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Year of QB? Expect mixed results, draft history shows

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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In the wake of the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft, with five quarterbacks selected among the top dozen overall picks, then-San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard offered a prediction: Only one of the passers would have a standout career. Two would enjoy productive tenures in the league. And two more would essentially wash out.

Twelve years later, form pretty much holds true in the Beathard prognostication.

Donovan McNabb was picked just after No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch (Cleveland) and one pick before Akili Smith. (Getty Images)  
Donovan McNabb was picked just after No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch (Cleveland) and one pick before Akili Smith. (Getty Images)  
His recent woes in Washington and his uncertain future aside, Donovan McNabb has lasted 12 years in the league, has started 155 games and, while he has failed to win a Super Bowl, has been to five NFC championship contests and six Pro Bowl games. Daunte Culpepper produced one of the best seasons in NFL recent history in 2004, and likely would have been the league's MVP that year had Peyton Manning not put up a record performance, then tragically blew out his knee in 2005 and was never the same player. Although often criticized, Tim Couch, the top overall choice in that '99 draft, was a decent player with a bad team, and started 59 games before a bum shoulder ended his career.

Akili Smith and Cade McNown, two dubious first-round selections, started only 32 games between them before flaming out.

In the years since 1999, there has never been another draft that produced five first-round passers. But there have been three with four first-round quarterbacks, the latest this year, and this might be the most interesting. Four quarterbacks went off the board in the first 12 choices two weeks ago, probably a much more meaningful commentary on the desperation for passers around the league than on the collective quality of the quartet, and the Beathard odds probably haven't changed much.

"If you get two solid (starters) out of the bunch, it will be a good haul," said one longtime NFL personnel executive who is now retired. "I'm not sure any of the four had a legitimate high-round grade for the position, but the demand outdistanced the supply, by a lot, so there was kind of this feeding frenzy. But sometimes when you go fishing ... no matter how long you sit there with your pole in the water, you come up empty."

The former executive declined to offer a guess as to which of the four 2011 first-round quarterbacks -- Cam Newton (Carolina, No. 1 overall), Jake Locker (Tennessee, No. 8), Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville, No. 10) and Christian Ponder (Minnesota, No. 12) -- will succeed and which will go bust. But he cited the Beathard assessment of the 1999 quarterback class, noted all the variables involved with the position and adamantly stood by his claim that the teams that invested first-round picks in the passers won't all have their needs fulfilled.

The numbers support the contention: From 2000-2010, there were 27 quarterbacks taken in the first round, and there are twice as many out of the league (six) as have won Super Bowl titles (three).

All of the quarterbacks from the 1999 class are still young enough to be playing in the NFL, surprisingly just 33-34 years of age, but McNabb is the only one remaining. And he figures to be with his third team in three years in 2011.

Said the onetime personnel executive: "So much goes into it. Being with the right team, in the right system, having a good support group on and off the field, you name it. And you've got to be good and be lucky, too."

Sure enough, Culpepper would likely still be in the NFL, not in the UFL, had he not sustained the catastrophic knee injury in 2005. His legion of critics will disagree for sure, but Couch might have carved out a serviceable career had his shoulder not gone so bad that he told this columnist he once struggled to pull the sheets over him in a chilly dorm room at training camp.

For the four quarterbacks chosen in the first round this year, these are heady times, and, even with the lockout, rightly so. But there are challenges and pitfalls ahead, and history has indicated that not all will survive them.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange.

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