What was the best NFL draft class in history? It’s hard to tell, as every draft features great players mixed in with mediocre and bad ones. The one that may stand out above the rest, though, was 2001. The 2001 NFL draft class has a solid argument for being the best draft class of all time.
But who went in the first round of the draft? Here’s the story of the draft’s first-round picks, who fared the best, and some who fared poorly as major busts not long after.
The first-round picks of the 2001 NFL draft
Pro Football Reference has a record of the 2001 NFL draft first-round, listed below:
- Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons
- Leonard Davis, Arizona Cardinals
- Gerald Warren, Cleveland Browns
- Justin Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
- LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
- Richard Seymour, New England Patriots
- Andre Carter, San Francisco 49ers
- David Terrell, Chicago Bears
- Koren Robinson, Seattle Seahawks
- Jamal Reynolds, Green Bay Packers
- Dan Morgan, Carolina Panthers
- Damione Lewis, St. Louis Rams
- Marcus Stroud, Jacksonville, Jaguars
- Kenyatta Walker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Rod Gardner, Washington Football Team
- Santana Moss, New York Jets
- Steve Hutchinson, Seattle Seahawks
- Jeff Backus, Detroit Lions
- Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Adam Archuleta, St. Louis Rams
- Nate Clements, Buffalo Bills
- Will Allen, New York Giants
- Deuce McAllister, New Orleans Saints
- Will Middlebrooks, Denver Broncos
- Freddie Mitchell, Philadelphia Eagles
- Jamar Fletcher, Miami Dolphins
- Michael Bennett, Minnesota Vikings
- Derrick Gibson, Oakland Raiders
- Ryan Pickett, St. Louis Rams
- Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
- Todd Heap, Baltimore Ravens
Who were the best first-round picks of the 2001 NFL draft?
Vick, at number one overall, had quite a notable career with the Atlanta Falcons. He was eventually jailed for a dogfighting ring being operated out of his home, but later came back and experienced a career renaissance with the Philadelphia Eagles. Vick may not have been the superstar many thought he’d be coming out of Virginia Tech, but he was one of the best dual-threat (running and passing) quarterbacks of his generation.
Tomlinson was probably the best player to come out of this first round. He had a Hall of Fame career with the Chargers. Hutchinson also made the Hall of Fame as a guard for the Seahawks, providing outstanding run and pass blocking for the majority of his career. Wayne, Heap, and McAllister also logged solid time as dependable starters and borderline stars.
Of course, a couple of players picked outside the first round could be two of the best of them all. Drew Brees went to San Diego with the first pick of the second round, giving the Chargers quite a haul with Brees and Tomlinson. Brees played well for the team, but they decided to go in a different direction in 2004 when they selected Philip Rivers. Brees took his shoulder injury to New Orleans, where he thrived and won a Super Bowl.
Steve Smith hasn’t made the Hall of Fame (yet), but will likely be headed for Canton one day. This third-round pick helped the Panthers qualify for a Super Bowl appearance and became one of the most consistently excellent receiving options of the 21st century.
Which 2001 NFL first-round picks didn’t turn out well?
Not every first-round pick was a good one, however. There were more than a few busts in this draft. Reynolds only played 18 games in Green Bay. According to Acme Packing Company, he almost immediately suffered from knee problems and failed to make an impact at the professional level. The Pack’s rival didn’t fare much better, as Bleacher Report called their first-round pick Terrell one of the five biggest draft busts in franchise history.
One player who wasn’t a bust but nonetheless had a tragic ending was Kenyatta Jones. While he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots after they spent a fourth-round pick on him, he tragically passed before turning 40 years old in 2018 due to an unexpected heart attack.