2001 was a year of hope for both the Chargers and the Broncos. The Broncos had made the playoffs as a wild card in 2000, and were looking to go deep in 2001. The Chargers had few such aspirations, but there was considerable excitement about whether they would keep the number one pick or trade it away, and if they traded it, just how many talented players would fall into their desperate hands.
Now was the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by a son of Texas. San Diego had the number one pick, I recall much debate in SD about whether we should take M. Vick or trade the pick for a handful of draft choices. There were so many needs I thought they should trade it away. John Butler is sometimes seen as a pure genius for trading to Atlanta for Tim Dwight, a speedy but average receiver, the Falcon third rounder that year and their second rounder in 2002. Vick had all the markings of a superstar, the fact is the Chargers were sold, it was only if they got exactly the right offer that they would trade. Part of the reason for the trade was a hang up putting together a contract for Vick, the last thing the Chargers were going to need after going 1-15 was a long holdout by their number one pick. Butler was huge fan of Tim Dwight's, and thought LT might still be on the board at number 5; the Falcon's finally gave up Dwight.
The trade looked good for both teams with an edge for the Bolts, but last year Vick left the entire Falcon franchise in a ditch when he was indicted for running a dog fighting ring. Charger fans have never had a moment of remorse, now there was a player that was fun to watch as well as a good citizen/community activist. Watching Tomlinson rush the ball was like watching Eric Clapton play guitar or Ozzie Smith play short; he was truly born to run. LT took heat last year for speaking out against the Pats as well as sitting out the final playoff game. Next year I'd like to see him make his statements on the field, but the charge of him not giving it all doesn't wash. Those of us who watched him play through a groin injury in '04 and busted ribs in '05 know he gives the Chargers everything he's got. Headed for the hall of fame, LT was the pick of the decade for SD.
It is unfair to compare LT with Willie Middlebrooks (24) a full 21 picks down the line, being terrible has its rewards in the NFL. Apparently he was selected because Bronco Assistant coach David Gibbs had coached him in Minnesota. A cornerback that never had a pick and no more than a handful of PDs in any of his five NFL seasons is just not good value. To be fair he had a number of injuries that hampered his progress, being charged with domestic violence in 2004 also did nothing to further his career. He was mostly a special teams player and went on to play in SF for one season. He is currently playing in the CFL, reportedly as an impact player, but this has to be classified as a weak draft choice.
The Broncos tapped defensive end Paul Toviessi (51) with their second round draft choice. The word was that he was a monster, and when he was healthy, this pick seemed justified. Unfortunately he never stayed healthy for long. Frustrated by knee injuries, after three surgeries in one year the Broncos cut him loose. He made another try in '05 but the knee was just not strong enough. This years draft was reportedly a wake up call for Bronco management in how they medically screen potential draft picks, this was clearly a medical bust. Even so, I like the willingness to pick up a player that might be a star that others were scared away from, but it takes some luck, Denver had none here.
The Chargers were very lucky indeed to swap out the number one pick and that same year pick up a HOF running back as well as a Pro Bowl quarterback, Drew Brees (32). He would not start in 2001, but was the primary quarterback in 2002 and 2003, ranking a dreary 29th in '03. He really busted out in 2004. 2004 was really to be Rivers first year behind center, but he held out for so long that Brees took the helm and really tore it up, putting up 27 TDs with only 7 interceptions. That off season he had practiced 'visualizing' the field and got so that he could throw to receivers blindfolded. They say it takes three years to get used to the NFL, and that was just what it took Brees. Humble and talented, he too was a good citizen and has done much charity work. In 2005 the Chargers franchised him and he had another great year, but was injured in the final game of the season against Denver. With a highly paid number one pick sitting on the bench, the Chargers decided to let Brees go after some perfunctory efforts to sign him. San Diego only had two premium years from Brees and a third round compensatory pick, but the Chargers were definitely privileged to have him on their team.
Seeing something others missed, the Broncos grabbed Defensive end Reggie Hayward (87). He was everything Toviessi was expected to be. After two quiescent seasons largely as a backup, he caught fire his third year as a starter with 8.5 sacks. His fourth season was even better as he racked up 10.5 sacks. Unfortunately he had become too good to keep, the Broncos were having cap issues and Hayward was a casualty, going to Jacksonville. He continued to excel there with 8.5 sacks, but then an Achilles tendon injury had him out the entire 2006 season. The Broncos defense had a noticeable decline in 2006, I can't help but think that the loss of Hayward was one factor in that. He played in 2007, but his numbers were way down (3.5 sacks), it remains to be seen if he can regain form this year. Give the Broncos credit for seeing the talent and getting a great value in the third round, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they could not keep him. In many ways he is similar to Brees, a fine player that bloomed late who had only a few great years with the team that drafted him. The Jaguars are particularly deep at DE and drafted two new ones, Hayward will have to battle to make their roster.
After two dynamite picks, CB Tay Cody (67 from Atlanta) left something to be desired, speed mostly. He was a workable CB, but blazing fast receivers could give him the slip. When Marty Schottenheimer came in; he liked big corners and at 5' 9" and 180 lbs, that wasn't Tay. He played 14 games with two picks his first year, had a toe injury in '02 and was released by Marty in '03. He currently plays in the CFL. One year of serviceable efforts, certainly you would hope for more.
Denver had two Fourth rounders, the first was Center Ben Hamilton, he was moved to guard in his second season. A first rate lineman who missed last season with post-concussion issues. He may be the Broncos answer for what happens when Nalen retires. Getting a top flight offensive lineman in round four is a great achievement, that he is still playing for Denver is just pure gravy, this was a terrific draft choice. Denver's other fourth round choice turned out to be talented too. Punter Nick Harris has turned into a great NFL punter, unfortunately for the Broncos it took him five years and three teams before he got there, Denver cut him before the 2000 season started. You can't fault the choice here, and is five years of average punting too much patience?
With their fourth rounder the Bolts nabbed ILB Carlos Polk. Polk was great on special teams, but this has also led to a number of shoulder and Achilles tendon injuries. With San Diego's depth at LB, Polk has never cracked the starting lineup, but provides a competent backup when injuries have arisen. A real player on special teams, Broncos fans will remember him for forcing the fumble on Denver's kickoff return, which was scooped up by Brandon Siler and run into the end zone (see here). While not a starter and somebody that has battled injuries throughout his career, there is no doubt that Polk has been a solid backup and special teams contributor. He is likely to make the roster again this year, but may be nearing the end of his time in the NFL.
Denver swapped two Fifth rounders were traded to the Rams for Safety Billy Jenkins. Jenkins spent 2000 & 2001 with Denver, he picked off 4 passes in 2000, but had a reputation for missing tackles. He saw limited action in 2001 and ended up cut mid season. He went on to play two more years in backup roles. One reasonably good year for two fifth rounders, probably not too bad overall, this is fairly low in the draft.
The Bolts had two fifth rounders to finish out their draft. Elliot Silvers OT, huge but slow, he never played and was cut. Zeke Moreno, ILB was known as 'Zeke and Destroy at USC', but behind Seau he never had a chance for a lot of playing time. 2003 he made 94 tackles, but had a shoulder injury and was released the next year. After very brief stints with Philly and Houston he went to the CFL, where he is reportedly doing well. Overall not too bad for a fifth rounder.
The Broncos made a very interesting pick with their sixth rounder. Wide receiver Kevin Kasper had tremendous speed, but played behind some great WR's. He started ranked 13th of 13 wide receivers, but made the Bronco roster in 2001. He was nicknamed 'little Romo' for his fanatical workouts. He spent two seasons with the Broncos but found his greatest success with Arizona where he picked up 700 yards in 2002. Something of an itinerant he has been with five teams, and picked up a super bowl ring with the Patriots in 2004. He runs a fitness system for high schools during the off-season. A lively, if not overly productive, pick by the Broncos.
The Bolts traded their sixth rounder away.
The Broncos were coming out of an 11-5 season where their offense sparkled, but the defense had weaknesses. Making the playoffs as a wild card they lost their first game against a stifling Raven's defense, although they had to to to backup QB, Gus Ferrotte. They had to be excited about the next season with a defense refreshed with their first two draft picks and the hopes that Brian Griese would be healthy, Terrel Davis would be back and together they would once again lead them to the promised land.
Although the Chargers 1-15 placed them firmly in the pantheon as one of the 'worst teams ever', there was a palpable excitement for fans in the off season at having that golden number one pick. While they played terrible on both sides of the ball, the defense had some players, including Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison and Jamal Williams; the offense had no glittering stars.
The Broncos visions of greatness were not to be. Ed McCaffrey went down in the first game, making a spectacular catch, but breaking his leg in the process. Terrel Davis would only play eight games. Brian Griese regressed as a quarterback; although he actually threw for more yards his interceptions climbed from 4 in 2000 to 19 in 2001, his QB rating would plummet from over 100 to less than 80. Fans in Denver were not used to flaws in their QB. While they broke even at 8-8, Denver had to be disappointed with a season that held so much promise at the outset.
The Chargers would have given their eye teeth to go 8-8, but 5-11 was the best they could muster. Fans were encouraged by a 5-2 start, but the team would go on to drop its last 9 games straight. LT helped the offense move from averaging 16 points per game up to 20, and the defense finished rated in the mid teens too, but the team had a nasty habit of losing the close games. Little Doug Flutie was doing his best to see over the offensive line, but it just wasn't good enough as he tossed 15 interceptions versus just 14 TDs. This would mark Mike Riley's last season as head coach, next year would inaugerate the Schottenheimer era.
The Broncos acquired some reasonable talent out of this draft, although they didn't have any impact players for the 2001 season. Reggie Hayward was a tremendous pick, it was just a pity they couldn't hold on to him. Ben Hamilton was a tremendous value out of the fourth round, and is the only player from these 2000 & 2001 drafts still with the Broncos, having spent his entire career in Denver. Even so there is no getting around that the first two picks were wanting, my overall grade is a C.
LT ran for roughly twice the yards our top two RBs managed in 2000, he was an impact player on day one and looks to spend his entire career in Blue & Gold. In taking LT, even if every other draft pick was caught snorting steroids out of the belly button of a stripper after having pooled their signing bonus money to organize dog fights, the Chargers would get an A from me. If the Chargers had traded all the rest of their picks for Uday and Qusay and a despot to be named later, the Chargers get an A. That they got an excellent QB (whose stay was all too brief) and a versatile backup was just icing on the cake. Did I mention that I give the Bolts an A for the 2001 draft?
As a footnote nobody from the 2000 draft and just two Chargers and one Bronco from the 2001 draft are still on their respective rosters.