Anyone who knows me knows that I love Top 10's, Top 5's, Top anything countdowns. I love ranking things. My girlfriend thinks it's a sign of a rare but serious brain condition.
I think it's because I have too much free time.
Either way, every Saturday I'm going to present a new weekly countdown. This week I'm going to be breaking down the top #1 overall picks in the NFL draft from 00-09. Now I know time hasn't given us enough time to project how good the #1 overall picks from 06-09, or even 05, are going to be, but I think we can kinda tell.
And either way, this is an easy countdown to break into for everyone.
10. 2005 Alex Smith, Quarterback Utah - San Francisco 49ers: Drafted in 2005 to a lot of speculation, Smith has done nothing but live up to every ounce of that speculation. Given every chance to take the starting Quarterback job, Smith has never capitalized; never failing to fail. Though it's still early in Smith's career, at this point he's without a doubt the worst #1 overall draft pick of the decade based on the lone fact that his career has thus far amounted to nothing. On the bright side the '9ers landed Running back Frank Gore in the 3rd round.
09. 2000 Courtney Brown, Defensive End Penn State - Cleveland Browns: Brown had a productive rookie campaign, but injuries slowed him down after that. He was a solid defensive end in the NFL when healthy, helping the Browns in their most successful season (2002), and the Denver Broncos in their best season of the decade (2005). He retired from the NFL in 2006 to absolutely no fanfare, and is likely to be remembered as nothing more than an NFL Draft Trivial Pursuit question.
08. 2002 David Carr, Quarterback Fresno State - Houston Texans: I can hear your sighs. Of all ten players on this list, I feel like this was the guy most people wanted to see succeed. He was fun to watch, had a nice arm, decent mobility, and reminded us of the great Quarterbacks of the 1990's, something that the NFL was desperate for in 2002. An awful offensive line, a franchise with seemingly no direction at the time, and a division that featured three solid pass rushes lead to Carr becoming the most sacked QB in the league, and left him permanently scarred. A failed one year stint in Carolina where he was eventually replaced by a 43 year old Vinny Testaverde (1987's #1 overall pick), lead to Carr backing up Eli Manning (2004's #1 overall pick) in New York, where he still resides. Whether or not Carr will ever get or earn another shot to start in the NFL remains to be seen, but he'll always have a soft spot in hearts, because we know in a better situation he would've been good. Had the Texans entered the league the year before Carr would've been drafted by the Panthers who at the time were proud to have Chris Weinke on their roster. In 2003 a no named QB known as Jake Delhomme lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl... Oh what could have been.
07. 2007 JaMarcus Russell, Quarterback LSU - Oakland Raiders: In a couple of years Russell can easily be sitting at #10, but for now I still think he's got a chance. Sure his work ethic has been called abysmal, his weight is a top tier joke amongst fans, teammates, and peers, and so far this season he's made about one good play. But let's give Russell a break, he got drafted by the Raiders. This is the same offense that made Randy Moss look like Craphonso Thorpe the year before Russell was drafted. We've seen signs of Russell being good; not great, but good. He's still young, and the Raiders have some pieces in tact. We'll know more about where he is in two years.
06. 2009 Matthew Stafford, Quarterback Georgia - Detroit Lions: I guess this is going out on a limb a little bit, but heck, in his rookie year he already looks better than half the QB's in the league. Perhaps his even greater achievement is getting the Lions their first win since 2007. If he can stay healthy, Stafford will be a legitimate NFL quarterback, and he'll help the Lions contend year in and year out. In a division that is shaping up to have some adequate quarterbacking for the next four to five years, Stafford will be the flagship signal caller. Maybe he'll be another Joey Harrington, but I think he'll fall more along the lines of a much cooler Jay Cutler.
05. 2003 Carson Palmer, Quarterback USC - Cincinnati Bengals: In 2005 I would have said Palmer was going to be the #1 of the decade. Things were looking great for Carson. He was leading the Bengals to a division title, he had a solid offense around him, a seemingly brilliant head coach, and for the first time since Boomer Esiason (stint one) the Bengals had a quarterback whose name wasn't immediately followed by laughter (sorry Jeff Blake... I always drafted you in Quarterback Club 1998 for N64). Unfortunately for Palmer that 2005 season ended in the operating table for Palmer and a knee injury was later fallowed by good numbers but few wins in 06, and 07, and an elbow injury in 08. 09 has been a sweeter year for Palmer, and he has top level QB talent. This is the seventh year of his career though and he's yet to get past the first round of the playoffs. Though it may not be his fault entirely, it's time for Palmer to start making dents outside of Fantasy Football.
04. 2001 Michael Vick, Quarterback Virginia Tech - Atlanta Falcons: Before he went to prison in 2007, Vick's career was already under scrutiny and was seemingly on the decline. That being said, outside of Eli Manning, Vick went deeper in the playoffs than all of the other QB's taken in the first round this decade, and won more playoff games than all of them combined (then again so has every Quarterback who's ever won a playoff game). In 04 Vick came a win away from the Super Bowl, and holds the record for most yards rushing in a single season for a QB. Overall Vick's career in Atlanta has to be considered above average, and given the 07 and 08 seasons to develop, it's not absurd to suggest that Vick may have developed even further as a QB. At this point in time though, it's hard to see Vick ever returning to the explosive player he was from 2002 to 2006, but NFL history will one day write that there was a time period where Michael Vick was the most feared player in the NFL.
03. 2008 Jake Long, Offensive Tackle Michigan - Miami Dolphins: It's been barely over a season but Long has already made his impact. He's a solid Left Tackle, and in 08 he helped the Dolphins establish a solid running game, and helped Chad Pennington finish as runner up in MVP balloting. A lot of GM's will say that the left tackle is the most important position in football (right tackle if your QB is a lefty) and one season into his career, Long has already established himself as a top shelf left tackle, making the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. If he stays healthy, Long will likely find himself in a lot of Pro Bowls, as he follows in the footsteps of Orlando Pace as OT's taken #1 overall.
02. 2006 Mario Williams, Defensive End NC State - Houston Texans: When the Texans announced before the draft that they were going to take DE Mario Williams #1 overall in a draft that included Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and A.J Hawk, the average football fan let out a resounding "do the Texans ever want to get good?" As the season started the drafting of Williams looked even worse as Dominick Davis got hurt before the season started, David Carr... well he is the #8 player on this list so I guess that's all I need to say, and the Williams started the season slow, never really picking up his pace. That same season Reggie Bush helped the Saints to the NFC Championship game, Vince Young won Rookie of the Year, and Matt Leinart showed signs of brilliance. Since then, Bush, Young, Leinart, and Hawk have played average to below average football at the pro level, while Williams has picked up 26 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and over 100 tackles. He's been a Pro Bowler, a first team All-Pro, and has helped the Texans defense develop into one of the most respectable defensive units in the league.
01. 2004 Eli Manning, Quarterback Ole Miss - San Diego Chargers: Where do we begin? We all know about the trade to the Giants. We all know about the Super Bowl MVP where he outperformed Tom Brady; We know about "the Catch pt 2" We know about "the touchdown." But anyone who has watched the NFL since 2005 knows there is a lot more to Eli than those two plays. It seems like week in and week out, Eli does what he has to do just win games. He's become the unsung king of the two minute drill, and without a doubt he's evolved from punchline to elite QB. In 2004 it looked like the Chargers were going to get the better end of the deal... at least until Nate Kaeding played the Jets, but in 2005 when the Chargers drafted Shawne Merriman with a pick from the Giants, and in 2006 when Merriman and Philip Rivers who the Chargers got in the Eli trade, lead the Chargers to a 14-2 record, it looked like a "lights out" trade for the Chargers (awful pun... I hope you cringed). Since Ellis Hobbs and company did lights out in the 2006 AFC Division playoffs in San Diego, the trade has turned face. Merriman has thus far fallen off, Nate Kaeding, though good, is still just a kicker, and it's hard to argue Rivers case versus Eli (sounds like a great post to come).
Needless to say, Eli has handled the pressure of New York better than anyone ever has. Eli has kept a cool head, never missed the playoffs, and has yet to miss a start since taking over from Kurt Warner in 04. All things considered it's hard to imagine Philip Rivers keeping as cool of a head as Eli in the city that has made a living hell out of the lives of Alex Rodriguez, Brett Favre, Wayne Gretzky, and Patrick Ewing.
So there you have it. 10 years of number one picks, and Eli Manning pans out (thus far) as the best. How many of these guys will be enshrined in Canton? Will any of them? Usually it's between two to three players, which seems about right for this decade.