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HOLD OFF ON GRADES UNTIL PLAYERS PROVE THEIR WORTH

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 22, 1998

Report cards.

Many students dislike having to bring them home to show to their parents.

NFL general managers are not too fond of them, either, especially the day after the draft.

Unlike the grades you receive in school which is based on actual performance, draft report cards are often based on the opinion of the person doing the grading. How else can you explain judging a team’s draftbefore even one of the players play their first NFL game? Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf look like solid picks by Indianapolis and San Diego. But so did Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer by New England and Seattlein 1993 with only Bledsoe panning out. Two years earlier, Seattle pickedDan McGwire in the first round. Atlanta drafted a quarterback by the nameof Brett Favre in the second round, traded him to Green Bay the following year and the rest is history.

In the 1990s, Steve Emtman, Russell Maryland and Jeff George have been number one picks overall. Emtman might have been an all-pro player buthis career was sidetracked by injuries and he is now out of football.

Maryland and George have shown signs of being good players but are also both very inconsistent.

Gems can be found in the later rounds as much as in the first round. Hall ofFame quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr were both late-round selections. Joe Montana went in the third round, and Dan Marino was a latefirst-round selection. Neither one of the two star running backs of theSuper Bowl teams this year – Denver’s Terrell Davis and Green Bay’s Dorsey Levens – went early in the draft.

For years, San Francisco has drafted late in the first round and has received average grades on their post-draft report cards. Yet, the 49ershave been the most successful team over the last decade, often discovering diamonds in the rough.

Already, teams are being graded on this year’s draft, with Oakland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis generally receiving the highest marks and the49ers and Detroit receiving the lowest. These grades are generally basedon how the team filled its needs and how the player is expected to perform.

The latter is something that is almost impossible to predict. Just oneinjury or off-the-field incident can sidetrack a players’ career before he plays a down. Conversely, an injury can also open up a spot for aunderrated player to step in and shine.

Will Manning duplicate the feats of Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Troy Aikman, other quarterbacks who were drafted first overall and led their teams to Super Bowl championships? Or will he follow Mirer, George, Tommy Maddox, Heath Shuler and Andre Ware, other quarterbacks who were drafted high but did not live up to expectations? Closer to home, will the Saints’ first draft pick, Kyle Turley, combine with Willie Roaf and Chris Naeole to build a wall for the team to run behind? Can Cameron Cleeland remind fans of Hoby Brenner and John Tice and effectively replace Irv Smith? And will seventh-round selection Andy McCullough from Tennessee bring back memories of another late selection from an SEC school who went on to become the Saints’ all-time leading receiver, LSU’s Eric Martin? We will know more about those questions in five years. Only then can wegive an accurate grade on how teams did during this year’s draft.

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