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Mike Shanahan, The Broncos and the Draft -- A Look Back -- 2001

If I am going to finish this thing I have got to get a move on.  Expect to see 2 per day this week so we can get through it all.  Up next is 2001, a year that might go down as one of the worst in Shanny's tenure.  For the second season in a row the Broncos took a DB in the first round, once again with little success.  How did the rest of the draft go?  Not much better.  Let's take a look.

1st Round -- Pick 15(15) - Willie Middlebrooks, CB (Minnesota) -- I will never understand this pick.  Ever.  People have tried to explain it to me.  I still don't get it.  Middlebrooks was an average DB and a below average school who had missed a significant amount of time because of an ankle injury to boot.  Middlebrooks has decent size, at 6-1, 200, but doesn't have great speed, nor great cover skills.  His career showed as much, with Middlebrooks fighting injury most of his rookie year.  He was active 43 of the next 48 games, playing mostly special teams.  After the 2004 season the Broncos traded Middlebrooks to the 49'ers for DE John Engleberger.  Middlebrooks saw action in only 5 games for a team that was absolutely horrible in 2005.   I think you get the point.  After the 49'ers released Middlebrooks, the Broncos re-signed him, giving him a second chance to do anything with his career.  It just wasn't to be, and Middlebrooks appears to be out of football for good, though I am sure someone will take a look at him as training camp nears.  There have been some bad picks, but at least some of the guys we have discussed previously(Marcus Nash) went on to play well somewhere.  I doubt Middlebrooks would succeed anywhere, even the AFL.  If his on-field play wasn't bad enough, Middlebrooks got into trouble off of it as well, pleading guilty to an assault charge in February 2006.  Career stats - 56 games, 33 tackles, 1 sack, ZERO interceptions.  Great value.

2nd Round -- Pick 20(51) - Paul Toviessi(Marshall) - Hmmm.  Middlebrooks was bad.  But he did see some action in the NFL.  The Broncos second pick in 2001 did not, though it wasn't all Toviessi's fault.  The Broncos were so high on Marshall DE Paul Toviessi that they moved up to draft him in the second round. However, he missed his rookie year as a result of knee problems and rehabilitation to develop his body. After the early part of workouts, when Toviessi had gained considerable weight and strength, the Broncos couldn't stop raving about him. However, his knee problems continued to occur and after his third knee scope or operation in less than a year, the Broncos decided that his knee would never be sound enough for him to be an effective NFL player and released him.   Somehow I have to question whether the Broncos did their homework on Toviessi, and whether or not a  potential injury situation was missed before the draft.  Ironically, the trade the got the Broncos the pick used to get Toviessi also included a pick used by the Buffalo Bills to draft current Broncos running back Travis Henry.  It truly is a small world.

3rd Round - Pick 25(87) - Reggie Hayward, DE(Iowa State) --The Broncos thought they had drafted  a stud on the D-line, and they were right.  It wasn't Toviessi, however, but Reggie Hayward, who has become a solid D-End for the Broncos and Jaguars.  Hayward didn't see much action in 2001 or 2002 for the Broncos and looked early to be another reach in the third round.  It turned around for Hayward in 2003, when Hayward played in all 16 games, racking up 8.5 sacks and 28 tackles..  In 2004, Hayward continued his stellar play, with career highs in tackles(43) and sacks(10.5).  The Broncos, in tight salary cap waters after the 2004 season were unable to keep Hayward, and the DE signed a lucrative deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.    His first season in Florida was steady, if not spectacular, with 8.5 sacks and 33 tackles.  Last season ended up being a tough one for Hayward when he was lost for the season because of a torn Achilles during the first game of the season versus Dallas.  Now the question will be whether or not Hayward can come back.  The Broncos get credit for this pick, but once again were not able to keep one of their own.

4th Round -- Pick 18(113) - Ben Hamilton, OL (Minnesota) -- The Broncos went back to the Golden Gophers on day 2, this time with much better success.  Hamilton was a standout center in college and the Broncos drafted him to someday take over for Tom Nalen.  Six years later, Nalen is still the center, and Hamilton has become a standout at guard.  Hamilton has played center as well, a couple years ago when Nalen was injured, but no matter where he has played Hamilton has been solid and more importantly, durable, being active for every game of his NFL career.  Hamilton is another example of the Broncos ability to get tremendous value on the offensive line late in the draft.

4th Round -- Pick 25(120) - Nick Harris, P(CAL) -- The Broncos weren't happy with incumbent Tom Rouen, and in an attempt to light a fire under the vet the Broncos decided to waste a fourth round pick on Harris, who, to his credit, has gone on to become a decent punter.   The pre-season battle between Harris and Rouen never really got off the ground, with the rookie struggling to find his form.  The Broncos released Harris during the pre-season, and Harris was quickly picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he proved is was worthy of playing in the NFL.  In 2 seasons for the Bengals, Harris averaged 40.1 yards per kick, not great, but not horrible either.  In 2003, Harris signed with the Detroit Lions, and playing in 9 games a season in-doors has only helped his production.  Harris has continued to get better, peaking last season when Harris finished 5th in net punt average(45.3)  One of those judgment calls, Harris no doubt has lived up to a 4th round pick, but I have to ding the Broncos for giving up on him so early on.

5th Round - TRADE -- The Broncos traded tw0 5th round picks, including this one, to the St. Louis Rams for safety Billy Jenkins.

6th Round -- Pick 27(190) - Kevin Kasper, WR(Iowa) --Tim Dwight started a trend in the NFL where teams draft really fast white guys from Iowa.  Of course, you do have to have some talent, and though very fast, Kasper did not have Tim Dwight's skills as a receiver or return man.  The Broncos once again had a very short leash on Kasper, and after a little more than one year, that included more injuries than catches or solid returns, Kasper was sent packing.  Since, Kasper spent a couple seasons in Arizona, one in new England, one season (2005) completely out of football, before resurfacing last season in Detroit.  Though there always seems to be a market for guys that have any return skills(see Quincy Morgan), I have a feeling the clock has run out on Kasper.

Guru's Take -- Like a CD that skips, these draft looking exactly the same year after year.  Willie Middlebrooks was a huge bust in the first round, and Paul Toviessi didn't play a down in the NFL.  Reggie Hayward and Ben Hamilton, while playing for different teams, saved this draft from being a complete failure.  Hamilton has become a stalwart on the offensive line, and Hayward, before the injury, was a very good pass rusher.  Harris has become a solid pick, but the Broncos didn't give him more than 5 minutes to prove it.  Kasper has speed, but never has become the Tim Dwight-type the Broncos were looking for.  Just remember, I grade these on a curve, with earlier picks getting more weight.  Because of that, I can go no higher than just below average.

Guru's Grade -- C-