It’s hard to believe now that prior to the 1998 NFL Draft a debate was raging over whether the best draft prospect would be Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.
One an NFL record holder, a future hall of famer and one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and the other, a player who despite his high regard coming out of Washington State lasted just four years in the NFL and threw 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions and whose short career was marred in controversy from day one. This is how fine the line can be between potential NFL great and potential NFL bust. The draft no matter how loaded with talent it may appear to be, comes with no guarantees.
By David Squires – @davefalcon90
It’s true that using Leaf is an easy example but there are others – Courtney Brown, Brian Bosworth, Akili Smith and more recently JaMarcus Russell, the list is endless and every team is guilty. It must be said though that the majority of these players didn’t lack talent. They proved that in their college careers but for whatever the reason, and there could be many, they just could not translate their talent and potential to the NFL, where all the players are better and faster than at the college level.
On the flip side of the ‘busts’, as they are commonly known, are the gems – the draft steals that nobody except perhaps the general manager who drafted them (or at least that’s what he’ll tell you) saw coming like Tom Brady for example, a sixth round draft choice, the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. How many of the other 31 teams would like to take that draft again? Bo Jackson and Shannon Sharpe were both seventh round picks, Joe Montana a third round pick and one that went almost unnoticed during the 1983 ‘John Elway’ draft (Elway refusing to play for the Colts who picked him first overall) and even though it was in the first round, Darrell Green to the Redskins having come from Texas A&I University (where?). Some general managers would see a prospect from a small school like that as a late round pick at best, Green went to seven pro-bowls and is in the hall of fame.
Success and failure can be found anywhere and everywhere, year in and year out it happens, perhaps not always in the spectacular fashion of a Leaf or Brady but the next big bust or steal could be just minutes away come May 8th when the draft opens for the 79th time. Those successes or failures will not be known on draft day but will reveal themselves months or perhaps even years later.
This year’s potential busts and steals? Well, if I knew the answer to the above question I would write it up, package it and sell it to all 32 general managers and retire on the profit. The key word in every draft is potential because that’s what really separates them. They all have talent, if they didn’t they wouldn’t get drafted at all and yes they all have different levels of talent but they are all either a potential NFL great or a potential NFL bust because no-one drafts a player to be that solid middle of the road type player that every team has and in reality every team needs because you can’t fill your team with superstars. Just ask Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder who filled his team with overpaid ‘stars’ in the 90s and failed miserably or see how the Philadelphia Eagles’ self-proclaimed ‘Dream Team’ of 2011 worked out.
As for the 2014 draft all I can say is that Jadeveon Clowney will be under the most scrutiny not just because of his talent level but his under performing year last season. The constant questions over his work ethic will remain and if Clowney bombs he could rival Leaf for the tag as biggest draft bust ever. With a draft so loaded with talent as this one, anyone who is picked in the top 10 that doesn’t perform up to expectation will go down as a major bust. As for a steal, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray could be picked as low as the third or even fourth round but could easily turn out to be the best of an uncertain quarterback draft class. Murray could be the ‘why didn’t we take him’ pick of 2014.
Previous drafts can have a knock-on effect on the current draft for some teams and you have to wonder if Leaf hadn’t bombed what effect would that have made since.
In 1998 the San Diego Chargers drafted Leaf, by 2001 when they knew Leaf was not the quarterback they hoped he would be the Chargers had the number one overall pick. A pick which they wanted little part of after the fiasco of 1998. They ended trading the pick to Atlanta who drafted Michael Vick. In 2001 the Chargers drafted Ladainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees. In 2004 the Chargers again had the number one overall pick and again they had a problem to solve. They wanted to select Eli Manning but Manning had already stated that if the Chargers selected him he would not play for them, the same thing happened in 1983 when John Elway refused to play for the then Baltimore Colts who drafted him anyway and later traded him to Denver. Unlike Elway, who could have played professional baseball for the Yankees, Manning had little leverage so the Chargers drafted him number one.
The Chargers would later trade Manning to the Giants for Philip Rivers who the Giants selected with the fourth overall pick and additional draft picks and came out of this one on top although Manning has won two SuperBowls with the Giants. Rivers replaced Brees in San Diego and Brees went on to win a SuperBowl in New Orleans. After seven years in Atlanta the Falcons were forced to release Vick after the revelations about his involvement in dog fighting, forcing the Falcons to draft quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008. So it seems that almost every draft pick has a cause and effect (the principle of causation) on future picks, whether the effect is Leaf or Brady, Clowney or Murray, this year will be no different.