May 1, 2003 Draft Notices
by Bob Hulsey
Now that the draft is over, I’ve learned some things I didn’t know before. It would be nice to put them in one coherent stream of consciousness, but I can’t, so what you’ll be seeing is actually three columns in one. Never let it be said that I’m not a "value" pick.
First, my attention is turned to the Amazing Willis McGahee. He comes out of nowhere to be a top-five prospect for the NFL draft. He still has a year of eligibility but the wags are saying it would be foolish to go back for another year when he’s already the top running back in the country. NFL personnel folks make no secret of their desire to see Willis play on Sundays.
But something happened on the way to NFL stardom. In the final quarter of his college career before turning pro, McGahee took a shot to his knee and had to be helped off the field. The diagnosis was grim. Not one, not two, but three knee ligaments had torn. Surgeons operated on the knee and termed it a success but, keep in mind, a surgeon’s idea of success is that you can resume a normal life, not that you can have the knee pounded again by 240-lb linebackers.
Oldtimers of the Miami football program might have thought about Hurricane predecessors Alonzo Highsmith and Melvin Bratton. They, too, had promising pro careers cut short by knee surgeries. Younger Miami fans probably thought of Frank Gore, a heralded runner who was ahead of McGahee on the ‘Canes depth chart before his own knee gave out last spring.
It turned out that McGahee had an insurance policy, worth $2.5 million dollars to protect himself if he suffered a catastrophic injury before drawing an NFL paycheck. Pro Football Weekly quoted Jim Padilla, a specialist in such insurance, who said Willis’ foresight is not uncommon. He estimates that 80% of first-round choices carry disability insurance and 60% of players chosen in the first five rounds carries insurance.
I thought it unwise when I heard that McGahee was still planning to make himself available for the NFL draft this spring. I felt the same about Tennessee wideout Kelley Washington, who made himself eligible for the draft after undergoing surgery to fuse vertebrae in his spine. Any rational mind would have said it made more sense to sit out a year, go back to school, prove yourself again to the scouts, and then go back into the draft with a better prospect of a high draft selection.
Except players like McGahee and Washington don’t really have that choice. The insurance policies void once the player plays again. To suit up in college means forfeiting the payout of the insurance money. So there they were, making themselves eligible for the draft because that way, at least, they were guaranteed of making some money whether they were healthy enough to play or not.
A side note: Depending on age, position and potential draft status, Padilla says that disability insurance premiums range from $17,000 to $30,000 per year. Who pays for this? It can’t be the agent because it’s against NCAA rules for a player to have an agent until his college eligibility has expired. Certainly the schools don’t pay for it. The NCAA scowls if a coach so much as buys one of his players a hamburger or gives them a bus ticket to go home to Mama for Thanksgiving. Surely, they’d have a problem with a school advancing a player thousands of dollars. Many of these kids come from homes near or below the poverty line and don’t have $30,000 sitting around the house for this sort of discretionary spending. Can you picture a sophomore or junior walking into a bank and telling the loan officer, "Hi, I’m Willis McGahee and I need a $30,000 loan because one day I’m going to be a top pick in the NFL draft."? Somebody, somewhere, is not being honest if 80% of first-rounders have insurance before their college careers are over.
Committing himself to the draft, McGahee hires an agent, the mouthy Drew Rosenhaus, who does not shy from controversy. His new client is making remarkable strides in his recovery and Willis even grants some workouts on his tender knee. Interest rises and talk is that Willis might yet be drafted at the bottom of the first round.
Then, just days before the draft, Willis has a final workout and the results are almost as miraculous as if Christopher Reeve hopped out of his wheelchair and started a tap dance. From what I could tell, there wasn’t even a brace on his injured knee as Willis did squat-thrusts, lifting as much as 225 pounds. The only thing missing was Oral Roberts laying hands on him before the workout. Rosenhaus guarantees McGahee will make the Pro Bowl next February.
By now you know the rest of the story. The Buffalo Bills nabbed Willis with the 23rd pick of the first round and McGahee stands to make a nice chunk of change. I’m quite happy for him.
But did it have to be Buffalo? I can’t think of a worse place to resurrect his career. The icebox temperatures of November and December in upstate New York won’t be kind to that knee and neither will the artificial turf of Rich Stadium. Even Arizona, where running backs go off to die, would have been a more accomodating place. At least there, he won’t have the ghosts of O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas to haunt him.
Closer to home, the Houston Texans turned a draft with a lot of promise into a draft with a lot of question marks, beginning Saturday evening. Scouts always have their eyes peeled for mammoth men with lively feet. To that end, the Texans tabbed an offensive lineman from tiny Northwest Missouri State named Seth Wand midway in the third round. The 6’7" giant, who looks nothing like a wand, was discovered at the Senior Bowl where he impressed the Texans brass that had come to coach the North squad. As it turns out, it was the Texans that pulled strings to get him into the Senior Bowl.
Next to the spring scouting combine in Indianapolis, the Senior Bowl is the most common place for NFL scouts to evaluate talent. Yes, that week in Mobile allowed the Texans to determine that the kid had potential at the pro level. But, judging from the pre-draft scouting reports, Charley Casserly might have been able to wait as low as the fifth or sixth round to take him had they not brought him to the Senior Bowl. After the Senior Bowl, and the subsequent invite to the scouting combine, Casserly felt he had to take Wand in the third round, afraid that someone else might pick him before the next day. And that was probably correct since San Diego chose an offensive tackle from Arkansas-Pine Bluff just five picks later. Still, one wonders if it would have been easier to hide him in Missouri and call his name later on rather than showcase him at the Senior Bowl and then have to take him with a first-day selection?
Speaking of which, Houston’s last selection in the third round raises question marks for entirely different reasons. Since their very first snap, David Carr has been the image of the Houston Texans. He’s been on everything from tv commercials to magazine covers to soda pop cans, and everyone in Houston has been told that he is the franchise’s savior. But then, just a year later, the Texans chose two more quarterbacks who have been promoted, at times, as having first-round talent.
Can you say "Quarterback Controversy"?
Dave Ragone, three-time Offensive Player of the Year in Conference USA, was touted last summer as perhaps the second best quarterback on the board. And the tall Louisville lefty showed his grit this past season, beating Florida State in a tsunami on national television. But the Cardinal offense lacked a running attack, a healthy receiving corps or a good offensive line. By the end of the year, Ragone was more like Ragu, having been sacked more than any Division I quarterback. Welcome to Houston, Dave.
There is talk that Ragone will be tutored as a backup then preened for a high future draft pick. I hope that’s true. Dave has too much talent to be wasted as a backup and David needs to stay established as the marquee quarterback and leader of the Texan offense.
Dave and David cannot peacefully co-exist in Houston for more than a couple of years. And the situation gets even stickier if Dave and David have to share time with Drew (Henson).
Casserly says you can’t have too many good quarterbacks. In this era of salary caps and $62 million dollar contracts, you most certainly can. While Ragone and Henson are, admittedly, good "value" picks, their best value to Houston would be what we could get in return for having them play elsewhere.
Bob Hulsey says he refuses to be held responsible if Chance Pearce botches a snap for the Texans. Honestly, he predicted Pearce in his mock draft because he couldn’t pass up the joke. On the other hand, if the guy turns into a special teams All-Pro, he’ll be glad to take credit.
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