NFC West: Dexter Manley

Coach Jim Harbaugh might be the best quarterback under contract to the San Francisco 49ers.

He'll be the one throwing to free-agent receiver Randy Moss during a tryout Monday.

"Former Colt Pro Bowl QB throwing for 49ers tomorrow," 49ers CEO Jed York tweeted Sunday night. "Just to clarify, Coach Harbaugh is turning into Capt. Comeback to throw to Randy Moss."

Harbaugh, 48, is 13 years older than Moss, but their playing careers overlapped from 1998 to 2000. Harbaugh did go to a Pro Bowl, in 1995.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about the 49ers' potential interest in Moss: "The 6-4 veteran seems to fit a profile the 49ers are seeking. Last year in free agency, they went after big-bodied veterans Plaxico Burress and Braylon Edwards before signing Edwards to a one-year deal."

Also from Barrows: Re-signing receiver Josh Morgan appears to be a priority.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat asks former 49ers assistant Fred von Appen about the bounty-related accusations former Redskins pass-rusher Dexter Manley leveled against Bill Walsh. Von Appen strongly denied the allegations, offering an explanation: "Bill lined up Russ (Francis) on the outside. He brought Russ in motion. Joe (Montana) got the snap when Russ got to Manley. Manley would rush Joe and Russ got Manley from the outside. It was unexpected and it was brilliant. You see, Manley lined up over Keith Fahnhorst. Keith wasn’t big, and found it hard to manage Manley one on one. Bill's idea was to put a big, athletic, active man (Francis) on a big, athletic, active man (Manley). And it worked. Russ was a tremendous blocker. He could get a good piece of Manley, and he spun him a little bit -- and the ball's away. After a couple of cracks, Manley became paranoid and he slowed his rush down considerably. He didn’t know if the hit was coming from the inside or the outside. That's not a bounty. That’s a scheme. The intent was not to hurt Manley. It was to manage him."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says quarterback happenings around the NFL have limited Alex Smith's options in free agency. Noted: Smith appears to have only one intention, and that is to re-sign. I doubt he would seriously consider signing with another team.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Smith has a strong case for earning more than Mark Sanchez is getting on a new contract.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports from Arizona Cardinals headquarters following Peyton Manning's visit there. Somers: "Manning met with Cardinals coaches, management and a few players Sunday, but it's not believed he worked out for the team. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald spent a few hours with Manning in the morning before departing for an Australian vacation. Receiver Andre Roberts arrived at the facility shortly after Fitzgerald left. Team President Michael Bidwill arrived about an hour after Manning and received some advice from a fan who yelled, 'Michael, get it done!' "

Also from Somers: a tongue-in-cheek look at what Arizona (the state) can offer Manning. Somers: "If Manning buys in the Paradise Valley area, he could carpool with his coach, Ken Whisenhunt, or his top receiver, Fitzgerald. Even if Manning chooses to drive himself, he'll find Arizona is the perfect place for him. Here in the Phoenix Metro area, drivers have a tendency to switch lanes without notice, often without looking to see if anyone is in the way. How does that help Manning? Well, if his surgically repaired neck starts to act up, he won't have to twist his body to check his blind spot before shifting lanes. The rest of us don't."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Manning has not told the Seattle Seahawks they're out of the running for his services. Noted: The absence of a rejection does not indicate interest. Nor would the absence of an acceptance necessarily indicate rejection. At this point, however, there is simply no evidence Manning will seriously consider Seattle.

Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest says Manning would represent an "impulse buy" for the Seahawks. Thiel: "The OL greenness was a good part of the reason they could let go a veteran QB, Matt Hasselbeck, who still had game in him, as his first season in Tennessee established. But now, the pursuit of Manning goes against the plan, because Manning is available about a year too soon for the OL to do right by him. There's a chance that all could come together at once to make the Seahawks a 12-4 team. But at 36 and a year out of football, Manning would be silly, as is often heard at the senior-special buffet line, to buy green bananas. Seattle’s interest feels like an impulse buy."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives new Rams general manager Les Snead credit for the trade St. Louis recently worked out with Washington. Miklasz: "There could also be a twist on the other end of the transaction. What happens if Rams quarterback Sam Bradford fails to reach his potential? The Rams doubled down on Bradford, and made this deal to put more talent around him. But if Griffin takes off and Bradford tails off, no one will backslap the Rams for making a brilliant trade. No, the pundits will shred the Rams silly for sticking with Bradford and skipping the chance to take RG3. No question, this deal puts more pressure on Sam."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch considers the Rams' options following the trade.
Thank you, Indianapolis Colts, for at least temporarily changing the subject from bounties to where Peyton Manning might play next.

Arizona and Seattle have quickly emerged as teams with interest in the soon-to-be-released Colts quarterback.

Both teams have quite a bit to offer.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Manning's health will be pivotal to the Cardinals' interest. The team has until March 17 to make a decision on Kevin Kolb. Somers: "Numerous people already are handicapping where Manning will play. I think Arizona makes more sense than the Jets, for instance, because I doubt Manning wants to play in the same area as his brother, Eli. The Redskins have a need, but coach Mike Shanahan has a firm belief in his offense. He likes to control every facet of the football operations. And anyone signing Manning will have to show flexibility in adapting to his desires and strengths. The Seahawks have a need, too, and a very good defense. But to whom will Manning throw?" Noted: I think Manning would have little trouble taking on his brother or anyone else, just based on his competitive nature. But that is just a guess. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and possibly Reggie Wayne would be receiving options for Manning in Seattle. Doug Baldwin would be another option. He led the NFC West in yards per target last season (9.3) and ranked among the NFL leaders in third-down receptions for first downs.

Also from Somers: Darnell Dockett explains why he would welcome Manning to Arizona. Noted: There should be absolutely no offense taken by the Cardinals' other quarterbacks. Manning is one of the all-time greats. Any team without an established quarterback should at least consider him. Supporting Kevin Kolb or John Skelton over Manning would be borderline disingenuous, in my view, based on those players' résumés.

Brian Nemhauser of lays out potential risks associated with bringing Manning to Seattle. Nemhauser: "The Seahawks are onto something great with the patient approach to building a roster through the draft. Patience has not even been all that necessary given the amount of talent added in just two drafts. Going big on Manning feels like it could put the entire process at risk without enough reward to justify that risk."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times has this to say about the Seahawks while handicapping where Manning might land: "It's hard to come up with a reason why Seattle wouldn't be interested. The Seahawks' proliferation of close losses last season showed just how close they might be to contending, and they don't have a long-term investment currently in place at quarterback. Also, it's not like signing Manning would preclude the possibility of developing a younger quarterback behind him. The bigger question is whether Manning would want to come and play in the NFL's most isolated outpost in a stadium that's outdoors in a city known for precipitation."

Michael Simeona of 710ESPN Seattle links to a fun Marshawn Lynch video that made the rounds Tuesday. Noted: Those wondering how a newly signed running back spends his discretionary income might learn something here.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects the NFL to suspend Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff: "Coach Williams has shown contrition for his actions and continues to cooperate with the NFL in this investigation. Out of respect for the NFL's ongoing process, we will refrain from commenting until the league has come to a final decision on all aspects of this matter." Noted: Williams did show contrition in the statement he released. He is presumably doing the same while meeting with league officials. I'm not sure sustained public contrition is in his nature. How he handles these allegations over the long term will shape perceptions about him.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raises questions about criticisms of Williams. Miklasz: "I suppose I'm confused. Here you had this outlaw, renegade, out of control coach setting up bounties and sharpening a goon squad to wipe out helpless QBs with dirty hits ... and where was the NFL? Did the NFL miss all of the dirty deeds? Wouldn't you expect more fines than this? Did the folks in the NFL office miss all of these tawdry, disgusting 'kill shots' on QBs? Makes no sense. There seems to be an obvious disconnect between the Williams' reputation and the reality." Noted: Looks like the NFL will punish Williams for a bounty system that allegedly encouraged dirty hits, independent of whether that system produced an unusual number of such hits.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News explains why he thinks the 49ers will show no interest in Manning. Kawakami: "The 49ers of Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh aren’t in this for headline-grabbing media circus shows. They’re the far, far opposite of that–they love the blue-collar, no-frills attitude, which keeps the locker room calm and happy and everybody feeling like they’re equal parts of the machine. In this construction, nobody’s bigger than anybody else–theoretically. Crazy big free-agent signings would mess up that balance. If you need a reminder, just flick back to last year’s free-agency period, when 49ers Nation was going nuts while Baalke let the first week or so of F/A go by with nary a splashy move."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers reject Dexter Manley's suggestion Bill Walsh's teams had a bounty out on him. Brown: "Craig Walsh said his father and Manley had a history but that 'it wasn't a vendetta.' He said Bill Walsh made a point of identifying the 49ers who would play pivotal roles in momentum-changing plays. And, on the eve of the game, Walsh would make those players stand up in front of the team and make them vow to fulfill their assignment. On Sept. 10, 1984, one of those key players was tight end Russ Francis, a top-notch blocker, whose crackback block on Manley would be crucial to opening up a running play for Wendell Tyler. ... Francis delivered as promised on "Monday Night Football" -- providing a crushing shot that Craig Walsh (who was on the sideline) said knocked Manley off his feet. The other 49ers players went nuts because they knew it was coming and because it was the key to the play -- just as the coach had drawn it up."

Matt Maiocco of thinks Saints receiver Robert Meachem could make sense for the 49ers.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes Baalke as saying the team remains focused on re-signing Alex Smith and hasn't even discussed Manning internally. Baalke: "We haven't had Peyton in here nor are we even talking about those things internally right now. ... Is he going to play? I don't know. That's for the doctors to make the decision on and for him himself." Noted: Manning isn't even eligible to visit another team until the Colts release him. All signs point to the 49ers going with Smith and Kaepernick as their top two quarterbacks, but as long as Smith remains unsigned, other options have to be at least remotely in play. And the 49ers have presumably discussed those options internally.

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says attempts to block the 49ers' new stadium project met defeat in court.
John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan MarinoUS PresswireJohn Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino are a part of a draft class that may be the best in NFL history.
The 1983 NFL draft might have been the best of the modern era even without Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway, Jim Kelly or Dan Marino.

It was that good.

"I think if you asked each guy to a man, in particular the Hall of Fame guys, there has always been a pride about our class," said cornerback Darrell Green, the 28th overall choice in 1983 and a Hall of Famer. "Without ever discussing it, we knew we were a pretty special class of athletes."

The class produced six Hall of Famers –- Elway, Kelly, Marino, Green, Eric Dickerson and Bruce Matthews -– in addition to recent Hall finalists Richard Dent and Roger Craig. Of the 335 players drafted, 41 combined for 142 Pro Bowl appearances.

No other draft class has produced more than 34 Pro Bowl players since the NFL and AFL combined for a common draft in 1967, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That year served as the starting point for this project ranking the five best draft classes. The 1996, 1981, 1969 and 1985 drafts also made the cut.

Not that making the cut was good enough for some.

"If you took the defensive players in our draft and put them on the field against any class, we would shut them out," said Ronnie Lott, one of the more decorated members of a 1981 class featuring Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Rickey Jackson, Howie Long and Kenny Easley.

The project was biased against recent classes because their players haven’t had time to achieve in ways that set apart the older classes. The 2001 class has already produced 33 Pro Bowlers, same as the 1996 class and more than every other class but 1983, 1987 and 1988. But the best players from that class aren't finished achieving.

The biggest challenge, at least to me, was settling on the right criteria. ESPN Stats & Information provided an updated version of the spreadsheet used to identify elite draft classes for a previous project Insider. The spreadsheet awarded points to players based on:

  • Hall of Fame enshrinement (15 points)
  • MVP awards (8)
  • Player of the year awards (6)
  • All-Pro first-team awards (4)
  • All-Pro second-team awards (3)
  • Super Bowl victories (3)
  • Pro Bowls (2)
  • Rookie of the year awards (2)
  • Super Bowl defeats (1)

I used the spreadsheet as a starting point.

From there, I assigned 15 points to current or recently retired players likely destined for Canton. The players I singled out were: Troy Polamalu, Dwight Freeney, Ed Reed, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher, Tom Brady, Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Alan Faneca, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Taylor, Jonathan Ogden, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, Derrick Brooks, Marshall Faulk, Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Brett Favre, Junior Seau and Deion Sanders.

I added five points for Hall of Fame finalists not yet enshrined -- Cortez Kennedy, Shannon Sharpe, etc. These changes allowed the rich to get richer, of course, because all those players already had lots of Pro Bowls on their resumés. But if it was important to recognize current Hall of Famers -- and it was, I thought -- then it was important to acknowledge the strongest candidates not yet enshrined.

Another thing I noticed: These changes didn't significantly alter results, which were predicated mostly on Pro Bowl appearances, a statistical correlation revealed.

The next challenge was making sure the formula didn't acknowledge great players at the expense of good ones. ESPN's John Clayton and Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. felt the formula should take special care in this area. I wasn't as adamant.

"You love the Hall of Famers," Horton said, "but I like the class where the guy plays at a high level for a long time. I love those third-round picks that just play and play. We shouldn’t make a mistake at the first pick. That guy should be a great player."

Clayton used approximate-value ratings from Pro Football Reference to produce averages for each draft class. The 1993 class produced the highest average, followed by the 1996, 1983, 1975 and 1971 classes. Clayton also plugged in total games played. The 1983 class edged the 1993 class for the most, followed by the 1990, 1976 and 1988 classes.

A few key variables changed along the way.

Teams drafted at least 442 players annually from 1967 to 1976. They drafted more than 330 players each year from 1977 through 1992. The 1993 class featured only 224 players, fewer than any class under consideration. The first 224 players drafted in 1969 had much higher average approximate-value ratings than the 1993 class, for example. More recent draft classes also benefited from league expansion, which opened roster spots and opportunities for additional players.

NFL regular seasons also grew in length from 14 to 16 games beginning in 1978.

My focus was more on what the draft classes produced and less on extenuating circumstances.

The 1993 class is among those deserving honorable mention. Do the most decorated members of that class -- Strahan, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, John Lynch, Jerome Bettis and Drew Bledsoe among them -- hold up to the best from other years?

Take a look at my top five classes and decide for yourself.

[+] EnlargeDarrell Green
US PresswireDarrell Green was the last pick of the first round in the 1983 draft.

Why it's the best: No other class came close using the point system from ESPN Stats & Information. The 1983 class finished in a virtual tie with the 1996 and 1981 classes even when I removed from consideration the three Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- Elway, Marino and Jim Kelly. No class had more combined Pro Bowls from its top-10 picks (42) or more combined Pro Bowls from players drafted later than the 200th overall choice (26). Five of the six Hall of Famers played their entire NFL careers with one team for 83 combined seasons, or 16.6 on average.

Hall of Famers: Elway (Broncos), Kelly (Bills), Marino (Dolphins), Green (Redskins), Dickerson (Rams), Matthews (Oilers)

Hall of Fame finalists: Richard Dent (Bears), Roger Craig (49ers)

Other big names: Karl Mecklenburg (Broncos), Joey Browner (Vikings), Chris Hinton (Broncos), Charles Mann (Redskins), Dave Duerson (Bears), Leonard Marshall (Giants), Albert Lewis (Chiefs), Curt Warner (Seahawks), Jimbo Covert (Bears), Henry Ellard (Rams), Mark Clayton (Dolphins), Tim Krumrie (Bengals), Greg Townsend (Raiders), Gill Byrd (Chargers), Don Mosebar (Raiders), Darryl Talley (Bills).

Late-round steals: Mecklenburg was the 310th overall choice. Dent went 203rd overall. Clayton went 223rd. They combined for 15 Pro Bowls.

Ah, the memories: Green grew up in Houston rooting for the Oilers, but his hometown team wasn't very accommodating on draft day. His family didn't have cable TV, so they couldn't watch the draft on ESPN. They had heard the Oilers would be showing it at their facility, or at least providing real-time updates, but Green was turned away.

"They sent my little behind on out of there," Green said. "That is the way that went. What is funny, I’m a Houstonian, I played 20 years in the NFL, started 18 years and I never played in Houston but one time, so I couldn’t stick it to them. ... But you always love your hometown. I was a Luv Ya Blue, Bum Phillips, Kenny Burrough, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini fan."

Green was used to the cold shoulder. Tim Lewis, drafted 11th overall by Green Bay, was supposed to be the superstar cornerback that year. Looking back, Green liked going one spot after Marino. Green also values being a bookend to a first round featuring Elway on the other side.

"[Redskins general manager] Bobby Beathard told me if I was there, he would take me," Green said. "I'd always been told by pro players, 'Hey, don’t believe anything they say.' As an adult, I know why. Things change. But the man told me. We got down to Dan Marino at 27 and I knew I wouldn't be 27. Then when we got to 28, the last pick of the first round, now I’ve got nothing else to do but believe it. I was extremely excited he maintained his word."

Ray Lewis
Frank Victores/US PresswireRay Lewis could be one of the best linebackers to ever play in the NFL.

Why it's No. 2: Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis arguably rank among the three best players at their positions in NFL history. Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens arguably rank among the 10 greatest receivers. Between four and seven members from this class have strong credentials for Canton. Only the 1983 class produced more total Pro Bowl appearances. Unlike some other classes -- 1988 comes to mind -- this one provided star power deep into the draft.

Hall of Famers: none yet.

Hall of Fame finalists: none yet.

Strongest Hall credentials: Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), Marvin Harrison (Colts), Ray Lewis (Ravens), Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Terrell Owens (49ers), Zach Thomas (Dolphins), La'Roi Glover (Raiders).

Other big names: Mike Alstott (Bucs), Willie Anderson (Bengals), Simeon Rice (Bucs), Lawyer Milloy (Patriots), Tedy Bruschi (Patriots), Eddie George (Titans), Jeff Hartings (Lions), Keyshawn Johnson (Jets), Donnie Edwards (Chiefs), Jon Runyan (Oilers), Amani Toomer (Giants), Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers), Stephen Davis (Redskins), Joe Horn (Chiefs), Marco Rivera (Packers).

Late-round steals: Fifth-rounders Thomas, Glover and Horn combined for 17 Pro Bowls. Another fifth-rounder, Jermaine Lewis, added two more. No other fifth round produced more total Pro Bowls during the period in question. Although expansion added additional picks to more recent fifth rounds, those picks were also later in the draft. Thomas and Glover should get strong Hall of Fame consideration.

Ah, the memories: Glover was the 16th defensive tackle drafted in 1996. He wasn't even invited to the combine initially, and when he did get the call, there wasn't enough time to prepare for the specialized events. Glover, who weighed about 265 pounds at San Diego State, was in trouble and he knew it.

"It's funny to me now, but it wasn't funny then," Glover said. "I got a call maybe a week before the combine, so I wasn’t prepared. I was out there doing my long-distance conditioning training and I wasn’t doing speed-type training. I may have ran like a 5.1 or 5.2, a very bad time."

Glover performed much better at his personal workout, dropping those times into the low 4.9s. Oakland made him the 166th player chosen that year.

"I just remember feeling goosebumps and I started sweating -- the dream is coming true," Glover said. "And then I was put on the phone with Mr. Al Davis. He asked me a very specific question: 'How would you like to be an Oakland Raider?' And I damn near lost it. I didn’t cry or anything. I kept my composure over the phone. As soon as I hung up and saw my name come on the ticker -- I lived in a tiny 2-3 bedroom home -- the place just erupted. All the women were crying and all the men were asking for tickets."

[+] EnlargeLT
US PresswireLawrence Taylor helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls.

Why it's No. 3: This was arguably the greatest defensive draft under consideration, particularly near the top. The NFL's best athletes typically played offense, but 1981 draftees Taylor, Lott and Easley helped change the dynamics. This draft wasn't as strong as some throughout, but its star power on defense set it apart. Key players from this draft helped the 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Bears and Raiders dominate at times during the decade. Only the 1986 draft produced more Super Bowl winners.

Hall of Famers: Taylor (Giants), Lott (49ers), Mike Singletary (Bears), Howie Long (Raiders), Rickey Jackson (Saints), Russ Grimm (Redskins).

Hall of Fame finalists: none.

Other big names: Easley, Eric Wright (49ers), Dennis Smith (Broncos), Cris Collinsworth (Bengals), Hanford Dixon (Browns), Freeman McNeil (Jets), James Brooks (Chargers), Brian Holloway (Patriots), Hugh Green (Bucs), Carlton Williamson (49ers), Neil Lomax (Cardinals), Dexter Manley (Redskins), Mark May (Redskins), E.J. Junior (Cardinals).

Late-round steals: Charlie Brown, chosen 201st overall by the Redskins, caught 16 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors both years. Wade Wilson, chosen 210th, played 19 seasons and earned one Pro Bowl berth, in 1988.

Ah, the memories: Once the 49ers drafted Lott eighth overall, the USC safety headed to the airport to use a ticket the team had held for him. Easley, chosen sixth by the Seahawks, was the other great safety in that draft class and the two were so closely linked that the person behind the airline counter mixed up Lott's destination.

"You are going to Seattle?"

"No, San Francisco," Lott replied.

Lott often looks back on how things might have been different if the Saints had drafted Taylor instead of George Rogers first overall. That wasn't going to happen because the Saints wanted a running back to help them control the clock, and they were especially particular about character in that draft -- their first with Bum Phillips as head coach.

"Lawrence Taylor, I didn't realize he was going to be that type of player, but Rickey Jackson did turn out to be the player we needed [in the second round]," Phillips said. "We needed a great player and a great individual. We needed some leadership and we needed the right kind of character to be leaders."

The 49ers needed a new secondary. They used that 1981 draft to select Lott, Wright and Williamson.

"I talked to Bill Walsh and his statement was, 'If I see it on film once, then my coaches should be able to get it out of a guy,'" said Horton, the Scouts Inc. founder and veteran NFL talent evaluator. "That always stuck with me. He was amazing at seeing things on tape. That '81 draft was a smart draft. You could look at that draft and you could see what teams were thinking."

Joe Greene
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireJoe Greene is one of five Hall of Fame inductees from the 1969 draft class.

Why it's No. 4: Roger Wehrli's 2007 Hall of Fame enshrinement gave this class five inductees. Only three other classes managed more combined Pro Bowl appearances. Some of the names in this class won't resonate with recent generations, and that is understandable. But this was still a strong class and one worthy of our consideration.

Hall of Famers: Joe Greene (Steelers), Ted Hendricks (Raiders), O.J. Simpson (Bills), Wehrli (Cardinals), Charlie Joiner (Oilers).

Hall of Fame finalists: L.C. Greenwood (Steelers), Bob Kuechenberg (Eagles).

Other big names: George Kunz (Falcons), Bill Bergey (Bengals), Bill Stanfill (Dolphins), Calvin Hill (Cowboys), Ed White (Vikings), Gene Washington (49ers), Jack Rudnay (Chiefs), Bill Bradley (Eagles), Ted Kwalick (49ers), Jim Marsalis (Chiefs), Ron Johnson (Browns), Fred Dryer (Giants).

Late-round steals: Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowl choice and was the 238th overall pick. The Falcons found five-time Pro Bowler Jeff Van Note with the 262nd choice. Larry Brown, chosen 191st overall, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Ah, the memories: There was no scouting combine back then. Wehrli couldn't remember seeing a pro scout, even at Missouri practices. He had never even run a 40-yard dash until a Cardinals scout asked him to run one at the Hula Bowl all-star game in Hawaii.

Wehrli agreed to run on the spot even though he was wearing pads, the playing surface was natural grass and the stakes were higher than he realized.

"At the time, I didn’t know it was a Cardinals scout," Wehrli said. "I ran the 40, came back and he said, 'Man, we didn’t realize you were that fast.' Later, he told me that timing moved me up to a first-round draft choice [from the third round]."

Wehrli had clocked in the 4.5-second range. He would run 4.4s on Astroturf later in the pros.

"You never really trained for it back then," he said.

[+] EnlargeJerry Rice
US PresswireJerry Rice, the best receiver in NFL history, helped San Francisco win three Super Bowls.

Why it's No. 5: Just as the 1983 class featured more than quarterbacks, the 1985 version offered much more than the most prolific receiver in NFL history. Yes, Jerry Rice was the 16th overall choice, helping set apart this class from some others. But the supporting cast featured elite talent, from Bruce Smith to Chris Doleman and beyond.

Hall of Famers: Rice (49ers), Smith (Bills).

Hall of Fame finalists: Andre Reed (Bills).

Other big names: Lomas Brown (Lions), Steve Tasker (Oilers), Ray Childress (Oilers), Kevin Greene (Rams), Jay Novacek (Cardinals), Bill Fralic (Falcons), Jerry Gray (Rams), Randall Cunningham (Eagles), Ron Wolfley (Cardinals), Al Toon (Jets), Jim Lachey (Chargers), Kevin Glover (Lions), Mark Bavaro (Giants), Herschel Walker (Cowboys), Duane Bickett (Colts), Doug Flutie (Rams), Jack Del Rio (Saints).

Late-round steals: Tasker became a seven-time Pro Bowl choice on special teams as the 226th overall choice (albeit with Buffalo, after the Oilers waived him). Greene was a fifth-rounder, Novacek was a sixth-rounder and Bavaro, one of the toughest tight ends, provided excellent value in the fourth round.

Ah, the memories: Bill Polian was a little-known pro personnel director with USFL roots when Bills general manager Terry Bledsoe suffered a heart attack two months before the draft. The Bills had already landed their franchise quarterback in Kelly two years earlier, but his two-year detour through the USFL had set back the organization. Buffalo held the No. 1 overall pick, and the stakes were high.

Polian took over GM duties. Norm Pollom, a holdover from the Chuck Knox years, headed up the college scouting side.

The Bills were in great hands. Although some fans hoped the team would draft Flutie, Polian and Pollom found building blocks.

Aggressive wheeling and dealing allowed Buffalo to land cornerback Derrick Burroughs with the 14th choice, acquired from Green Bay, even after drafting Smith first overall. Reed was a steal in the fourth round. The decision to draft Smith over Ray Childress was the right one even though Childress became a five-time Pro Bowl choice for the Oilers.

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Orlando Pace, O.J. SImpson, Cris Collinsworth, Brian Urlacher, Rickey Jackson, Roger Wehrli, Frank Reich, Michael Strahan, Cortez Kennedy, Randy Moss, Junior Seau, Brian Dawkins, Deion Sanders, Mike Singletary, Dwight Freeney, LaDainian Tomlinson, Russ Grimm, Brett Favre, Charlie Joiner, Jonathan Ogden, Kenny Easley, Ronnie Lott, Kevin Greene, Lomas Brown, Roger Craig, Doug Flutie, Steve Tasker, Neil Lomax, Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, Terrell Owens, Bobby Beathard, Marshall Faulk, Jason Taylor, Randall Cunningham, Carlton Williamson, Lawrence Taylor, Jerome Bettis, Howie Long, Larry Allen, Will Shields, Alan Faneca, Champ Bailey, Joe Greene, Marvin Harrison, Bruce Smith, Drew Bledsoe, Richard Dent, John Lynch, NFL Draft 2010, Jerry Rice, Eric Wright, Walter Jones, Derrick Brooks, Steve Hutchinson, Tony Gonzalez, Troy Polamalu, Chris Doleman, Ted Kwalick, Gene Washington, Jerry Gray, Andre Reed, Shannon Sharpe, Willie Roaf, Ray Childress, Jay Novacek, Bill Fralic, Ron Wolfley, Jim Lachey, Kevin Glover, Mark Bavaro, Hershel Walker, Duane Bickett, Terry Bledsoe, George Kunz, Bill Bergey, Bill Stafill, Calvin Hill, Jack Rudnay, Bill Bradley, Jim Marsalis, Ron Johnson, Fred Dryer, L.C. Greenwood, Bob Kuechenberg, Ted Hendricks, Dennis Smith, Hanford Dixon, Freeman McNeil, James Brooks, Brian Holloway, Hugh Green, Dexter Manley, Mark May. E.J. Junior, Bum Phillips, Kenny Burrough, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, Norm Pollom