Cleveland Browns: 10 Best Draft Picks in Mike Holmgren's Career
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As the 2011 NFL Draft approaches, Browns fans hope Mike Holmgren (along with GM Tom Heckert) can deliver a repeat performance of his stellar draft in 2010.
Holmgren hit it out of the park with his picks for the Browns last year in his first draft as the team president. He has a long-standing reputation as an excellent drafter, dating back to his participation in the drafting process when he was the head coach in Green Bay and then in Seattle.
In honor of Holmgren's great 2010 draft for the Browns and in anticipation of another just like it in 2011, here are, in chronological order, ten of Holmgren's best draft picks with Green Bay, Seattle, and the Browns.
As always, feel free to submit additional suggestions that you think should have made this list in the comments below.
1. TE Mark Chmura
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Mike Holmgren drafted TE Mark Chmura in 1992, his first season as the Packers head coach.
Chmura spent his entire career from 1992-1999 with the Packers and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, as well as a key member of the 1997 Superbowl winning team.
Sadly, Chmura's career was cut short when he suffered two herniated disks in his spine during the 1999 season. Despite a career of just seven years, Chmura had 188 receptions, 2,253 yards, and 17 touchdowns for the Packers, placing him third all-time among Green Bay tight ends. He is also a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.
Chmura was a valuable player and a good draft pick no matter how you look at it, but what made him a great draft pick for Mike Holmgren was the fact that he was picked up in the sixth round. The fact that Holmgren made a total steal grabbing a player like this so late in the draft was impressive, and made even more so once you consider that this was Holmgren's first season as a head coach.
2. QB Mark Brunell
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QB Mark Brunell, drafted by Mike Holmgren and the Packers in the fifth round of the 1993 draft, is really an honorable mention pick for this list. Brunell obviously didn't have much of an impact for the Packers, as the QB slot on that team was filled by a guy who didn't really need a backup back then: Brett Favre.
Still, Holmgren got Brunell in the fifth round, and then flipped him to Jacksonville for a third round pick in 1995.
Brunell would later go on to become a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and a Pro Bowl MVP in 1997. None of that really mattered for Holmgren and company, as all of this happened after Brunell left the Packers, but the selection still speaks to Holmgren's tremendous ability to draft impact NFL players.
3. RB Dorsey Levens
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Running Back Dorsey Levens was an absolute steal when Mike Holmgren drafted him in the fifth round of the 1994 draft.
At first, the Levens pick didn't look like anything special; his first few years as a Packer were mostly spent in backup roles. But in 1997, he became the go-to running back for the team after Edgar Bennett was injured.
In eight years with the Packers, Levens had two 1,000 yard seasons, and probably would have had more had he not struggled with a knee injury that never fully healed. After being released by Green Bay in 2001, he spent time with the Eagles and Giants, and eventually returned to Green Bay in 2006 and retired as a Packer.
Levens was a Pro Bowl selection in 1997, when he had over 1,400 rushing yards, and is a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.
4. WR Antonio Freeman
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Wide Receiver Antonio Freeman, known for his acrobatic catches and chemistry with QB Brett Favre, was selected for the Packers by Mike Holmgren in the third round of the 1995 draft.
Freeman's best years in the NFL were his early ones with Green Bay, most notably 1997 and 1998. He caught what was considered the winning touchdown of the 1997 Superbowl, and was the league's top receiver in 1998 with 1,424 yards. He led all Packers receivers from 1996-1999.
Freeman would later go on to play with the Eagles and Dolphins, and also return to Green Bay for two more stints with the Packers.
While Levens peaked early and didn't have much impact for any of the teams he played for in the second half of his career, he proved a very worthwhile asset for the Packers in his time there, and was an excellent choice as a third round pick.
5. QB Matt Hasselbeck
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Selected in the sixth round of the 1998 draft with a compensatory pick, Matt Hasselbeck never really contributed to the Packers because, like Mark Brunell, he had the unfortunate luck of being stuck behind Brett Favre in the QB slot.
But Holmgren made the pick pay off for his own track record anyway, when he ultimately got Hasselbeck back later when he was coaching the Seahawks, getting him in trade from the Packers in 2001. In Seattle, Hasselbeck was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and has taken his team to the playoffs six times, including one Super Bowl appearance.
Holmgren is obviously gone from Seattle now, but Hasselbeck remains their starting quarterback to this day. It's a tremendous feat for a quarterback picked in the sixth round, and a testament to how Holmgren's draft selections are a gift that keeps on giving even after he himself is long gone from the team he was with when he made the pick.
6. RB Shaun Alexander
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In 2000, the second year of his tenure with the Seahawks, Mike Holmgren made running back Shaun Alexander Seattle's first-round draft pick.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection and the 2005 NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, Alexander might be considered the best draft pick of Holmgren's career. Holmgren acquired the pick from the trade that sent Joey Galloway to the Dallas Cowboys.
Alexander was mostly a backup for Ricky Watters his rookie year, but quickly proved his worth as a first-round draft pick when he became Seattle's top rusher the following year and for several years thereafter.
Alexander amassed an impressive 9,453 rushing yards and 100 rushing TDs during his seven-year career with the Seahawks (along with one year with the Washington Redskins).
Alexander retired in 2008 and is a member of the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team.
7. CB Marcus Trufant
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Another of Mike Holmgren's impressive first round picks was cornerback Marcus Trufant, who Holmgren selected in 2003. Trufant is yet another player who serves as proof of Holmgren's ability to make draft selections that pay off over the long haul, as Trufant is still with the Seahawks now.
Trufant made the NFL's all-rookie squad in 2003 and was a Pro Bowler 2007.
To date, Trufant has amassed 587 tackles for the Seahawks and 20 interceptions and is still going strong. The way Trufant has panned out should be reassuring to Browns fans with regard to Joe Haden, another cornerback selected by Mike Holmgren in the first round of the draft.
8. CB Joe Haden
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When Mike Holmgren took over the Browns as team president in 2010, no one knew quite what to expect. Certainly, Holmgren's stellar reputation preceded him, but Cleveland fans had been fooled by that before (Carmen Policy, anyone?).
Luckily, Holmgren delivered immediately, making three of his best draft selections of all time for the Browns in 2010.
The first of those was cornerback Joe Haden, who Holmgren selected in the first round. Haden became an impact player as soon as he was given a start during his rookie season last year, and even received a little buzz as a possible Rookie of the Year nominee.
Haden snagged six interceptions as a rookie and made 64 tackles, and all evidence indicates he will only get better in his sophomore effort and thereafter.
9. S T.J. Ward
When Mike Holmgren first selected T.J. Ward in the second round of the draft in 2010, a lot of Browns fans got really nervous. Wait a minute, aren't we supposed to be taking Colt McCoy?
But as usual, Holmgren proved he knew exactly what he was doing when Ward turned out to be an excellent player and of course, he got McCoy later anyway in the third round.
Like Haden, it's obviously a little early to be able to assess Ward's value with absolute certainty. Still, he too proved to be a valuable asset to the Browns secondary right off the bat as a rookie, posting 123 tackles and nabbing two interceptions.
10. QB Colt McCoy
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After just one start with the Browns last year during his rookie campaign, Colt McCoy became an instant favorite among Browns fans. In his first start against the hated Steelers as well as in the rest of his starts later in the season, McCoy proved he was a guy who could make things happen on the field.
Browns fans held their breath all through the second and the first half of the third round of the 2010 draft, waiting nervously for Mike Holmgren to select Colt McCoy and hoping someone else didn't get to him first.
Holmgren did get McCoy of course, and based on McCoy's performance so far, it looks to have been a great choice. Part of the reason the pick looks so good is that McCoy was drafted late in the third round. Had the Browns taken him in the second round, the jury would still be out on whether he was worth it. But as a late third rounder, McCoy was undoubtedly a steal.
And of course, don't forget that we still don't know what will become of Holmgren's other 2010 draft picks, most notably Montario Hardesty and Carlton Mitchell, both of whom have the potential to be impact players for the Browns in the future.