NFL draft still a crapshoot (cont.)
FIRST PICK: WR Keyshawn Johnson
And Baltimore, more or less, built its Super Bowl champ with this incredible draft -- Lewis and Ogden, a couple of first-ballot Hall of Famers in the same first round.
I don't think there should be any hard-and-fast rules in sports. Everything is up for debate. But I think it's probably a pretty good idea to never take a wide receiver with the No. 1 overall pick. Every draft, there are good receivers -- almost certainly BETTER receivers -- available later. This year's a perfect example. Keyshawn had a nice career -- 11 years as a starter, three Pro Bowls, four thousand-yard receiving seasons. A nice career.
Later in that first round, Indianapolis took Marvin Harrison, who is going to the Hall of Fame. Then, Buffalo took Eric Moulds, who basically had the same career as Keyshawn. In the second round, the Giants took Amani Toomer (9,497 career receiving yards) and Carolina took Muhsin Muhammad (11,438 yards). The very solid Bobby Engram also went in the second round.
Terrell Owens went in the third round. There's a whole other column out there to discuss whether he's a Hall of Famer, but he has certainly been one of the impact players in the NFL.
Joe Horn went in the fifth round -- he's a four-time Pro Bowler.
Don't take a receiver with the first pick. Just don't. There are receivers to be had later.
This, incidentally, was probably the worst quarterback draft ever. And, to the scouts' credit, they knew it. No quarterback went in the first round. The first quarterback taken was Tony Banks... and as bad as Banks was he was CLEARLY the best quarterback taken in this draft. The closest thing was Danny Kanell.
FIRST PICK: OT Orlando Pace
The year before the draft, an editor at The Sporting News called to ask me to write a story about how Orlando Pace was the best college football offensive lineman ever. I'm never entirely sure how stories like that get thought up, but I made a few calls to some college football analysts and pro scouts and, sure enough, found that a lot of people really did think Pace was the best ever.
The interesting thing is that Pace might not even have been the best left tackle taken IN THAT DRAFT. You could certainly argue that Jones, taken out of Florida State by Seattle, was at least his equal. Pace was a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. Jones was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a four-time first team All-Pro. With Jonathan Ogden going in the first round the year before, it's really pretty amazing... this was a golden age for left tackles. Someone should write a book about that, you know, the guys protecting the quarterback's Blind Side.
That year, Tiki Barber was taken in the second round and Ronde Barber was taken in the third. I think, all in all, Ronde has had the better career.
Quarterback update: Another rather dreadful year. The only quarterback to go in the first round was Jim Druckenmiller, who had no chance with that name. The only quarterback taken who became a regular starter was Jake Plummer, who for me had this Memento effect. That is to say, every year Plummer would be starting for the Broncos or Cardinals or whoever, and I would think: "Oh, Plummer's pretty good." And then I would watch him play again, and I would remember: "Oh yeah, he is NOT actually pretty good." And I would think that I should probably tattoo "Plummer is not good" on my arm somewhere.
FIRST PICK: QB Peyton Manning
What a draft. Manning, Alan Faneca, Randy Moss and probably Woodson are all Hall of Famers. And then there are a bunch of really good players like Birk and Flozell Adams and Ahman Green and Hines Ward and Olin Kreutz -- 11 players in that draft have been starters for at least a decade, and a bunch of others like Fred Taylor and Patrick Surtain and Matt Hasselbeck were just good football players.
There is an NFL coach... I'm not sure if I've told this story before so to protect the guilty I'll leave his name blank for the moment. There's an NFL coach who I really like who told me the day before this draft that if he had the No. 1 overall pick, he would take Ryan Leaf. This was not an uncommon thought in 1998, by the way. A lot of people thought it was a real toss-up between the brainy Manning and the brawny Leaf. But this coach was particularly adamant. He said he liked the look in Leaf's eyes. That was the look of a winner. I don't suppose I have EVER heard more compelling testimony that football people should not scout a players' eyes.
Anyway, the point was not that he would have taken Leaf -- like I say, lots of people felt that way and anyway Leaf did go No. 2 in the draft, where he created much wreckage for the San Diego Chargers (it still astonishes me that in his rookie year, Leaf threw two touchdown passes... and FIFTEEN interceptions). No, the point was later when I went to bust the chops of this coach, he insisted that he had NEVER said that he would have taken Leaf first, and he would never have said that, and he did not think that, and he knew that Manning was going to be great and so on.
That stuff really annoys me.
FIRST PICK: QB Tim Couch
OK, well, Couch was a disastrous pick. So that would make our tote-board look like this for first overall picks:
Great picks: 3 (Manning, Pace, Bledsoe)
I originally had Wilkinson and George as disasters -- but I can't do it. Wilkinson did play 195 games in the NFL and started all four years for Bengals. George started 124 games in the NFL and led the league in passing yards one year.
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