He was perhaps one of the better “accidental” draft picks of all time, a football cousin of the Bulls being stuck with Michael Jordan at No. 3 in the 1984 draft after teams ahead of them chose others.
Well, not completely an accident, but a case where a true franchise player fell into that franchise’s lap.
It was draft day 2000 and the Bears sat with the No. 9 pick of the first round. The late Mark Hatley, then head of Bears personnel, had targeted three players that the organization considered truly worth the ninth pick and all three fit needs in a team coming off a 5-11 first season under Dick Jauron.
The three players: Virginia running back Thomas Jones, Michigan State wide receiver Plaxico Burress (who made a Halas Hall pre-draft visit) and Urlacher.
The draft through the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 6 played out exactly as the Bears projected it would: Cleveland taking Penn State DE Courtney Brown, on through the Eagles selecting Florida State defensive tackle Corey Simon.
The Cardinals debated the same three that the Bears had targeted and went with Jones, who eventually found his way to Chicago anyway via free agency in 2004.
The wild card was Pittsburgh, where former NFL linebacker Bill Cowher was building his team and Urlacher was in play. Burress had stood up the Steelers on his interview at the Scouting Combine. But Cowher wanted to do something to juice up an inept offense (26th in passing yards, 19 TDs, 18 INT’s) and got on the phone with Burress.
The scenario the Steelers hoped for was a deal with the New York Jets to net them quarterback Chad Pennington, Randy Moss’ battery mate at Marshall. So the Steelers grabbed Burress, although no Jets-Pennington trade ever came to pass.
The Bears didn’t particularly care. They “settled” for Brian Urlacher.