On September 10, 2001 Invesco Field at Mile High opened its doors for the first time to host the New York Giants in a game that saw a gruesome season ending injury to perennial Broncos fan favorite - Ed McCaffrey. Though the Broncos triumphed over the Giants, the next day brought the attacks of 9/11.
The Broncos were a few years and a stadium removed from the glory years of Elway's first reign with the Broncos. With an encouraging 11-5 finish to the 2000 season, Mike Shanahan entered the draft looking to give new Defensive Coordinator Ray Rhodes some formidable weapons. This was a defensive draft and, unfortunately, it would haunt the Broncos for years to come. The Broncos would close out 2001 with a disappointing 8-8 record, missing the playoffs.
Without further ado, the draft class of 2001....
Willie Middlebrooks DB Minnesota - 24th overall pick
After taking Deltha O'Neal in the 2000 draft, going in this direction in the first round again surprised quite a few people. That surprise would later turn to disappointment as the 6'2" 200 pound Middlebrooks was only able to amass 30 tackles and 0 interceptions over five seasons. You won't be surprised to find out that his contribution (singular) in the 2001 season was 1 tackle. After an uneventful 2005 with the San Francisco 49ers he returned to the broncos in 2006. He was ultimately released before the regular season began and is still regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in Denver Broncos history. In 2008, he signed with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL. He retired last year.
Paul Toviessi DE Marshall - 51st overall pick
Drafted in the 2nd round, Toviessi never played a down in the NFL. After suffering a freak knee injury during camp, he never recovered. He tried to return the following year but was re-injured and ended up on IR until he was released with an injury settlement.
Reggie Hayward DE Iowa State - 87th overall
If you count Paul Toviessi, Hayward was the second defensive end drafted in 2001. At 6'5 270 pounds, Hayward amassed 3 sacks, 14 tackles and 4 assists in the 2001 season. Though he didn't make much of an impact during his first two years, he proved to be one of the Broncos best defensive ends in years, combining for 19 sacks in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. From 2005-2009 he was a productive defensive end for the Jaguars. Hayward is now out of football.
Ben Hamilton G Minnesota - 113th Overall
Fourth round selection Ben Hamilton, 6'5 303 pounds, was originally a center in with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but started at guard for the Broncos when he debuted in 2002. Of everyone in this draft class, Hamilton was the crown jewel. From 2002 to 2009, he started every game for the Broncos with the lone exception being one game in 2009 that he missed due to injury. He was waived shortly thereafter and spent the following year with the Seattle Seahawks.
Nick Harris P California - 120th Overall
Nick Harris is a Punter... He proved not to be decent competition for Tom Rouen and spent years bouncing around the league. Currently, Harris is with the Jaguars. He kicks balls for a living.
Kevin Kasper WR Iowa - 190th overall
Kevin Kasper, for me, was one of those guys who I really wanted to make it in the NFL. Unfortunately, it just never worked out. Though he was short for a receiver at 6'0, he was fast, running a 4.42 at the combine. As a kick returner he started five games in 2001 and had 8 receptions. He, sadly, never scored a touchdown with the Broncos. In 2002 he began bouncing around the league playing with Arizona, Seattle, New England, and finished his career in 2006 with Detroit.
With the exceptions of Reggie Hayward and Ben Hamilton, the 2001 draft was a crushing disappointment. One can only wonder what could have been if, instead of Willie Middlebrooks, the Broncos had selected Reggie Wayne (#30), Todd Heap (#31), Drew Brees (#32), Kyle Vanden Bosch (#34), Alge Crumpler (#35), Chad Ochocinco (#36). Needless to say there was talent in the 2001 draft, but unfortunately the Denver Broncos chose to go in another direction.