The rich might not get richer if the poor drafted better. As weak teams picking at the top have whiffed, however, strong teams at the bottom have gone yard.

The rich might not get richer if the poor drafted better.

As weak teams picking at the top have whiffed, however, strong teams at the bottom have gone yard. Agony and ecstasy perpetuate themselves.

The decade in general has produced assorted examples. The 2001 draft in particular illustrates it best.

The Cardinals, with the No. 2 overall pick, spent a fortune on offensive lineman Leonard Davis. The Colts, with the 31st pick, brought in wideout Reggie Wayne at nickels on the Davis dollar.

Through 2007, Arizona’s best record during the decade was 8-8. Indianapolis has done worse than 10-6 just once.

No, we didn’t forget Indy has Peyton Manning. But Wayne’s breakthrough to Pro Bowl status was one reason the Colts won Super Bowl XLI. And we submit that Arizona is always out of the running because of picks such as Davis.

Two picks in 2001 foreshadowed separate paths for Cleveland and Baltimore. The Browns guessed wrong by taking defensive tackle Gerard Warren at No. 3 overall.  The Ravens guessed right by grabbing tight end Todd Heap with the last pick of the first round. Cleveland went 25-39 in Warren’s four disappointing years with the team. Baltimore reached the playoffs twice in that span, when Heap became a Pro Bowler.

A look at other drafts that produced parallel examples:

- In 2002, the Lions burned No. 3 overall on quarterback Joey Harrington. The Eagles got an eventual Pro Bowl cornerback, Lito Sheppard, at No. 26. The Lions went 19-45 during the next four years. The Eagles gave New England a scare in a Super Bowl.

- In 2003, the Lions spent No. 2 on wideout Charles Rogers. The Packers went with linebacker Nick Barnett at No. 29. Rogers hasn’t caught a pass since 2005. By 2006, Barnett had made his 600th career tackle.

- In 2004, the Raiders spent No. 2 on left tackle Robert Gallery, whose production on a bad team has hovered near the Ryan Leaf line. The Patriots got defensive lineman Vince Wilfork at No. 21. He was a Pro Bowler on a 16-0 team.

- In 2005, quarterback Alex Smith went to the 49ers with the first pick. The records have been 4-12, 7-9 and 5-11, and he doesn’t seem the type to turn things around. Pittsburgh picked Heath Miller at No. 30. He played well as a rookie on a Super Bowl team and is one of the league’s better tight ends.

Before drafts blow into ancient history, lots of things are assumed.

Last year, for example, Calvin Johnson was viewed as Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison rolled into one when the Lions picked him No. 2 overall. Anthony Gonzalez was viewed as maybe a real nice possession receiver when the Colts took him at No. 32.

Their rookie numbers weren’t so different. Johnson: 48 catches, 756 yards, 15.8 yards per catch, four TDs. Gonzalez: 37 catches, 576 yards, 15.6 yards per catch, three TDs.

Where do they go from here? What will they mean to their teams? Predict away, but don’t bet the ranch.

The flip side

Our top 10 examples of have-nots who got healthy largely because they hit on a high first-round picks — limited to top-10 picks from the last 10 drafts:

1. QB Peyton Manning, No. 1 overall, 1998. The Colts were 3-13 the year before Manning arrived.

2. RB LaDainan Tomlinson, No. 5 overall, 2001. The Chargers failed to post a winning season in the five years before he arrived. During his first seven seasons, they had years of 12-4, 14-2 and 11-5.

3. DL Richard Seymour, No. 6, 2001. Coming off a 5-11 year, the Patriots won a Super Bowl with Seymour as a standout rookie. They didn’t stop there.

4. QB Donovan McNabb, No. 2 overall, 1999. In one five-year span, he led the Eagles to five playoff berths and a Super Bowl. The Eagles had winning seasons just twice in six years before he arrived.

5. LB Brian Urlacher, No. 9, 2000. In the three years before he arrived, the Bears were 14-34. With him, they have three division crowns and reached a Super Bowl.

6. Eli Manning, Giants, No 1 overall, 2004 (via Chargers). The Giants were 10-22 in the 2003 and ’04. They haven’t been below .500 since, and they’re carrying a Vince Lombardi Trophy into ’08.

7. QB Carson Palmer, No. 1 overall, 2003. The Bengals are falling apart again, but they were 11-5 in 2005 and haven’t been worse than 7-9 since 2002.

8. DL Julius Peppers, No. 2 overall, 2002. Along with 2003 No. 8 overall pick Jordan Gross, he helped the Panthers reach the ’03 season Super Bowl. Carolina’s records in the four years before Peppers were 1-15, 7-9, 8-8 and 4-12.

9. Joe Thomas, No. 3 overall, 2007. Cleveland was 19-45 in the four years before he arrived but 10-6 with Thomas playing like a top veteran right out of the gate.

10. CB Terence Newman, No. 5 overall, 2003. Dallas was 5-11 three years in a row before he arrived. The Cowboys since have four winning seasons. Safety Roy Williams (No. 8, 2002) belongs in this discussion.

Note: It’s way, way easier to find high picks who didn’t help than the other way around.

Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com