Inside Slant: 2004 NFL draft revisited

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
11:35
AM ET
Manning & Rivers & Roethlisberger AP PhotosThe 2004 draft produced three QBs -- Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger -- who may be Hall of Famers someday.
History remembers the 2004 draft for the forced smile of one Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall pick who prodded a trade from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants. The circumstances of that deal were so dramatic -- the Giants drafted Philip Rivers and shipped him to the Chargers -- that you almost forget that another winner of multiple Super Bowls, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, was drafted just 10 spots later.

What else stood out about that draft? On its 10-year anniversary, here are 10 notable nuggets:

1. Hall of Fame group: In addition to Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger, the first round of the 2004 draft included one other player who should be in the Hall of Fame discussion five years after he retires. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has averaged 85 receptions for 1,137 yards and 8.7 touchdowns per season since the Arizona Cardinals made him the No. 3 overall pick. He turns 31 in August. Safety Sean Taylor, chosen No. 5 overall by the Washington Redskins, was an elite player when he was murdered in 2007. That list, however, forgets a certain fourth-round pick …

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelThe Chiefs got one of the most durable and productive pass-rushers of the past 10 years when they took Jared Allen in the fourth round.
2. Jared Allen: With just seven picks remaining before the start of the fifth round, the Kansas City Chiefs drafted a defensive end from Idaho State whom they projected mostly as a long-snapper. Allen worked his way into the Chiefs' starting lineup, recorded nine sacks as a rookie and has collected 128.5 while playing in 157 of a possible 160 games. His career will continue this season with the Chicago Bears after six years with the Minnesota Vikings.

3. Better with age: The Cardinals' 2004 brain trust of general manager Rod Graves and coach Dennis Green deserves some retroactive praise for one of the best overall performances in that draft. In addition to Fitzgerald, the Cardinals also grabbed linebacker Karlos Dansby in the second round and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett in the third round. Defensive end Antonio Smith was a fifth-round selection. Three members of the Cardinals' 2004 draft have been named to at least one Pro Bowl, the second-highest total of this draft. Players the Cardinals drafted that year have started 638 games, also the second-highest total in the draft. (Data compiled by ESPN Insider columnist Mike Sando.)

4. On the other hand: The Baltimore Ravens' usually sterling draft performance took a temporary dive in 2004, thanks in part to a 2003 decision to trade back into the first round to draft quarterback Kyle Boller. That move cost the Ravens their 2004 first-round pick, and left them sitting out until the No. 51 overall pick. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards made it through five seasons, mostly as a backup, and third-round receiver Devard Darling barely made it on the field in his first three seasons. Players drafted by the Ravens in 2004 have made an NFL-low 89 starts.

5. All told: Players drafted in 2004 have been named to the Pro Bowl 76 times, about average among the past 47 drafts, according to Sando's numbers. That's about half the total of what many consider one of the best drafts in NFL history. Players drafted in 1983 have been named to the Pro Bowl 143 times.

6. Worst picks: How inexact of a science is the NFL draft? Two teams with top-nine picks drafted players who flopped. (And they were not alone in thinking otherwise.) The Oakland Raiders could have drafted anyone other than Manning at No. 2 overall, but their pick of offensive lineman Robert Gallery yielded not a single Pro Bowl in seven seasons. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars reached for receiver Reggie Williams, who averaged 2.4 receptions per game played over the next five seasons. Finally, the Buffalo Bills hitched themselves to quarterback J.P. Losman at No. 21 overall, passing up Matt Schaub (No. 90) in the process.

7. Upside-down: In 2004, Mike Sherman doubled as the Green Bay Packers' general manager and coach. His selection of 5-foot-10 cornerback Ahmad Carroll at No. 25 overall was a major mistake, as was the decision to use a third-round pick on punter B.J. Sander. Sherman did make some headway in the second half of the draft, grabbing defensive tackle Corey Williams in the sixth round and center Scott Wells in the seventh. But that would be his final year running the Packers' draft; Ted Thompson was hired as general manager in 2005.

8. Best value: Only four players were selected after Wells, who has been his team's primary center for most of the past nine years even after being selected No. 251 overall. But let's not forget about running back Michael Turner, whom the Chargers drafted in the fifth round at No. 154 overall. Turner served as a productive backup to LaDainian Tomlinson for four seasons before taking over as the Atlanta Falcons' primary runner. He rushed for at least 1,300 yards in three of his first four seasons with the team and finished his career with 7,338 yards and 66 touchdowns. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.

9. Limited impact: The first four players the Chicago Bears drafted in 2004 played key roles in reaching the Super Bowl three seasons later. Their impact, however, was short-lived. Tommie Harris (No. 14 overall) and Tank Johnson (No. 47) comprised a strong interior of the Bears' defensive line, making plays and keeping middle linebacker Brian Urlacher free from blocks. Receiver Bernard Berrian (No. 78) caught 51 passes, including six touchdowns, in the Bears' run-oriented scheme and cornerback Nate Vasher (No. 110) intercepted 16 passes in his first three seasons. Vasher, however, was never a full-time starter again. Berrian departed via free agency after 2007, Harris had one more good season in 2007 before his knees caused a steep decline, and Johnson was waived in 2007 after multiple off-field issues.

10. Career cut short: One of the top 2004 pass-rushing prospects was USC's Kenechi Udeze, whom the Minnesota Vikings selected No. 20 overall. He played four seasons before being diagnosed with leukemia in February 2008. A bone-marrow transplant helped spur him into remission but complications forced his retirement in 2009. He has since spent time coaching at the college and NFL levels.

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