July 15, 2002
by Keith Weiland
Quarterbacks were supposed to take a backseat in the 2002 NFL Draft. With the early departures of Michael Vick and Drew Henson, the top of the board was supposed to highlight the game’s other worthy positions. Three picks into the draft and that notion was thrown out the window, in a tight spiral no doubt.
So what will happen when the NFL gets a chance to evaluate the 2003 crop of quarterbacks? Expect a lot of drooling, because this generation could be better than the rest.
Two draft classes, 1983 and 1999, are generally considered to rank among the best of all time for quarterback prospects. In 1983, six QBs were taken in the first round, three of them with Hall of Fame-like careers. John Elway won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. Jim Kelly won four consecutive AFC titles with the Bills and Dan Marino rewrote the record books for a quarterback while playing for the Dolphins.
The 1999 draft class was to be equally deep. Five of the first twelve picks, including the first three, were quarterbacks. The Eagles’ Donovan McNabb, the second pick that year, is quickly moving to the head of this class as the leader in Philadelphia. Tim Couch of the Browns and Daunte Culpepper of the Vikings also have promising careers in front of them.
The group of quarterbacks that could be available to teams in 2003 will make the ’99 class look pedestrian, and it will challenge the overall impact of the ’83 class. There are at least three seniors – Marshall’s Byron Leftwich, Texas’ Chris Simms, and Louisville’s Dave Ragone – that could be selected in the top ten. Three more juniors – Florida’s Rex Grossman, Mississippi’s Eli Manning, and Tennessee’s Casey Clausen – would also likely go in the first round if they chose to declare. That’s six first round QBs right there.
And if any of those underclassmen fail to declare? Well, then don’t forget some other highly regarded senior QBs that could make a David Carr-type move once the 2002 season is underway. Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, Miami’s Ken Dorsey, USC’s Carson Palmer, and UNLV’s Jason Thomas – as well as a few others – are all on the radar screens of NFL scouts.
The 2003 class isn’t done yet. What if Henson were to pull a Chad Hutchinson, dump his baseball career, and return to football in 2003? It’s been rumored to be under consideration since Henson’s pro baseball career has been far from Ruthian to date. Unlike Hutchinson, if Henson makes his intentions known in time, he would be eligible for the draft. He was a certain first rounder and potential first pick of the Texans when he gave up his senior season to play for the Yankees.
With such a potential for first-round quality depth, 2003 might be the year seven quarterbacks go in the first round. It’s mind boggling to say the least. The key to having so many quarterbacks go so high in the draft will depend upon not just the talent each prospect possesses, but also the relative needs of each team. Just bear me out that the notion of NFL teams taking the best available player is a giant myth…
Aside from the few quarterbacking bright spots the draft has produced in recent years, the NFL is dire need of the type of QB star power that has since aged and retired from the game. Consider some of the game’s signal callers playing now. There’s Brett Favre in Green Bay, Kurt Warner in St. Louis and Peyton Manning in Indianapolis at the top. Then there’s another tier of maybe six to eight good starters that follows, and another handful of teams, including the Texans, that are grooming a QB of the future.
Conservatively then, about half of the league has an answer at quarterback, but the other half does not. And those will be the teams drooling in 2003. The time is ripe for the next generation of quarterback. The 2003 class is that generation.
As a new father, Keith Weiland knows about drool far more than he ever cared to know.