When NFL player personnel folks, scouts, coaches and trainers gathered in Indianapolis in February 2005 to evaluate that year’s prospective draftees, there was genuine excitement. The talent from Auburn alone was good enough to stock an entire division with first-rounders. There were stud running backs and cornerbacks, sure franchise passers and a plethora of elite receivers.
Three-plus years later, the Class of 2005 is more embarrassment than excitement.
Cedric Benson, taken fourth overall by Chicago, couldn’t establish himself as a No. 1 running back even after the Bears gave him the job by trading Thomas Jones before last season. So after Benson was arrested twice this spring on alcohol-related charges, the Bears cut him, deciding they would be better off with the other Adrian Peterson and rookie Matt Forte.
Benson’s off-field woes are minor compared with those of cornerback Pacman Jones, who went sixth to Tennessee. Dallas, which acquired Jones this spring, is gambling that a change of scenery will make a difference for the unruly Jones, who has six more police blotter incidents than interceptions and has yet to be reinstated after being suspended for the 2007 season by commissioner Roger Goodell.
At least Jones has flashed some serious game on the field. Quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall selection by San Francisco, hardly has made the 49ers forget Jeff Garcia, let alone Joe Montana or Steve Young. Smith regressed in his third season with just two touchdowns, a 48.7 completion percentage and a 57.2 passer rating.
Among the receivers, Mike Williams (who went 10th to Detroit) was so bad that he’s out of the league, while Minnesota learned that Troy Williamson (seventh) is blazing fast but can’t catch and dispatched him to Jacksonville.
Jones isn’t the only cornerback who has been in trouble. Fabian Washington (No. 23) moved from Oakland to Baltimore this spring after being arrested in a domestic incident. Antrel Rolle (No. 8) simply couldn’t cover well enough and has been moved to safety even though Arizona isn’t deep at cornerback.
The injury bug has bitten Auburn’s entire Class of 2005 first-rounders. Running backs Ronnie Brown (No. 2) and Cadillac Williams (No. 5), cornerback Carlos Rogers (No. 9) and quarterback Jason Campbell (No. 25) all finished 2007 on the shelf with knee injuries, and Williams and Rogers have yet to recover completely.
Wisconsin defensive end Erasmus James (No. 18) was dumped by the Vikings after ACL tears ended his 2006 and 2007 seasons prematurely, while a neck injury ended linebacker David Pollack’s career in Cincinnati before the 17th choice really ever got going.
Injuries can’t be predicted, but clubs research rookies more thoroughly than Barack Obama or John McCain will investigate potential members of their Cabinet. Still, only one of the top 10 selections - receiver Braylon Edwards (No. 3), who had an outstanding 2007 - has been a hit after three seasons.
Maybe quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 24) won’t wilt under the pressure that will come from finally succeeding retired legend Brett Favre in Green Bay this fall. Or maybe Campbell will become a star in Washington under new coach Jim Zorn.
But unless Rodgers or Campbell blossoms or Brown or Williams prove to be in the class of LaDainian Tomlinson, the 2005 first round will be a bigger bust than “Ishtar.”