NFL Nation: Randall Cunningham

Gary AndersonAP Photo/Beth A. Keiser
This is the play voters and ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling picked as the most memorable in the team's history, beating out Brett Favre's interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game and Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 "Miracle at the Met."

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27
Date: Jan. 17, 1999. Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Well, voters, we agreed on this one. For a team that has played in four Super Bowls and has been in five NFC title games since its most recent Super Bowl appearance, there were plenty of memorable moments. But this play, which kept the most prolific offense (and possibly the most dominant team) in Vikings history from securing a fifth Super Bowl bid, was tough to top.

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The most striking thing about Gary Anderson's 38-yard miss with 2:18 left in the 1999 NFC Championship Game was how swiftly it pulled the bottom out from under a team that had an air of inevitability about it to that point. Yes, the Vikings had some injuries going into the NFC title game, but their offense had been so explosive (607 points in 17 previous games), and they'd been so dominant at home (winning all nine of their games by an average of 23.22 points) that it didn't seem like an upstart Falcons team had any chance of coming into the Metrodome and halting the Vikings' march to the Super Bowl. It certainly didn't seem that way when Anderson -- who hadn't missed a kick of any kind all season -- lined up for an easy field goal attempt that would have put Minnesota up by 10.

But Anderson's miss gave the Falcons life, and the Vikings seemed too stunned to recover after that point, with coach Dennis Green calling for Randall Cunningham to take a knee after the Falcons' game-tying touchdown and the team punting twice in overtime before Morten Andersen's game winner. As a kid growing up in Minnesota at the time, it was stunning to watch that Vikings team -- so brash and aggressive to that point, so certain of its superiority, particularly in the raucous Metrodome -- on its heels. The Vikings probably never would have reached that point had Anderson's kick sailed through the uprights. Instead, they lost the game, they've endured two more NFC Championship Game defeats since, and their Super Bowl drought is at 37 years and counting.

The fact is it all could have been so different, if not for a miss from a heretofore perfect kicker. That's what made Anderson's miss the most memorable play in Vikings history.
I do not know why I have been so late to this particular party, but the "Madden NFL 25" cover vote is taking place on this very website, and you can go here and cast your vote for the football player you think should be on this year's cover. It's down to the final 16 -- eight current players and eight from the past -- and the only current one from our division is, unsurprisingly, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Having trounced Ryan Tannehill and Doug Martin in the first two rounds, RG III faces off against Baltimore running back Ray Rice in his Sweet 16 matchup. Griffin is a 1-seed, Rice a 5, and it's hard to see how even the Ravens' Super Bowl title offers him much of a chance here.

The other side of the bracket still features former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan (a 5-seed whose current matchup is against top-seeded Jerry Rice) and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, a 3-seed who's got a fascinating third-round matchup against 2-seed Deion Sanders. I wonder if this one may come down to which guy is better liked as a TV analyst?

The Philadelphia Eagles had representation, but former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham lost his first-round matchup to LaDainian Tomlinson and current Eagles running back LeSean McCoy lost in the second round to Adrian Peterson. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant lost his second-round matchup to Ray Rice. Former Redskins running back Clinton Portis lost in the first round to Marshall Faulk on the "Old School" side of the bracket.

Anyway, go vote.

Will the Green Bay-to-Minnesota pipeline produce another hit for the Minnesota Vikings? That's the question we're asking Thursday morning amid the news that receiver Greg Jennings is taking his first free-agent visit to the Packers' NFC North rival.

The Vikings have a long recent history of acquiring players the Packers either no longer want or hadn't yet re-signed, a list that includes quarterback Brett Favre, kicker Ryan Longwell, safety Darren Sharper and receiver Robert Ferguson. Over the years, the Vikings also made free-agent pitches to defensive end Aaron Kampman, fullback William Henderson and receiver James Jones, in each case jump-starting their eventual agreements with the Packers. (In 2010, the Vikings brought in receiver Javon Walker to training camp for a comeback attempt but released him before the season began.)

While that history will surely inflame passions on this blog and between fan bases, Jennings' case is a relatively unique one. He is in the prime of his career, and according to multiple reports, the Packers have genuine interest in bringing him back. It seems the Packers have bet -- accurately, so far -- that he wouldn't fetch one of the few premium contracts available to receivers in this market and have been waiting for the dust to settle.

The Miami Dolphins gave Mike Wallace a five-year deal worth $60 million, and former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin got $67 million over six years from the Seattle Seahawks. After that, however, the receiver floor has dropped. Wednesday, the annual average salary receivers were fetching fell almost by half, to about $6 million. Wes Welker got a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Denver Broncos, and the Patriots replaced him by signing Danny Amendola to a five-year deal worth $31 million.

That makes for a fascinating dynamic from multiple angles, a discussion we started earlier in the week.

We all know how barren the Vikings' receiving corps is after the Harvin trade, and they could give Jennings an unquestioned role as their No. 1 receiver in a midrange passing scheme that caters to his strengths. By agreeing to this visit, Jennings must have an inkling that the Vikings will make him a competitive contract offer -- and by "competitive," I mean more money than what the Packers have offered. If nothing else, Jennings could use a division rival to put pressure on the Packers to raise their offer.

Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter was certainly on board Thursday morning, tweeting:

On the other hand, Jennings would face several levels of uncertainty in Minnesota. Quarterback Christian Ponder will get another year as the unquestioned starter, but he is far from established and it wouldn't be remotely fair to compare him to the quarterback Jennings would have in Green Bay. There is also a greater possibility for instability with the Vikings, considering the team declined to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after his 10-6 performance in 2012. The chance the Vikings have a different coach in 2014 is much higher than the Packers making a change by that point.

Some Packers fans want Jennings to return because of his skills. Others don't like the idea of him helping the Vikings out of a personnel hole. And a few of you wonder if it's worth any investment of salary cap space to bring him back when the team has Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on the roster and are presumably gearing up to sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to monster contract extensions.

I've been in the camp that assumed the Packers planned to part ways with Jennings given the lack of substantive negotiations over the past year. Jennings put up his Green Bay house for sale, and the proverbial ship seemed to have sailed. But sometimes the market has a way of changing and/or clarifying the thinking of a player, a team or both. And so here we are. It's on. And from our perspective especially, it's going to be tons of fun.
The "Madden NFL 25" cover vote is now on in SportsNation.

This year, there is a new-school and old-school competition.

In the new-school vote, there are some tough assignments for some AFC West players.

San Diego’s Antonio Gates is a No. 16 seed. He goes against top seed Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco. Oakland’s Carson Palmer is a No. 15 seed and he is facing No. 2 seed, NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. Denver’s Von Miller is a No. 6 seed, but he faces the popular Victor Cruz of the Giants, a No. 11 seed. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles is a No. 6 seed and he is facing Darrelle Revis of the Jets, a No. 11 seed.

In the old-school vote, this one will upset some folks. Marcus Allen is representing the Chiefs and not the Raiders. The Hall of Fame running back played 11 years for the Raiders and five years for the Chiefs. He is a No. 6 seed and faces No. 11 Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots.

Oakland's Tim Brown is a No. 6 seed and he faces Chad Johnson of the Bengals. Denver’s Terrell Davis is a No. 10 seed and faces Buffalo’s Jim Kelly, a No. 7 seed. San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson is a No. 10 seed and he faces Randall Cunningham of the Eagles.

Randy Moss the greatest? Let's discuss

January, 29, 2013
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Randy MossDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe 49ers' Randy Moss doesn't lack self-confidence during Tuesday's Super Bowl media day.
NEW ORLEANS -- One day after San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh took on President Barack Obama, receiver Randy Moss challenged Jerry Rice's status as the NFL's greatest receiver.

Wait, weren't the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens supposed to be the big talkers during Super Bowl week? They're multiple-syllable underdogs at this point.

Moss stole the show at Super Bowl media day by declaring himself the greatest receiver of all time.

"I think I'm the greatest receiver to ever do it," Moss said. "Because I think back when Jerry was playing -- and no disrespect to Jerry Rice, because he's arguably the greatest -- but for me to be able to go out here and change and revolutionize the game from a single safety to a Cover 2 safety and dropping three guys deep and dropping four guys deep and still be able to make it happen? That is why I really hold my hat on that, that I really feel in my heart and in my mind that I am the greatest receiver to ever play this game."

If Rice had the greatest career of any receiver in NFL history, which seems indisputable based on longevity and raw numbers, Moss at his best was arguably the most feared.

Moss was faster. I think he was more athletic. If both receivers were to line up on opposite sides of the formation while in their prime, defenses would face a dilemma. I think they would fear Rice more on shorter and intermediate routes. I think they would fear Moss more on deeper routes.

Rice benefited from beginning his career under Bill Walsh and spending most of it with either Joe Montana or Steve Young throwing passes to him. That doesn't diminish his achievements, in my view.

Rice dominated. He reached 1,000 yards receiving 14 times. Moss did it 10 times. Rice scored at least nine touchdowns in a season 12 times. Moss did it nine times. Each had nine seasons with at least 10 touchdowns. Rice had four seasons with at least 1,500 yards. Moss had one. Rice had six seasons with at least 1,400 yards. Moss had four.

Moss also played with a couple of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Brett Favre, but the years he spent with them were exceptions, not the norm. Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn, Gus Frerotte, Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Matt Cassel, Vince Young, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick have also thrown passes his way.

To this point, Rice's status as the greatest has been pretty much assumed. Those with a strong grasp of league history might acknowledge Don Hutson's achievements as unique. However, Rice is an overwhelming choice as the best receiver in NFL history.

An ESPN.com panel featuring Raymond Berry, Boyd Dowler, Mike Holmgren, Ken Houston, Warren Moon, Keyshawn Johnson and Ted Thompson voted Rice first and Moss second in anonymous voting five years ago.

"Jerry Rice, he's so obvious, it scares me," Dowler said at the time.


Jamaal Charles closing in on record

December, 10, 2012
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It has been a lost season for the Kansas City Chiefs, but star running back Jamaal Charles is on the cusp of making NFL history.

Charles
Charles has 739 career NFL rush attempts. He is 11 carries from qualifying for career carry records. Charles is averaging 5.7 yards a carry. That, by far, is the best average in NFL history for running backs.

The legendary Jim Brown (5.22 yards per carry) is the current all-time per-carry average leader in NFL history. He had 2,359 career carries. According to the NFL Record Book, former quarterback Randall Cunningham has the highest yards per carry mark overall by averaging 6.3 yards per carry in 775 career rushing attempts.

For Charles to be on the brink of this record is special. For a lead tailback to rip off nearly six yards per carry for his career is stunning.

It is particularly impressive since Charles is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in Week 2 last year. Charles has come back strong. He has 1,220 yards this season and he is averaging 5.1 yards a carry. In 2010, Charles, a third-round draft pick in 2008, averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

A special thanks to Katharine Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information for her help on this post.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Rookies making history. The Washington Redskins are the first team in NFL history to feature both a 2,000-yard rookie passer (Robert Griffin III) and a 1,000-yard rookie rusher (Alfred Morris). Griffin is poised to join Morris as a 1,000-yard rusher if he can average 71.5 rushing yards per game the rest of the way. Griffin already is just the fourth player in league history to pass for at least 2,500 yards and rush for at least 700 yards in a single season, joining Cam Newton (2011), Michael Vick (2002) and Randall Cunningham (1990). The Redskins are 6-6 and pushing for a playoff spot, and the success or failure of the rookie engines of their offense over the final four games could determine whether they can get in.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Kim Klement/US PresswireRookie running back Alfred Morris has rushed for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Outside the numbers. Per ESPN Stats & Information, the top two wide receivers in the NFL this season on passes thrown outside the painted numbers are the Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant and the Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green, who will be on the same field Sunday in Cincinnati. Green leads the NFL with 49 receptions and eight touchdowns on such throws, and is averaging 13.8 yards per reception outside the numbers. Bryant has 42 catches and six touchdowns, and is averaging 14 yards per reception on throws outside the numbers. These two are going to be a nightmare for the opposing cornerbacks in this game if they're trying to cover them man-to-man.

Flipping the rookie script? Philadelphia Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown has been more impressive since taking over for concussed starter LeSean McCoy than rookie quarterback Nick Foles has been filling in for concussed starter Vick. But that could change this week in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are allowing just 82.3 yards per game on the ground this season, the lowest figure in the NFL. They are allowing an NFL-high 309.4 yards per game through the air, which could turn out to be historically bad. No team in NFL history has allowed an average of 300 or more passing yards per game over a full season. So Foles has a chance for his best game yet, while Brown is likely to find the going tougher this week.

Not going to be a Brees. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is 4-0 with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his four career games against the New York Giants, who host the Saints on Sunday in New Jersey. ESPN Stats & Info tells me the 11 touchdowns are tied for the most any player has had against a team that has not intercepted him. Drew Bledsoe had 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his career against the Cardinals. Of course, the Giants could be catching Brees at the right time. He threw five interceptions and no touchdowns in Week 13 against the Falcons in Atlanta. It broke a league-record streak of 54 consecutive games in which Brees had thrown at least one touchdown pass.

On the ground. Neither the Saints nor the Giants have been very good at stopping opposing runners in the backfield. New Orleans is allowing an average of 3.4 yards per rush before initial contact, which is the second-highest figure in the league, while New York's 3.2 yards allowed per rush before initial contact is third worst in the league. So Ahmad Bradshaw and whichever Saints running backs are active this week could have an easier time than usual making it to at least the line of scrimmage.

RG3 makes Redskins' hopes very real

December, 1, 2012
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Robert Griffin IIIAP Photo/Tim SharpRobert Griffin III has the Redskins believing they are contenders in his rookie season.

At the end of this interview with Robert Griffin III, he is asked to finish this sentence: The Washington Redskins are going to the Super Bowl in how many years?

Griffin, nonplussed, offers this answer:

"This year. I mean, it doesn't matter. Our season's not over. We're not out of the playoff hunt. If we win this game Monday, we control our own destiny. So it's every year, until we don't win it."

No pretense, no bluster, just the same, matter-of-fact tone he uses earlier in the interview when he honestly offers up John Elway, Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham among his influences, and says Ray Lewis is the player whose autograph he'd most like to get. Griffin doesn't suffer mundane convention or consensus protocol. He doesn't seek the sound bite. He gets a question, he rolls it over in his brain and offers his honest answer. Why wouldn't every player believe he could win this season's Super Bowl until his team is mathematically eliminated?

And so here stands Griffin, getting ready to play the first-place, defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the first "Monday Night Football" appearance of his career, with an understanding of the stakes. If the Redskins win the game -- and make no mistake, these Redskins fully believe they can beat these Giants -- they are one game out of first place and right in the thick of the wild-card race at 6-6. They would not, technically, be in control of their own destiny as he claims, because they would still need teams in front of them to lose even if the Redskins won out. But they wouldn't need a ton of help, and the concept that a 10-6 record is likely to get them in is more than enough fuel for a December stretch run.

Griffin's most essential achievement in his decorated rookie season is to have made this possibility realistic. No Redskins team with Rex Grossman or Jason Campbell or the 2010 version of Donovan McNabb as its quarterback would have been a convincing playoff contender at 5-6 in Week 13. But this one, with Griffin taking the snaps, has people talking. Has people playing around with the Playoff Machine to see what has to happen for it all to come true. Redskins fans see the teams in front of them in that wild-card race and know well that their team beat the Saints, Vikings and Buccaneers head-to-head. They know the Seahawks can't win on the road. Heck, they know the Giants' remaining schedule doesn't look easy, and their team holds all kinds of tiebreakers, and the facts of the case become very simple: If the Redskins win this big Monday Night game, they are in the mix.

The Redskins approach Giants games with a high level of confidence. They beat the Giants twice, rather soundly, in 2011, and they believe they had them beaten in Week 7 before they decided not to cover Victor Cruz on that 77-yard touchdown throw in the final two minutes. They do not fear the Giants, and they wouldn't have even if Griffin weren't their quarterback this season. They believe they have coverage schemes and pressure packages that can rattle Eli Manning, and they've spent the week watching film of themselves having great success against him. None of that means they'll win, but they have no doubt whatsoever that they can.

What Griffin has done is to build on that -- to fortify that confidence for the broader stage and the bigger dreams. If the Redskins can beat the Giants, as they already know they can, they can start to think about being a playoff team. And if you're a playoff team -- doesn't matter which one, as those Giants showed last season -- then you have a right to think about the Super Bowl. Why keep it a down-the-road fantasy when it's still a present reality? Griffin, who gives the Redskins reason to believe they might have the better quarterback on any given day they play, is speaking the absolute truth of his team's situation and his own. The fact that he's the one saying it means you don't have to look far to figure out why the Redskins, their fans, and even some of their opponents might be believing it.

Griffin has made the Redskins legitimate, instantly. And whether they win Monday or lose, whether they make a real run at this year's playoffs or fall short, that's a heck of a rookie-season accomplishment.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 9, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

Tough times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles will meet for the 103rd time on Sunday, but just the first meeting since Oct. 28, 1990 in which both teams have sub-.500 records. The 2-4 Eagles beat the 3-4 Cowboys 21-20 that day. Randall Cunningham threw touchdown passes to Anthony Toney and Calvin Williams in that game, and the Eagles held Emmitt Smith to 52 yards on 14 carries. It's the first Cowboys-Eagles game since Dec. 5, 1965 that finds each team at least two games under .500. That day, the 4-7 Cowboys beat the 4-7 Eagles 21-19 as Don Meredith threw for two touchdowns and ran for another and Bob Hayes caught five passes for 106 yards.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireCowboys QB Tony Romo could feast against a struggling Philadelphia defense Sunday.
Could Romo get well? Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has a league-leading 758 passing yards over the past two weeks. The Eagles have allowed opponents to complete 6 of 8 passes thrown at least 15 yards down the field in the past two weeks since the firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, according to ESPN Stats & Info's Next Level numbers. On the road this year, Romo has a 57.6 completion percentage, 14.7 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and no interceptions on throws of 15 yards or more downfield. What we're trying to get at here is that, if this is the week you see the Cowboys' deep passing game come back, don't be too surprised.

Kinda tired of packin' and unpackin'. The New York Giants are 0-5 all time in Cincinnati, where they'll face the Bengals on Sunday. Overall, they are 3-5 in eight meetings against the Bengals. If it's a close game, don't be surprised. The past three meetings between these teams have been decided by three points or less, and seven of the eight all-time matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less. Worth noting, however, that they haven't played each other since Sept. 21, 2008, when the Giants won 26-23 at Giants Stadium.

You look familiar. The Bengals lost last week to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. On Sunday, they'll become the third team in history to play against Peyton and Eli Manning in consecutive games. The Baltimore Ravens beat Eli and the Giants in Week 14 of 2004 and then lost to Peyton and the Colts the following week. The 2006 Titans beat the Giants in Week 12 and the Colts in Week 13.

Playing into their hands. The Giants are tied with the Chicago Bears for the league lead with 17 interceptions. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown at least one interception in each of the Bengals' eight games this season and has a total of 11 for the year. Only the Cowboys' Romo and Cleveland rookie Brandon Weeden have thrown more. The last quarterback to throw an interception in each of his team's first nine games was the Cowboys' Troy Aikman in 1990. This is Dalton's second season in the league, and 1990 was Aikman's second.

Judgment Day coming for the Vikings

October, 25, 2011
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PonderBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireChristian Ponder, the Vikings' 2011 first-round pick, made his first start this week.
Two ingredients are mandatory for the success of an NFL franchise.

You need a quarterback to win games and a modern stadium to make money.

And at this moment, it's uncertain if the Minnesota Vikings have either.

So pardon the dramatics, if you will, but I truly believe the Vikings are entering the most critical time period in their 51-year existence.

During the month, they will find out if the state of Minnesota will finance a new stadium or risk losing them to another market. And by the end of 2011, the Vikings should have a decent idea whether rookie Christian Ponder is a true franchise quarterback or just the next in a long line of short-term starters.

Check out the chart to your right. Since their inception in 1961, the Vikings have had only three quarterbacks I would consider long-term starters. Fran Tarkenton (13 seasons), Tommy Kramer (seven) and Daunte Culpepper (five) are the only quarterbacks to have been the Vikings' primary starter for more than three seasons.

The Vikings have filled the other 26 years with a mishmash of journeymen (Gary Cuozzo, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon) and big-time veterans at the end of their careers (Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Randall Cunningham and Jim McMahon). Their hope is that Ponder, 23, will put an end to their annual search for a Band-Aid solution.

If first impressions mean anything, Sunday's debut performance against the Green Bay Packers was encouraging. Ponder threw aggressively downfield; seven of his 13 completions went for at least 15 yards. He was mobile, routinely buying extra time outside of the pocket and gaining 31 yards on four scrambles. And he without question brought an energy and confidence to an offense that seemed to be treading water for the season's first six games.

"He took charge with confidence," tailback Adrian Peterson said. "He never seemed rattled. Just very comfortable, which is something I am very excited about. He bounced back from two interceptions and continued to go strong, which says a lot about him as a leader."

Peterson said the difference was "definitely very noticeable" and, as someone who just signed a seven-year contract extension, seemed optimistic about the franchise's future.

Smart Vikings observers know not to overreact to the emotional debut of a quarterback candidate, and there are plenty of unanswered questions about Ponder's long-term viability. After watching him float a few passes to the Packers' secondary, I would rank arm strength atop that list. But the next nine games should give us a good sense of where his career is headed.

If all goes well, Ponder will be the Vikings' quarterback when they open their next stadium. Where that facility will be located, of course, remains a topic of fierce debate both in Minnesota and in the NFL offices.

[+] EnlargeMetrodome
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe Vikings' lease at the Metrodome, their home since 1982, expires in less than four months.
The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires in less than four months -- on Feb. 1, 2012. A top league official has already acknowledged the Vikings would be free to pursue relocation options at that point, and owner Zygi Wilf has said he won't sign a short-term lease extension at the Metrodome without financing approval for a new stadium.

Without a deal in place by Feb. 1, the Vikings could technically move to Los Angeles or another market in time for the 2012 season, provided NFL owners grant approval. That timetable has finally moved a decade-long conundrum to the front burner of Minnesota politics, putting enormous pressure on a resolution -- one way or the other -- before Thanksgiving.

Gov. Mark Dayton has set a Nov. 7 deadline for settling on a project site and plan. Wilf prefers a suburban site for a project that would cost $1.1 billion, but powerful members of the business community are pushing for a site in Minneapolis. After making his recommendation, Dayton will oversee two weeks of debate and public hearings prior to a proposed Nov. 21 special session of the state legislature to vote on the final package.

Anything short of approval at that point almost certainly would push the next round of debate past the expiration of the Vikings' lease.

Would Wilf commence relocation efforts next February? Last week, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman told 1500ESPN.com: "[T]hey are free to explore their options and from all I know they already could be exploring their options. They do not need clearance from us."

It's more likely that Wilf would put the franchise up for sale under that scenario. Presumably, the new buyer would pursue relocation. In either event, we'll know in a matter of weeks whether that possibility will even exist. Barring an extension of Dayton's pre-holiday deadline, Judgment Day is coming for the Vikings -- both on and off the field.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Putting Carlos Rogers to the test. Detroit's Jim Schwartz and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh pointed to the 49ers' front seven when asked why the team has improved in its secondary. The 49ers have had a strong front seven for years, however, so clearly something else is different. Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information passes along this note: Rogers, new to the 49ers this season, leads NFL defensive backs with three picks on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield. The 49ers allowed 10 touchdowns with six interceptions on these throws last season. The ratio is two touchdowns to seven picks this season. Let's see if the trend holds against the Lions. Matt Stafford is tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most scoring passes on these throws. He has seven, five to Calvin Johnson.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireThe Lions' Matthew Stafford, among the league's best passers on first downs, has had some trouble producing on third downs.
Attacking the Lions on third down. Stafford has seven touchdown passes with only one interception on first down this season, matching Rodgers for the best totals in the league. The production hasn't been there on third down. Stafford has completed only 50.9 percent of his third-down passes with two touchdowns, two interceptions and weak efficiency numbers (22.3 Total QBR, 71.3 NFL passer rating). The absence of a conventional ground game could, in theory, set up more third-and-long situations. Stafford ranks among the NFL's top three in touchdowns (two) and passes gaining at least 30 yards (three) on third-and-8 or longer, but his first-down percentage on these plays (26.9) ranks only 15th.

Watch for the play-action game. The Lions have thrown out of the shotgun formation more times than any team in the league. They also hand off from the shotgun, keeping teams honest enough for Stafford to lead the NFL in play-action passing in these three areas: completion percentage (80.0), Total QBR (97.5) and NFL passer rating (150.4). The 49ers rank fifth in completion percentage allowed against play-action (53.8), but only 28th in yards per attempt (10.5) and 31st in yards per reception (19.1). Why? The Dallas Cowboys set up their 77-yard overtime reception against the 49ers in Week 2 with a play-action fake that worked beautifully.

Mismatch of all mismatches. The Green Bay Packers have scored more points in third quarters (49) than the St. Louis Rams have scored in all their games combined (46). Second quarters are often when teams hit their stride on offense. The Rams have only three second-quarter points all season. Green Bay has 44. Sure, the Packers have played one additional game, but that doesn't begin to account for the disparity. The Packers scored more points against Denver in Week 4 (49) than the Rams have scored this season.

Clay Matthews alert. The Rams' Sam Bradford has absorbed 18 sacks through four games, putting him on pace to take 72 of them over the season. That would rank tied for second in the sack era (since 1982) with Randall Cunningham, three behind David Carr's record. The Packers' Matthews has only one sack through five games. He had 8.5 sacks at this point last season thanks to a pair of three-sack games. What's up? The Packers are using more three-man rushes. Cullen Jenkins is no longer around to attract attention from opposing lines. Matthews has also been dealing with a quadriceps injury. Might this be his get-well game?

NFC West Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Anything with horns on it. The St. Louis Rams are 0-4 and the most disappointing team in the league. Media coverage in St. Louis is beginning to suggest trouble ahead for coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney if the Rams do not start winning. The Rams appear to have no answers and the schedule isn't getting any easier.

2. Sam Bradford, Rams QB. Opponents have sacked Bradford 18 times in four games. Bradford is on pace to absorb 72 sacks over a 16-game season. That would tie Bradford with Randall Cunningham for the second most since at least 1982, when sacks became an official stat. David Carr set the record with 75 sacks in 2002. Carr never recovered from the beating he took early in his career. The punishment Bradford is taking could threaten his long-term outlook.

3. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have lost 12 of their last 15 games, including three in a row this season despite making a substantial investment at quarterback. That'll hurt any coach's stock.

[+] EnlargeFrank Gore
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesFrank Gore rushed for 127 yards and a score in the 49ers' win over the Eagles.
RISING

1. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers RB. There were too many worthy candidates and too few spaces to honor them all. Gore's stock value improved the most from a week ago, when he struggled against Cincinnati, suffered an ankle injury and then watched Kendall Hunter start ahead of him in Week 4. Gore responded by leading the 49ers past Philadelphia with 127 yards and the winning touchdown. Coach Jim Harbaugh, linebacker NaVorro Bowman, defensive end Justin Smith and the entire 49ers offensive line deserve mention here. All would have been worthy choices.

2. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks QB. There were no indications Jackson was about to pass for 319 yards with three touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons. The performance should quiet critics clamoring for the Seahawks to bench Jackson in favor of Charlie Whitehurst. Jackson took no sacks in this game. His offensive line deserves partial credit for that, but Jackson was the one who took advantage. He was the one whose stock jumped the most in Seattle.

3. Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals RB. It's still a mystery how the Cardinals could lose with Wells carrying 27 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Wells' physical running played a huge role in Arizona's ability to build a 27-17 fourth-quarter lead over the New York Giants. He's averaging 107 yards rushing per game, second to Darren McFadden among players with at least 20 carries this season. He's also leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns with five. Give some credit to the Cardinals' offensive line as well.

Rex Ryan still simmers over Duerson claim

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
2:06
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NEW ORLEANS -- Rex Ryan didn't want to dignify the accusation with a reaction.

[+] EnlargeDave Duerson
AP Photo File PhotoThree Notre Dame football players, including Dave Duerson, center, at Jackson Square on Saturday, Dec. 27, 1980, in New Orleans.
The passionate New York Jets head coach couldn't help himself when asked about last month's allegation that his father, Buddy Ryan, called late Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson the N-word.

"Quite honestly ..." Ryan said before stopping himself and then asking a Jets media relations official, "Can I be harsh?"

As long as he kept it clean, Ryan was instructed.

"As long as it's clean, yeah," Ryan muttered. "I thought it was ridiculous."

In a different setting, Ryan probably would have chosen an angrier adjective or two. But in a ballroom at the opulent Roosevent Hotel and surrounded by reporters and his peers Tuesday morning at a coaches' media breakfast, Ryan restrained himself.

"There isn't a prejudiced bone in our bodies or my dad's body," Ryan said, including twin brother and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "That's why I know it's crazy."

The incendiary accusation came to light after Duerson's death. He committed suicide Feb. 17 at his Florida home. Duerson gave an interview to author Rob Trucks in November. Excerpts appeared on Deadspin.com.
"In the NFL, I was ostracized from Day 1 -- not by my teammates, but by my defensive coordinator. I was drafted by the Bears in 1983. My first day walking into Halas Hall, I met Buddy Ryan. He knew I'd gone to Notre Dame and asked me if I was one of those doctors or lawyers. I said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'Well, you won't be here too long because I don't like smart n------.'

[+] EnlargeBuddy Ryan
Mike Powell/Getty ImagesBuddy Ryan of the Bears gets carried off the field by defensive lineman Richard Dent, 95, and linebacker Otis Wilson, 55, after their Super Bowl win in 1985.
"I worked for Buddy for three years, and there was not a day that he did not remind me that I was not his draft pick, that he did not want me there. It was not motivational at all. The guy simply hated my guts, without question."

Duerson was among the stars of Buddy Ryan's famed 46 defense. When the clock hit 0:00 on their Super Bowl XX victory here in New Orleans, defensive end Richard Dent and linebacker Otis Wilson -- both black -- hoisted Buddy Ryan on their shoulders.

Many of Buddy Ryan's former players also have publicly defended him against the Duerson accusation.

"I've been around my dad a long time," Rex Ryan said, "and I never heard every conversation he ever had in his life, but I never heard him ever use language like that, a word like that. My dad loves his players, respected his players.

"I thought it was absurd. And there's no way in hell that happened. That's my opinion. No way in hell that happened. For someone to make a comment like that ... and I don't know if Dave made them or somebody else made them or whatever. [Duerson] might have made them, but my dad never did."

Rex Ryan pointed out that his father, in his first head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles, didn't hesitate to start Randall Cunningham. Rob Ryan coached five years at historically black Tennessee State. Both Rex and Rob Ryan were college assistants under black head coaches.

As he rattled off each of those facts, he jabbed his finger on the table for emphasis.

"It was absolutely ridiculous. For my dad, my twin brother, myself ... I mean, give me a break," Rex Ryan said.

"There's no way in hell it's a stain on his career because anybody that knows my dad knows the kind of person he is. My dad is a great person. Maybe there's a different agenda there."
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.
1983

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.
1996

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.
1981

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.
1969

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.
1985

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.

About selecting QBs in second round

February, 22, 2010
2/22/10
10:54
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The earlier item showing where teams target positions among the first 32 draft choices raised questions about quarterbacks in particular.

Fourteen of the 37 quarterbacks drafted in that range since 1995 went first or third overall. None went in 15 of the 32 highest spots, including 13th through 16th or 27th through 31st.

"The interesting point on second-round QB picks will be who they were, how long until they were a starter (if ever) and if they stuck with their drafting team," Bcook122 wrote in response. "I'm hoping this year's crop may yield a good prospect without having to exact one of those two first-round picks the Niners have."

The first thing I did was break out all second-round quarterbacks selected in the last 30 drafts, figuring this would provide big-picture perspective. One of the quarterbacks in question, Drew Brees, appeared on the previous list because the Chargers selected him 32nd overall before the NFL expanded to 32 teams. Some of the best ones -- Boomer Esiason, Randall Cunningham and Neil Lomax -- were drafted between 1981 and 1984. Another, Brett Favre, went in 1991.

The next step involved narrowing the search range to all drafts since 1995.

NFL teams have drafted 17 second-round quarterbacks during that period, including Brees. The Dolphins (three) and Lions (two) drafted five of the 17, including four since 2007. Eight of the 17 were drafted since 2006. Three of the 17 have gone to Pro Bowls, but Brees is the only one with a career passer rating higher than 77.9.

The chart ranks these 17 quarterbacks by regular-season games played. Of course, the earlier a quarterback is drafted, the more chances an organization will generally give him.

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