1998 Draft Report Card
Posted: Wednesday April 14, 1999 03:40 PM
Welcome to the time when you can truly judge a year-old draft.
We'll all do it Saturday and Sunday -- you, me, Dr. Z, and general managers around the NFL. We'll all judge who did the best job in the draft. And we'll all be full of hot air. Wasn't it last draft day when a bunch of us were crowing about what a wonderful draft the St. Louis Rams had, with DE Grant Wistrom to finally give them some pass rush, RB Robert Holcombe to be the 1,200-yard back they'd longed for, and linebacker Leonard Little and wideout Az Hakim as third- and fourth-round steals? Well, those guys stunk, and the Rams did too. The message: Discount about 60 percent of what you hear from the experts this weekend.
(Did I just put myself out of business?)
Anyway, here's our second annual grading of the prior year's draft, with some perspective.
Detroit Lions: When a good corner and excellent return man (Terry Fair) is the top pick, and not even the best one of your draft, you've done pretty well. Charlie Batch, the quarterback plucked boldly with the 60th overall choice, is clearly the steal of this entire draft. Second-rounder Germane Crowell was a dumb pick because of the Lions' depth at wideout and holes elsewhere, and he didn't play well enough to displace Johnnie Morton.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins got three future starters (and stars, in my opinion) in Rounds 2 through 4: defensive linemen Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell, and cornerback Patrick Surtain, who, according to coach Jimmy Johnson, "might be the best draft pick I ever made.'' I'm disappointed in top pick John Avery, who's not tough enough to be more than a situational back.
Minnesota Vikings: With Randy Moss, this was a one-man draft, and I don't care. The Vikings had the guts to take Moss at 21, and all anyone else had was excuses. He broke into a veteran lineup and soon became its most valuable player.
Indianapolis Colts: They could have taken Peyton Manning and nothing else and I'd have given the Colts a B+. Bottom line: Manning will be one of the best 20 quarterbacks ever to play, and the Colts also got so-so starters Jerome Pathon (picked too high, I thought, at No. 32 overall) at wideout, Steve McKinney at left guard and Anthony Jordan at linebacker. Good debut by Bill Polian.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Mea culpa, Mr. Coughlin. You were right about Fred Taylor and I was wrong. I was sure he'd be a fumbler after his fumbleitis-plagued career at Florida, but you told him fumblers don't play for your team (great coaching!) and you got yourself the second-best player in the draft. I think the second first-rounder, Donovin Darius, is a bit of a cheap-shotting punk, but I guess that's the kind of bravado a young safety needs. (Oh, and is it too early to start second-guessing the signing of Kyle Brady for half the money in China? It is? Let me know when I can line up for that critique.)
Chicago Bears: Even though Curtis Enis got hurt and ruined the promise of Dave Wannstedt's last season, the Bears hit solidly on their second- through fourth-round picks: safety Tony Parrish, center Olin Kreutz and tight end Alonzo Mayes. In the draft, if you get three solid starters, you've earned your keep, and that's what new personnel veep Mark Hatley did in '98.
Cincinnati Bengals: I'm a big fan of first-round ILB Takeo Spikes, who still reminds me of a young Mike Singletary. Brian Simmons became a fellow ILB starter, and second-rounder Artrell Hawkins filled in acceptably at starting corner, though the Bengals still need one badly this draft. Funny thing, though. The Bengals always get these nice grades in draft surveys, and they continue to stink.
New Orleans Saints: Love second-round tight end Cam Cleeland, and first-round OT Kyle Turley's a long-term keeper. Best of the rest? I really liked what I saw of fourth-round corner Fred Weary. I thought the one that got away -- wideout Pat Johnson from Oregon, passed over for Cleeland in Round 2 -- would haunt the Saints, but he had an injury-plagued year in Baltimore.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers got a Pro Bowl candidate for years, defensive end Vonnie Holliday, in Round 1, and a trio of quasi-prospects (QB Matt Hasselbeck, DB Scott McGarrahan and WR Corey Bradford) the rest of the way. A bum crop without Holliday, but what do you expect with one pick in the top 89? Ron Wolf's only got so much magic in him.
Arizona Cardinals: Brilliant trade with San Diego gave the Cards an embarrassment of draft riches, and so that must be factored in here. No question top pick Andre Wadsworth will be a great player. But one of the two second-rounders -- tackle Anthony Clement and corner Corey Chavous -- has to come through for this to be remembered as a good year for the Card drafters.
Oakland Raiders: Tough duty when your second-rounder dies (Leon Bender, of a seizure before training camp), but enough other good things happened here. Like taking Charles Woodson, a superb corner, with the fourth overall pick; Mo Collins, who will step in at left tackle this year, at the end of the first round; and a good fullback, starter Jon Ritchie, in the third round.
Atlanta Falcons: I trade you the ascending Tim Dwight (114th pick overall) for the mediocre 12th overall choice, linebacker Keith Brooking. Dwight was the Falcons' most impactful player in the Super Bowl. Ephraim Salaam, a tackle who contributed in 1998, was a good seventh-round find.
Denver Broncos: All I know is Alex Gibbs is one heck of a talent-miner, and he said at the Super Bowl that seventh-round pick Trey Teague would not only become a starter in the next couple of years but would be a part of one of the best lines ever. Also, Brian Griese will have a better pro career than Ryan Leaf. Those two things should count for something.
Philadelphia Eagles: Tra Thomas was one of the four or five best picks of last year's draft. Picked 11th in the first round, he finally solidified a needy position that the Eagles have longed to fill for years -- left tackle. Third-round Golden Domer Allen Rossum excelled on special teams.
Dallas Cowboys: Still not crazy about their first-round reach of a year ago, run-stuffing defensive end Greg Ellis. But it looks like they're going to make a left tackle out of '98 second-rounder Flozell "The Hotel" Adams, and if he can settle into that spot comfortably and allow Larry Allen to move back to his natural guard slot, I'll give the Cowboys a B.
Washington Redskins: The 'Skins traded first- and third-round picks for Dan Wilkinson, who actually came out of a September-October funk to be one of their best players when they rallied down the stretch to save Norv Turner's job. Tight end Stephen Alexander and running back Skip Hicks played well enough -- but just well enough -- to earn starting 1999 jobs. Alexander's got to stay healthy.
New York Jets: With 12 picks in the final six rounds, you'd expect to hit on one or two. The Jets did. Right tackle Jason Fabini, the 111th overall choice, was one of the big surprises of the draft, starting practically from Day 1. And either Eric Ogbogu or Dorian Boose should become a good two-way defensive end for the Jets.
Buffalo Bills: Linebacker Sam Cowart was one of the top 10 defensive players in this draft, and the Bills got him with the 39th overall pick. And considering that they got their quarterback of the future -- yes, Rob Johnson will come out of mothballs by mid-2000, I promise -- with their first-round pick in trade with Jacksonville, this wasn't a bad draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Low-impact. But I give the Bucs credit for continuing to trade for the future. Here's what they did: Dealt their top pick to Oakland for two twos, picked wideout/returner Jacquez Green with one pick and traded the late-second-rounder to San Diego for the Chargers' No. 1 choice in 2000, which could be a top-three pick.
Seattle Seahawks: All they have to DeShone for this draft in starting terms is middle 'backer DeShone Myles, though Anthony Simmons, the first-round pick, would have started had he not hurt a knee early. All in all, a mediocre lot, even with a decent backup runner, Ahman Green.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Brains of Steel have been high on my list of draft reviews since the advent of the Yugo, I think. (Play Hines Ward!) But the only guy they know they'll start for the next decade (Get Hines Ward in the game!) is the best guard on anyone's list last year, first-rounder Alan Faneca. (Where, oh where, has my little Hines gone?!) I think, by the way, the coaching staff gave short shrift to third-round wideout/QB Hines Ward.
New England Patriots: C means average, right? Mediocre? That sums up New England's '98 effort. I can't help thinking the Patriots should have gotten more from six picks in the top three rounds, even forgetting the freak accident that likely ended the career of top pick Robert Edwards, a very good running back. The next five picks: Tebucky Jones, Tony Simmons, Ron Rutledge, Chris Floyd, Greg Spires. Not a single one enters the preseason on the New England depth chart as a starter.
Baltimore Ravens: Blah. Everyone likes first-round corner Duane Starks better than I do, and second-round wideout Pat Johnson was MIA with nicks all season. Time for Ozzie Newsome to hit one of these drafts big.
San Francisco 49ers: The fourth-rounder, Hofstra special-teams demon Lance Schulters, saves this from D land. Top pick R.W. McQuarters was a so-so choice who will have to be a solid corner this year for the Niners to have a chance to play in January. I have my doubts. Center-guard Jeremy Newberry will challenge for a starting job this year.
Kansas City Chiefs: Victor Riley should slip into a starting tackle job, but if he hasn't beaten out Jeff Criswell or Glenn Parker yet, how good is he? And third-rounder Rashaan Shehee is just the latest version of Greg Hill. Yawn.
St. Louis Rams: See top. I knew it was a bad sign when Dick Vermeil kept de-activating my 1998 post-draft offensive rookie of the year pick, Holcombe, in September.
New York Giants: I'm a fan of first-round safety/cornerback Shaun Williams, who played a lot but struggled in 1998; I still think he'll be a good pick. But the rest of this crop was a huge disappointment. The Giants have picked 316 wideouts in the last five or six draft and none of them have become stars. Last year it was Joe Jurevicius and Brian Alford's turns to disappoint.
Tennessee Titans: This will forever be the draft known by fans of The Team Formerly Known as Oilmen as the one in which they passed on Randy Moss to take Kevin Dyson -- five picks earlier. And there's not another starter in the bunch.
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers' big four acquisitions last year were defensive linemen -- Sean Gilbert in a deal with Washington and top draftees Jason Peter, Chuck Wiley and Mitch Marrow. All were disappointing, hurt or bums -- or some combination thereof.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Leaf, only one other pick in the top 125, no first-rounders in either of the next two drafts. Any questions?
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