Two old guys with more than 50 NFL drafts between them looked at each other and scoffed last April when the Chicago Bears used a second-round pick on Devin Hester, who didn’t even play a position in college at Miami.

Dumb old guys.

All Hester has done is return three punts, two kickoffs and a missed field goal for touchdowns, setting an NFL record for scores on returns for the team that leads the NFC with an 11-2 record. He’s even beginning to play a position, pressed into service at defensive back because of injuries.

If he gets his hands on a fumble or intercepts a pass …

Touchdown No. 7.

Hester has become Exhibit B in what has become an incredible season for rookies – exhibit A being Marques Colston, the seventh-round pick who has nearly 1,000 yards receiving for New Orleans despite missing two games and most of another with an ankle injury. With Heisman winner Reggie Bush, who two weeks ago scored four TDs in a game, and, of course, QB Drew Brees, the Saints have the most explosive offense east of San Diego.

As for Exhibit C: Jacksonville’s Maurice Drew, a second-rounder generously listed at 5-foot-7 who at UCLA was overshadowed by Bush at USC. Drew has been just as explosive, if not more so. Last week, he gained 166 yards in 15 carries and returned the second-half kickoff 93 yards for a TD in a 44-17 win over the Colts. Drew, Fred Taylor’s backup, has rushed for 666 yards and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, almost double the rushing average Bush has with the Saints.

“It just came in a smaller package than most, but he has some really special ability,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio says of Drew, who was chosen 60th overall.

The 2005 draft is probably the most productive since 1983, which not only produced Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, but also contributed seven starters each to Bears and Giants teams that won titles in 1985 and 1986, and spewed out Pro Bowlers from top to bottom. Karl Mecklenburg, who made six Pro Bowls during a 12-year career as a linebacker with the Broncos, was taken in the 12th round – a round that no longer exists.

This one is equally good from top to bottom, so good that the top pick, Mario Williams, is belittled despite 4 sacks and the potential to be an impact defensive end for a decade or more.

That’s because the Houston Texans took him over Bush and didn’t even consider hometown product Vince Young, both of whom have proven every bit as good as the hype that preceded them. And because DeMeco Ryans, a linebacker the Texans chose with the first pick of the second round, has a good chance to be the defensive rookie of the year. He leads the NFL with 127 tackles, ahead of Brian Urlacher, Zach Thomas, Keith Bulluck and London Fletcher, among others.

Another guy who makes Williams look ordinary: DE Matthias Kiwanuka of the Giants, chosen with the last choice in the first round. He has four sacks, only a half-sack fewer than the first pick, two interceptions and has plugged up a hole in a defense that lost two Pro Bowl DEs to injury.

Just a capsule look demonstrates the quality of the first round.

Ten of the 32 players chosen have started all 13 games, including two offensive linemen on the same team: left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold of the Jets. That’s a rarity, especially for those two spots.

Another rarity has all three-first-round quarterbacks starting: Young, chosen third overall by Tennessee; Arizona’s Matt Leinart (10th); and Denver’s Jay Cutler (11th). Young is 6-4 as a starter and Leinart, after a slow start, has led the historically bad Cardinals to victories in three of their last four games.

Only eight first-rounders haven’t started a game. And even that’s deceptive.

One non-starter is Chad Greenway of the Vikings, lost to injury in training camp, and another is John McCargo of Buffalo, who was hurt early and put on injured reserve after five games. But McCargo isn’t missed because Kyle Williams, a fifth-rounder, is playing very well in the defensive tackle spot McCargo was supposed to fill.

Two others without a start are running backs who really are starters.

Joseph Addai leads the Colts in rushing with 867 yards, but is nominally behind Dominic Rhodes on the depth chart. Laurence Maroney of the Patriots shares the position with Corey Dillon and is 30 yards behind Dillon with 624 yards rushing.

Then, of course, there is Hester.

Don’t be surprised to turn on a highlight show this week and see him weaving through the Tampa Bay offense after picking off a pass. Or lining up in the backfield, taking a pitchout and streaking up the sideline for a TD.

Why not?

He’s already scored every other way.

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