Rick Cleveland

NFL Draft makes some teams look smart — but most quite dumb

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott signals touchdown after running back Ezekiel Elliott scores against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 6. The Mississippi State product was a fourth-round selection in last year’s NFL Draft.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott signals touchdown after running back Ezekiel Elliott scores against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 6. The Mississippi State product was a fourth-round selection in last year’s NFL Draft. TNS File

The 2017 NFL Draft begins Thursday, and there is really only one sure thing. That is, mistakes will be made.

It happens every year.

Pundits have praised the Dallas Cowboys for picking Dak Prescott in the fourth round last year with the 135th pick of the draft. Prescott went on to become the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, a Pro Bowl quarterback and a legit candidate for Most Valuable Player.

Boy, those Cowboys surely were smart, experts have said and written.

A better way to look at it: At least the Cowboys weren’t quite as dumb as the other 31 NFL teams.

One hundred and thirty four players were chosen before Prescott. Seven quarterbacks were taken ahead of Prescott. The Cowboys drafted four other players before they drafted Prescott. Heck, the Cowboys tried their best to trade up in order to pick quarterback Paxton Lynch in the first round. A big draft day story was how John Elway and the Denver Broncos out-maneuvered Jerry Jones and the Cowboys to secure the rights to draft Lynch out of Memphis.

Lynch may turn out to be the one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. We shall see.

But he accounted for two touchdowns as a rookie. Prescott accounted for 29.

It wasn’t as if Prescott should have been flying under the radar. He played college football in the Southeastern Conference. He accounted for 114 touchdowns over four seasons in the best college football league in America.

A casual reader may think that Prescott is the exception, that rare talent that NFL scouts and front office people miss on.

He is not.

Overlooked Mississippians

Just a quick glance at the most successful Mississippians in NFL history tells us that mistakes are the rule rather than the exception.

Brett Favre, who was a 2016 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was the 33rd player taken in the 1991 draft. He was the third quarterback taken.

The Seattle Seahawks took Dan McGwire out of San Diego State in the first round. The Los Angeles Raiders took Todd Marinovich out of Southern Cal in the first round. Nobody took Favre in the first round.

McGwire threw for two touchdowns in his career. Marinovich threw for eight.

Favre threw for 498 more touchdowns than the two of them combined.

What about Jerry?

Many people believe Crawford native Jerry Rice to be the best player at his position in NFL history. Surely, he would be in the first paragraph of any conversation on that subject. But he wasn’t even the first or second wide receiver taken in the 1985 draft. No, the New York Jets took Al Toon out of Wisconsin and the Cincinnati Bengals took Eddie Brown out of Miami before the 49ers had the opportunity to take Rice out of Mississippi Valley State with the 16th pick.

Both Toon and Brown were good NFL players. Toon caught 31 NFL touchdowns; Brown caught 41.

Rice caught an NFL record 197.

You would think that when Rice caught 27 touchdowns in one college football season — and caught 24 passes in one college game — that might have convinced NFL people. But, no, they had to overthink it.

When Rice was timed in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, his best time was 4.68 seconds. That apparently raised a red flag. Never mind that nobody ever caught him from behind in college. Archie Cooley, Rice’s college coach, when famously asked about that 4.68 40 time, replied, “Hell, nobody was chasing him.”

Not sure what this says: Rice was the first overall pick in the short-lived USFL’s 1985 draft.

The Orlando Renegades, coached by Lee Corso, took him but couldn’t sign him. The league folded after the 1985 season.

Thirty-two years later, NFL teams are still drafting, still making mistakes.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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