Much has been made about the significance of the outcome of tomorrow's conclusion to the 2011 season between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars. A loss means the Colts have the number one overall pick in the next NFL Draft but a victory would most likely slide Indianapolis to the second slot.
Many are contending that's such a major difference that Colts' fans should be cheering for a loss tomorrow. One local writer even went so far as to say that a loss would jeopardize the next decade of the team's future! Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is that the NFL's annual job fair is somewhat of a crap shoot with "cant' miss" prospects becoming busts and players who nobody heard of becoming Hall of Famers.
Colts 101 took on the challenge of a local scribe who is insisting that having a first overall pick is somehow more advantageous than having another pick in the draft. While we didn't do the counting between first and second overall picks (that would be a waste of time), we did take the time to look at NFL draft selections dating back to 1965, the season before the advent of the Super Bowl. What we found was instructive. Here are some highlights of what we found:
1965: The New York Giants drafted the legendary running back Tucker Frederickson with the first overall pick while the Baltimore Colts drafted a fullback named Mike Curtis second. Once they converted Curtis to linebackers, he would help anchor a defense that would appear in two Super Bowls. The Chicago Bears got two lesser known players named Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus with picks nine and eleven. They wouldn't reach any Super Bowls but had decent NFL careers.
1967: The Colts got defensive lineman Bubba Smith number one overall and he helped them to two Super Bowls (the same two as Curtis. Who gets the credit?). Later in the draft, the San Francisco 49ers chose Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Steve Spurrier over Purdue's Bob Griese.
1969: USC's Heisman winner OJ Simpson was the "can't miss" consensus number one overall pick. He didn't miss, but he also didn't make any Super Bowls in his career with the Bills or the Niners. The fourth pick, Joe Greene, won four Lombardi Trophies.
1971: Jim Plunkett of Stanford was the number one overall pick in a quarterback-rich draft (sound familiar?). Plunkett would win two Super Bowls during his career, except they would be as a member of his third NFL team, the Oakland Raiders. Neither Archie Manning nor Dan Pastorini, taken at two and three, would get to a Super Bowl either (though Pastorini would have if instant replay had existed).
1972: Neither Walt Patulski or Sherman White made a Super Bowl, but the 13th selection Franco Harris did.
1975: The Atlanta Falcons got their franchise QB by drafting Steve Bartkowski first overall. Dallas got Randy White though and Chicago got a little-known back named Walter Payton with the fourth pick.
1977: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got USC's Ricky Bell first overall while the Dallas Cowboys traded up to take Tony Dorsett at number two.
1979: Neither of the first two picks amounted to much, but the seventh pick was the second QB selected, Phil Simms out of Morehead State. The Cincinnati Bengals passed on Simms to select the "Throwin' Samoan," Washington State's Jack Thompson.
1980: Billy Sims had won the Heisman Trophy and was taken first by the Lions, while the Jets got Texas speedster Johnny "Lam" Jones. With the third pick, Cincinnati took the greatest offensive lineman to ever play in Anthony Munoz.
1982: Again, the first two picks were both busts, but the Colts took their QB of the future, Ohio State's Art Schlicter. Chicago took Jim McMahon out of BYU with the next pick.
1985: Number one overall pick Bruce Smith had a great career in Buffalo, but it was the 16th pick who was the steal of the draft, Jerry Rice out of Mississippi Valley State. He was the third receiver taken after Al Toon and Eddie Brown.
1987: Vinny Testaverde was the first overall selection, but the Colts took Cornelius Bennett (and later traded him). Jim Harbaugh went at 26 to the Bears, the fourth QB selected.
1989. This draft is most often cited by those wanting to differentiate between first and second picks. Dallas got Troy Aikman first and Green Bay took Tony Mandarich. They forget to mention Barry Sanders at number three or that the entire top five of this draft made the Hall of Fame except Mandarich. You draw the conclusion.
1991: The best QB of the draft went with the 33rd pick to Atlanta who took Brett Favre. Todd Marinovich and Dan McGwire went in the first round.
1994: The Bengals selected Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson out of Ohio State leaving Marshall Faulk to the Colts. The Colts in turn passed on Trent Dilfer to select the great Trev Alberts, prompting an on-air melt down by ESPN's Mel Kiper.
2004: The Eli Manning/Philip Rivers deal got the most attention, but the Pittsburgh Steelers got the best quarterback at number 11 with Miami University's Ben Roethlisberger.
Three specific drafts strongly resemble this one coming up in that they were talent-rich drafts, particularly with quarterbacks. In both 1998 and 1999, quarterbacks were drafted one-two with the top picks. In 1998, of course, the Colts correctly chose Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf. In 1999, however, Tim Couch was the "can't miss" prospect from Kentucky taken by the Browns. The Eagles settled for Donovan McNabb out of Syracuse. Couch was the big-armed, pro-style QB who had been heralded as the "next Marino" since he was in high school. McNabb was a scrambler who didn't have the measurables that Couch possessed. Eagles fans booed when their team selected him. Of course they could have had the next pick, Akili Smith taken by Cincinnati, or who they really wanted, Texas RB Ricky Williams.
Of course 1983 is known as the greatest QB draft ever. Colts fans know too well that the team selected John Elway first overall, only to be forced to trade him to Denver when he held out. Eric Dickerson was the second overall pick. He never played in a Super Bowl, but he has a bust in Canton. Also drafted in the first round that year were Todd Blackledge, Ken O'Brien, and Jim Kelly. The last QB taken in the first round that year? Dan Marino by the Miami Dolphins.
All this is to illustrate several key points being missed by pundits who are over-simplifying and over-dramatizing the importance of having the first pick.
Having the first pick doesn't guarantee anything. One local columnist's cherry-picking statistics not withstanding, simple logic and basic knowledge of the game of football tells us that this is a team game. Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls with their first overall selection of Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw would be the first to tell you, however, the picks of Joe Greene and Franco Harris had more to do with that than he did.
This is a talent-rich draft. In addition to a "sure-fire" Hall of Famer like Andrew Luck, there's a very good chance that the Colts could get the next Anthony Munoz in USC's Matt Kalil or a fusion of Barry Sanders and Earl Campbell with Alabama's Trent Richardson. Either player could be a Hall of Fame caliber player at a key position for the next decade, much like Marvin Harrison was at 19 or Reggie Wayne at 30.
If it's Super Bowls you want (and who doesn't) it's about a team full of great players, not just one. In 2003, the Cincinnati Bengals got a Heisman Trophy winning, prototypical passer in Carson Palmer. Two years later his knee was shredded. Meanwhile the Chicago Bears got Rex Grossman who took them to the Super Bowl.
The same draft saw the Detroit Lions get a receiver who was going to change the game in Charles Rogers. The Lions would get such a receiver, but not until Rogers was long gone and they spent another number one on Calvin Johnson. The Houston Texans took Andre Johnson with the pick after Rogers.
Unless the Colts do something very stupid, they're going to get a "franchise" player in this draft. One thing we know for sure about the NFL Draft, there's no such thing as "can't miss."
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