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First-round quarterbacks aren't sure things in the NFL draft

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2004

NEW YORK This year's draft has three ''can't miss'' quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.

Buyer beware?

Think of Ryan Leaf.

And remember that Todd Marinovich and Dan (Mark's brother) McGwire were drafted ahead of a guy named Brett Favre in 1991.

Leaf, of course, is not the only quarterback bust: Rick Mirer, Jim Druckenmiller, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Dave Brown, Marinovich and McGwire are all long gone or at the end of some bench.

Yes, drafting is a guessing game as much as an exact science, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. How else to explain that two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady went in the sixth round in 2000, while two other current starters, Marc Bulger and Tim Rattay, were chosen in the sixth and seventh rounds.

''There's so much focus on the top two or three quarterbacks that a lot of people forget there are more than that who can play very well,'' St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz says. ''There are 10 of them in this year's bunch that I would really like to have.''

Martz has some credibility on the subject.

In the summer of 2000, he remarked during a casual chat that New Orleans had ''a kid named Bulger I really like.'' A few weeks later, the Saints obtained Aaron Brooks and eventually released Bulger, who ended up with the Rams and now starts.

This year's top three QBs would seem to have a better shot at success than most first rounders.

Manning comes with a great pedigree brother Peyton was this year's co-MVP, and father Archie was an outstanding player stuck on a dismal team in New Orleans. But horse breeders can tell you that pedigrees are no guarantee against injury or simply failure.

The rap on Roethlisberger is that he needs work, while Rivers has a funky, semi-sidearm delivery that didn't keep him from completing 72 percent of his passes last season at North Carolina State. But the consensus is that all are future stars.

''I have fallen in love with these guys,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick says of the trio.

Still, keep these quarterbacks in mind:

In 1998, some teams thought Leaf would be better than Peyton Manning. They brushed off reports (most recounted after the fact) that Leaf didn't get along with coaches or teammates and had no leadership skills.

In 1999, Tim Couch was drafted first overall; Donovan McNabb second; Smith third; Daunte Culpepper 11th and McNown 12th. McNabb and Culpepper are stars, but Couch is still struggling, and the other two are busts. Brooks, drafted in the fourth round by Green Bay before being traded to the Saints, is the third-best from that class.

In 2000, Chad Pennington was the only quarterback taken in the first round and seems ready for stardom with the Jets. The next QBs chosen were Giovanni Carmazzi (San Francisco, third round); Chris Redman (Baltimore, third) and Tee Martin (Pittsburgh, fifth).

Then New Orleans took Bulger with the 168th overall pick, and New England got Brady at 199. The next round, the 49ers took Rattay, who almost immediately showed more promise than Carmazzi and probably will enter next season as San Francisco's starter.

''The thing about quarterbacks that nobody really knows is work habits,'' says Gil Brandt, the NFL's chief draft consultant.

''You get some that are going to study tape and keep studying. There are others who are going to get big money and think they have it made.''

Still, some bad picks are simply unexplainable. Some are the result of teams failing to uncover character flaws or worse in a player's background.

Ten years from now, Manning, Roethlisberger and Rivers might very well be stars.

And so might one of the guys projected lower in the draft.

Among the candidates: J.P. Losman of Tulane (could Martz take him with the 26th overall pick?), Matt Schaub of Virginia; Josh Harris of Bowling Green; Matt Mauck of LSU; Cody Pickett of Washington; Jeff Smoker of Michigan State; John Navarre of Michigan; Bradlee Van Pelt of Colorado State, and 280-pound (or more) Jared Lorenzen of Kentucky.

It wouldn't be all that shocking if one of those players owns a Super Bowl ring five years from now.

Just look at Brady.



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