After a few rough years of QB drafts, many teams were either more comfortable with who they had on the roster, or simply not impressed by the crop of rookies coming through. As we’ve seen from this series so far, since 1990, it looked like there was very little overall success from the immense investment of a 1st round QB, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest the lack of QBs taken over the next few drafts was due to some fatigue with that process. Heath Shuler and Trent Dilfer barely had a chance and were already being called busts by angry fans expecting instant results.
Today we’ll take a look at 3 relatively underwhelming QB drafts as we lead up to a longer discussion of the real prize: the Manning-Leaf Sweepstakes. Don’t be skipping ahead, though. I’ll be watching to make sure you all read about Jim Druckenmiller. Don’t test me and my heat maps.
I’m kidding. I can’t afford heat maps. If you have a desire to check out the previous entries in the series spanning 1990 to 1994, press the Shiny Red Button below.
3rd overall – Steve McNair
Heavily recruited to play other positions by top programs, including an offer to play running back for the University of Florida, McNair shrugged them all off in search of a school that would put him under center. After being drafted in the 35th round of the MLB draft by the Mariners, McNair declined the baseball offer and headed to Mississippi to be the immediate starting QB for Alcorn State.
**Tangent: Alcorn State was older brother Fred’s alma mater. Fred was the first to be called “Air” McNair as the team’s quarterback, but let Steve carry the nickname as his fame grew. Fred is now the head coach at Alcorn State.
With a guarantee that he would take snaps, Steve took the harder path to stardom by playing for a relatively unknown team in Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision). While the path to stardom was harder, the competition in the SWAC (Southwestern Atlantic Conference) was not. McNair started from day one, earning the SWAC Freshman of the Year in 1991 and SWAC Player of the Year in all 4 seasons at Alcorn State.
In his senior year, McNair took his game to another level. His absurd stat line, even though it was for a I-AA school, put him into the Heisman conversation. He eventually took 3rd in voting behind RBs Ki-Jana Carter and Rashaan Salaam.
There was understandable concern from teams going into the ’95 draft that McNair hadn’t faced steep enough competition to face NFL defenses.
With Ki-Jana Carter (the very definition of Oh What Could’ve Been) and future Hall-of-Famer Tony Boselli out of the way with the first 2 picks, the late Steve “Air” McNair out of Alcorn State went 3rd to the then-Houston Oilers. McNair would go on to largely sit the bench until the very end of the team’s run in Houston. In 1997, after the team had moved to Nashville, McNair took the reins to lead the Tennessee Oilers, who would eventually complete their rebrand in 1999 as the Tennessee Titans.
McNair went on to have a fantastic career that included 3 Pro Bowls, an MVP, and a Super Bowl run in 1999 that came a yard-and-a-half short of going to overtime. After 11 seasons and 5 playoff runs, the Titans moved on from McNair and traded him to the Baltimore Ravens for a 4th round pick.
He played one full season with Baltimore in 2006, leading them to a 13-3 record that turned into a quick playoff exit. Due to several injuries, he started just 6 games in 2007, and officially retired in April of 2008.
He finished his career with over 31,000 yards and 174 TDs passing, as well as 3,590 yards and 37 TDs rushing.
On July 4th, 2009, McNair was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds. He was declared the victim of a murder-suicide. If you’d like to know more, Google will gladly send you down that rabbit hole.
On a scale of 1 to I’m a QB and only a QB, I give him a 10. As the first to take that mindset to such an extreme and have success, he opened the door to a completely new brand of football.
5th overall – Kerry Collins
Kerry Collins played forever, and for everyone. His TD/INT ratio was higher than 1:1, but his W/L record was not. Then again, I mostly despise using wins and losses to rate quarterbacks or any other athlete in a team game. Yeah yeah most important position, big impact on game, blah blah. Dilfer has a ring and Marino doesn’t = team game.
Collins finished his college career during the dark years of NCAA I-A still trying to figure out how to crown a national champion. Despite his Penn State Nittany Lions going undefeated and winning the Rose Bowl, they were forced to cede the title to undefeated Nebraska because the Big Ten was not, at the time, included in what was called the Bowl Coalition (earlier version of the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS).
After finishing an undefeated season and 4th place finish in the Heisman, Collins was drafted 5th overall by the expansion Carolina Panthers, led by head coach Dom Capers and his very real at the time hair.
A relatively torrid start earned Collins a Pro Bowl nod and NFC Championship appearance in his (and the team’s) second season, but his star quickly faded during a rough 1997 campaign. I don’t know how many touchdowns or how few interceptions it takes to make it okay for a drunk white QB to call a black WR the N-word, but presumably 11:21 is not the acceptable ratio.
Just a few weeks into 1998, after continued mediocrity and a drunk driving charge, Collins was demoted to 3rd string and ultimately released. He was quickly picked up by Mike Ditka’s Saints, but just as quickly discarded after the season.
He put together several resurgent, though very spaced out years, including a 12-4 run with the Giants in 2000 that ended with a Super Bowl loss and a 2nd place finish in Comeback Player of the Year voting. Several more mediocre to bad seasons and teams later, he popped back up with another Pro Bowl year to lead the Titans to a 13-3 record.
In July of 2011, Kerry Collins retired. And then a couple months later, he unretired to join the Colts. But leading 3 losses as part of the 2-14 Manning-less Colts of 2011 didn’t exactly make that comeback look like a great decision.
Collins would finish his career having played a total of 17 seasons for 6 different teams. Despite rarely completing more than 60% of his passes and never throwing more than 22 TDs in a season, he kept showing up to new teams and delivering one-off seasons that somehow earned him another 5. On a scale of 1 to will he show up this year, I give him a… wait, is it a contract year?
Other Notable QBs from 1995 Draft
Other Notable QBs from 1996 Draft
26th overall – Jim Druckenmiller
After a ’96 draft that included no 1st round QBs and just 4 QBs who would ever go on to take a single NFL snap (that’s a bonkers stat), the ’97 QB class wasn’t looking much better. Much to the frustration of teams at the top of the draft, Peyton Manning decided to return to Tennessee for his senior year. The gaping void at QB led to WR Keyshawn Johnson being the 1st overall pick, just the 3rd time in history a WR landed that spot, and the last time it’s happened since.
Druckenmiller fully expected to go 15th overall to the Dolphins, even receiving a call from Jimmy Johnson while Miami was on the clock asking him if he was ready to come to South Florida. Instead, they turned around and drafted WR Yatil Green, and Druckenmiller started to fall.
When San Francisco was on the clock with the 26th pick and Druckenmiller still on the board, the Niners draft room was faced with a difficult decision.
Concern 1: Steve Young had growing health issues and his longevity was debatable.
Concern 2: They never worked out Druckenmiller. Oops.
Bill Walsh insisted Druckenmiller didn’t fit the West Coast offense. But Walsh was only consulting at the time, so his push for the more mobile Jake Plummer was met with resistance from the real decision-makers, who ultimately went ahead with Druckenmiller.
Coming out of Virginia Tech with decent but not world-beating stats, Druckenmiller came into the league as a 3rd string project. He was a 6’5, 240 pound beast who stood tall in the pocket. Problem was, as Walsh had tried to tell them, the pocket is not where a QB in a West Coast offense lives. Druckenmiller had little to no scrambling ability, so extending plays like Young and Favre was too far outside his wheelhouse.
After two seasons and just a single woeful start, that somehow managed to be a win (team game!), Druckenmiller was finally chosen by Jimmy Johnson and the Miami Dolphins… in a trade for a conditional 7th round pick. Safe to say the condition was never met as he didn’t make the team and never took a snap in Miami. Or any other NFL team. On a scale of 1 to Yatil Green, I give him a 5. Equally bad 1st round whiffs.
Other Notable QBs from 1997 Draft
- Jake Plummer (Round 2, Pick 42)