The NFL’s Top 3 Preeminent Draft Selections of the Past 15 Years
The NFL draft is not an exact science, and one player could be the unknown dynamic that elevates your team to the next level.
Ladainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson may have been far more dazzling, Julius Peppers and DeMarcus Ware may have been far more feared, but smart teams draft players that will help them win championships.
Every so often a player comes along that either revolutionizes the position or drastically alters their organizations direction. These three players selected in the draft were the unknown dynamic that elevated their respective teams into modern dynasty status.
Preeminent Draft Selections: No. 3
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University of Georgia
Pittsburgh Steelers – 92nd Overall (third round) 1998
Since Ward’s arrival in ‘98, the Pittsburgh Steelers have won two Super Bowls, he was named the Super Bowl XL Most Valuable Player, attained three team MVP selections and has been selected to four Pro Bowls. Prior to the 2005 Super Bowl winning season, in which Hines Ward accounted for nearly 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn’t won a Super Bowl since 1979.
As a rookie, Hines Ward first made his name in the Steelers organization through consistent special teams play. Ward is the virtual embodiment of the Steelers’ blue collar work ethic mentality, an attitude that has made Pittsburgh one of the most successful franchises of the past decade.
Though he is considered by some to be one of the premier wideouts in the game because of his exceptional hands and precision route running ability, it’s his willingness to block downfield that elevates Ward into elite company. Heart, determination and versatility are not terms lost on Hines Ward, at only 6’0" and 205 pounds, he is one of the most physical wideouts in the league. It’s a mentality that has twice garnered him the NFL's dirtiest player designation, as determined by a Sports Illustrated poll of NFL players.
As a third-round selection, Hines Ward has more than fulfilled his obligation to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. In becoming the first Korean American ever to win the Super Bowl MVP award, the Steeler is also the organization’s career leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns. As a part of one of the most powerful and prestigious franchises in National Football League history, eclipsing the likes of John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, Hines Ward will one day retire as the greatest wide receiver to ever wear the black and gold.
Preeminent Draft Selections: Number Two
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University of Tennessee
Indianapolis Colts – first overall (first round) 1998
After a last place 3-13 record in 1997, the Indianapolis Colts elected to hire Bill Polian as team president in hopes of rebuilding the once historic franchise. Bill Polian’s first order of business, much to the chagrin of season ticket holders, trade fan favorite Jim Harbaugh to the Baltimore Ravens.
Bill Polian wasn’t concerned with what people thought was right. He was adhering to an established formula for success he had enjoyed with the 90s Super Bowl era Buffalo Bills organization. He was going to rebuild the Indianapolis Colts through the draft, as the team held the number one overall selection in the 1998 draft.
Polian’s intentions were clear with what he intended to do with the No. 1 overall selection after trading Harbaugh to Baltimore. In one of the more prolific No. 1 and No. 2 NFL draft quarterback disagreements many were unsure of whom the Colts would select. As an NFL analyst leading up to the draft, you were either a “Leaf guy” or a “Manning guy.” All the way up to the beginning of the NFL Draft, the question people were asking was Leaf or Manning.
Then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made the announcement, “With the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select quarterback, University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning.” The San Diego Chargers in trading up with the Arizona Cardinals immediately followed the Manning selection by selecting their own franchise quarterback, Washington State product Ryan Leaf. Leaf’s atrocious play and abbreviated career combined with his name consistently mentioned in all time greatest bust conversations seems to provide clear testimony of Bill Polian’s wisdom.
In his rookie season, Peyton Manning passed for 3,739 yards with 26 touchdowns and set five different rookie passing records, including most touchdown passes in a season. The 1998 Indianapolis Colts ended the regular season with a dismal 3-13 record, hindered by a porous defense that yielded more than 27 points per game.
It was the 1999 season that brought Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts to NFL’s forefront. A season for the record books, Peyton Manning had arrived. In the greatest one-year turnaround in NFL history, the Indianapolis Colts ended the ’99 season with a 13-3 regular season record. With the second-best record in the NFL, the Manning-led Indianapolis Colts earned a first-round bye.
Then in 2006, it happened, with an MVP performance in a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, Peyton Manning took his rightful place among NFL royalty. In an instant, Manning jumped from Dan Marino comparisons as the best quarterback never to win a Super Bowl, to impassioned arguments as to whether Manning had dethroned Montana as the best ever.
As of 2011, Peyton Manning has been awarded four Most Valuable Player Awards, been selected to 11 Pro Bowls and appeared in two Super Bowls. Along with leading the Colts to an NFL record, seven straight 12 win seasons, Manning holds countless NFL regular season passing records. Manning has revolutionized the quarterback position, and through his 208 consecutive NFL starts, Peyton Manning has taken the once dreadful Indianapolis Colts franchise and transformed them into one of the greatest sports dynasties of the 20th century. Peyton Manning is a guaranteed lock for a bust in Canton.
Preeminent Draft Selections: Number One
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Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
New England Patriots - 199th (sixth Round) 2000
It was the year 2000, Bill Belicheck’s first as New England Patriots head coach. The Patriots were coming off an 8-win 8-loss ‘99 season, and even with the arrival of “The Sweatshirt,” weren’t projected to fair much better. Established veteran Drew Bledsoe was firmly entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback.
The 2000 NFL draft would produce the greatest pick/draft day steal in the history of the National Football League. With a total of 10 draft picks, the New England Patriots decided to take a flier on a senior captain quarterback out of Michigan University with the second of their three sixth-round selections. Little did team owner Robert Kraft know at the time, but in drafting Tom Brady, he just altered the course of opposing teams draft strategies for years to come.
By Week 3 of the 2001 regular season, due to a Drew Bledsoe injury, Tom Brady had assumed the role as the team’s starting quarterback. Even with the return of a healthy Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots decided to keep Brady as their No. 1.
The decision paid off with dividends. Tom Brady went on to lead the 2001 New England Patriots to an 11-5 regular season record and a division title before advancing to and winning Super Bowl XXXVI. Tom Brady in only his first year as a starter not only led his team to an XXXVI Super Bowl win over St. Louis Rams, but after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns, earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl.
Since that faithful 2001 season Brady has smashed numerous regular and post- season NFL passing records, including the hallowed single season touchdown passing record with 50. Astonishingly, Brady has led his team to 111 career wins as a starting quarterback with an all-time best .776 winning percentage. Not bad for a guy drafted after the likes of quarterbacks Giovanni Carmozzi, Tee Martin and Spurgeon Wynn.
Is it the three Super Bowl victories, two of which he was awarded the Most Valuable Player award? Is it the two NFL Most Valuable Player awards in 2007 and 2010? It could be the fact that Brady married Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
Whether an aforementioned reason or whether it be the tremendous success Brady has enjoyed in both his professional and personal life. It could just be your extreme displeasure for the New England Patriots. It might be the fact that he has two middle names. Regardless, it’s clear that Tom Brady is one of the most hated players in the NFL today.