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NFL DRAFT

No Super Bowl Pass

The Texans Will Take Fresno State's Carr With the First Pick, but History Shows Drafting Quarterbacks Is an Inexact Science

April 20, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Houston Texans will make Fresno State quarterback David Carr the No. 1 pick in today's NFL draft. But there's a very good chance Carr will never make the Texans No. 1.

Of the 57 quarterbacks selected in the first round of the regular and supplemental drafts since the 1970 merger with the old American Football League, only four have won a Super Bowl with the teams that drafted them. Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw did it. So did Chicago's Jim McMahon, Dallas' Troy Aikman and the New York Giants' Phil Simms.

Carr will be the 12th quarterback taken with the top pick since the merger and the fourth in five years, following Michael Vick by Atlanta in 2001, Tim Couch by Cleveland in 1999 and Peyton Manning by Indianapolis in 1998.

The top four quarterbacks last season, according to the league's passer ratings, were Kurt Warner of St. Louis, who was not drafted; Rich Gannon of Oakland, fourth round; Jeff Garcia of San Francisco, undrafted, and Brett Favre of Green Bay, second round. Not on that list is New England hero and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick in 2000.

"Sometimes, it's just a crapshoot," said former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, widely considered one of the best judges of quarterback talent in NFL history. Even for Walsh, scouting quarterbacks is part skill and part luck.

Baltimore Coach Brian Billick learned about that early in his career, when he was a low-level assistant with the 49ers. He worked the draft room at team headquarters in 1979, where he was entrusted with keeping the coffee flowing and the doughnuts within reach. That was the year Walsh drafted future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. The milestone moment was, well ... nothing special.

"There was no whooping and hollering, no 'Yeah! We got our guy!'" recalled Billick, who 21 years later won a Super Bowl as coach of the Ravens. "In fact, Bill jokingly said, because [Eddie DeBartolo, who then owned the 49ers] was a Notre Dame guy, 'We'd better take the Notre Dame guy because otherwise my butt is out of here.'

"No one did that with the precognition that we just got the great quarterback of the NFL. It just didn't go down that way."

The Texans know much more about Carr than the 49ers did about Montana. General Manager Charley Casserly likes Carr's size and strength, and isn't bothered by his semi-sidearm delivery, which is a bit unusual but apparently effective. Only nine of Carr's 533 passes were intercepted last season. Equally important, Carr appears to be mature and stable. He married his high school sweetheart three years ago, and their son will be 2 next month.

The other top quarterbacks in the draft are Joey Harrington of Oregon--who could be selected as high as third, by Detroit--Patrick Ramsey of Tulane, Kurt Kittner of Illinois, and Rohan Davey of Louisiana State.

Walsh, who now works as a consultant for the 49ers, likes the 6-foot-4 Harrington, although the 49ers have more pressing needs. The math doesn't work anyway. Harrington could be among the top 10 players picked and the 49ers draft 27th.

"[Harrington] has demonstrated just about everything," Walsh said. "He's a great competitor with real poise. He's quick on his feet, and he's proven himself to be a winner. He's a top-flight, can't-miss quarterback."

But, put simply, can't-miss quarterbacks often miss. Five were selected in the first round three years ago--Couch by Cleveland, Donovan McNabb by Philadelphia, Daunte Culpepper by Minnesota, Akili Smith by Cincinnati, and Cade McNown by Chicago--yet only McNabb, Culpepper and Couch proved themselves worthy of the investment. Smith and McNown were busts. Notably, McNabb and Culpepper, the most successful of the five, watched from the sideline most of their rookie seasons. The three others played right away.

The Texans recently signed veteran Kent Graham as their probable starting quarterback. But the pressure will be intense to get Carr on the field.

"I think he's going to be able to handle the bigness of this league maybe sooner than some guys have," 49er Coach Steve Mariucci said. "It will depend on whether he's going to get thrown to the wolves immediately, which is a possibility, or is he going to be allowed to develop gradually? A lot of it will depend on his supporting cast."

In order to keep him out of a plaster cast, the Texans will have a lot of beef in their offensive line, beginning with tackles Tony Boselli and Ryan Young. Almost as important, Mariucci said, is that Carr plays on a team with a good defense.

"If he's on a team that gives up a lot of points and he's having to play from behind, and in the pocket more than he should be, it's going to be difficult for any rookie quarterback to be in that boat," he said.

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