History Class: 1999 NFL Draft
By George Somerville
George continues his trip down memory lane with a re-visit of the 1999 NFL Draft, famous for a raft of unspectacular quarterbacks, a legendary corner, and the biggest trade in NFL Draft history:
PAY ATTENTION CLASS!
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Maybe it was the craziness of it being the wind down to the end of the century. Perhaps, as Prince so eloquently wrote “Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last”. But in 1999 NFL teams threw caution to the wind resulting, in a draft unlike anything we had seen before or since. Perhaps until this year…
We do like a good draft record in history class, and it is highly likely that the 2021 NFL Draft will beat some records which have stood for some time. 32 years to be precise. But let’s see what records, created in 1999, are in danger of falling on April 29th.
It will come as no surprise that the first record involves the quarterback class. While the 1983 draft class will not only arguably go down as the greatest ever, but also factually as the draft where the most quarterbacks would be taken in the first round (I wrote about this previously, “The Draft That Changed It All”) – the 1999 QB class would go down as the draft where five QB’s would fall off the board quicker than ever before.
So just how quickly did these QB’s fly off the shelf? Well with three QB’s taken in the first three picks of the first round, the draft got off to a faster start than a Bo Jackson 40 yard dash (you do know Bo Jackson ran a faster 40 time than John Ross, right..?). But in all seriousness, the possibility of three QB’s being taken in the first three picks – and perhaps more – is a real possibility in 2021.
But let’s start at the beginning with pick number 1….
#1: Tim Couch
First selected was Tim Couch from the University of Kentucky. Couch had a very successful career with the Wildcats where he thrived in Hal Mumme’s air raid offense. To this day Couch holds the NCAA record for completion percentage in one game (83%). One other notable and impressive stat for Couch is that during a 1998 game against the Florida Gators, Couch threw a 97 yard touchdown pass to Craig Yeast. Not his greatest achievement but still quite a feat.
So Couch went into the draft as an outstanding prospect. In 1999 The Cleveland Browns had been reactivated into the NFL following the series of events which eventually established the Baltimore Ravens. While the assets of the team had been held in trust during the period of inactivity, they were treated as an expansion team for the 1999 season and received the number one pick on re-entry to the league, Ultimately this meant Tim Couch would become the first pick of the new Cleveland sports franchise. While Couch wouldn’t be considered a huge success with the Browns, this could be put down to a number of injuries – a problem which persisted throughout his career. Notwithstanding this, Couch led his Browns team to the playoffs – something no other Browns QB would do until 2020.
#2: Donovan McNabb
With the second pick of the draft, the Philadelphia Eagles took the opportunity to also draft a QB and selected Donovan McNabb out of Syracuse. McNabb would lead the Eagles for 11 seasons before going on to play in Washington and Minnesota. McNabb had a stellar career with the Eagles and was the fourth QB in NFL history – the others being, Fran Tarkenton, John Elway and Steve Young – to have accumulated 30,000 yards, 200 TD passes, 3,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing TD’s by the end of his NFL career.
McNabb – who had graduated from the University of Syracuse – somewhat coincidentally threw a 96 yard touchdown during his college career, one yard from matching Tim Couch’s huge throw. McNabb would be named the Big East Offensive Player of the Decade and a Heisman Trophy runner up in 1998. You may not know this but McNabb was a walk on for the Syracuse Orange Basketball team, who were ranked #2 nationally. McNabb would play basketball for two years with the Orange.
#3: Akili Smith
With the third pick, the Cincinnati Bengals would select the third straight QB, choosing Akili Smith from the University of Oregon. Smith had low grades during high school and similarly suffered academically in College, having to play at the JuCo level before moving to Oregon. Smith scored low on the Wunderlich test, resulting in his Agent Leigh Steinberg bringing a tutor onboard to help.
Smith’s pick was somewhat overshadowed by the Bengals refusal to accept a mammoth trade offered by the New Orleans Saints – but more on that later. Akili Smith would struggle with the Bengals playbook and would move on to the Packers four years later to become back up to Brett Favre. Smith failed to make the grade in the NFL before playing his football in NFL Europe and also in the CFL.
#11: Daunte Culpepper
We will come back to pick #5 but let’s jump to the fourth QB selected. With the eleventh overall pick the Minnesota Vikings would choose Daunte Culpepper out of the University of Central Florida. Culpepper would play 11 seasons in the NFL, seven of which were with the Vikes. In 2004 – his best season in Minneapolis – Culpepper would set a single season record for the most total yardage produced by a NFL quarterback (5,123). Sadly, Culpepper would suffer a serious injury in 2005, ending his time in Minneapolis.
Culpepper, while talented, was not initially highly recruited, with big schools frightened off by his low SAT scores in high school. Central Florida offered to tutor Daunte through High School and when he graduated from High School he remained loyal to UCF despite the big schools reigniting their interest in the young Floridian. Culpepper would repay this faith and set a number of school records during his time with the Knights. Daunte Culpepper would finish his college career with 12,459 passing yards and 108 career TDs.
In 2004 Culpepper led his Vikings to the play-offs, beating Dan Marino’s NFL combined passing and rushing yards record. Following his season ending injury in 2005, Culpepper would sign for Nick Saban’s Dolphins but his time in Miami would continue to be dogged by physical aiilment. Culpepper would go on to play in the NFL with the Raiders and Lions.
#12: Cade McNown
Setting a new record with 5 QB’s being selected by the 12th pick, the Bears from Chicago selected Cade McNown from UCLA. At UCLA Cade McNown played in an explosive offense which came alive in his Junior year, averaging nearly 40 points per game. McNown would end his Bruins career as an All American and winning the Johnny Unitas award as the top senior QB in the college game. Perhaps McNown’s greatest accolade is that to this day he remains the only Bruins QB to have a 4-0 cross-town record against USC.
McNown had a very chequered four year career in the NFL playing for the Bears, the Dolphins and 49ers. Safe to say he did not live up to his College Career hype.
Defense Wins Championships
In 1999, Champ Bailey would be selected with pick #7 by the Washington Redskins. We know that Champ Bailey went on to have a fantastic 15 season NFL career, mostly with the Broncos where he would win a Superbowl. Bailey was selected for an incredible twelve Pro Bowls – the most ever for a cornerback – and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
However even before he had intercepted a ball for Washington, Bailey would set a new NFL Record. For at #7, this would be the lowest position that a defensive player would fall in the first round of the draft. This record stands until today. And if the Mock Draft Geeks are to be believed we could see another Cornerback being drafted at #9 or #10 this year. And with the chance of another NFL Draft record, the chance of another great Broncos corner back being selected with pick #9? What say y’all?
And what about Pick #5? Well, this really is the draft which introduced us to the most infamous trade in history. But let’s go back to that Cincinnati Bengals’ pick at three. The New Orleans Saints with Mike Ditka at the helm were desperate to trade up to secure the services of University of Texas wunderkind, Ricky Williams. Williams, a running back from San Diego, had won the Heisman Trophy while at the Longhorns and had set a new NCAA record for running yards in college football. So Williams was hot property coming out of college.
Mike Ditka was very keen on Williams. Very keen. So much so that Ditka had already made his intentions known that he would trade all his draft picks to secure the Texas running back. So Mike Ditka, terrible poker player or mind game genius?
Well, in exchange for the Bengals giving up the 3rd overall pick, the Saints offered up nine draft picks. Yes, NINE. Surprisingly the Bengals declined the trade and settled on selecting their QB of the future. Assuming you read the first half of this article I suggest the Bengals are equally heinous in their neglect of the franchise, selecting Akili Smith. But hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Nevertheless, the answer to my question about Mike Ditka is in fact that he is terrible poker player. Terrible.
However, Washington weren’t going to refuse such an incredibly generous offer. In return for their first round pick at #5, Washington received picks from the Saints from 1999 at 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 2000 1st and 3rd round picks. With eight picks in total. EIGHT.
In the end the Saints got their star running back. The ESPN Magazine front cover remains legendary to this day. Except things didn’t work out for Williams in NOLA. Williams was plagued by mental illness throughout his football career and is to this day. Ricky Williams never lived up to his star performances in burnt orange. Which I think is a tragedy.
An entertaining footnote to this is what Washington did with that first round pick received from the Saints. They traded #12 along with the 3rd round pick from the Saints and with their existing 4th and 5th round picks traded back up to the 7th overall pick. And with that pick Washington selected Champ Bailey creating NFL history. Clever stuff, huh?
Will we see such an exciting NFL Draft on April 29th? I fully expect it. I demand it. Drama is everywhere you look in the draft.
College football writer
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.