'99 QBs not well-armed

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Weektwo

September 19, 2004|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

The celebrated quarterback class of the 1999 draft had more misses than hits in the first round, a development that cost an untold number of jobs - from personnel down to coaches - in the ensuing years.

Tim Couch couldn't deliver on his status as first pick of the Cleveland Browns' expansion effort. Akili Smith failed to resuscitate the terminally bad Cincinnati Bengals. Cade McNown bombed with the Chicago Bears.

They represented the first, third and 12th picks in the draft.

Five years later, only Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper remain from the first round. And tomorrow night, when McNabb's Philadelphia Eagles play Culpepper's Minnesota Vikings on national TV, the Monday night audience will be reminded how risky drafting quarterbacks really is.

Three misses in the first 12 picks at a position as important as quarterback is ghastly. But it's also understandable when you consider the environment the three failures went into, said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Couch took over an expansion team that had a weak offensive line, no running game and in two years time was changing its system. Smith was sentenced to play early with a franchise notorious for ruining young quarterbacks. McNown was asked to do too much too soon in Chicago.

None of the coaching staffs in place then remains today.

"You never know what the outcome is going to be," Newsome said of picking quarterbacks, "but I feel like they all had the potential to be solid starters in this league."

Newsome particularly liked Smith, despite his playing only one season at Oregon. "We thought he had everything," Newsome said. "You have to ask if Donovan and Daunte went to Cincinnati, then would they have succeeded? If they went to an expansion team, how would they have done?"

Neither was pushed to start early in his career. McNabb, the second pick, started the 10th game of his rookie season. Culpepper, the 11th pick, didn't start until his second season. Between them, they have gone to four NFC championship games and been selected to six Pro Bowls.

Why did they make it over the other three?

"They're probably the two best athletes," Newsome said.

Smith and McNown already have played their way out of the league. Couch, cut this summer by Green Bay, figures to get one last shot after his shoulder recovers from tendinitis.

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