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Tales of NFL Draft Picks Past: Why Predictions Mean Nothing

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Now that the latest chapter of the year-long NFL-ganza has passed this week with hours upon hours of “analysis” about teams’ 2015 schedules, we can turn to the next chapter – the draft that begins on April 30.

Last week, we used the 2007 NBA draft to show how silly the hyperventilating can be when it comes to projecting basketball players’ prospects.  It’s just as much of a crapshoot in the NFL draft, perhaps even more given the greater likelihood of injuries in football.

So yes, we can all be intrigued by this year’s question of which team chooses Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and which team selects Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. 

But here are a few cautionary tales from drafts gone by of local players to remember before anybody concludes that college numbers translate into pro success, or that draft position means much of anything for a player’s future. 


With the third pick in the first round of the 2002 draft, the Detroit Lions chose … an Oregon quarterback who competed seriously for the Heisman Trophy long before Mariota won it last year, and a quarterback who lifted the Ducks to unprecedented heights and a program-defining Fiesta Bowl win over Colorado. And with the 64th pick deep in the third round of the 1973 draft, the San Diego Chargers selected … a record-setting Ducks quarterback of his era but one whose Ducks’ teams never won more than six games.

The Lions’ first-round selection? Joey Harrington, whose unquestioned iconic status in Oregon football history never translated to the NFL where he played six seasons with four teams and ended with more interceptions (85) than touchdowns (79). The Chargers’ third-round choice? Dan Fouts, who made the NFL Hall of Fame after 15 seasons, all with the Chargers.


With the 61st selection of the 2012 draft, the San Francisco 49ers chose … an Oregon running back who rushed for more than 1,500 yards in three consecutive seasons, while averaging 6.6 yards per carry. With the 54th overall choice in the second round of the 2002 draft, the Seattle Seahawks picked …  an Oregon running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in two straight seasons, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry for the Ducks.

The 49ers’ second-round pick? LaMichael James, who barely played last season for Miami after asking for his release from San Francisco after just 41 carries in three seasons. The Seahawks’ selection in the second round? Maurice Morris. While Morris never became an NFL superstar, he far exceeded the league’s career actuarial standards by playing 10 seasons with the Seahawks and the Lions.

TALE #3 

With the third pick in the first round of the 1999 draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected … a Ducks quarterback whose single-season success was topped only recently by Mariota. With the 33rd overall selection down in the second round of the 1981 draft, the then-St. Louis Cardinals chose … a Portland State quarterback who amassed huge numbers but largely against inferior college competition.

The Bengals’ first-round selection? Akili Smith, whose record-setting Ducks days meant little in the NFL. In four abysmal seasons, he only completed 46.6 percent of his passes, with only five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The Cardinals’ second-round choice? Neil Lomax, who played at Lake Oswego High before going to PSU. Despite injuries and playing for middling teams, Lomax made two All-Pro teams in eight NFL seasons.


With the 109th selection in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, the Buffalo Bills picked … a first-team all-Pac-10 selection from Oregon State. With the 153rd pick in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, the New York Giants chose … a tight end from small-school Western Oregon. 

The Bills’ fourth-round pick? Tim Euhus. He caught just 14 passes in four seasons.The Giants’ fifth-round selection? Kevin Boss, who played at Philomath High School before heading to Western Oregon. Despite his small-school status, Boss racked up a respectable 150 catches in his NFL career and played a key role during the Giants’ Super Bowl run in 2007.

So what do these tales – and many others from Ryan Leaf to JaMarcus Russell – prove? That there’s not much point worrying where Mariota goes compared to Winston or vice versa. The true tale begins long after next Thursday.

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.


Related Slideshow: Reactions to Mariota Winning The Heisman

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John Canzano

"If you weren't moved by Marcus Mariota's speech, you have a heart of stone," Canzano wrote.

"He was the unusual blend of special athlete and solid human being that too often in our sports world just isn't the case."

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Dennis Dodd

"The rest was history made whole Saturday night. Mariota was named on a record 95 percent of the ballots. That leads to the question: Who didn't vote for him?" Dodd stated.

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Kirk Herbstreit

"You have to be impressed with this young man," Herbstreit said. "There's been no better player this year in college football."

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Lee Corso

"I love this kid's playmaking ability," Corso said.

Corso enthusiastially picked the Ducks to defeat Michigan State in September.

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Ryan Kostecka

Kostecka said Mariota showed he deserves the Heisman during the Michigan State game earlier this year.

"Mariota had, what many consider, his first 'Heisman moment,' when he alluded pressure and flipped the ball to a wide open Royce Freeman for the first down," Kostecka said.

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"Luckily for the shy Mariota, he didn’t need the extra attention," Zac Ellis wrote. "Oregon’s quarterback did enough on his own this season."

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Tim Rohan

Mariota was an inspiration in his home state. He further validated the Oregon football program," Tim Rohan wrote. "And he has become viewed as the N.C.A.A.’s ideal student-athlete, especially after character issues in part defined the previous two Heisman winners, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel."

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Michael Weinreb

I have no idea if Mariota will make it as a pro quarterback; of all the alchemical sciences, quarterback evaluation has become the most confounding to me," Weinreb wrote. "Given Mariota's prodigious accuracy (he's thrown six interceptions in the past two years), intelligence and ability to run and throw with an equal measure of grace, I have to imagine he has a good shot."


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Andy Hutchins

"Mariota became the most definitive top-three player in any season in the history of college football, if not the most agreed-on Heisman Trophy winner ever."

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Chris Johnson

"Marcus Mariota dominated footbal amid lofty expectations."

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Ryan Thorburn

"The Ducks’ gracious star is now a college football immortal."

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Brandon Sonnone

"The sample size is small and the results are mixed when determining whether the reigning or current Heisman winner has an edge in head-to-head matchups," Sonnnone wrote. "In the previous two instances, a national title has been on the line, so the Jan. 1 semifinal will fittingly determine whether FSU or Oregon makes it to the national championship contest against the winner of Alabama-Ohio State."

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Alexander Lee

"His play down the stretch of his junior campaign simply removed any suspense from the Heisman race, turning tonight's festivities into a mere formality," Lee Wrote.

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Brian Dohn

"My ballot, in order, was Marcus Mariota, Amari Cooper and Melvin Gordon. I though there were the top three players in the nation, and that was before I went and looked at their statistics," Dohn Wrote. "In choosing Mariota first, it was based on watching him play, and his ability to make the correct reads and throw the ball with tremendous accuracy while playing at a high level."

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Chip Brown

"Mariota's selflessness embodies the Heisman Trophy's credo as the 'outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.'"

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Dudley Dawson

"The other two young men that were finalists also were fine representatives for the award, but in the end I just felt like the case Mariota put forth was the best."

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Dan Legge

"The best player in the college football, which is what this award is about, is and has been Oregon’s Marcus Mariota," Legge Wrote. "I watched him as often as I could this fall."


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