This week marks the most anxiety-ridden time on the calendar of professional football. Team scouts and management gather to decide whether or not to mortgage their future on a prolific draft prospect, show belief in their current team by trading away their top slots, or just taking whatever players they have coming to them and hope for the best. Fans will live and die by their teams’ selections. College players will stand by, praying that their name is called.
Yes, it’s 2012 NFL Draft, and sports analysts are mocking up selections like it’s gospel. But how does history treat these draft prospects?
Andrew Luck is going to Indianapolis to start the Colts Dynasty 3.0. RG3 is going to Washington, where he will be sucked into the black hole that the Redskins have kept going for 10 years. The Cleveland Browns are continuing their running back turnover by trading their first Madden cover-boy Peyton Hillis and picking up Trent Richardson in the draft.What will become of them down the long road of professional football.
Today, we will select historical player drafts, and how they fared right out of the box, playing in their rookie season. Some were good! Some were bad. Some were downright ugly.
#5: Bruce Smith- DE
1985 Draft Pick #1: Buffalo Bills
When you’re regarded as “The Sack Man” in a college career, this can mean one of two things: a) you are the urban legend of a deranged serial killer who abducts people in burlap sacks before beating them to death, or b) you are the urban legend of a deranged defensive lineman who abducts quarterbacks. In the case of Bruce Smith, rival teams would rather he was the deranged serial killer. As a defensive end for Virginia Tech, Smith amassed 71 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a cumulative loss of 504 yards, 46 of those being sacks.
His start with the Buffalo Bills may not have been as awe-inspiring with a mere 13 sacks and 48 tackles, but rumors swirl around the idea that offensive lines were already double, if not triple, teaming him at the line. Another legend states that Bruce Smith was the defensive line for the Buffalo Bills for the 1985 season.
#4: Jim Brown- RB
1957 Draft Pick #6: Cleveland Browns
It’s hard to even mention the word football without referencing Jim Brown in some fashion. While attending Syracuse University, Brown finished his college career with 986 rushing yards, averaging 6.2 yards a carry. This may not seem like much, but when you factor in that Syracuse only played 8 games that season, it holds quite a bit of merit.
Brown did slow down a step in his first year in the NFL, only gathering 942 rushing yards with 4.7 yards per carry, but keep in mind that this was a 12 game season for him, which was enough for him to be voted into the Pro Bowl . The next season was also only 12 games, but he managed to amass 1,527 yards at 5.9 yards per carry. In only 118 games over 9 seasons, Jim Brown had 12,312 yards at 5.2 yards a carry. While he may only be #9 in career yards, he is still the running back that all others are compared to.
#3: Dan Marino- QB
1983 Draft Pick #27: Miami Dolphins
Just like most of his career, Dan Marino managed to just make it into our best of/worst of/ worse of analysis by technically being selected in the first round, although he was 2nd to last. He almost didn’t even make it to the NFL right away after being the first round pick for the forgotten United States Football League, but Marino decided not to sign.
After a roller-coaster college career, Marino started week 6 for the Miami Dolphins, and never stopped. His rookie year garnered a 96.0 passer rating, a 58.45 completion percentage, 2,210 yards and 20 touchdowns, prompting is selection to the Pro Bowl. From there Marino had nowhere to go but up, breaking six NFL season passing records the next year and amassing a football resume that put him #3 in wins behind Brett Favre and John Elway. Unfortunately, the lack of a Super Bowl win will constantly be brought up during discussions of the greatest quarterbacks in history.
#2: Julius Peppers- DE
2002 Draft Pick #2: Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1995. I remember this because every sports store in the nation was featuring fan gear for both them and the Jacksonville Jaguars, asking football fans to choose your under-dog. I opted for the Panthers, however it wasn’t until 2002 that the Panthers became a legitimate football team for two reasons: coach John Fox and defensive end Julius Peppers.
Julius Peppers came from the University of North Carolina with an already blistering resume: redshirted freshman year; sack leader for the college nation sophomore year; 30.5 career sacks in college. When the Carolina Panthers took him with the 2nd overall pick of the 2002 draft, he didn’t stop. Peppers took the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award with 12 sacks, tied for 6th at the end of the season. The rub? He had 4 games remaining when he was suspended for the rest of the year due to a breach in the NFL’s substance abuse policy. If he had merely one sack each of those games, he could have been #2 as a rookie just under Jason Taylor.
#1: Cam Newton- QB
2011 Draft Pick #1: Carolina Panthers
I know what you’re probably thinking: how can Cam Newton be #1 on our good list? He’s only played one season! That’s right. Cam Newton has played one NFL season, but the name of the game for this list is what players were amazing “out of the box”. Cam Newton may be the subconscious driving force behind this whole article.
As far as college careers go, Cam Newton barely had one. His first two years at Florida amassed forgettable backup quarterback stats. It wasn’t until going to Auburn University in 2010 that Cam emerged, passing for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns, rushing for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns, winning the BCS National Championship, winning the Heisman Trophy, and becoming what seemed to be a looming draft disaster when he opted to enter the 2011 NFL Draft with a year of college eligibility left.
The result? Cam Newton’s debut season in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers netted him 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns passing, 706 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing, 7 NFL rookie records, 10 NFL quarterback records, an Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, and a 2012 Pro Bowl spot. Good draft decision? I’d say so.
#5: Vernon Gholston- DE
2008 Draft Pick #6: New York Jets
Vernon Gholston was a premiere defensive end for Ohio State, accumulating 87 tackles with 21.5 sacks in 25 games. His college career may be given more merit if not for the fact that his career in the NFL was so lousy.
Gholston’s rookie season was chillingly bare, considering he was supposed to be a starter as an outside linebacker. He recorded a whopping one solo tackle and 8 assists, no sacks. The next two years were no better, helping him amass 16 total tackles, no sacks. Not exactly the states you would expect from the 6th overall draft pick. The Jets released Gholston after the 3rd season. The Bears picked him up in the 2011 preseason to put him back in his natural defensive end position, but waived him before the season even began.
#4: Tim Tebow- QB
2010 Draft Pick #25: Denver Broncos
It’s hard to call Tim Tebow a bad draft pick, especially with the head-scratching season he had in 2011, but, as Antrel Rolle has said time and again, “at the end of the day”, the initial draft pick by the Denver Broncos was pretty bad.
Tim Tebow had a statistically stellar college career with the Florida Gators, amassing 9,286 yards and 88 touchdowns passing, 2,947 yards and 57 touchdowns rushing, and a Heisman Trophy in four years. Unfortunately, college stats don’t always reflect future NFL stats, and Tebow’s lack of passing accuracy led him to a drop to the 25th pick. Tebow found himself as a third-string quarterback behind the forgettable Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, used primarily as a wildcat formation quarterback, a formation that was constantly used in the 2011 season where Tebow threw a whopping 126 completions.
While many can argue that Tim Tebow achieved more than many believed he could, including Broncos vice-president John Elway, Tebow was way short of decent out of the box, and still is.
#3: Lawrence Phillips- RB
1996 Draft Pick #6: St. Louis Rams
Lawrence Phillips is a strange case in any NFL draft study. The blame for this placement does not fully rest on Phillips, but the St. Louis Rams as well because of what they gave up to draft him.
Phillips racked up an impressive, if not jaw-dropping, running back resume at Nebraska with over 2,700 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing over three years. He was widely speculated to be the best player in the 1996 draft, but was passed up by teams due to personal troubles. St. Louis, however, felt he was the answer to their troubles, and traded Jerome “The Bus” Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 6th overall pick. The result was less than decent.
In Phillips’ first year with the Rams, he accumulated only 632 yards and 4 touchdowns rushing. By November of the 1997 season, the Rams released him, probably because the player they traded to get him, Bettis, amassed over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing that same year. Luckily, Marshall Faulk’s arrival wasn’t far behind.
#2: Ki-Jana Carter- RB
1995 Draft Pick #1: Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals radio broadcaster Dave Lapham once said, “I swear there’s a curse” during another excruciating loss by the franchise, this particular one in 2009 against the Denver Broncos. If there is indeed a curse, it has been a long-standing one that all but killed the career of running back Ki-Jana Carter.
Carter was a Penn State running back with explosive speed and a wary sense of his surrounding on the grid-iron. His three year tenure with the Nittany Lions netted him over 2,800 yards and 34 touchdowns rushing, and a Rose Bowl MVP in 1995. Carter’s rookie contract broke records with a $7.125 million signing bonus.
What did the Bengals get for their money? A knee injury on the third carry of Carter’s first pre-season game that he never fully recovered from. In his four years with Cincinnati, Carter’s semi-healthy years(2 of them) only netted him an average of 364 yards and 7.5 touchdowns per season. It was all downhill from there.
#1: Tony Mandarich-Offensive Line
1989 Draft Pick #2: Green Bay Packers
There are few times that an offensive lineman makes it into the top 5 picks on any draft. Even fewer are the times he is selected #2 overall. Nicknamed “The Incredible Bulk”, Tony Mandarich was a 6’5” 304 lb. wall used by Michigan State to protect their quarterback and open up running lanes, and he did it well. This wall could also run the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, had a vertical leap of 30”, and could bench-press 225 pounds 39 times. This was enough to make Green Bay believe.
Unfortunately, all they got was a stereotypical head-case, as Tony Mandarich proceeded to hold out on his signing contract, devalue his team’s hometown, and ended up going to rehab after getting cut by the Packers in 1992 due to being a legitimate failure. What makes this draft pick worse is who was drafted after Tony Mandrich: Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, and Andre Rison.
#5: Bernard Williams- Offensive Line
1994 Draft Pick #14: Philadelphia Eagles
If there was ever a poster-boy in the NFL for the term, “Don’t Do Drugs”, Bernard Williams would be the prime candidate. After acting like a wall in the University of Georgia’s offensive line, Williams was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 14th pick in 1994, where he met expectations to the letter.
Unfortunately, Williams tested positive for drugs leading into the 1995 season, and never put on pads in the NFL again after failing 14 other drug tests. He did, however, have a forgettable six years in the Canadian Football League.
#4: Tim Couch- QB
1999 Draft Pick #1: Cleveland Browns
The recent fad of consistently drafting a quarterback as the #1 draft pick has a boogeyman that keeps team personnel awake at night leading up to Draft Day. He comes from under the bed, tapping his leg and thumb casts on the floor, and in an instant spirits away your team’s hopes and dream. This monster is Tim Couch.
Couch gathered impressive stats at the University of Kentucky, mainly in the category of completion percentages. His three years in college netted him over 8,700 yards and 76 touchdowns passing while completing 67% of his passes. This, and his selection as SEC Player of the Year in 1998, led to his early entry into the draft, an entry the Cleveland Browns grabbed as quickly as they could. What happened after that was pure heartbreak.
Couch’s debut as a starting quarterback was only the second game of his rookie season, a season which wasn’t terrible, although not expected. Couch threw for only 2,447 yards and 15 touchdowns. Unfortunately, his accuracy suffered as well, completing only 55.9% of his passes and throwing 13 interceptions. What really ripped the top off this draft pick was a broken thumb the next year, a broken leg in 2002, and an endless line of sub-par performances that would make team scouts wary of quarterbacks for years to come.
#3: Art Schlicter-QB
1982 Draft Pick #4: Baltimore Colts
Art Schlicter is what sports management tries to protect their league against in regard to gambling. A four year starter at The Ohio State University, Schlicter amassed respectable stats of over 7,500 yards and 50 touchdowns passing with a 125.5 passer rating. He also amassed a gambling habit, going to the track to bet on horses during his college career.
When the Baltimore Colts picked him up, he promptly lost the expected starting quarterback position to Mike Pagel. He also lost his entire signing bonus mid-way through the season due to gambling.
For three seasons, Schlicter played in 13 games with only six starts, gambled away millions, and was fingered in multiple gambling operations during and after his football career. He was like the Pete Rose of football, except not nearly as talented.
#2: JaMarcus Russell-QB
2007 Draft Pick #1: Oakland Raiders
What’s the sound of $32 million being thrown into a blazing furnace? Just listen for JaMarcus Russell’s foot-steps, and you’ll have your answer.
If Tim Couch was a warning about drafting a quarterback at #1, JaMarcus Russell almost made it illegal. The LSU Tiger dominated college airwaves, amassing over 6,600 yards, 52 touchdowns passing, and Al Davis’s order to get him on his team by any means necessary in three seasons.
What followed was an absolute circus. Russell held out on signing until the first week of the 2007 season. Since he had missed all of training camp and pre-season, his play was minimal during that season. Russell was given the starting job for 2008, and played decently, if not amazingly.
It was 2009, however, that JaMarcus Russell exploded. Literally. The starting quarterback came into training camp weighing 290 pounds, and later being reported in the range of 300 pounds. This put Russell in contention for biggest lard to chuck a football behind Jared “Hefty Lefty” Lorenzen. His play suffered as well, prompting the Raiders to release him.
#1: Ryan Leaf-QB
1998 Draft Pick #2: San Diego Chargers
When you get drafted behind someone like Peyton Manning, you can’t exactly feel horrible, especially when most scouts find you comparable to him enough to call him “Pick #1a” and you “Pick #2b”. So it would be assumed that Ryan Leaf would have a decent career in the NFL.
Leaf’s three year college career accumulating over 7,400 yards and 59 touchdowns would be statistics any college quarterback would covet. The San Diego Chargers coveted those stats enough to trade two 1st Round draft picks, a 2nd round pick, and Eric Metcalf to the Arizona Cardinals to secure Leaf with the #2 pick.
At the beginning of the season, Leaf seemed to be legitimate, winning his first two games as a rookie starter. Disaster began in the third game, where Leaf completed one of 15 passes, threw 2 interceptions, and fumbled 3 times. Add that to the next 9 games, and Leaf accumulated a whopping 1,289 yards, two touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, spawning the unofficial Leaf Award that was later awarded to Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
After a line of locker-room issues, abysmal performances, and injury, Leaf retired at the old age of 26, a far drop from being selected #2 behind future Hall of Fame lock Peyton Manning.
Patrick Emmel once played Pee Wee football, and envisioned himself as a premiere free safety until he started playing with kids that could actually throw the football further than three yards. You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.