It’s time again to get into the Draft Way-Back Machine – not a long trip, just four ago, but an eternity by NFL standards. 2006 was a year of change. The Bush Administration’s popularity was reaching all-time lows, former presidential candidate Al Gore won an Academy Award for his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was killed by a sting from a jellyfish and the music scene was dominated by “Wuss Rock” – with Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” and James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” topping the charts.
In the NFL, the big question was where the top quarterbacks in the draft were going to fall. On the eve of the draft, the first of many big questions was answered, as the Houston Texans, owners of the No. 1 pick, passed on Reggie Bush to take defensive end Mario Williams. At the time, many draft analysts said the Texans were crazy, but nobody’s mocking them now.
It was big year for some positions and a dismal year for others. Nowhere was that more true than at quarterback. The question wasn’t who would be the bigger star, but who would get drafted first – Vince Young of Texas of Matt Leinart of USC? Young would win the battle, getting drafted with the third pick. Leinart would have to wait until the 10th pick to get taken by Dennis Green and the Cardinals. But both of them would eventually pale in comparison to Jay Cutler, who was taken by the Broncos with the 11th pick and would eclipse the careers of both. The Jets would step up to take Kellen Clemens in the second round – a round that would end with new Vikings head coach Brad Childress and the draft posse moving back into the second round to draft Tarvaris Jackson.
Running back was a similar story. Bush was viewed as a can’t-miss star, but has yet to live up to his No. 2 overall billing. The second RB off the board – Laurence Maroney – has fared little better with the Patriots. It as the next wave of running backs that have made a bigger impact. The Panther took Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams with the 27th pick, the Colts took Joseph Addai with the 30th pick and the Jaguars took Maurice Jones-Drew with the 60th pick. All of them have become Pro Bowl players, while Bush and Maroney have been little more than platoon players like they were in college. The fullback crop was expected to have little to offer, but produced two guys who would end up with the Vikings – Mel Kiper’s third-rated fullback was Garrett Mills and Naufahu Tahi checked in at No. 10 on his ranking list. Both would end up as Vikings.
The Broncos would strike gold at wide receiver as well after hitting the mother lode with Cutler in the first round. Santonio Holmes was the only first-round wide receiver and what followed was more of a “who’s that?” than a “who’s who.” In the second round, the Packers found a star in Greg Jennings, taken several picks after the Patriots nabbed Chad Jackson and the Giants selected Sinorice Moss. The run of wide receivers would continue, as one pedestrian player after another came off the board – Travis Wilson, Erek Hagan, Brandon Williams, Maurice Stovall and Willie Reid in the third round and Corey Rodgers, Jason Avant and Demetrius Williams in the fourth round. All of these players were taken before a raw youngster name Brandon Marshall, who has helped re-write the Broncos record book and recently made himself a multi-millionaire by signing a $47 million contract extension with the Dolphins.
The same scenario played out at tight end. Vernon Davis was taken in the top end of the first round, but, until 2009, had been little more than a career disappointment. It was a big year for drafting tight ends, including Marcedes Lewis, Leonard Pope and Anthony Fasano. But it would be later that the stars would come out, as the Texans nabbed Owen Daniels in the fourth round after eight other teams had already taken tight ends off the board.
It was perhaps the worst year ever for offensive linemen. D’Brickashaw Ferguson was the only offensive tackle taken in the first round. The first round also saw just one guard (Davin Joseph) and one center (Nick Mangold) selected. They say teams are built in the trenches, but not many were built in 2006.
Defense would end up ruling the day, as Mario Williams led the way among defensive ends, but values were available late, with Denver again cashing in. Williams was the first player taken, but it would be 125 picks later that the stars came out. With the 126th pick, Denver took Elvis Dumervil, while was followed one pick later by the Vikings taking Ray Edwards. With so many hit-and-miss talents going ahead of them, you didn’t have to pick early to find a star at defensive end.
There wasn’t a lot of star power at defensive tackle, but it did produce Haloti Ngata, who has gone on to star with the Ravens, but, by and large, had more duds than studs.
Linebacker was a popular choice, including with the Vikings in the first round. The NFC North dominated that action, with the Packers taking A.J. Hawk with the fifth pick and the Lions using the ninth pick on injury-prone Ernie Sims. The Vikings would take Chad Greenway with the 17th pick, one choice ahead of Bobby Carpenter – who went to the Cowboys and has been a big disappointment. In all, eight of the top 35 picks were linebackers, but only one has become a Pro Bowler – 33rd overall selection DeMeco Ryans of the Texans.
The Vikings would come away from a weak class of cornerbacks with what may have been the gem of the draft. Four corners were taken in the first round – Tye Hill, Antonio Cromartie, Johnathan Joseph and Kelly Jennings – and one more (Jimmy Williams) would come off in the second round before the Vikings drafted Cedric Griffin. Hindsight being 20/20, a lot of the other teams that took corners would likely trade their player straight up for Griffin in a New York minute. Later in the round, the Bears took cornerback Devin Hester (rated No. 10 among CBs by Mel Kiper) and, while he never made a big splash as a CB, he has made an impact on the league.
Safety was also a disappointment, especially at the top with Michael Huff and Donte Whitner going with picks Nos. 7 and 8 and being followed by career disappointments Jason Allen, Ko Simpson, Danieal Manning and Daniel Bullocks.
All in all, 2006 was a mixed bag for teams looking to build in the draft. Eleven players taken in the first round would be Pro Bowl players – just one out of every three – but the Vikings came away about as well as anyone in the first Childress draft (Rick Spielman would arrive a month later), coming away with Greenway, Griffin, Ryan Cook, Jackson and Edwards in the draft. All of them would become starters – a trend that has continued in subsequent years.
2006 wasn’t a big year for the draft, but it was a big one for the Vikings, who were able to dodge the mine field of sub-par pro talent to come out of the draft with players who would make significant contributions to the team.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.