QB vs. RB
When it comes to the top pick, it's never an easy choice
Posted: Tuesday April 13, 1999 06:21 PM
ATLANTA (CNN/SI) -- Quarterback or running back?
Tim Couch, Akili Smith -- or Ricky Williams?
The Cleveland Browns are in position to select a franchise player in Sunday's NFL Draft.
But who should the Browns choose? Which way should they lean?
"You look at John Elway and Eric Dickerson, they came out the same year. Dickerson comes out as gifted as any running back who's come in the last 30 years and he gets his team to the playoffs a couple of times," said Tony Dungy, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "[But] Elway has been to five Super Bowls."
It's never an easy choice, even when you have the top pick and every player in the country to choose from. In fact, picking first often makes the choice even harder.
"Certainly, Ricky Williams is a very safe choice and he's a good football player. I think he's going to be an excellent football player on the next level," said Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "But the quarterbacks around the league, it seems like there is a shortage of them. I think that if you got the opportunity to get one, I think you gotta try to make sure you don't lose that."
Said new Kansas City Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham: "I think its a little bit of a gamble with either pick. I think there's been so many runners picked, the success ratio of the runners [from] 1993-98 is maybe 50 percent. The success rate of quarterbacks may not be as good as that.
"You know, it's a difficult decision to make, a gut-wrenching decision to make."
Taking a quarterback in the first round can be a dangerous proposition. For every Drew Bledsoe, there's a Heath Shuler. For every Peyton Manning, who adjusted quickly last season as the draft's top pick, there's a Ryan Leaf, who has yet to adjust after going No. 2 behind Manning.
If there's one thing the Browns have going for them, it's that they already have veteran Ty Detmer under contract, who could give a young quarterback time to develop.
"We brought in Ty Detmer to play quarterback," said Browns coach Chris Palmer. "If we do not select a quarterback, then Detmer will be our quarterback. But if we're in a situation where we have players who are very comparable, we'll let them compete on the field."
Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who has tutored a few great quarterbacks in his time -- guys like Joe Montana and Steve Young, for instance -- said the Browns are in perfect position to pick the best quarterback in the draft.
"With Ty Detmer on their roster, it really helps Couch," Walsh said, "because Ty can play and play reasonably well so Couch wouldn't have to jump right in like Leaf attempted to do and Manning did."
It also helps that the Browns have assembled a decent offensive line through free agency, a line that should help keep any quarterback who plays relatively healthy.
Of course, that line also could make Williams, the Heisman winner, even more attractive.
"Say we're going to take a Ricky Wiliams, an impact back that is gonna give you a chance to be a balanced offense early," said Brian Billick, the new coach of the Baltimore Ravens. "There again you run the risk of, by the time your team has a chance to step up and be very competitive, you've already beat this guy down a little bit."
The last expansion team with the No. 1 pick was the Carolina Panthers, in 1995. They chose to trade down with the Cincinnati Bengals, who took Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter with the No. 1 pick. The Panthers took Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins with the No. 5 pick.
Neither player has panned out.
"As an organization, we are definitely studying what Jacksonville did with their first pick and what Carolina did with their first pick," said Palmer. "Jacksonville, obviously, taking the safe pick in [offensive lineman Tony] Boselli [now a Pro Bowler], and Carolina trading down. So these are all thoughts that our organization is going through at this time."
It's a decision the Browns will consider right up until draft day.
Of course, the Browns could always pull the surprise pick. The player Palmer has called the safest pick doesn't line up in the backfield at all: He's Georgia cornerback and wide receiver Champ Bailey.
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