Mike Hickey, the Jets' director of player personnel, agrees. He traces the problem back to the high school level. "Some of those programs are so intense that they won't even let kids participate in other sports," says Hickey. "We're losing the three-sport athlete. Today, a high school football coach might tell a kid, 'O.K., run track or play basketball, but you've got to make our drills, too.'
"You see guys who are one-dimensional—football, that's it. I prefer the players with the multisport background. This isn't true only at quarterback. Every position is like that. The talent has fallen off everywhere in the last five drafts. There's a real tunnel vision in the development of football players. You see kids that are weight-room strong, but they don't have natural tensile strength. So they get hurt."
"Scouts have known for some time that this is a down era in overall talent," says Dick Steinberg, the Patriots' top scout. "I have my own theory. We're between baby-boom eras. The whole population of young people is down. Resorts, the fast-food industry—they're having a real problem finding kids to hire. That 1983 draft is remembered as the greatest quarterback draft in history, but it was more than that. It was the greatest draft, period. In those days any major school that you went to, you'd find a prospect that excited you. No more."
We may never see another pool of football talent like the one in '83. In addition to the six first-round quarterbacks who became NFL starters, Hebert, who wasn't even drafted, and Laufenberg, a sixth-round choice who might win the San Diego job this year, entered the league that year. Eric Dickerson and Curt Warner came out in '83. So did Anthony Carter. The Bears laid the groundwork for their victory in Super Bowl XX by drafting seven players who would eventually start for them. Three of them, Jim Covert, Richard Dent and Dave Duerson, would make the Pro Bowl. The Giants landed four Super Bowl-team first-stringers. In addition to Marino, Miami got Mark Clayton and Reggie Roby. San Diego picked up nine first-stringers; Washington drafted Charles Mann and Darrell Green; Detroit got half a dozen starters; San Francisco selected Roger Craig. The list goes on. All told, 23 eventual Pro Bowl players came out of that single draft.
What's on the quarterback horizon? Optimists say the '89 draft will supply four or five good ones. Most scouts, however, think only UCLA's Troy Aikman is a bona fide prospect. Meanwhile, many proud names, including the Cowboys, Raiders and Steelers, are hunting for a quarterback. Let's face it. There simply isn't enough talent to go around.
"I'd say the NFL has an upper echelon of quarterbacks," says 13-year veteran Ron Jaworski, who now backs up Marino in Miami. "Maybe five or six. Then there are another 10 guys behind them who are good, solid people who may not win a lot of games for you, but won't lose a lot, either. After that there are guys starting around the league who don't deserve to be starters."