will fail miserably. Most players selected after the fourth round will make little contribution in this league. However, a very small handful of players selected in the later rounds will surprise.
One thing that is not up for debate is that the draft is vitally important. The decisions made in April have a huge impact on what happens in January.
This article attempts to rank the top 10 draft picks from the last decade, starting with the 2000 draft. It is too early to tell on the impact from the last two years, so most of these picks took place between 2000-2007.
High impacted undrafted free agents, like Wes Welker and James Harrison, were not considered for this list.
The list reflects both the value of where the player was picked and the impact they have had on the team's success. These players' teams have all been very successful, thanks in large part to their contributions.
Greatest Draft Pick of All-Time
Sixth round draft picks are supposed to struggle just to make rosters and become backups or practice squad players. They are not supposed to lead their team to three Super Bowl wins and four Super Bowl appearances.
Tom Brady stands alone on top of this list both for the incredible value of the pick and its unparalleled impact. No other pick even comes close.
He is the best quarterback in the league. His return from injury is also the reason the Patriots are the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year.
Brady had the most prolific season as a passer in the history of the league. He is a master at reading defenses and a superb on-field leader.
While Bill Belichick gets much of the credit for the Patriots' success, it sure is a lot easier looking like an evil genius as a coach when you have somebody like Brady behind center.
LT Heads to San Diego
In 2001, San Diego was sitting in the cat bird's seat with that draft's #1 overall selection. This was before that pick became a money shredding curse. But, Atlanta was desperate to move up and grab Michael Vick.
So, San Diego moved down five slots where they selected Ladainian Tomlinson, the best running back of our generation and one of the best running backs in the history of the league, and probably the best player in the history of Fantasy Football. While San Diego was criticized at the time for passing on Vick, they look like geniuses in retrospect.
They also secured a second and third round pick and a veteran receiver as part of the deal...not a bad value, even if the picks (Tay Cody and Reche Caldwell) didn't pan out. The veteran receiver, Tim Dwight. was a serviceable receiver in a weak receiving corps for a few years and a good return man.
Tomlinson has broken too many records to include them all here, to include the all-time record for single season touchdowns (31). He is behind only Emmitt Smith on the all-time rushing touchdown list. Tomlinson plied his trade for years in relative obscurity playing for a weak Chargers' team before the team finally returned to prominence later in his career.
He has been the face of the franchise since he was drafted.
Phillip Rivers/Shawne Merriman: Two Superstars for the Price of One
The Chargers took the first pick of the 2004 draft and parleyed it into the two best players on their team. They did it by playing a game of chicken with the Giants and the Mannings.
By refusing to give in to the Manning's demands not to draft Eli, the Chargers got not only their franchise quarterback of the future, but an extra first round pick in the following year's draft.
They used that pick to draft Shawne Merriman. Neither player would have made this list on their own impact and achievements.
But, taken together, they represent the second best use of a pick of the last decade, especially considering that 50 percent of the No. 1 overall picks over the last decade have busted. Not only did they get one boom, but two.
Phillip Rivers is a phenomenal leader and passer, although he is yet to get the respect he deserves (hence the Pro Bowl snub this year).
And perhaps no player is more important to his defense than Merriman, as witnessed by the steep dropoff in the defense following his injury, when he wasn't on the field terrorizing quarterbacks.
Big Ben Leads the Steelers Back to Glory
Ben Roethlisberger was the last of the three high-profile quarterbacks selected in 2004. While he was selected at No. 11 overall, that was a steal considering his talent.
All he did was set a rookie record, winning fifteen straight games after taking over for the injured Tommy Maddox. That is a rookie record that may never be broken. Only one quarterback has won more Super Bowl rings than Ben this decade.
There is no way the Steelers win those rings without him. The Steelers rode his arm over the Bengals, the heavily favored Colts, and the Broncos on their way to their first title under him.
In the Colts' game, he also made the game saving tackle following a late Bettis' fumble. Three years later, in Super Bowl XLIII, he put together one of the best comeback drives in the history of the game.
He has led 19 fourth-quarter comebacks since entering the league, including five last season. Those numbers are tops in the league.
In the Steelers' storied history, no single draft choice has been more important or made a bigger impact. While he still doesn't get the respect he deserves in the sports-writing community outside of Pittsburgh, that will change in the years ahead.
Steve Smith: The Electrifying Panther
Steve Smith is not only one of the top receivers in the league, he has also been an electrifying special teams player throughout his career. Not bad for a third round pick out of Utah.
During the 2003 season, Smith's play was a key reason the surprising Panthers not only advanced to the Super Bowl, but almost won it.
He finished off the Rams with a 69 yard touchdown reception in overtime and caught four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots, while also returning a kickoff for 30 yards. Smith registered 404 yards during that postseason run.
In 2005, Smith led the league in receptions, yards and touchdowns, a feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1984. This past season, he led the league in receiving yards per game. He remains one of the top receivers in the game and one of its fiercest competitors.
Smith slid to the third round because of his diminutive size (5'9") but his play has helped shatter the myth that smaller receivers can not succeed in this league.
Larry Fitzgerald: Superman
Larry Fitzgerald was selected No. 3 overall in 2004. So, he doesn't score that high on value. But, his impact is off the chart.
Wide receiver is the position with the most misses in the first round with even the highest rated prospects frequently falling far short of expectations. Fitzgerald not only met expectations...he smashed them.
His performance in the playoff this year was legendary. Teams tried every conceivable way to try and corral him. All failed miserably. Against the Eagles in the NFC Championship, he caught three touchdown passes in the first half.
He racked up 546 receiving yards on thirty receptions with seven touchdowns during the Cardinals' playoff run breaking Jerry Rice's postseason record.
He was also named MVP of the Pro Bowl after snagging two more touchdowns. He did all of this with a broken left thumb and torn cartilage in that hand.
He is also a high character guy, the type of player that makes everyone around him better.
I was not sure I'd ever see a receiver who could be compared to Jerry Rice. But, Fitzgerald is that receiver. As long as he plays for the Cardinals, their offense is going to be tough to slow down.
Brian Westbrook Takes Flight
Brian Westbrook is another guy that scores sky high in both value and impact. When Westbrook entered the 2002 draft, the cards were seemingly stacked against him.
He stood all of 5'8", played for a school only known for basketball (Villanova), and had suffered through injuries.
But, the Eagles and Andy Reid were enamored enough with his talent that they took him in the third round. He has more than rewarded their gamble. Westbrook is one of the best dual-threat running backs in the history of the league.
When he catches the ball out of the backfield, look out.
With the struggles the Eagles have had in finding even serviceable receivers, Westbrook has had to frequently carry the load for the offense. His 2,104 yards from scrimmage in 2007 led the NFL.
Like others on this list, he has also had many of his biggest games in the playoffs.
While injuries have slowed him down at times, Westbrook is one of the key reasons the Eagles have been among the NFL's elite teams for the last several years.
Marques Colston Comes out of Nowhere (a.k.a. Hofstra)
Marques Colston was the lowest drafted player on this list, making him an off-the-charts value. But, his impact for the Saints and their high profile pass game has also been significant.
Colston was selected in the seventh round out of Hofstra. It was not believed he could succeed in the league as a wide receiver, although some thought he could make it as a tight tend.
His success as a rookie wideout was stunning. By week nine of the season, he had 54 catches for 869 yards. While he suffered an injury in Week 11, he returned in time to help lead the Saints to the NFC Championship game, where they finally lost to the Chicago Bears.
Despite missing several games because of injury, he has teamed up with Drew Brees for 3000 yards.
The year he was drafted, the Saints also landed the highest profile player in that year's draft, Reggie Bush. But the seventh round pick out of Hofstra has made a far bigger impact than the heralded Bush, one of the most hyped draft prospects of the past 20 years.
Bob Sanders: The Colts' Hitman
Like Westbrook, Bob Sanders stands all of 5'8", making him the third undersized player to make the list. Because of his size, he slid to the second round.
But, as one of the top three safeties in the league, right up there with Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, he scores high for both value and impact.
While the Colts have been known for their high profile offenses, the defense was pedestrian at best. Sanders helped change that. He is all over the field, hitting like a hammer and making one game changing play after another.
While he missed much of the 2006 season, his return before the playoffs came just in time. He made several key plays against the Patriots, helping secure the win by knocking a pass away from Troy Brown that would have likely iced the game for the Patriots.
He also made key plays in the Super Bowl, forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass.
Sanders was named AP defensive player of the year for the 2007 season, the first Colt to earn that honor. He turned the Colts' run defense from a league joke into a real strength.
While he has missed a lot of time due to injury issues, when he is on the field, his impact for the Colts' defense is tremendous.
Ed Reed: The Ravens' Ballhawk
While Ed Reed was selected in the first round, it was not until the No. 24 pick. That is still a real value considering he is this decade's best defensive player.
Reed's impact to the Ravens can not be overstated. This is a team that has almost solely leaned on its defense, and Reed is by far the best of the bunch. Any quarterback who even thinks about throwing in his general direction deserves what they get, which is frequently a touchdown, but for the Ravens.
Reed has been a bigger offensive weapon playing from the defensive position than some of the Raven's offensive skill players. During his storied career, he has scored 11 touchdowns—3 blocked punts, 1 punt return, 2 fumble returns, and 5 interception returns. Several of these have come in big games.
He has tallied 43 interceptions, the franchise record. When he broke the NFL record for the longest interception return in 2008 with a 107 interception return against the Eagles, it was his own record he was breaking.
Reed has been selected to five Pro Bowls since being drafted in 2002 and was named the 2004 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Reed was the only unanimous vote getter on this year's AP All-Pro team.