Ten years ago, the Atlanta Falcons mortgaged their future to acquire Michael Vick with the first pick of the NFL draft.
In hindsight, given Vick’s crimes and premature exit from Atlanta, the decision was regrettable. But the Falcons’ football judgment was sound.
Not perfect. But certainly sound.
In five full seasons as a starter, Vick has made four Pro Bowls and quarterbacked his team to the playoffs three times. His teams, the Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, are a combined 47-31-1 when he starts in the regular season, 2-3 in the playoffs.
All this despite wasting two years of his prime.
Hall of Fame credentials they are not. And when you trade three draft picks and a player for the rights to pick a quarterback No. 1, as the Falcons did in 2001 with the San Diego Chargers, you hope for a Hall of Famer.
But the question then about Vick was whether his unique skills would translate to the NFL. He was the fastest quarterback ever, and, at age 20 after two seasons as Virginia Tech’s starter, the youngest No. 1 pick in history.
“I just hope and pray I can learn the offense as quick as possible,” Vick told us that draft afternoon in New York, “because that's the key right now. ... I realize there's a lot of things I need to do to become a dropback passer. That's the easy part. The hard part is adjusting to the speed of the game.”
Another Vick quote from that day.
“I know there's a lot of expectations. But I know how to conduct myself. I know how to handle myself.”
In some regards he did. In others, sadly, he did not.
In his second pro season, his first as a starter, Vick led Atlanta to the 2002 playoffs, and the Falcons became the first visiting team to win a postseason game at Green Bay’s storied Lambeau Field. His skills did translate, poor work habits notwithstanding.
Two years later, Vick quarterbacked the Falcons to the NFC championship game, where they lost to his current employer, the Eagles.
And whom might have been a wiser No. 1 pick than Vick?
Well, with the No. 5 pick acquired from Atlanta, San Diego drafted Texas Christian running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who’s scored 159 touchdowns and rushed for more than 13,000 yards in a career that continues today with the New York Jets.
At No. 6, the New England Patriots chose Georgia defensive tackle Richard Seymour, an anchor of their Super Bowl-winning teams and a six-time Pro Bowler.
But the real Brink’s jobs of the 2001 draft came later in the first round.
At No. 17, the Seattle Seahawks picked Michigan guard Steve Hutchinson. Now convention dictates that guards rarely, if ever, merit top-10 or top-five consideration, but Hutchinson has made seven Pro Bowls combined with the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.
Most notably, at No. 30 the Indianapolis Colts nabbed Miami receiver Reggie Wayne. He’s caught 787 passes for 10,748 yards and 69 touchdowns, supplanting Marvin Harrison as Peyton Manning’s go-to guy.
Wayne and Vick both made the Pro Bowl last season, and 10 years after their draft day, both figure to be marquee players in 2011 — if there is a season.
Busts are a story every April, and the 2001 draft had its share. Michigan receiver David Terrell at No. 7 to the Chicago Bears and Florida State defensive end Jamal Reynolds (injuries) at No. 9 to the Green Bay Packers are two examples.
Michael Vick is not.
“I'm a professional now,” he said on draft day. “I have to show it.”
True then. True now.
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