NFL Nation: Doug Flutie
The decision facing the 49ers, who have yet to name a starter for Week 13, bears loose resemblance to the decision Buffalo faced in replacing Doug Flutie for the playoffs following the 1999 season.
The Bills had gone 17-8 with Flutie as their starter over the 1998 and 1999 seasons. When they rested Flutie for a meaningless Week 17 game against Indianapolis, backup Rob Johnson lit up the Colts for 287 yards and two touchdowns during a 31-6 victory.
Johnson had posted a 102.9 NFL passer rating as a part-time starter in 1998. There was a sense in Buffalo at the time, at least among some, that Johnson might give the Bills' offense a better shot at winning in the playoffs. Johnson got the call for the postseason, a decision that became notorious when he completed only 10 of 22 passes for 131 yards during a 22-16 defeat to Tennessee in the wild-card round.
The 49ers' circumstances are different. Smith missed time because of a concussion.
There are still some similarities. Kaepernick, like Johnson, has played well in relief. The offense has in some ways appeared more dynamic with him in the lineup.
While the Bills were 17-8 with Flutie starting, the 49ers have gone 19-5-1 with Smith in the lineup since the start of last season. Their offense has improved in 2012, but advocates for Kaepernick see greater potential with the second-year pro behind center.
The charts compare basic passing stats for the relevant Bills and 49ers quarterbacks.
New England's situation with Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady in 2001 also comes to mind.
Bledsoe, sidelined for an extended period when Brady emerged as the Patriots' long-term starter, shared some thoughts on the 49ers' situation during a conversation with "Mike & Mike in the Morning" Tuesday.
According to Bledsoe, Smith hasn't been sidelined long enough for the 49ers to disregard all the evidence the team weighed before naming Smith the starter over Kaepernick out of training camp. He also thinks the two defensive touchdowns San Francisco scored against New Orleans make it tough to emphasize Kaepernick's 2-0 starting record.
Veteran quarterbacks tend to sympathize with other veteran quarterbacks. We've seen Steve Young suggest the 49ers should stick with Smith, for example.
Every situation is different. They're all captivating.
When Baylor’s Robert Griffin III gets taken early in next week’s NFL draft, he could be the latest piece in the trend of turning around the apparent curse on quarterbacks who won the Heisman. It has started to change only recently, but all of the sudden it’s looking like the trophy isn’t an anchor guaranteeing NFL mediocrity or obscurity for a quarterback.
Look back at 2010 winner Cam Newton. He was last year’s offensive rookie of the year for the Carolina Panthers and set all sorts of rookie passing (and rushing) records. There’s big hope in St. Louis that 2008 winner Sam Bradford can get back to the promise he showed as a rookie after struggling through a rough 2010 season. Then there’s 2007 winner Tim Tebow. He couldn’t throw spirals in Denver, but he won games. That at least created a market for Tebow to get traded to the New York Jets, where it remains to be seen if he’ll ever be able to win the starting job away from Mark Sanchez.
But there’s at least hope that Griffin, Newton, Bradford and Tebow can go on to have long and prosperous NFL careers. Before they came along, there were decades of evidence that suggested quarterbacks should just quit the game after winning the Heisman.
Remember Troy Smith, Eric Crouch, Danny Wuerffel, Charlie Ward and Gino Torretta? How about Ty Detmer, Andre Ware or Pat Sullivan?
They had little to no success in the NFL.
And remember Jason White?
I honestly did not at first. I had to go back and look up White, who won the trophy not all that long ago. He won it in 2003 while putting up some gaudy numbers at the University of Oklahoma. White didn’t even get drafted and quit football altogether after a short training-camp stint with the Tennessee Titans. He never even played in a regular-season NFL game.
Jerome Miron/US PresswireRobert Griffin III threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy last season.
But those same evaluators also missed on some Heisman winners who seemed to have what the NFL wanted. Remember Matt Leinart?
He came from one of those football factories (USC), where he was surrounded by guys like Reggie Bush, but Leinart was supposed to be the one whose college success could transfer to the NFL. That’s why the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the first round. But Leinart was nothing short of a tremendous disappointment.
When he flopped, it looked like there really was something to the Heisman Curse.
Prior to Tebow, Bradford, Newton and Griffin, you’ve got to look at a list of 18 quarterbacks who won the Heisman before you find one who really made it big. You’ve got to go all the way back to Roger Staubach, who won it for Navy in 1963. He went on to have a great career for the Dallas Cowboys and earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since Staubach won the Heisman, other quarterbacks have had to settle for just getting into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Sure, there have been a few Heisman winners to come out and have some success. Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls, but his career didn’t really take off until he landed with the Raiders after mediocre stints in New England and San Francisco.
Vinny Testaverde had an extremely long NFL career and the longevity led to some impressive career statistics. But Testaverde never had the kind of career so many people imagined when he was coming out of the University of Miami and taken No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987.
Guys like Steve Spurrier and Doug Flutie bounced around and had some success. Then there’s Carson Palmer, who has had some bright moments, but still is trying to fully live up to the Heisman hype.
But Newton, Griffin, Tebow and Bradford finally might be able to put a stop to the near-half-decade drought of Heisman Trophy winners truly excelling in the NFL.
“Cam Newton is the best thing to ever happen to Robert Griffin III,’’ former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke said as we discussed this year’s crop of quarterbacks back in February. “Just like Drew Brees is the best thing to happen to [Wisconsin draft prospect Russell Wilson]. Cam showed that a big, athletic quarterback that can run can be great in the NFL. Brees showed that a guy that’s not 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 can throw for 5,000 yards in an NFL season. We all know the NFL is a copycat league. Cam’s success and Drew’s success helps the draft stock of guys like Robert and Russell.’’
Ironically, Weinke’s name is another one on that Heisman list. His story might be the most unique of all the Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Weinke enrolled at Florida State after giving up a minor-league baseball career. He won the Heisman in 2000 and seemed to have the talent of a classic drop-back passer, but the fact he would turn 29 in his rookie training camp, pushed him into the fourth round of the 2001 draft. The Carolina Panthers took him and he started under coach George Seifert as a rookie, but never could quite won over John Fox, who took over the next year.
Weinke spent the next five seasons as a backup in Carolina and finished his career in 2007 with San Francisco.
These days, Weinke has carved a niche as a quarterback guru. He is the director of football operations at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He has worked extensively with Newton and some other quarterback prospects over the past few years.
Weinke says he’s seen the game change just since his playing days ended. Like just about everyone else, he says the NFL has become more driven by quarterbacks. He says natural talent is a prerequisite for NFL success and he points to guys like Newton and Griffin, saying they could be a new prototype. And he goes back to his point about the NFL being a copycat league.
“People are always looking for what works,’’ Weinke said. “Cam obviously had a fantastic rookie season. So people look at Robert and say he can do the same thing because the skill sets are similar.’’
For Griffin, Newton and Bradford -- and perhaps even Tebow in his own way -- maybe the skill sets are so good that it no longer matters if a quarterback is lugging around a Heisman Trophy.
Big deal? Not really.
Kaepernick, the 36th overall choice in his draft class, is one of five quarterbacks since 2001 drafted between the 30th and 39th picks. Three of the four others spent at least some of their rookie seasons higher than third on their teams' depth charts.
A quick review:
- 2011 Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton, chosen one spot before Kaepernick this year, enters his rookie season as the starter.
- 2007 Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Kolb, chosen 36th overall, entered the regular season second on the depth chart behind Donovan McNabb after veteran backup A.J. Feeley suffered a broken hand in the final game of preseason. Feeley returned to the No. 2 role, but Kolb overtook him late in the season.
- 2002 Washington Redskins: Patrick Ramsey, chosen 32nd overall, opened the regular season third on the depth chart behind Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. Ramsey missed 16 days of training camp during a contract dispute, setting back his efforts to beat out Mathews and Wuerffel, who had played for then-Redskins coach Steve Spurrier at Florida. Ramsey wound up starting later in his rookie season.
- 2001 San Diego Chargers: Drew Brees, chosen 32nd overall, entered the regular season as the backup to starter Doug Flutie. He backed up Flutie all season, becoming the starter in 2002.
Every situation is different. Kaepernick did not put up impressive numbers during the preseason. Starter Alex Smith has not been durable or consistently productive to this point in his career. It's fair to question whether the 49ers should have done more to bolster the position, but there is precedent for slotting a player drafted as early as Kaepernick in the No. 2 role.
With Cam Newton and Mark Ingram both selected in the first round Thursday night, the 2011 draft marked just the seventh draft since 1967 in which more than one Heisman Trophy winner has entered the league in the same year.
Newton was picked No. 1 overall and he was college football’s Heisman Trophy winner last season. Ingram was taken at No. 28, after the Saints traded back into the first round to get him. Ingram won the Heisman in the 2009 college season.
The feat also happened in last year’s draft, when Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow both came with the trophy. Prior to that, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart came in together in 2006.
Beyond that, there was a much bigger gap in the time frame. Desmond Howard and Ty Detmer came in the 1992 draft. Vinny Testaverde and Bo Jackson were picked in the 1987 draft. Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie were selected in 1985. Billy Sims and Charles White were drafted in 1980.
But maybe the guy Hartley should listen to most is quarterback Drew Brees. After all, Brees is the leader of this team and he’s also a guy who went through some hard times earlier in his career. Brees told the New Orleans media on Wednesday that he has sat down and talked to Hartley about getting through a rough period.
“I told him I’ve been benched three times,’’ Brees said. “I said, it’s all part of the process. Every young player has to learn it. There’s no shortcut to it. There’s no easy way to it. You just have to learn it the hard way. You’re learning it the hard way. Make the most of it. Absorb everything you can from John Carney. John Carney’s a Hall of Fame kicker. I’ve lost track of how many years he’s played. He’s played more years than Hartley’s been alive probably. Really, we should look that up. Is that true?’’
For the record, it’s not quite true. Carney, 46, appeared in his first NFL game in 1988. Hartley, 24, was born in 1986. But you get Brees’ point, which is to learn from your elders.
“How many opportunities do you get like that,’’ Brees said. “When I had the opportunity to play with Doug Flutie when I was a rookie and then Mark Brunell, you constantly are a sponge and take in everything you can. Garrett Hartley has a ton of talent and he’s already made some big kicks in his career and there are plenty more that he has to make in the future. This is just one of those times where he has to gut it out a little bit.”
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 . 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.
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."
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."
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."
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.
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.
The Buffalo Bills will avoid a quarterback controversy for at least another week.
Bills coach Dick Jauron already has announced concussed starter -- or at least he used to be the starter -- Trent Edwards will not play Sunday against the Houston Texans in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills have gone 2-0 with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick running the offense. They haven't transformed into the 1984 Miami Dolphins, but the offense has gotten better with Edwards off the field.
Jauron said "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it" in response to a question about who the starter will be when Edwards has been cleared to return.
In other words, Jauron -- ahem -- might be willing to check down.
The Bills hoped their quarterback quandary days were over when they rid themselves of J.P. Losman and signed Fitzpatrick to be the unquestioned No. 2. Edwards was the no-doubt starter.
An injury, which given Edwards' history was inevitable, wasn't expected to make a difference. Fitzpatrick simply didn't have the pedigree to warrant cries of a switch.
But, in a big way, Edwards has fallen out of favor with Bills fans. They call him Captain Checkdown, and based on the mailbag submissions I receive, they generally would prefer he check out of town.
Bills faithful have been debating the merits of the two quarterbacks on the same roster almost since Jim Kelly retired 13 years ago. Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Van Pelt again, Kelly Holcomb, Losman, Edwards ...
The Bills are almost there again. Once Edwards is healthy, the Bills will have another QB dilemma to deal with.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick has a rather simple philosophy for backup quarterbacks.
As he did last year, even before Tom Brady's left knee looked like shredded wheat, Belichick asked himself a question when filling out the New England Patriots' 53-man roster.
"Are you comfortable with them?" Belichick said in a training camp interview with ESPN.com. "If you feel like you can [win] with him, then you probably feel comfortable with him. If you don't feel that way, then that means you're probably looking for somebody else."
|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Matt Cassel filled in for Tom Brady last year and won 11 games.|
In the span of one calendar year, Belichick has gone from content with his backup quarterbacks to thoroughly unsatisfied with some of the same names.
Belichick's comfort level with Matt Cassel allowed the Patriots to experience an incredible season despite Brady's absence. But none of the quarterbacks on New England's active roster from Week 2 last season is with the club anymore.
Cassel (traded in April for financial reasons), Kevin O'Connell (waived Sunday) and Matt Gutierrez (released a month ago) are gone.
"When you put them in the game, you want the ability to win with them," Belichick said in an interview with ESPN.com shortly after signing free agent Andrew Walter, but with O'Connell still on the roster.
The O'Connell move caught the football community off guard. But he apparently didn't fit either of two basic roles Belichick sees for backup quarterbacks. There are projects and there are stabilizers.
"If you're trying to get your backup guy to eventually be your starter or be able to go in and win for you, and you draft a young player like Cassel, you know he's not ready that first year," Belichick said. "But you hope in time you can get him ready.
"That's the problem with a young quarterback. It takes a little bit of time to develop them. The problem with the old quarterback is it's a year-to-year proposition.
"It's a combination of how far you really think you'll be able to go with that player and if you feel he's keeping it warm until you had your starter back -- but then you're looking for someone else."
The only other quarterbacks behind Brady are Walter and undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer, who has looked sharp in preseason games and perhaps supplanted O'Connell as a less expensive project of choice. Seventh-round draft choice Julian Edelman played quarterback at Kent State but has been moved to receiver.
Belichick has done well with backup quarterbacks in the past. When the Patriots have been forced to use a second-stringer, he has been successful. Brady got his break as a medical replacement for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
When Belichick stood behind a lectern at Gillette Stadium one year ago and suggested that a quarterback who hadn't started a game since high school could step in for a future Hall of Famer and take New England to the playoffs, it was tough not to laugh.
Or at least it sounded comical at the time. Cassel, emerging from an unpleasant preseason that led to speculation he might not make the final roster, replaced Brady and won 11 games.
The Patriots didn't reach the postseason. The Miami Dolphins also went 11-5 and won the AFC East title on a tiebreaker.
Yet it was an admirable failure given the circumstances.
Belichick has employed different types of backup quarterbacks who never saw significant action. The Patriots kept veterans such as Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie and used youngsters such as Rohan Davey and O'Connell.
"It's an insurance policy," Belichick said. "People have different philosophies on insurance.
"You can spend a lot and have a real high-quality backup quarterback who's one play away from being your starting quarterback. Or you could have more modest expense there and use that extra money to solidify other positions."
But Belichick claimed he never felt apprehensive sending one of his second-string quarterbacks onto the field when he needed to.
"I don't think there was any set formula," Belichick said. "There's a lot of factors that go into it, but in the end that's what you're looking for: a guy you can win with."
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|Punter Scott Player represents the end of the single-bar facemask era.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The NFL went as far as it could to replicate history.
Clubs are wearing throwback uniforms this year in selected Legacy Games to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Football League, with Canton's preseason opener the first exhibition.
A lone red Buffalo stood proudly on the Bills' helmets. The Titans were dressed like their ancestors, the Houston Oilers, complete with derricks. Referees were on patrol in orange-striped jerseys.
No matter how hard the NFL tries to recapture the olden days, one glaring omission makes it impossible:
The single-bar facemask is gone and not coming back.
|Who's not in the Hall of Fame who should be? ESPN.com's panel makes the case for Dermontti Dawson, Cris Carter, Doug Flutie and Rickey Jackson in future classes.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
But future classes should.
At least that's the argument our four-man panel (Jeremy Green, Matt Williamson -- each from Scouts Inc. -- Football Today producer Jay Soderberg and myself) makes in this edition of Double Coverage. In this series, we usually debate matters. But we're not going to debate this time. We each make our cases and we're going to make them passionately.
That's because each of us reacted strongly when we were asked to nominate a player who is not in the Hall of Fame but deserves to be. As the NFC South blogger, I instantly threw out Jackson's name because Saints fans have been hitting me with pleas for his case since I've taken this job. I know Green spent a large chunk of his life in Minnesota around Carter and he took all of about three seconds to nominate him.
Williamson was so eager to make his case for Dawson that he sent me his argument the day we were assigned this project two weeks ago. Soderberg owns up to the fact he's a Patriots fan, but claims that's not the only reason he thinks Flutie has been shorted.
Enough with the introduction. Listen to the discussion by clicking here , and read the presentations below.
RICKEY JACKSON (by Pat Yasinskas)
I started off this project knowing Jackson was a darn good player. I got hit with statistics and passion when I asked Saints' fans for input. But I didn't want to rely just on my own recollections of Jackson's playing career, the numbers or folks who might be biased.
|Rickey Jackson piled up some impressive numbers: six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks.|
I wanted to hear from someone up close why Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame. That's why I turned to the trusted veteran eyes of Carolina Panthers assistant head coach Jim Skipper. He was a New Orleans assistant coach during Jackson's time with the Saints. He saw him in games, in practice and in the locker room.
"The City Champ belongs in the Hall of Fame, no doubt," Skipper said. "He was as good as anyone who's in there. ... He's the guy who made the Dome Patrol (which also featured linebackers Sam Mills,Pat Swilling and Vaughn Johnson) go and some people say they were the best group of linebackers ever. It all started with him. You want to talk about tough? Rickey was so tough, he once got into a car accident and broke his jaw. He still went out and played in that game."
How do you top that?
You don't. You just throw in the numbers -- six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks. You can point to the fact that New Orleans is a small market. But Jackson moved onto San Francisco near the end of his career and got a Super Bowl ring. The only thing he's missing is a spot in the Hall of Fame. It's long overdue.
DERMONTTI DAWSON (by Matt Williamson)
I fully understand that the position of center, and the offensive line in general, is
not a glamour position. Arguing for or against such players as potential Hall of Famers is a very difficult chore. But Dawson deserves enshrinement.
A 10-year starter, Dawson followed Mike Webster, one of only six centers in the Hall of Fame, to establish a legacy at the position like none other in the history of the game. During that stretch, Dawson started 171 straight games, went to seven Pro Bowls, was All Pro six times and was selected to the 1990s All-Decade Team. He started 13 playoff games, three AFC Championships and Super Bowl XXX. In comparison, Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson played in just 114 games with five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections.
Dawson's statistics are surely impressive, but his scouting report is even more extraordinary. In protection, bull rushing him was nearly an impossible chore, as he pass-blocked with tremendous leverage and technique. The ultra-quick upfield defensive tackles rarely beat Dawson. He routinely snapped the ball, pulled with his great athleticism and led an outside run with precision and grace. He also was able to quickly get into a defensive tackle who was lined up over the guard and neutralize that defender's charge while his teammate acted as a pulling guard. You just don't find centers who do that.
Dawson did it all as well as anyone who has ever played the position and he did it with consistency, longevity and class. It is a crime that he has yet to be inducted into the hallowed Hall of Fame.
CRIS CARTER (by Jeremy Green)
One of the biggest oversights in Hall of Fame voting history is former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter.
|Cris Carter is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101 catches.|
If there is ever a player who should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it's Carter [who became eligible in 2008). He is arguably the second-best wide receiver to ever play the game behind only one man: Jerry Rice, who has yet to become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot.
Despite not having blazing speed, Carter adapted into a big-time playmaker in Minnesota. He could play the X and Y positions. He was unbelievable in the slot in the Vikings' 3-deep wide receiver concept during the Dennis Green era [Editor's note: Dennis Green is Jeremy Green's father]. Carter is the second- best route-runner I've ever seen, ranking behind only Rice. I had the pleasure to watch both in numerous practice sessions and live games from both field and coaching box levels.
The numbers do not lie when it comes to Carter. He is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101, trailing only Rice (1,549) and Marvin Harrison (1,102). Despite playing the majority of his career opposite another receiver who will be in the Hall of Fame in Randy Moss (13,201 career receiving yards), Carter currently ranks seventh on that all-time list with 13,899 yards. Carter is fourth on the all-time touchdown reception list, trailing only Rice (208), Terrell Owens (141) and Moss (136), with 131 receiving touchdowns.
The statistics were there for Carter to be a first-ballot HOF candidate. What I think is almost as important: Carter is a man who changed his life. After battling both alcohol and drug use in his early years with the Philadelphia Eagles and being released, the Vikings were one of the few teams willing to take a chance on him. They picked him up for a $100 waiver claim and Carter rewarded them by changing his life and blossoming. In my mind, he's second-best receiver to play the game.
DOUG FLUTIE (by Jay Soderberg)
We probably should start by saying that my bias for New England Patriots players is well documented, but that is not what has led me to the belief that Doug Flutie belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What has led me to this conclusion is the name of the shrine in Canton itself: PRO FOOTBALL Hall of Fame, and Doug Flutie was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in the Canadian Football League.
Flutie, who retired from the NFL in 2006, does not become eligible for Hall Of Fame consideration until 2011. But he's got plenty of ammunition, in my opinion.
His career stats in Canada alone are worth noting: 61.4 completion percentage, 41,355 total passing yards, 270 passing touchdowns and only 155 picks in a pass-oriented league. He was the first quarterback to pass for more than 6,000 yards in a season; he did it twice and came close a third time. He won three Grey Cup championships, and was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player a record six times.
Flutie was never given a real chance to be a starter in the NFL, whether battling the issue of his height (he's listed as standing 5 feet, 10 inches), battling for a job as a backup (with Rob Johnson in Buffalo, Drew Brees in San Diego), or being labeled a "scab" for crossing the picket lines early in his NFL career with the Patriots. Combine the stats from all three professional leagues he played in (he played one year in the USFL for Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals) and his numbers -- 58,179 total passing yards, 369 passing touchdowns, 6,759 rushing yards and another 82 rushing touchdowns -- are definitely worthy of consideration. Don't forget his numerous, memorable fourth-quarter comebacks.
Just for kicks, let's add that he was the last player to drop-kick an extra point during an NFL game.
Listen to the podcast for more on our nominees and join the discussion below.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Trent Edwards is tiring of the questions.
He acknowledges the thrill of playing quarterback in the NFL is worth whatever hassles come with it, but the make-or-break theme that has enveloped him isn't enjoyable.
|Paul Jasienski/Getty Images|
|Trent Edwards is 12-11 as Buffalo's starting quarterback.|
Another question about pressure, a crossroads, put up or shut up ...
"You guys are kind of forcing me to try to think that way," Edwards said Tuesday afternoon after the Buffalo Bills' first minicamp practice. "I get that question a lot. I feel like every offseason I get that question. It's kind of a go-to question to ask a quarterback."
Edwards is entering his third season with Buffalo. That's seems to be about the amount of time a quarterback gets around these parts.
Doug Flutie was here for three years. Rob Johnson was here for four years, the starter of choice for two. Drew Bledsoe was here for three years. J.P. Losman spent three years as the starter before Buffalo gave the job to Edwards.
The town's patience -- and perhaps the owner's -- haven't lasted much beyond three years after Marv Levy and Jim Kelly ran the show.
Since Levy retired as head coach, his next three successors were given similar terms. Wade Phillips and Gregg Williams lasted three years apiece. Mike Mularkey was given a third year but resigned.
That cleared the way for Dick Jauron, who was given a fourth year much to the fan base's mortification.
So the trends certainly point to this being a make-or-break season on several counts.
|Jim Rogash/Getty Images|
|The Patriots showed faith in unproven Kevin O'Connell, left, by not pursuing a veteran to be No. 2 behind quarterback Tom Brady.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Matt Cassel had 39 attempts over his first three seasons before he assumed control of the offense and helped the Patriots win 11 games.
The folks at CareerBuilder.com recently posted a list of the top jobs that don't require experience. Cruiseline worker, English-as-second-language instructor, medical transcriber ... they forgot Patriots quarterback. I would have slotted that gig at No. 10, just ahead of movie extra.
What's cool about being Patriots quarterback is that you can start off as background filler and turn into the leading man.
If Brady's reconstructed left knee doesn't hold up as Patriot Nation prays it will, then sophomore Kevin O'Connell apparently is next in line. The Patriots have chosen not to reinforce their depth chart with veteran support after trading Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.
How risky is that?
Fan logic dictates if an unheralded Brady (sixth-round draft pick) can come off the bench to be a superstar, and an unknown Cassel (seventh-round draft pick) can come off the bench to get within a tiebreaker of the AFC East crown, then O'Connell (third-round draft pick) can come off the bench and run the show, too.
"It's the relative unknown that scares the living hell out of you," former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak said. "Brett Favre might have had it four or five years ago, where all hopes rest on one guy. Now, maybe you're down to two: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|The Patriots' current No. 3 quarterback is Matt Gutierrez, who didn't even make the team following last year's training camp.|
"Your season hinges on that one guy. You hold your breath again because you don't know."
Brady's backups are O'Connell, who threw six passes as a rookie last year, and Matt Gutierrez, who was undrafted in 2007, has thrown one NFL pass and didn't make the team out of training camp last year. The Patriots signed rookie free agent Brian Hoyer two weeks ago.
"Ultimately, I don't think they've reached a conclusion," said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who writes for the National Football Post. "They haven't had a preseason to really evaluate their quarterbacks and this is the time, May and June, to see where they need to go.
"The course right now is to develop O'Connell and see where they are in the preseason and then make adjustments."
New England can't expect to keep inserting neophyte quarterbacks into the lineup and get away with it.
"I don't think that can be a recipe you can count on," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "I do think there's some risk. It would be nice to have a veteran in the fold, but they know what they're doing."
Zolak doesn't see the need for veteran help.
"Last year at this time, I would have thought a veteran would be the way to go," Zolak said. "They've gone that veteran route with Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, but they've never needed to use that guy.
"They went the in-house route with Cassel, developed the guy for four years and that's the route that worked when it was tested."
Zolak and Wlliamson are fans of O'Connell's.
As a sportscaster for "Patriots All-Access," a television show produced by the club, Zolak has seen the 6-foot-5 San Diego State product more than the average reporter.
"Usually, when you see these guys you think Scott Mitchell, and he doesn't move that well," Zolak said. "But the kid has a smoothness to him and is very fluid for his size. He went to his legs a lot his senior year and picked up a lot of yards on the ground."
Said Williamson: "He has all the tools to work with. He's smart. He's big. He's got a nice arm. He moves around real well."
|Stan Liu/Icon SMI|
|As a senior at San Diego State, Kevin O'Connell rushed for 408 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns on the ground.|
The Patriots have made enough brilliant personnel moves since Bill Belichick took over in 2000 to earn their fans' trust. The staff has monitored O'Connell for a year. If the coaches are confident he can handle the No. 2 role, then many figure that should be enough.
While the Patriots' front office has rightly been praised for unearthing Brady and Cassel in the late rounds, not all of their quarterbacks have panned out. Lest we forget, they also drafted Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury.
The Patriots also must overcome the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the man who called the plays and molded Cassel into an NFL commodity even though Cassel hadn'
t started a game since high school.
"As long as you have Wes Welker, as long as you have Randy Moss ... they have some weapons," Zolak said. "With Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk on third down, I don't care who the quarterback coach is. It's hard not to be successful with the type of players they have."
The last time Patriot Nation gave their backup quarterback a second thought was back in the Zolak and Hugh Millen days.
Ever since the Patriots selected Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft, they have gone into the season without worry about their quarterback's health.
From 1993 through 2000, Bledsoe came off the field enough for his backups to average 39 mop-up attempts per season.
Bledsoe was Gibraltar in the huddle. Nobody bothered to think about his backup beyond the possibility he someday might development into Bledsoe's heir -- when Bledsoe was good and ready to abdicate. Alas, we all know that internal bleeding isn't something you can walk off.
Brady entered Game 2 of the 2001 season and remained the starter for the next 128 games, including 17 in the playoffs, until he crumpled to the turf in last year's season opener. A mangled left knee sidelined him for the rest of the year.
So, for the first time in a decade and a half, the Patriots enter training camp hopeful their quarterback will hold up.
A rebuilt knee -- one that was beset by infections early in the healing process -- offers no guarantees. The only optimism emanates from the aura of the quarterback's credentials. He has won championships, married a supermodel, almost helped Ecuador land the 2010 Winter Olympics, scored 42 points to help the Washington Generals beat the Harlem Globetrotters and almost single-handedly brought back the 8-track.
"I think it's a fluke thing with Brady," Zolak said. "I've talked with enough people who think it's almost like his rookie year again. The kid's hungry again and he's back to the old work ethic he had. That's not to say he has a bad one, but let's face it: The guy has a lot of priorities, and his life has changed since he's won three rings. But he's up and going at full go.
"Tom will be back. As good as Manning was, questions with his knee last year, he didn't really get going until about Week 5, and the guy ended up getting NFL MVP. Donovan McNabb came back from it. So it can be done."
But what if his knee doesn't hold up? As much as he's treated like a god, he is human.
"And if something happens to him, they'll go with one of the in-house guys," Zolak said. "They like the guys they have."
New England Patriots
- Christopher L. Gasper reports for the Boston Globe that running back Fred Taylor recently suffered a wrist injury when he fell while exercising.
- Boston Herald reporter Karen Guregian takes a look at rookie defensive lineman Darryl Richard, one brainy dude.
- WEEI.com's Christopher Price provides his five burning questions after rookie camp.
- Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal shares Doug Flutie's commencement speech to this year's graduating class of New England Institute of Technology.
- NFL.com senior columnist and former longtime Bills beat reporter Vic Carucci pays tribute to the late Jack Kemp.
- Larry Felser, the man who covered every one of Kemp's games with the Bills, shares his memories.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane investigates the Dolphins' bubble to see if it's prone to the same disaster that happened in Irving, Texas.
- Miami Herald reporter David J. Neal digests last weekend's rookie camp, an event he aptly describes as amateur shadowboxing.
New York Jets
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
No question, the Cardinals had to bring back Warner. Warner's mostly sensational 2008 season commanded a deal that makes him the starter for 2009 and probably 2010. The question I have is whether the Cardinals can realistically expect Warner to continue performing at a similar level at age 38 and 39.
I flash back to early 2006 when the Seahawks felt compelled to reward Shaun Alexander for his MVP season. Letting Alexander walk after that season would have been politically inconceivable, but such a move would have been prescient.
Like Alexander, Warner is nearing the end of the expected shelf life for players at his position. Unlike Alexander, Warner has quite a few ascending young players around him on offense. That should help him. Also, my perception is that quarterbacks generally do not fall off as quickly as running backs once they hit a certain age.
A few quarterbacks over the past 25 or so years have exceeded 3,000 yards passing past age 37. Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie, Joe Montana and Phil Simms did it. Several others managed the feat at age 37 -- Rich Gannon, Steve Young, John Elway, Dave Krieg, Dan Marino -- for the final time.
I'm reasonably sure Warner can put up impressive numbers for at least one more season. And if I were the Cardinals, I would rather take my chances with Warner than with any of the other options that were available to them. But to assume Warner will remain atop his game for another year or two? Perhaps we shouldn't go quite that far.