Sunday, April 13, 2003

Blockbuster or blunder?
Drafting QB a risky call



By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Just about all signs point to the Bengals using the first overall draft pick on quarterback Carson Palmer on April 26.

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Carson Palmer
(AP photo)
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Quarterback, the most important position on the field, also is the riskiest investment for an NFL team in the draft. An Enquirer analysis of the past 10 drafts shows that 14 quarterbacks have been chosen in the top 10 picks. Palmer would be the 15th.

The Bengals also are considering using the pick on another quarterback, Byron Leftwich, or on cornerback Terence Newman or wide receiver Charles Rogers. Receivers and defensive backs are not as risky to take high in the draft: Most taken in the top 10 the past 10 years have had been productive NFL players.

Not so for quarterbacks.

If a team chooses wisely at quarterback, the return can be dramatic. Of the 14 among the draft's top 10 picks the last 10 years, seven have been voted to play in Pro Bowls: Michael Vick, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning, Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins and Drew Bledsoe. Four of them - McNair, Dilfer, Collins and Bledsoe - have led their teams to the Super Bowl, and only Manning has not won a playoff game.

Choosing unwisely can set a franchise back because of the salaries commanded by high draft picks.

Four quarterbacks have not lived up to their draft status: Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Rick Mirer and Akili Smith. Smith, the No. 3 overall pick by the Bengals in 1999, has just five touchdown passes in four seasons, but has played on bad teams with sub-standard coaching. His primary job security is the $10.8 million signing bonus paid by the Bengals in August 1999.

The career of Cleveland's Tim Couch is one of ups and down. Couch, the first overall draft pick of the expansion Browns, is an average quarterback but is in danger of losing his job to Kelly Holcomb.

It's too early to analyze second-year quarterbacks David Carr and Joey Harrington. Houston's Carr, like Couch, was the first overall pick of a first-year expansion team.

Non-QBs offer immediate impact

Fourteen wide receivers also have been drafted in the top 10 in the past 10 years, and 10 defensive backs (including one safety) have been selected that high.

Receivers and defensive backs can contribute much more quickly than quarterbacks. For example, Rogers or Newman would have more impact on the 2003 Bengals than Palmer or Leftwich. Quarterback is the most complicated and mentally challenging position in the game.

Of the 14 receivers picked in the top 10 in the past 10 years, four have been Pro Bowl players - Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Tory Holt and David Boston.

The productivity of a receiver has much to do with the offensive system he is drafted into. Holt, for example, went to a St. Louis Rams team - "The Greatest Show on Turf" - that emphasized the pass and had several big-play offensive stars.

The Bengals drafted Peter Warrick with the fourth overall pick in 2000. Warrick had a productive rookie season before slumping, then showed only flashes of his big-play ability in 2002. Although Warrick scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and on a kick return as a rookie, he was one of two rookie starting wide receivers playing with an inexperienced and overmatched second-year quarterback, Smith.

Nine of the 10 defensive backs picked in the top 10 since 1993 have been cornerbacks. The lone safety is second-year Cowboy Roy Williams, who was a perfect fit in the Dallas defense and had an outstanding rookie year.

A cornerback has not been taken No. 1 since 1956, but the corners drafted early in the past 10 years have played well. Shawn Springs, Charles Woodson and Champ Bailey have been to Pro Bowls.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, when he was defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, had a hand in drafting cornerbacks in the top 10 two years in a row. The Ravens took Duane Starks at No. 10 in 1998 and Chris McAlister at No. 10 in 1999. They were starters and two of the final pieces on Lewis' 2000 masterpiece defense that helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl.

Although quarterback and cornerback are considered the two most difficult positions in the league, they are not the most frequently drafted in the top 10.

Of the 100 top-10 picks since 1993, 25 have been defensive linemen.

The list is split 14 each of offensive linemen, quarterbacks and wide receivers. Twelve running backs and 10 defensive backs (one safety) have been taken in the top 10. Linebackers (nine) and tight ends (two) round out the 100.

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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