Thanks to the likes of Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and others, there is a perception that NFL franchises do not need to draft quarterbacks in the first round in order to win championships. Don’t tell that to the 2004 NFL Draft class. Two QBs who currently possess two Super Bowl rings each were taken in the first half of the first round of that draft.
The ’04 draft will forever be remembered for a historic trade, one that changed the futures and fortunes of two NFL clubs. What stood out to me when looking back at this draft was how many players that were taken early on proved to be worth first-round picks. Sure, the likes of J.P. Losman and Rashaun Woods didn’t make it, but plenty others did.
10. Josh Scobee – K – 137th Overall – Jacksonville Jaguars
Placekickers don’t get nearly enough love from fans. Just ask the New York Giants, who have been kicked into the Super Bowl on three occasions, how important that position is to a team. Grabbing a good, if not great kicker at any stage of a draft can take care of that part of the roster for a decade at least.
Scobee is a perfect example of that.
His NFL career got off to somewhat of a rocky start, but he eventually settled in and became a reliable kicker. Scobee completed 92 percent of his field goal attempts in two of the past three seasons (2011 and 2013), and he has delivered from 50+ yards out 36 times in ten NFL seasons. That’s pretty good for a guy who wasn’t the first kicker taken in his draft.
9. Gibril Wilson – S – 136th Overall – New York Giants
Wilson is what is referred to as being a good “value pick.” Following his rookie campaign, Wilson appeared in 44 regular season games for Big Blue. He had 11 picks in his four-year New York career, and he famously broke up what could have been a history-making catch in Super Bowl XLII.
While a solid get for the Giants, Wilson’s career went only downhill after he left the club. He had lackluster stints with the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, and he has since called time on his playing days.
8. Bob Sanders – S – 44th Overall – Indianapolis Colts
Sanders is an interesting case as far as his draft value is concerned. He was part of that Indy team that won Super Bowl XLI, and he earned multiple NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2007. Nevertheless, all of the good that he achieved on the field is overshadowed by the fact that he couldn’t remain on the field.
Sanders appeared in only 24 regular season contests in his first three NFL seasons. From 2008 through 2011, he played in 11 games. Sanders hasn’t played since 2011, and I wouldn’t hold my breath on his making a return anytime soon.
7. Michael Turner – RB – 154th Overall – San Diego Chargers
Turner was meant to be the No. 2 in a one-two punch involving the rookie RB and LaDainian Tomlinson. Turner exceeded expectations. He averaged nearly 5.5 yards per carry in four seasons with San Diego, showing that he had the goods to be a top-tier back. Turner would be higher on this list if not for one thing:
His best moments came after he signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.
Turner rushed for 1,699 yards in his first year with his new club. He was named to two Pro Bowl squads (2008 and 2010), and he was an All-Pro in 2010. Turner thrice rushed for over 1,300 yards in five seasons with the Falcons.
6. Larry Fitzgerald – WR – 3rd Overall – Arizona Cardinals
Full disclosure: Fitzgerald is one of my favorite pro athletes ever, and I think it’s criminal that he may never win a Super Bowl. He was the top WR of his draft class, and he hasn’t at all disappointed. Fitzgerald is an eight-time Pro-Bowler. He has led the NFL in receiving twice. He is currently second in NFL receiving touchdowns among active players.
Assume that Fitzgerald is able to remain healthy, that he has several great years ahead of him, and that he will never win the final game of a regular season. He will be enshrined in Canton, and he would also go down as one of the best wide receivers to never win a Super Bowl.
5. Vince Wilfork – NT/DT – 21st Overall – New England Patriots
Wilfork had a serviceable rookie NFL season, but it wasn’t until his second year that we got glimpses of what he would contribute to the Pats. He started in all 16 of New England’s regular season games in 2005, and he had 40 tackles, something that he would achieve again the following year.
Wilfork would begin picking up personal awards beginning on 2007. He has, since that season, been named to five different Pro Bowl rosters. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2012. After many reports and rumors predicted Wilfork leaving the Patriots through free agency this spring, he re-signed with the Patriots near the end of March.
I’d say the Pats have gotten more than their pick’s worth.
4. Steven Jackson – RB – 24th Overall – St. Louis Rams
All that I wrote about Fitzgerald and his not winning a title is true for Jackson as well. Known at times as being the best player on a lousy team, the Oregon State product will go down as one of the best offensive weapons of his era and also as one of the more reliable players in the history of the NFL. Jackson is, following the 2013 campaign, 19th overall in all-time career touches (2,996).
Jackson, who is near or maybe even at the end of his playing days, rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons for St. Louis. He is a member of the 10,000 Rushing Yards Club, and also a future Hall-of-Famer.
3. Eli Manning – QB – 1st Overall – San Diego Chargers (Traded to the New York Giants)
We’ll never know what could have been had Manning agreed to play for San Diego and had New York stuck with Philip Rivers. What we do know is that the scoreboard, the record books, and the trophy cases do not lie.
Manning’s career has been a roller-coaster ride of good and bad moments, and it’s easy to forget his best games considering that he is coming off of maybe his worst NFL season. Manning, like the player next on this list, possesses two Super Bowl rings. He engineered two championship-winning drives. He is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and the greatest quarterback in the long history of the Giants.
In short, Manning was worth everything New York gave up to get him.
2. Ben Roethlisberger – QB – 11th Overall – Pittsburgh Steelers
There will, unless Eli Manning hoists the Vince Lombardi trophy one final time during his career, be fans and analysts who will say that Roethlisberger was the top QB to emerge from this draft class. Those people may be right. The AP Offensive Rookie of the Year for ’04, Big Ben won all 13 of his regular season starts in his inaugural NFL season.
Amazingly, he only got better from there.
Roethlisberger became a force in the pocket, one of the hardest quarterbacks to bring down and also a reliable and efficient passer. He has two Super Bowls to his name already, and, after a rocky start to the 2013 campaign, Roethlisberger had a pretty good season. He could, if he plays as he did in the second half of ’13, have one more title run in him.
1. Jared Allen – DE – 126th Overall – Kansas City Chiefs
Jared Allen is the type of defensive monster that teams dream of getting in a fourth round. A standout right from the start, Allen had nine sacks in his rookie campaign. He led the NFL in sacks in 2007 (15.5), and his numbers since being traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 2008 have been nothing short of incredible.
Allen has had at least 11.0 sacks in every season since 2007. He is a four-time All-Pro. Allen is twelfth all-time in NFL sacks. He has also played in all-but three regular season games since being drafted.
Allen would be a hit at any point of any draft.