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NFL Draft '99
      

A fine option

McNabb shows he's more than a one-trick quarterback

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Posted: Wednesday April 14, 1999 06:58 PM

  With size, speed and a strong arm, McNabb is sure to be one of the top 10 picks. Tom Pidgeon/Allsport

DOLTON, Ill. (CNN/SI) -- He won 35 of 49 collegiate starts. He amassed more than 10,000 yards of offense. And he never missed a game in four years at Syracuse.

But it wasn't until the Senior Bowl three months ago that Donovan McNabb transformed from a glorified option quarterback to one of the primary options in Saturday's NFL Draft.

"I believe people began to understand that we're not just guys out there running the ball all day," McNabb said. "We have to make checks at the line of scrimmage, we're reading defenses, we're making reads on the run. Maybe I run around back there in the pocket. But there's a reason for that. I just try to make a play out there."

Option quarterbacks always have been a tough sell in the drop-back world of the NFL. While many scouts appreciate the athleticism involved in being a good option quarterback, most believe that the best pros are those schooled in pro-style offenses.

That has changed, slowly, as scouts begin to appreciate the way many option quarterbacks can escape the rush and make plays on the run.

It's exactly what has made McNabb, a 6-foot-2, 223-pounder with a good arm and an even better disposition, a sure Top 10 pick in the draft.

"He's always been an outstanding athlete, he's always been a playmaker, he's always been someone who's been able to take off and run with the football," said Tom Donahoe, the director of football operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "But where he made significant strides this year was in his ability to throw the football."

That's often been a rap on option quarterbacks. Because they don't always have to throw, they don't develop the reputation for arm strength and accuracy that many drop-back quarterbacks -- guys like Kentucky's Tim Couch -- do.

"Donovan, I think, is like Steve Young. He's just a tremendous athlete, he's hard to knock off his feet, he can make plays outside the structure of the offense and again, he's a guy who's made big plays over a period of four years," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy. "I think he's going to be the quarterback that people are going to look to in whatever we call this next decade."

McNabb's strength of character is just as impressive to potential employers as his physical prowess. An endless array of tests and meetings has revealed that this gregarious speech major will be no Ryan Leaf, who had his share of problems, on and off the field, as the No. 2 pick of the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 draft.

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Leaf made the headlines last season when he lambasted a reporter in San Diego -- something McNabb insists will not happen with him.

"Don't sit and point the finger and get upset at people who are asking questions," McNabb said. "And why do you have to change and say 'It's not my fault, I'm doing all that I can?' Or the way that he went about, by expressing himself to the reporter?"

Leaf, of course, is not the only first-round pick to struggle with lofty expectations. Kerry Collins, the No. 5 pick in the 1995 draft, has seen his share of troubles. And there are many others who struggle and then fade quietly away.

That's why character and the ability to withstand all the pressures have become even more important to NFL teams.

"If you don't have good character then it's always going to be a flaw in your life. And everyone's going to see it, going to question it," said Sam McNabb, Donovan's father. "You know you are going to be held accountable for it."

McNabb, too, will face more pressure than most. Along with first-round riches and responsibilities, McNabb will join Oregon's Akili Smith and Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper as the only trio of black quarterbacks ever drafted in the first round.

That significance isn't lost on the young man whose football idol is Warren Moon.

"We've been granted an opportunity to go out and open up doors for the rest of the African American quarterbacks," Donovan said. "For us to go in and really get put in a position where we can go out and play our style of football and can really help a team out."

Said his dad: "If he fails in any way, then they are probably going to look at the fact that, well, he's a black quarterback and, as we said before, they only are one dimensional. I think that will be an unfair assessment."

McNabb has watched and read every pre-draft report in his suburban Chicago home, but more like a fan than an active participant. Because while Tim Couch and Ricky Williams have subtly lobbied to be drafted by certain teams, McNabb has made it clear he doesn't care which team calls his name on April 17.

 
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