- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
'WHAT A MESS'
Those are the words that Viking head scout Ralph Kohl uses to describe the crop of running backs who were picked high in the 1987 draft, only to flop in the pros. Of the first 31 players drafted that year, seven were ballcarriers: Alonzo Highsmith (the third pick overall, by the Oilers), Brent Fullwood (fourth, Packers), D.J. Dozier (14th, Vikings), Paul Palmer (19th, Chiefs), Roger Vick (21st, Jets), Terrence Flagler (25th, 49ers) and Kenny Flowers (31st, Falcons). Not a single one is an NFL starter today.
Highsmith, who has had a spate of knee injuries, was dealt to the Cowboys in September and has since gone on injured reserve. The Packers gave up on Fullwood because they thought he was a head case who would not play hurt. They traded him to the Browns in October, but Cleveland isn't using him much, either.
Last summer Dozier became a rising baseball star in the New York Mets' minor league system, then he held out in a contract dispute until re-signing with the Vikings three weeks ago. The Jets never figured out how to use Vick, who belonged in a one-back offense, and they traded him to the Eagles in September. Vick is now a special-teams player and garbage-time back.
Flagler, who, like Dozier and Palmer, wasn't big enough to plow up the middle or quick enough to squirt around the defense, was dealt to the Cowboys last April and waived by Dallas in training camp. The Cardinals picked him up, but he's backing up two rookies.
In the last 15 months, Palmer has been released by the Chiefs, picked up by the Lions, traded to the Cowboys and signed under Plan B by the Bengals, who cut him in August. He's now out of football. So is Flowers, who was released by the Falcons during the '89 season.
"I guess you have to say it's not a perfect science, this drafting business," says Kohl. "In math, when you have an unknown, you put an X down. It's the same with seniors in college. You look at a kid's college career, and you try to make the best projection about how he'll be as a pro. It doesn't always work."
The five players from this group who remain in the NFL have produced 261 rushing yards this season. Now compare that to the production of the next seven running backs who were chosen in the '87 draft: Christian Okoye of the Chiefs (second round), Steve Smith of the Raiders (fourth), Troy Stradford of the Dolphins (fourth), Timmy Smith of the Redskins (fifth), Bo Jackson of the Raiders (seventh), Rick Fenney of the Vikings (eighth) and Merril Hoge of the Steelers (10th)—all of whom remain with their teams, except Timmy Smith, who is out of football. The six active backs from that group have combined for 2,183 rushing yards this year.
"Sometimes the most important thing is going to a team that's going to give you a shot, no matter where you're drafted," says Hoge. "That's what happened with me. Where you were picked meant nothing when camp started."