Picks of the littered
Draft's bottom-dwellers cannot choose their destiny
Posted: Tuesday March 25, 2008 1:08PM; Updated: Tuesday March 25, 2008 1:32PM
Ten years ago next month, the Indianapolis Colts selected quarterback Peyton Manning first overall in the NFL draft, bypassing Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf and almost single-handedly changing the course of a franchise that had posted just two playoff seasons in the previous decade.
Before Manning arrived, the Colts had gone 20 consecutive years without a 10-win season and had made the postseason just three times in that span. Since taking Manning, Indianapolis has been a playoff team eight times in 10 years, with six division titles, a Super Bowl championship, and an average of 10.5 wins per regular season -- ranking second in the NFL behind New England's 10.8 since the start of 1998.
Ideally that's how it's supposed to work when you draft first overall in the NFL. You take a franchise-level player and get at least 10 years of great results out of him, leading the organization to great things in the process. But it rarely happens, of course, as the teams who selected Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer and Alex Smith can readily attest. Peyton's little brother, Eli Manning, this year became just the second overall No. 1 pick to win (or even reach) a Super Bowl in the past decade, so for all we know it's just a Manning thing that the rest of the league wouldn't understand.
But it's not just the No. 1 Miami Dolphins who face some pretty daunting odds when it comes to hitting it big in next month's draft. Picking anywhere in the top 10 has become pretty hazardous duty in the NFL in recent years, with the draft misses at least keeping pace with, if not out-numbering, the hits.
This offseason we've seen more recent top 10 picks who have parted ways with the teams that drafted them, with Minnesota shipping away receiver Troy Williamson (No. 7 in 2005), Atlanta cutting ties with cornerback DeAngelo Hall (8th in 2004), and the Jets trying like heck to move defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson (4th in 2003). And if Pacman Jones (6th in 2005) is even re-instated to the league in time to play this season, Tennessee will be attempting to bid adieu to him as well.
Add those names to the disappointing results of recent top 10 draft classes that have included 2003's Charles Rogers, Johnathan Sullivan and Byron Leftwich, 2004's Robert Gallery and Reggie Williams, and 2005's Alex Smith, Cedric Benson, Antrel Rolle and Mike Williams. In the case of the draft's past two top 10s, the jury is still very much out on the likes of highly-touted talents such as Vernon Davis, Michael Huff, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Reggie Bush, Vince Young, JaMarcus Russell and Ted Ginn Jr. And don't even get me started on the Class of 2002, which is a disaster all by itself.
Picking in the top 10 is indeed no picnic these days, and I think Colts general manager Bill Polian is on to something when he pinpoints the prohibitive financial commitment that comes with working in the draft's high-rent district, as he did at length at last month's NFL scouting combine. Boiled down, Polian's thesis is the cost of doing business at the top of the draft at least partly works as a deterrent to those teams who are trying to use their high draft picks in order to become more competitive. Which is exactly opposite of the original intention of the draft's last-shall-be-first formula.
"The draft was designed to either allow the weakest teams, based on record, to choose the best players, or if they chose not to take a particular player, to gather a bunch of picks to further accelerate their growth and competitiveness,'' Polian said. "That's what (longtime Bears owner/coach George) Halas and commissioner (Bert) Bell intended way back when, and that's now been skewered completely by the cost of the picks in the top 15 of the first round.
"It's completely changed because of the cost of those picks, and in my view, that's wrong. It should change. That's bad for the game. It isn't about money, it's about the integrity of the game on the field.''