Cam Newton's not-so-bright comments this week got me thinking that when you're next in line for a quarterback you better be careful what you wish for. As one head coach at this week's scouting combine said, what Newton said would end any interest he might have in him -- if, that is, he had any interest to begin with.
"I wouldn't want that guy leading my team," he said.
I don't know about that. But I sure as heck would like to find out what provoked him to say something, so, well ... dumb. If nothing else, it would make me hesitant. And it should. Because there are all sorts of caution signs when it comes to drafting quarterbacks, with immaturity near the top of the list.
You think I'm kidding? Take a look at five mistakes that you don't want to repeat:
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JaMarcus Russell, Oakland
The first pick in the 2007 draft, he might be the worst draft choice ever. He lasted only three years, was 7-18 and was so inaccurate that the state of California named every overpass and underpass in the Bay Area after him. So what went wrong? The Raiders fell in love with Russell's arm, which they thought was ideal for their vertical passing game. But big arms don't mean big success, and Russell isn't the only example; so is Kyle Boller, another first-round bust who boasted an arm so strong he could throw a football 50 yards over goal posts from his knees. But Boller is not the subject here; Russell is, and I've covered the game a long time and haven't seen anyone as inaccurate as JaMarcus Russell.
People in and around the Raiders tell me he traded on his arm alone; that he didn't work at being a pro. I guess $32 million in guaranteed money can do that. Russell was immature, had a limited college resume and either wasn't willing to work at being a pro or was seduced by his newfound wealth. It doesn't matter. Bottom line: He stunk. When he was chosen, he told reporters that he "couldn't wait to get in the black and silver and get to work." He got in the black alright. He just never got into the work and was out of the game in three years, one of the shortest shelf lives for any No. 1 pick.
Ryan Leaf, San Diego
Leaf and Peyton Manning were at the top of the 1998 draft; the only question was who would go first. Luckily for Indianapolis, the Colts took Manning. That left San Diego -- which traded into the second position -- with Leaf, and the Chargers were enthralled to walk off with the Pac-10 Player of the Year. They loved his arm, his smarts and the impact he had on the Washington State program. But, as one scout later told me, "there were red flags everywhere." So the Chargers hired a psychologist whom then-GM Bobby Beathard trusted, and he ran Leaf through a battery of tests. What he later told the Chargers was that they should make Leaf work for everything, not start him immediately and always, always, always push him. Leaf was an immature young man with a hair-trigger temper, and the Chargers knew it. But they also knew they had a talent they had to handle carefully. Only they didn't.
Contrary to instructions, Leaf was handed the starting job almost immediately, and shortly afterward the roof caved in. He didn't get along with reporters. He was caught heckling fans. He didn't even get along with then-teammate Rodney Harrison, who described Leaf's rookie season as "a nightmare you can't even imagine." Leaf finished with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions and one of the worst lines ever on a stat sheet: He was 1 of 15 for 4 yards vs. Kansas City, with three fumbles. Again, personality was a factor, but the Chargers were complicit here: They didn't do what they were told and suffered for it. Three years after making Leaf the second pick of the draft, they cut their losses and waived him. And by 2002, he was out of football at the age of 26.
Akili Smith, Cincinnati
|Akili Smith was another member of the unfortunate scatter-shot bazooka arm club. (Getty Images)|
Anyway, he started only 17 times and threw a grand total of five touchdown passes -- or $2,666,666 per score. He later failed with Green Bay and Tampa Bay before going to NFL Europe and the CFL, and tell me this doesn't sound familiar: A quarterback with a bazooka arm and all sorts of athletic ability who fails because he doesn't have the head for the game. Cincinnati should have taken the offer when Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints proposed dealing Cincinnati nine draft picks for the third selection. Instead, they stuck with Smith and got stuck with a first-round bust that lasted only four seasons.
Tim Couch, Cleveland
I feel for Tim Couch. He was the first draft pick in 1999 -- and the first choice of the expansion Cleveland Browns -- because some people said he reminded them of Joe Montana. I'll be honest: I haven't seen anyone anywhere who reminds me of Joe Montana, but try being the guy to fulfill that promise. Couch suffered too many injuries behind a porous offensive line to live up to any hype. In the end, he wasn't even Tim Couch from the University of Kentucky. Couch might have made it somewhere else, but he didn't stand a chance in Cleveland. The Browns stunk, and he didn't have playmakers around him. "He wasn't emotionally prepared for what he had to go through," one former Browns executive said. "It had nothing to do with Xs and Os; he just should've stayed in school another year.
Was he a great leader? No. Was he worth the first pick in the draft? No. But he was good enough in the huddle that he could've been a good quarterback somewhere. We probably could have handled the situation better." Couch lasted five seasons before the Browns mercifully cut him and moved on. At this year's Super Bowl, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians -- who was Couch's offensive coordinator in Cleveland -- talked about how much he admired Couch's toughness, but, he said, he couldn't overcome the injuries he tried to play with. I'll go along with that. He had a broken leg, shoulder problems and a torn rotator cuff. Oh, yeah, he had a bad team, too. Still, he managed to lead the Browns to their only playoff spot since returning to the NFL, winning eight of 14 starts in 2002, only to fracture his right fibula in the season finale. I'm not sure this was the wrong guy, as much as it was the wrong situation.
David Carr, Houston
Another case of a quarterback who might have done something/anything had he gone to another team. But Carr was stuck behind an offensive line that had more holes than the Alamo, and he suffered for it -- getting sacked a whopping 249 times in 76 games with Houston, including 76 in his rookie season. Tell me that won't screw up your confidence. There were questions about Carr's release when he worked out at the combine, but it wasn't his delivery that failed him in the pros; it was his offensive line. And his receivers. And his running backs. He didn't have any. At least, he didn't have any of consequence. He didn't even have an honest-to-goodness quarterbacks coach. Carr was on his own, hired to take the expansion Houston Texans to great and wonderful places, only he was a cast of one. In his second pro start he got pulverized in a 24-3 loss to San Diego, sacked nine times and hammered on countless other occasions.
It was a script that would be followed far too often, with predictable results. Carr had the arm, the confidence and the willingness to learn when he arrived in Houston in 2002. What he didn't have was a supporting cast. And he never did. It not only finished him with the Texans; it finished him for good. Where he started 75 of 80 games in Houston, in the four years afterward he started four times -- and all with Carolina in 2007. In fact, when San Francisco changed from Alex Smith last season, coach Mike Singletary skipped over Carr, then the backup, to play third-stringer Troy Smith. Like Couch, Carr got a raw deal: Wrong guy at the wrong time and wrong place. It cost him a job and a once-promising career.