Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rough Drafts

As you can imagine, teams are under an enormous amount of pressure to get things right during each year’s draft.  This is particularly true on the first day, and the first round, when the stakes are the highest:  the biggest talent is up for grabs, with the biggest salaries to boot.  For the teams at the bottom of the standings, the draft is the chance to build for the future; for the more dominant clubs, it’s an opportunity to wheel and deal to maximize their chances for continuing success. 

Of course, for the players waiting to be drafted, every minute that goes by without your name being called is a fresh cup of cold water threatening to drown your dreams.  With so much at stake, you’d better believe there’s always a good chance for fireworks—and smoldering duds.  So, in anticipation of the start of the 2012 NFL draft tonight, I thought we'd take a look at some less-than-stellar moments in recent draft history.


With so much riding on the early moments of the draft, you’d think that each club’s management team would be a well-oiled machine on the first day—ready for anything and leaving no room for error.  For the most part, that’s the case.  There have been a few “oops” moments in draft history, however, and today we’ll look at one of the most notorious—and entertaining.

Thankfully, the teams have a set amount of time in which they must make each draft selection.  Current rules provide for the following time limits for each pick:  ten minutes for Round 1; seven minutes for Round 2 and five minutes for Rounds 3-7.  What happens when a team’s time runs out before it’s made a selection?  The Minnesota Vikings found out in 2003, when the time limit on first round picks was fifteen minutes.

In the 2003 draft, Minnesota had the seventh overall pick, and had their eyes on a defensive tackle from Oklahoma State, Kevin Williams.  As their turn neared, management realized that Williams was still going to be available a few picks later.  So, they started shopping their seventh pick, hoping to find a team that was willing to pay to move up in the draft order.  When deals with two other teams didn’t pan out, the Vikings agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Ravens:  in exchange for Minnesota’s No. 7 pick, Baltimore would give them its first round pick (at No. 10), as well as fourth- and sixth- round picks.  

Even with the clock ticking, all deals have to be submitted to the league for approval before they’re official.  The Vikings got their submission in, but the Ravens didn’t before the Vikings 15-minute clock ran out.  So, when no one from the Vikings submitted the team’s selection, the two teams at the 8 and 9 spots (Jacksonville and Carolina) ran to the commissioner’s podium with their draft selections before the Vikings were able to recover and turn in theirs—which still turned out to be Kevin Williams.  The Vikings head coach at the time, Mike Tice, insisted that they got the player they wanted all along, so no harm done. 

NFL officials wait for the selection from Vikings director of pro personnel Frank Acevedo

Minnesota’s fans should have brushed this off as just one of those things—if only another blunder hadn’t happened the year before.  Ironically, the blunder then was the Vikings’ inability to take advantage of another team’s failure to get its pick submitted in time.  In 2002, the Vikings once again had the seventh pick.  The Dallas Cowboys had the No. 6 pick and the Kansas City Chiefs had the eighth pick.  Dallas and KC made a deal to swap picks so that Kansas City could grab defensive tackle Ryan Sims, who they knew was the Vikings’ top choice.

However, before Kansas City could pass the trade on to league officials for approval, their time ran out.  As the Vikings approached the podium with Sims’ name on their draft card, their guy was blocked by an assistant equipment manager for the Chiefs.  The Vikings were foiled, and ended up drafting offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who had a decent career (on the field anyway; his off the field antics were less than admirable), playing for the team for nine years.

And what happened to Kevin Williams?  Whether he was really the Vikings’ guy or not, he has turned out to be a great pick.  He still plays for the Vikings, so far earning six Pro Bowl selections and five All Pro designations; he has over 400 tackles and 54.5 sacks to his credit.


Every year, the NFL invites the top draft prospects to Radio City Music Hall for the draft.  These (presumed) future stars are treated like royalty in the Big Apple for the week leading up to Draft Day—public appearances, photo ops, glad-handing with advertisers, and plenty of wining and dining.  This year, a staggering 26 players have accepted the NFL’s invitation to attend.

Dolphins center Mike Pouncey's bling on Draft Day
On the first day of the draft these players, dressed in their best suits and newly-purchased pricey watches, take up residence in the draft “green room,” a curtained-off area behind the main stage.  Each player gets a table with his entourage—family, friends, “advisors” and, of course, his agent.  As each player’s name is called, teary hugs and handshakes abound and a grinning mass of man strolls to the stage, wearing a cap with his drafter’s logo; he then holds up his new club’s jersey as he smiles for pictures with the NFL commissioner.

Cam Newton, 2011's No. 1, with the Commish

For a few players over the years, however, the green room experience has been less than ideal.  Every few years it happens—a player who was projected to be selected in the top ten, or even at Number 1, somehow slips through the cracks and falls like a stone through the draft.  Recent memory calls to mind two such victims to gravity:  Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn.

2005:  Aaron Rodgers Plummets

NFL scouts were drooling over Aaron Rodgers after his junior year at Cal (University of California, Berkeley), citing his arm strength and excellent throwing mechanics.  The San Francisco 49ers, coming off an embarrassing 2-14 season, had the Number 1 pick in the draft.  Having had a void at quarterback since Jerry Garcia left in 2003, it was widely anticipated that the Niners would select Aaron Rodgers.  However, newly hired coach Mike Nolan was concerned that Rodgers’ personality wouldn’t mesh with his and San Francisco ended up taking Alex Smith (who is still with the team) instead.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be an issue for a star player like Rodgers.  Unfortunately for him, the next several teams had more pressing needs than quarterback.  So, down he went—out of the top ten, then through the top twenty, until finally being rescued by the Green Bay Packers as the 24th overall pick.  All things considered, Aaron landed in a great situation.  He learned much from shadowing Brett Favre over the years, and has led the Packers to a championship and set several records.

Here's a video with Aaron's own perspective on his draft experience:

2007:  Brady Quinn Tumbles

Even though he failed to lead the Fighting Irish to a national title, Brady Quinn had a stellar career at the University of Notre Dame, accomplishing notable personal achievements.  The Sporting News even rated Quinn the top quarterback in college football in 2006.  His impressive stats in his final year at Notre Dame (3,426 yards, 61.9% completion percentage, 37 touchdowns and only seven interceptions) earned him a top-ten draft projection and an invitation to attend the draft. 

Thomas has had a Pro Bowl career in Cleveland
Many believed the Cleveland Browns would select Quinn with their third overall pick.  As a young boy growing up in Ohio, Brady was a big Browns fan and being drafted by the Browns would be a dream come true.  To everyone’s surprise, however, especially Brady’s, the Browns passed on him at the #3 spot, picking up offensive tackle Joe Thomas instead.  As several teams in the market for a QB continued to pass him by (though not drafting any other quarterback), memories of Aaron Rodgers two years earlier began to settle over Radio City like a fog. 

Not wanting to repeat the awkward situation of a top prospect alone in the green room, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell invited Quinn to wait in his private suite after the tenth selection had been made.  Quinn accepted the invitation.  Turns out he still had a while to wait.  Eventually, the Dallas Cowboys began to look for buyers for their 22nd overall pick.  The Browns bit, and as soon as the league approved the trade, they snapped up Brady Quinn.

"Um, Mr. Commissioner, your suite's out of Funyuns."

Unfortunately,  Brady’s career hasn’t quite met expectations.  In Cleveland, he was involved in an awkward, never-ending quarterback battle with Derek Anderson.  He was traded to the Denver Broncos in 2010, where he remained a backup behind Kyle Orton, then Tim Tebow in 2011.  He was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs this past March.


Of course, the vast majority of players coming out of college are not top ten prospects, and wait out the draft in the comforts of home.  For these NFL hopefuls, the draft is all about waiting for the phone to ring.  One way to pass the time, I’m sure, is to speculate on when they’ll be picked (if at all), and even if they’ll earn the title of “Mr. Irrelevant.”

The moniker of “Mr. Irrelevant” has been awarded to the last pick of every NFL Draft since 1976.  In that year, Paul Salata, a former NFL receiver, founded “Irrelevant Week” in Newport Beach, California.  The summer after his draft, Mr. Irrelevant and his family go to Newport Beach for a week, where they are feted with a golf tournament, regatta and a roast, among other events.  The player is also awarded the “Lowsman Trophy”; intended as a spoof of the Heisman Trophy, it depicts a player fumbling the ball.

One of the more successful Mr. Irrelevants has been Ryan Succop, who is the starting kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs.  In 2009, his rookie year, Succop tied the NFL record for the highest field goal percentage for a rookie, with 86.2%, and set the record for the most field goals made by a rookie in team history.  He was also the highest scoring rookie in the NFL, with 104 points.

"Call me 'Irrelevant,' huh?  Boo-yah!"

So, should we feel sorry for Mr. Irrelevant?  Why?  He gets a week’s vacation, events in his honor, and a sweet trophy.  Besides, you know what’s worse than being drafted last?  Not being drafted at all.

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