Draft only one part of NFL personnel puzzle
Posted May 5
Fortunes will be made later this week in New York when the NFL draft begins Thursday.
Super Bowl championships, however, will be won in large part based on the developments next week on the un-drafted free agent player market.
Invariably, some team will spend millions to bring in a version of Lawrence Phillips while another team will pluck a Willie Parker from the bargain basement leftovers next week.
It’s all part and parcel of the way NFL scouts can misjudge talent, the constant need for overachieving players and, of course, the unpredictable nature of injuries and the ability of players to make the mental adjustment.
The St. Louis Rams in 1996 used the sixth overall pick to select Phillips, a 225-pound speedster with power and hands out of Nebraska. But after signing for about $6 million, Phillips was a bust on the field and trouble off the field. The Rams shouldn’t have been surprised since Phillips regularly was in the doghouse as a college player.
Parker, a star for the Clinton High Dark Horses in the late 1990s, went to UNC and had some success but never emerged as a big star – in part because he and Tar Heel coach John Bunting didn’t mesh.
After failing to go in the 2004 draft, Parker signed with Pittsburgh and went on to be the most valuable player in a Super Bowl and had three seasons with rushing totals in excess of 1,200 yards.
Another former Tar Heel, center Jeff Saturday, wasn’t drafted in 1998, signed as a free agent and played 13 years. With the Indianapolis Colts, he was a four-time All-Pro pick.
No one wanted current Dallas quarterback Tony Romo in the 2003 draft or wide receiver Wes Welker (New England, Denver) the following season.
How much NFL history would have to be rewritten had Philadelphia not signed an undrafted linebacker in 1979 – a guy who sometimes played in the shadow of good friend and fellow linebacker Kyle Wescoe at N.C. State? That free-agent find was Bill Cowher, who later got into coaching and directed Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl title.
The annual pro football draft gradually has grown into one of the most popular television events of the entire sports year. Millions of viewers will watch the entire process from the first pick straight through until the last.
But when it ends, the personnel puzzle hardly will be complete. Dozens of starters and stars will be found next week.