April 16, 2000
Throwing Darts… by Ric Sweeney
It doesn’t take much for me to lament the fact that we still have two full years to go until we get to draft a player, let alone suit him up and let ’em rip every Sunday.
But this most recent NFL off-season, which culminated this weekend with the annual Mel Kiper-yapfest, has whet my appetite and then some. Just imagine if the new franchise had started this year. Not only were several franchise players available through free agency and/or trade (Joey Galloway, Keyshawn Johnson, Deion Sanders), but there was a plethora of mid-level NFL quarterbacks out there too (Neil O’Donnell, Trent Dilfer, Jeff George). And then the draft… can you remember a time when the meat market offered not one, not two, not three, but four franchise cornerstones, all playing four different positions? And none were quarterbacks? A franchise using its first-ever pick on this group qualifies as a no-brainer, but which would have been the best choice to build around for Houston?
Assuming you sign a quarterback (I actually would have signed O’Donnell and Dilfer, who’s still young enough to merit project status), do you draft the next Tony Boselli (Alabama’s Chris Samuels)? Or the next Jerry Rice (FSU’s Peter Warrick)? Or the next Reggie White (Penn State’s Courtney Brown)? Or the next Lawrence Taylor (LaVar Arrington, also from Penn State)?
See what I mean?
The Browns, of course, who drafted their franchise quarterback last year, took Brown number one overall. Not only he is strong, fast and in possession of a ridiculous 86-inch wingspan, but smart as a whip too. He finished high school with a perfect 4.0, so you’re getting a guy of high moral character, whose possesses a grab bag of talent, and then the smarts to put it all to use on the football field. And for those who question the impact a pass rushing defensive end can have on a team, consider that Houston’s former team, the Titans, were 24-24 in the three seasons prior to Jevon Kearse’s arrival, and 13-3 and AFC Champions the same year The Freak stepped on board. It was no coincidence.
Of course, if a defensive end can make that kind of difference… doesn’t it make sense to then find a player who can shut him down for the next decade? Samuels is that man. Physically, he’s breathtaking in a Mount Everest kind of way, which is appropriate because he’s just as large and intimidating. He’s fast, agile, and the most important player on offense — he protects your quarterback’s blindside, and instills in him enough confidence that his first worry is finding an open receiver, not who’s footsteps are fast approaching from behind.
But that leads to the next tangled web — what good is an offensive tackle if the quarterback is throwing to the least-talented Ismail brother? Enter Warrick, who became a victim of myopic, over-analysis by a group of scouts who have nothing better to do than find reasons to knock players down. When did we become a society that deems 4.6/40’s as being too slow? I’m reminded of Bum Phillip’s answer to a concern about Earl Campbell finishing dead last in a mile run during his first Oiler training camp: "When we face third and a mile, then I’ll worry." But really, I like Warrick’s answer even better, which was that in his workout, he didn’t have a defensive back chasing him. Amen, brother.
Anybody who’s watched a Florida State game the past two years (and with ESPN shoving them down our throats, how could you not have seen at least one?) knows that Warrick, far more often than not. was not only the fastest man on the field, but the most spectacular. And what’s great about Warrick is that he doesn’t need a quarterback to shift the tide of a game. He returned punts at Florida State (averaging 13 yards) and has the capacity to make field position a luxury.
But first, you have to be able to force the other team to punt, which brings us full-circle to Arrington, a rare linebacker capable of not only rushing the quarterback and stuffing the run (sometimes, simultaneously, he’s so good), but has the speed to cover a receiver downfield too. He’s a three-down player, meaning he doesn’t need to, nor should he ever have to come out in obvious passing situations. And when the name Lawrence Taylor is being thrown around (the on-the-football-field LT, not the drug-stupored current version), you know we’re talking about a once-in-a-decade, blue moon kind of player.
Wow! Would this have been fun, debating the merits of each player and their worth as the franchise’s first-ever pick?! Myself? Well, considering the depth at both the receiver and offensive line positions in this draft, I would have narrowed my choices to the two Nitnany Lions, with Brown getting the slight edge. Outside linebackers with Arrington’s obvious skills usually can’t be found on too many tree limbs in the backyard, but pass rushing ends of Brown’s ilk are even rarer.
But the better bet would have been to throw a dart — the situation was no-lose, except on the fun factor. Here’s hoping we have a similar "dilemma" in 2002.
Ric Sweeney officially swore to never cheer for the Oilers again a record 8 times in his career as a fan. Bud Adams finally called his bluff in 1996. And Ric hasn’t cheered a day since. Courtney Brown Home