The NFL Draft is arguably the most impactful selection process of any one involving the four major North American professional sports leagues. A general manager can secure the rights to a transformative player who can resuscitate a downtrodden franchise. Furthermore, once selected and signed, a star player generally remains with the organization that chose him. Football is the epitome of a team game. Nonetheless, while all positions on a 53-man roster are vital, effective quarterback play is beyond critical to success. ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay discussed the four most coveted collegiate signal-callers this year.
“I think we’ll see four (quarterbacks chosen in the first round of April’s draft): USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield,” said McShay.
“Darnold and Rosen are on a separate tier than the other two. Darnold has better intangibles and a higher ceiling, but Rosen can make every throw with ease. Allen is a physical freak who didn’t play as well this season as I had hoped, but he should dominate the postseason process. Mayfield has elite leadership abilities that make up for his physical shortcomings and has improved his draft stock tremendously.”
Of the four standouts named by McShay, Kiper believes that Rosen’s shown the abilities to start from the outset.
“Rosen, who has played under former NFL offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and has elite physical tools (is ready),” says Kiper.
Despite ample studying and vetting, Kiper and McShay both realize that their predictions are an inexact science. As Kiper and McShay can attest, while many collegiate stars flourish in the NFL, an equal number of draftees fail against advanced competition. These players are classified as “busts,” released, essentially forced into retirement and left pondering how to proceed with their lives. Accordingly, let’s review eight NFL busts from the 1990s who are prospering away from the gridiron and seven who are struggling.
15. DOING WELL: CADE MCNOWN
Former UCLA signal-caller Cade McNown coveted Hollywood glitter more than greatness on the gridiron. Chicago took the 6-foot-1, 210-pound McNown with the 12th pick in the 1999 draft. McNown, a southpaw who was a 1998 consensus All-American and that year’s Johnny Unitas Award winner, claimed he was virgin and straight edge coming out of Westwood. Apparently, McNown changed in the Windy City and he began frequenting Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion near Beverly Hills. McNown allegedly bedded Playmates Brande Roderick and Heather Kozar and basically trashed the Bears’ playbook.
Understandably, Chicago’s executives sent McNown to the Miami Dolphins in August 2001 for a sixth-round draft pick in 2002 and a conditional seventh-round pick in 2003. The phony Christian never played for the Dolphins and he was out of football by the age of 25. In June 2013, Lourd Capital Management hired McNown as its vice president.
“Cade has been a friend for many years and we are delighted to have him join our team,” said Lourd Capital Management CEO Blaine Lourd. “Cade’s tenacity, strong work ethic and drive have not only brought him great success on the football field, but have also made him a first-rate financial professional.”
14. DOING BADLY: TODD MARINOVICH
Marv Marinovich never allowed his son, Todd, to enjoy childhood. Rather than playing with kids and having fun, Marv forced Todd to undergo a strict diet and exercise routine to become Robo quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Marinovich dissected secondaries in high school and eventually accepted a football scholarship to USC. Marinovich was mainly a potent Trojan and, despite well-publicized incidents with substance abuse, he garnered ample interest from NFL executives. The Los Angeles Raiders selected Marinovich with the 24th pick in 1991. Sadly, Marinovich’s serious drug problem caused his NFL career to prematurely end in 1992 at the age of 23. The redheaded gunslinger finally got sober and became a married father of two. Marinovich’s sobriety was fleeting and police in Irvine, California, found him naked with methamphetamine in a stranger’s backyard on August 22, 2016.
“It is a tragic story. We found him hiding in a backyard. Someone else’s backyard. We responded to a caller stating there was a naked person on Venta Spur Trail,” Irvine police Commander Mike Hallinan said. “He was carrying the items in a brown bag.”
13. DOING WELL: KI-JANA CARTER
Ki-Jana Carter was a superior running back whose body deteriorated in the NFL. Following three mesmerizing seasons in Happy Valley, the Cincinnati Bengals chose the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Carter first overall in 1995. Regrettably, the 1995 Rose Bowl MVP suffered a slew of debilitating injuries and he left the game after getting cut by the Green Bay Packers in July 2002 at the age of 29. Carter founded ByoGlobe, a Davie, Florida-based business that creates and designs promotional products for companies, in 2008.
“In this industry, like in football, you need to know your playbook in and out and have great teammates to be successful,” said Carter, 44. “For me, it never seems like work. I love what I do.”
12. Doing Badly: RAE CARRUTH
The world would be a better place if Rae Carruth never existed. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Carruth, chosen by the Carolina Panthers out of Colorado 27th overall in 1997, impregnated a woman named Cherica Adams. Carruth, who as a rookie signed a four-year contract worth $3.7 million plus bonuses, decided he couldn’t afford to have a child. Consequently, Carruth hired a hitman, Van Brett Watkins Sr., and helped ensure that the triggerman had an ideal angle to shoot Adams four times.
Prior to dying, Adams called 911 and identified Carruth as one of the men involved in the ambush. While Adams fell into a coma, doctors successfully delivered her baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, via emergency Caesarean section. Although Carruth’s son survived, Chancellor suffered permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy. Following nearly two decades behind bars, Carruth is scheduled to be released from prison in 2018.
“That’s his father. It’s a part of him. Chancellor wouldn’t be who he is without Rae. I want them to bond, or at least to meet again,” said Chancellor’s grandmother, Saundra Adams.
“Rae is still in denial about his part in Cherica’s murder. Not that Chancellor would change that. But if anybody were to ever touch Rae’s heart, to make him want to be truthful, I think it would be Chancellor.”
11. DOING WELL: RYAN LEAF
Former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf prospered as a Cougar and secured first-team All-American honors as a junior in 1997. The San Diego Chargers chose the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Leaf with the second pick in April 1998. Leaf was a gloomy presence in America’s Finest City and he was released by the Chargers following three tumultuous seasons. The moody passer, who also played with the Tampa Bay Bucs, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, retired in July 2002 at the age of 26. Removed from the gridiron, Leaf’s substance abuse issues worsened and he served two years in prison in December 2012 for a string of drug-related burglaries. Somewhat miraculously, although narcotics were readily available on the inside, Leaf avoided trouble and he has been clean for four years. Leaf currently works as a program ambassador for a recovery community center.
“Thursdays are my favorite days,” said Leaf, 41, who once slit open a vein in his left wrist in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
“I get up at 6, I’m in the gym at 7, and I’m in the office from about 9 until 1 p.m. Then, I’m back to the gym for a program that works with former combat vets. I’m home around 5 p.m. with my fiancée and our little dog. You know, that’s a boring life. And boring is not a bad word anymore.”
10. DOING BADLY: DARYL GARDENER
The Miami Dolphins took defensive tackle Daryl Gardener out of Baylor with the 20th pick in 1996. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Gardener wilted in the Sunshine State and only recorded 11 sacks and 162 tackles in 82 games as a Dolphin. Gardener left South Beach in 2002 after signing a seven-year contract worth $34.8 million with the Denver Broncos. Gardener was a downer in the Mile High City who served two suspensions for conduct detrimental to the team. Following five games as a Bronco, Gardener retired in 2003 at the age of 30. Gardener was arrested and charged with domestic violence in June 2011 after he head-butted his girlfriend on the campus of the University of Central Florida.
“I’m stressin in the worst way over my heart,” Gardener wrote on Facebook after he posted bail.
9. DOING WELL: BLAIR THOMAS
Penn State University running back Blair Thomas was beloved in Happy Valley. The 5-foot-10, 198-pound Thomas, a second-team All-American in 1989, was chosen by the New York Jets with the second pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. Frustratingly for Gang Green’s executives, Thomas reeked in the swamps of Jersey and he wasn’t re-signed following the 1993 season. Thomas became a journeyman and briefly gained employment with the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers. The Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Famer carried the ball 533 times for 2,236 yards and seven scores in 64 games as a professional. Despite averaging an efficient 4.2 yards per carry, Thomas was out of the NFL by 1995 at the age of 28.
Thomas is pleased with how his career unfolded and he now owns a chain of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based sports bars called KoKoMos.
“As a kid, I dreamed about having the opportunity to play in the NFL,” said Thomas, 50. “It’s a one-in-a-million chance.”
8. DOING BADLY: LUKE PETITGOUT
The New York Giants drafted offensive tackle Luke Petitgout out of Notre Dame 19th overall in 1999. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Petitgout was plagued by various ailments as a Giant and he never neared earning a spot on a Pro Bowl roster. After getting axed by Big Blue in February 2007, the mammoth Irishman inked a deal to compete for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his fourth game as a Buc, Petitgout sustained a torn ACL. Petitgout was unable to find any other suitors and he hobbled away from the sport at the age of 31. Petitgout, who served a month in jail in December 2015 for harassing his wife and her date at a Midtown lounge, was arrested after cops found cocaine, anabolic steroids and marijuana in his car in March 2016.
7. DOING WELL: STEVE EMTMAN
Steve Emtman was an overpowering defensive end for the University of Washington Huskies who gained induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
“I’ve coached with and against a lot of great players, but I’ve never seen in all my years a more dominant lineman,” said former Huskies coach Keith Gilbertson. “I put him on the same level as offensive guys like Reggie Bush and Marcus Allen — so extraordinary that they are the best on their team, league and nation.”
After earning every noteworthy award for a defensive player, the Indianapolis Colts drafted the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Emtman with the first pick in April 1992. Regrettably, Emtman was beset by an array of serious injuries and constantly sidelined throughout his six-year career. The 1991 unanimous All-American retired following the 1997 season at the age of 27.
Nowadays, Emtman owns and operates a property management and development firm called Defender Developments LLC in Spokane, Washington.
6. DOING BADLY: JEFF GEORGE
The Indianapolis Colts selected quarterback Jeff George out of Illinois with the first pick in 1990. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound George was blessed with superb arm strength and he possessed all the necessary traits to dominate as an NFL passer. Unfortunately, George was also a basket case who feuded with virtually everyone he encountered. Hence, George never found a permanent home and he had stints with seven franchises. The combative signal-caller was practically blacklisted from the league following the 2004 campaign. In 2009 and 2010, a 42-year-old George begged the Minnesota Vikings to sign him and guaranteed he’d deliver the organization a championship.
“I guarantee I’d be wearing a ring right now,” said George, 50.
“There’s no question I can play, at a minimum price. I don’t care about my age. I can still do the same things I did when I was 25. I’m so used to throwing against five, six, seven DBs.”
5. DOING WELL: DAVID KLINGLER
Quarterback David Klingler was dynamic under center for the Houston Cougars’ football program. After rewriting Houston’s passing records, the Cincinnati Bengals took the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Klingler with the sixth pick in 1992.
“(Former Bengals coach Dave Shula) was the one that wanted Klingler,” Bengals owner and president Mike Brown said.
“We weren’t going to draft Klingler. We had no plans to draft Klingler until literally the day before the draft or the day of the draft even, I’ve forgotten which. Dave was very excited. He had gone to work him out. Oh, he’s not Marino but he’s the very next level. He’s really good.”
Klinger was a toothless Bengal with an irreparably-damaged shoulder and he was unemployed by the age of 28. Encouragingly, Klinger’s life after football has been one of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. Klinger, an analyst for the Cougars’ radio network from 2006 to 2008, is now an Associate Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary.
4. DOING BADLY: KEITH MCCANTS
Keith McCants was an eye-opening athletic talent and unstoppable linebacker for the Alabama Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound McCants departed Tuscaloosa after his junior year and was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the fourth pick in 1990. Shortly thereafter, new Buccaneers coordinator Floyd Peters converted McCants from his natural position to defensive end. Although McCants publicly embraced the change and smoothly transitioned into the role, he disagreed with Peters’ decision. The Bucs waived Peters in May 1993 and he subsequently struggled to remain healthy as a Houston Oiler and Arizona Cardinal before shelving his cleats at the conclusion of the 1995 campaign.
Since retiring, McCants has been arrested on 11 separate occasions for possessing drugs or drug paraphernalia. McCants, now destitute and constantly pained, regrets his decision to turn pro and become a millionaire.
“I wish I had never had any money,” said McCants, 49.
“I would’ve been great without money. It’s a sad story, but it’s a true story. Money destroyed everything around me and everything I care for, my family, my so-called friends. I just want enough to live on. I never want to be rich again.”
3. DOING WELL: HEATH SHULER
Heath Shuler is a better politician than he was a professional quarterback. The Washington Redskins drafted the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Shuler out of Tennessee with the third pick in 1994. Shuler, a standout Volunteer who was named the 1993 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, stumbled in the nation’s capital. In fact, Shuler’s play was so substandard that he was supplanted by a seventh-round draft pick in 1994 named Gus Frerotte. Following three forgettable seasons as a Redskin, Shuler was sent to the New Orleans Saints for a fifth-round pick in the 1997 draft and a third-round pick in 1998. Regrettably for the Saints, Shuler also found it difficult to perform effectively in the Big Easy. Shuler retired in May 1998 and, roughly eight years later, won the 11th Congressional District seat in North Carolina as a Democrat in 2006.
“Football was a challenge, but it prepared for me for politics,” said Shuler, 45.
“It also gave me the work ethic to be successful in a lot of other things in life, not just in politics, but in the business world. Every aspect of what I’ve done has been important to the next chapter.”
2. DOING BADLY: DAN WILKINSON
“Big Daddy” Dan Wilkinson had a relatively productive career and he is far from the personification of a bust. However, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Wilkinson certainly failed to meet his lofty expectations. The Cincinnati Bengals selected Wilkinson out of Ohio State with the first choice in 1994. Wilkinson outwore his time in Cincy and was traded to the Washington Redskins in February 1998.
”On occasions, he was an impact player and then there were times when he didn’t do so well,” Bengals owner and president Mike Brown said at the time of the trade.
“Big Daddy” also suited up for the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins before retiring in January 2007. Wilkinson, who never made one Pro Bowl squad, pled no contest in 1996 to charges that he struck his then-pregnant girlfriend in the stomach. Wilkinson hasn’t matured and he was sued for breach of contract in 2006. Presently, according to multiple reports, the seven AAMCO centers that Wilkinson owns across Ohio are all facing financial ruin.
1. DOING WELL: RICK MIRER
Rick Mirer was a golden Irishman from 1989 to 1992. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Mirer succeeded Tony Rice under center in 1990 and he guided the Irish to a 9-3 record and a spot in the Orange Bowl. Mirer continued developing in South Bend and he led the team to a 39-28 victory over Florida in the 1992 Sugar Bowl and then a 28-3 victory over Texas A&M in the 1993 Cotton Bowl Classic. Mirer, a dual-threat, amassed a total of 6,691 yards and 58 touchdowns in the air and on the ground before entering the 1993 draft. Labeled by Bill Walsh as “The Next Joe Montana,” Mirer was taken by the Seattle Seahawks with that year’s second choice. While initially soaring as a Seahawk and claiming 1993 AFC Rookie of the Year honors, Mirer descended into an ineffective journeyman and was out of the league by the age of 33 in 2004. Approximately four years later in December 2008, Mirer established a popular winery called Mirror Napa Valley in St. Helena, California.
“Because my last name shares the same spelling as the phonetic spelling for mirror (Mirer), I have often been referred to as Rick ‘Mirror,’” said Mirer, 47, a native of Goshen, Indiana. “The parallel was too good to pass up and the name stuck. The Mirror Wine Company was born.”
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