Success Points to the 2001 NFL Draft

The draft is a time for building your team into something special, especially on the heels of a 1-15 season. The right combination can turn a team from a perennial loser into a team that will contend for years to come.

Two days before the 2001 draft, the Chargers traded their top pick to Atlanta for the Falcons' fifth pick, third-round pick, receiver Tim Dwight and a 2002 second-round pick.

Sure, they lost the electrifying Michael Vick, but the fifth pick became running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL's leading rusher, and they snared Drew Brees with the first pick in the second round.

On a day of ifs the Chargers came out smelling like roses, but it was not always destined to be that way. In the hours leading up to the 26th pick of the 2001 NFL Draft, the Dolphins' braintrust held "hours of discussion" in deciding between Wisconsin cornerback Jamar Fletcher or Purdue quarterback Drew Brees.

"It was a very difficult decision. It came down to those will be our two choices. I can't remember if Chris Chambers was in there, too," said Rick Spielman, vice president of football operations and player personnel.

The Dolphins had just come off an 11-5 season in which Jay Fiedler, in the first season of a three year contract, completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,402 yards and 14 touchdowns with 14 interceptions as Miami won the AFC East title.

Prior to the draft, Wannstedt also signed free-agent quarterback Ray Lucas to back up Fiedler. He was concerned that by drafting a potential franchise quarterback, he would shatter Fiedler's confidence.

On draft day the Dolphins phoned the Chargers asking if the Chargers were interested in trading for their pick at No. 26. General Manager John Butler calmly answered yes, then hung up and waited.

Suddenly the Dolphins were on the clock and nary had a phone call been made to Butler.

Prior to the draft, Brees had heard from his agent and Purdue coach Joe Tiller that Miami was very interested.

"At the 26th pick, I thought, well, that's very viable, especially since I had heard from a lot of good sources that, 'Hey, if you're there, Miami is going to take you,' " Brees said.

"At the time we felt Jay was going to be our quarterback. Drew had a future to be a good quarterback in the league, but Jay was playing well for us and we felt he would continue to improve," said Spielman.

Fletcher ended up being chosen despite Miami having two fantastic corners in Pro Bowler Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.

"It came down to never having enough good corners," Spielman added. "Knock on wood, if Surtain went down or something happened to Madison, you need someone to step in and play our type of scheme."

Butler was in heaven roughly 75 minutes after the Dolphins chose Fletcher. Yes five picks takes that long on Draft day. Butler had tabbed Brees all along and may have traded up if Miami offered a sweet deal. Instead Butler got the man he wanted on the first pick of the second round.

Yesterday, some 20 months later, Butler added with a sly smile, "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."

Brees had a premonition the day before the draft that he would end up in San Diego.

"Three months ago I had no idea who would pick me," he said at the time, "and I still don't. But I've got a funny feeling about San Diego."

San Diego has been glad to welcome him home.

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