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‘Drafting QBs in the 1st Round: An Inexact Science’ Part II: The 1990s

February 13th, 2010 By Corey Chavous

While some decades produce at or around the ’51 percent failure rule’, this wasn’t the case for the nineties. It is amazing that the failure rate of this period got all the way into the sixties (63.2%). This figure could actually be debated, but after a close review, the facts tell the true story. Out of the nineteen quarterbacks selected in the decade, it could be argued that only seven had quality starting periods within the ten-year span.

1990 NFL Draft

The first pick of the 1990 draft was Jeff George from Illinois, who had transferred from Purdue.  George's final season as a Fighting Illini star resulted in ten wins and he was able to produce in pressure moments. 

He continued to display an unflappable nature in the weeks leading up to the draft.  In fact, one of the reasons he was taken first overall was an individual workout before the draft when he showed some of the best arm strength ever for a quarterback coming out of college.  He reportedly threw an amazing 81 yard pass in the workout, something that will probably not be tested much in this year's draft.

While he did have a decent rookie campaign in Indianapolis, he was never able to win consistently as a Colt.  It wasn't long before George had made the trek to Atlanta, where he was one of the few quarterbacks in NFL history to lead a team with a 4,000 yard passer, 1,000 rusher (the late Craig 'Ironhead' Heyward), and three 1,000 yard receivers (Eric Metcalf, Terrance Mathis and Bert Emanuel).  The team ended up losing in the playoffs 37-20 to the Green Bay Packers. 

George was only able to register one playoff victory during his twelve year career and compiled a 46-78 mark as a starter overall.  He threw for over 27,000 yards and 154 touchdowns while in the NFL. 

The other quarterback selected in the top half of the first round was Andre Ware, chosen 7th overall by the Detroit Lions.  It seemed like the perfect fit, because at the time the Lions employed the run and shoot offense, the same attack Ware prospered in while at the University of Houston. 

Ware was never able to make the transition to full-time starter and couldn't adjust to the speed of the pro game.  His stay in the NFL resulted in just 5 touchdown passes and he compiled a 3-3 mark as a career starter.  It is interesting to note that Ware declared for the draft after his junior campaign.  Before 1989, players weren't able to declare early for the draft.  Ware did win a championship during his professional career, in 1997, as a backup to Doug Flutie while with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.  Ware has been a very successful college football announcer since his playing days ended.

More notably, perhaps the top quarterback in this class came in the third round, when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Neil O'Donnell 70th overall out of the University of Maryland.  He went on to lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl and the brink of another while with the team.  He became a very steady, capable player at the position and ended his career with the Tennessee Titans in 2003.  Amazingly, O'Donnell never threw more than nine interceptions in any of his thirteen NFL seasons. 

1991 NFL Draft

The '91 draft consisted of two quarterbacks selected in the first round and both players had very short stays within the league. 

First, there was former Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire's younger brother, Dan McGwire.  McGwire was a 6'8" gunslinger from San Diego State who had questionable foot speed.  Many people felt like McGwire was a can't miss developmental type, especially since he had succeeded as an Aztec after transferring from the University of Iowa.   McGwire is still the tallest quarterback ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

After battling another quarterback who we discussed from the '80s generation, Kelly Stouffer, and backing up Dave Krieg, who may have been the most successful quarterback in Seahawks' history, McGwire's star began to fade.  He was out of the league by 1995 after an underwhelming total of only two career touchdown passes.  By 1993, the Seahawks were back at the top of the first round selecting their next quarterback of the future. 

The other quarterback selected in the round went 24th overall to the Los Angeles Raiders, former USC Trojan Todd Marinovich.  The 6'4" lefty, who declared for the draft after his redshirt sophomore campaign, conjured images of another former Raider, Ken Stabler.  It didn't materialize, and before long, he too was out of the league. 

The main things to take from these two examples are the facts leading up to the Marinovich collapse.  While he is listed as one of the biggest flops in NFL Draft history at the position, he did have at least a solid start to his young career.  Most of his success came when he came into games to replace incumbent starter Jay Schroeder, whose five interception 1991 AFC Championship game performance created an image Raiders' fans couldn't forget.  Once the pressure of being the full-time starter began to increase, the immaturity of the young signal-caller again surfaced.   

While everyone wanted the young chosen one to succeed, a look back at the final year of his stay at USC really told the story.  Aside from his off-field issues, he simply wasn't the type of leader the Trojans envisioned after such a productive redshirt freshman season.  He, much like Jimmy Clausen from Notre Dame in this year's draft, was forced to deal with incredible expectations at every point in his career.  Perhaps if given time to develop, Marinovich could have avoided the off-field problems that eventually ended his short two year stay in the NFL. 

And then there was the Atlanta Falcons second round selection, 33rd overall, quarterback Brett Favre from Southern Miss.  He, too, suffered from maturity issues early in his career.  The difference between Favre and the aforementioned quarterbacks:  he was given time to develop after being traded to the Green Bay Packers. 

One can only wonder what would have happened if he had remained a Falcon.

1992 NFL Draft

Even after the Ware flop, David Klingler's star was still shining as a run and shoot superstar while with the Houston Cougars.  Many people wondered about Klingler's uneven senior campaign, when he threw for 'ONLY' 29 touchdown passes.  Why wouldn't it be questioned?  During Klingler's junior season at the school, he threw an amazing 54 touchdown passes, including an unthinkable 11 TD passes in one game.  There was also the 716 yard passing performance in 1990 versus Arizona State. 

His final season in school featured a number of problems in the team's ability to defend against different defensive schemes, and subsequently, the Klingler star began to fade.  If not for an above average Senior Bowl week performance, he very well could have fallen out of the top ten in the first round.  In addition, the former 6'9" high jumper was an outstanding athlete, and his pre-draft workouts only enhanced his stock.  Still, there were many who weren't sure that Klingler was a sure thing.

What followed was what many expected, a fall from grace.  While he started early in his career and showed flashes, he couldn't ever get into a consistent rhythm as a true dropback passer with the Bengals.  He was never able to fully adapt to the traditional five and seven step drops demanded of the position and wasn't comfortable throwing the ball off of play action.  It wasn't long before the Bengals did have a Pro Bowl caliber player at quarterback, former East Carolina standout Jeff Blake, a sixth round pick by the New York Jets in 1992.

There was one other quarterback taken in the round, former UCLA star Tommy Maddox.  Maddox, like Marinovich the year prior, was a redshirt sophomore entry in the draft.  It seemed like he was in the perfect position, because with John Elway at the helm, the 25th overall selection by the Denver Broncos would be given time to develop.

It didn't work out that way and, after an injury to Elway, Maddox was forced into action as a rookie.  In fact, the team began to employ a quarterback rotation with Maddox and former Virginia star Shawn Moore during the time.  After posting an 0-4 record as a starter during his rookie year, Maddox was soon out of Denver and in Los Angeles as a Ram.  His spiral continued downward until a rejuvenation in the Arena League. 

Maddox's productive Arena Football League play earned him a second shot in the NFL.  It concluded with him receiving league Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2002 as a Pittsburgh Steeler.    

A final look at his stay in the NFL reveals a 15-20-1 record as an overall starter.  Maddox also had more interceptions than touchdowns (48 to 54) and he was 1-1 as a playoff starter. 

Maddox was never really able to justify his first round status and, again, was an early entry candidate into the draft.

1993 NFL Draft

While the lack of success in drafting quarterbacks in the round was beginning to develop in the early portion of the decade, this draft was supposed to finally have two sure fire superstars. 

Who would go first was the big issue, would it be Washington State's junior flamethrower Drew Bledsoe or Notre Dame's mobile Rick Mirer?  Even with the debate, there were few who doubted that either would be a washout.  Each had significant rare attributes that could translate to the NFL.  Or so it seemed.

With the first overall pick in the draft, the Patriots selected the 6'5" Bledsoe.  He went on to become a Pro Bowl starter with significant success as a Patriot, even contributing significantly to the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory in 2002.  It's also important to note that Bledsoe led the team to a Super Bowl in 1996, before falling to the Green Bay Packers 35-21.

During his fourteen year career,  Bledsoe eclipsed the 3,000 yard passing mark nine times and went over the 4,000 yard passing mark on three different occasions.  He threw for nearly 45,000 yards and 251 touchdowns with three different teams.  He is one of the few junior entry quarterbacks to have enjoyed success for a long duration.   

The biggest question for many surrounding Mirer coming out of college was the system he played in while with the Fighting Irish.  He wasn't in a typical pro-style offense and often relied on the option fake to produce on plays down the field.  He was also surrounded with talented personnel like Raghib 'Rocket' Ismail, Derek Brown and Jerome Bettis just to name a few.

Mirer had an uneventful career as a Seattle Seahawk after being selected with the second overall selection.  After a solid rookie campaign, it seemed like Mirer was on his way to stardom.  What followed is still unexplainable to some, as he could never regain the confidence he exhibited during his first season as a starter. 

He compiled a 24-44 career mark as a starter in the league and ended his career with just 50 TD passes to 76 interceptions.  After stints with seven different teams, Mirer's final year in the league came in 2003 with the Oakland Raiders. 

1994 NFL Draft

The third pick of the draft was another junior entry and this time it was a Volunteer, Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler.  Blessed with a strong arm and nimble feet, there were few who doubted the 6'2" Shuler would be a success.  What helped Shuler more than anything was the relative inadequacy of the position in the draft. 

The next quarterback taken went sixth overall to the Tampa Bay Buccanneers and his name was Trent Dilfer.  He didn't have a great supporting cast at the time and his career got off to a slow start.  In 1995, he actually had an unspiring 4 TD to 18 Int ratio.  He came back the next season to put up respectable numbers but the team stumbled to a 6-10 mark.

Finally, the franchise decided to draft some weapons in 1997 with the arrival of Reidel Anthony in the first round. More importantly, it was RB Warrick Dunn's injection of speed in the offense that began to take some of the pressure off of Dilfer and he ended up leading the team to the playoffs and garnered a Pro Bowl berth.

Dilfer would go on to throw for over 20,000 yards in his NFL career and won a Super Bowl as a starter with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000. 

After the Buccanneers selected Dilfer with their 6th selection, there wasn't another quarterback taken until the fourth round at pick 111, when the Atlanta Falcons selected Perry Klein out of C.W. Post.

What followed was a career that many Redskins fans should cringe at when considering drafting a quarterback at pick four of this year's draft.  In thirteen games as a Washington starting QB, Shuler compiled a 4-9 mark, with thirteen touchdown passes to nineteen interceptions.  He may have been able to develop, but it wasn't long before 7th and 8th round selections were making noise in Washington, Gus Frerotte (Tulsa) and Trent Green (Indiana). 

Frerotte beat out Shuler for the job in '95 and before long he was a Pro Bowler as a Redskin.  He went on to have a solid fifteen-year career in the league as both a starter and backup with seven different teams. 

Green enjoyed an 11-year career after initially being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1997.  He went on to become a two-time Pro Bowler and a consistent starter in Kansas City for a good portion of his career.  He also contributed a 3,400 yard, 23 touchdown pass season to the Redskins before leaving town.

1995 NFL Draft

This draft was a very exciting one for proponents of teams selecting quarterbacks in the top half of the draft.  Both Kerry Collins and the late Steve McNair had successful careers in the league that extended nearly into a third decade.  For Collins, that third decade may very well be near.

The late McNair, one of the greatest college football players of all time, gradually settled into his role as an Oiler.  As the third overall pick, he was given time to develop in the Oilers' offensive attack, mainly because of the presence of veteran quarterback Chris Chandler.  Chandler took the time to help McNair with the intricacies of the position and he benefitted mightily.  By 1999, the McNair-led Titans were in the Super Bowl. 

As for Collins, the road to consistency went down a much different path.  While he did lead the Carolina Panthers to the NFC Championship game in 1996, he bounced around until landing in New York with the Giants.  In 2000, he led the Giants to the Super Bowl, after throwing for over 3,600 yards and 22 touchdowns during the regular season. 

Collins continued to move teams and eventually ended up in the place McNair began his career, Tennessee.  In 2008, he was 12-3 as a starter with the Titans in his fifteenth NFL campaign. 

If Collins decides to return for season seventeen, he will be one of the few quarterbacks in NFL history to have played in three different decades. 

1996 NFL Draft

There were no quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft

The first quarterback taken in the draft was Michigan State star Tony Banks, taken 42nd overall by the St. Louis Rams in the 2nd round.  While he enjoyed marginal success as a Ram, the 6'4" Banks' rocket arm and athleticism weren't enough to keep him in town long.  By year four, he was in Baltimore, where he also enjoyed some success.

In his nine year NFL career, Banks tossed a very respectable 77 touchdown passes and ended with a 35-43-1 record as a starting QB in the league.

1997 NFL Draft

The San Francisco 49ers were the only team to venture into the draft for a quarterback in the first round, as they selected Virginia Tech quarterback Jim Drunkenmiller 26th overall.  There weren't a lot of people who felt he was a better prospect than Jake Plummer, who went 42nd overall in the second round to the Arizona Cardinals. 

Drunkenmiller was a big strong armed QB who many argued didn't have the field vision to rate as such a high prospect.  However, after coming off of a stellar senior campaign that concluded with a spotlight Sugar Bowl victory, both he and Virginia Tech receiver Bryan Still's (2nd Round-SD Chargers)  stock rose dramatically.  Each had question marks, but Drunkenmiller's were the most dramatic.  Not only did many question his ability to read defenses consistently, they wondered whether the offensive scheme he had played in while as a Hokie would translate to the type of reads he would have to make at the NFL level. 

Well, many of those concerns came to fruition as Drunkenmiller could only manage one career touchdown pass.  In fact, by 2000 he was out of the league.  He went on to play in both the AFL and XFL following his stint in the NFL.

Plummer, meanwhile, had a solid ten-year career, mostly as a starting QB with the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos.  His mobility and leadership ability were both above average, but it took him awhile to overcome the interception problems he suffered from early in his career.  At the time of his retirement, there were many teams still interested in the quarterback. 

1998 NFL Draft

With the first overall pick the Indianapolis Colts selected Peyton Manning, who most recently led the Colts to its second Super Bowl appearance under his command.  He has never missed a start in his NFL career and is already 4th All-Time in passing yards.  There were few question marks upon Manning entering the league, especially after his decision to go back to school after his junior season.

The San Diego Chargers selected Ryan Leaf out of Washington State after he led the Cougars to the Rose Bowl.  The junior QB seemed like another sure thing and many personnel executives felt he would be the better choice over Manning.  Amidst periods of immaturity and inaccuracy, the 6'6" Leaf couldn't duplicate the success of fellow junior Cougar alum Bledsoe, and by 2001 (after a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys) was out of the league.

1999 NFL Draft

This class was billed as the best class of quarterbacks since the class of '83.  Unfortunately, only two quarterbacks from the class are currently in the league, Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles) and Daunte Culpepper (Detroit Lions).  McNabb and Culpepper have both been productive starters who've led the clubs to either a championship game or Super Bowl appearance.  So, with that being said, let's take a look at the 'OTHER' quarterbacks in that year's class.

 

1    Tim Couch (JR)-Kentucky        Cleveland Browns

3    Akili Smith (SR)-Oregon          Cincinnati Bengals

12  Cade McNown (SR)-UCLA         Chicago Bears

 

There were several issues for each of the three quarterbacks.  Couch had a serviceable arm, but it wasn't elite.  More importantly, he had played in a wide open attack at Kentucky, and he didn't wow you with his physical skills.  He was very sharp and had the ability to read defenses, which are intangibles that are hard to drill into a quarterback. 

While many may have questioned the Browns' selection, let's not forget that the former Wildcat got off to a respectable start in the league.  The problem?  Even though Couch put up relatively respectable early numbers, he took way too many sacks.  The talent wasn't around to take pressure off his shoulders and even as a rookie he attempted almost 400 passes (399).  The 399 attempts don't include the 56 sacks he endured during that rookie campaign. 

He eventually ended his career with 64 touchdown passes to 67 interceptions and posted a 22-37 mark as a starting QB.

In Smith's case, the former baseball standout entered the league with a couple of question marks.  First, there was the one season of consistent productivity, even though he had thrown 12 touchdown passes as a junior part-time starter.  There were also several teams who questioned why someone with his physical ability couldn't wrestle the job away at Oregon before his stellar senior season. 

Smith's rookie contract dispute led to problems with his initiation into the league.  He never seemed to grasp the full intricacies of the position and eventually was out of the league.  Smith's lack of football IQ issues poses questions for teams willing to select players at the quarterback position that do not have significant collegiate playing experience.

After posting only a 52.3 career passer rating while in the NFL, Smith went on to the CFL.  He could never find his place there either, eventually being released by the Calgary Stampeders in 2007. 

McNown, in my opinion, was never really a fit in Chicago.  If there was any quarterback in this class least likely to succeed as a Bear, it arguably could have been the former UCLA superstar.  Many people compared McNown to former Sun Devil Plummer, but the difference was that Jake 'The Snake' was in the warm confines of Phoenix, Arizona.  The blistery conditions of Soldier Field didn't fit the makeup of the former Bruin star. 

His infamous 'Playboy Playmate' escapades didn't endear him to the Chicago Bear fanbase initially and before long there was a website, www.tradecade.com

 

Summary:  This was a very interesting decade to take a look at, especially when you consider the number of quarterbacks in this decade that ended up being considered 'busts'.  I'm of the conviction that the word 'Bust' is a strong term, but if not for some of the minimal successes on the aforementioned list, it is a term that could certainly apply to at least twelve of the quarterbacks drafted in this decade's first round.  The lack of success by quarterbacks who entered the draft with eligility still remaining is also alarming.

The bigger issue for NFL fans clamoring for their teams to take a quarterback in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft....

Are You Sure?

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments:

Posted by Ringthane on
I lived through the Cade Days in Chicago and was even at Soldier Field to see the game he had against the Lions in Week 17 where he threw for over 300 yards. It was frigid and windy, but Cade and Marcus Robinson were on fire. And having seen that and hearing what some of the players said about Cade in the locker room, I firmly believe that Cade had more than enough talent to succeed in the NFL. He was just never properly coached. And his cocky personality was a horrible fit for the players and the fans. A shame, really.
Posted by Sweedo on
This article doesn't break any new ground on the subject. And I love the question at the end... Are you sure ? you want your team to draft a QB in the 1st round ?

I just want to know exactly when do you want your team to draft a QB. In the 2nd round ? Show me those probabilities. Nobody ever backs up the 1st round criticism with the same research on those taken after the 1st round. The fact is, as with every other position, the 1st round is your best bet to find your quality starter than any other round. Yes, those later round finds are there, but rather unidentified. Who's gonna be the next 6th round Tom Brady ? And in which draft ?

It's up to the scouts to do their do diligence and know what really is a pro QB. And whether one is so good as to be taken in the 1st round. The real good ones go in the 1st few picks and naturally they constitute the majority of 1st round successes. They are pre-identified. But if you think a 1st round QB is such a crapshoot at 50-50, just wait and take your chances with a later round QB. And good luck.

My choice this year for later round success is Troy's Levi Brown and if my Chargers by some chance let Whitehurst go to FA then I want this guy.
Posted by Derek on
You missed Trent Dilfer Drafted in the 1st by the Bucs in '94 - he won a SB with the Ravens
Posted by louis on
I think the article was well written and really thought out. Every general manager and personnel person in the league will tell you that the draft process is not an exact science. You can measure talent to a degree, you can measure athleticism to a degree, but you can't measure a player's desire to win and compete. If the draft was an exact science, you would see more sucesses at the QB position, to further prove the point of the article. It is a complete crapshoot, you are not garaunteed to get a franchise QB in the first round, or you would not have had so many failures over the years. If you pick the wrong guy in the first round of the draft with the financial commitment you have to make to him, you will set back your franchise for at least five years, which all personnel people agree is the case. You can do all the due diligence you want, but you still never really know until you play the guy.
Posted by Louis on
And by the way, Trent Dilfer did not win the super bowl with the Ravens, the Ravens Defense won the super bowl.
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