The National Football League used to be so exciting. It was a game, a sport in which if you were talented and worked hard enough, you could be a star. It did not matter who you were, how fast you were, how big you were or what college you attended.
Fast forward to the last decade or so of the NFL, where numerous people with little ability to judge talent are paid thousands of dollars to waste gasoline flying all over the country to determine which players are the best. And yet that is a misnomer, for what we get are not the best but rather the biggest and the fastest. There's a big difference. If we all wanted to know that we'd have Keith Jackson bringing back the "Superstars" Competition on ABC. Or simply award the Super Bowl trophy to the team with the highest average height and weight and fastest average time.
Oh yeah, they might want to play the game. Isn't it interesting that since the game of football became a business that the on-field product has actually gone down?
In this article, we look at four of the NFL's biggest blunders of the last ten years. These four highly talented players all played on the same college football team. They were the most prolific players on an offensive juggernaut that ranks second in college football history in average points per game over a ten-year period. This powerhouse became just the 17th school in NCAA history to win ten or more games in seven seasons of a decade. They are the only team in the nation to have three undefeated seasons in the last five years.
By now, it's obvious that we're talking about Boise State, and the four amazing players that somehow escaped the collective "wisdom" of the NFL are Brock Forsey, Bart Hendricks, Ryan Dinwiddie and Ian Johnson. The four combined for nearly 19,000 yards passing, over 8,200 yards rushing, nearly 2,000 yards receiving, over 31,500 yards of total offense, 160 touchdown passes, 165 touchdowns scored and 1,450 kickoff return yards.
When you hear these NFL scouts talk about some of the Bronco greats of the last 10 years (Forsey, Hendricks, Dinwiddie, and Johnson, for example) they say "He's too small, he's too slow, he's not from a "BCS Conference", yada, yada, yada.
You're about to see those arguments go from knowledgeable to hollow in less time than it takes to read the rest of this article.
Let's take them one at a time. Too slow. Brock Forsey ran a 4.6 40 at his combine in 2003. Tiki Barber (the #21 rusher in the history of the NFL with 10,449 yards) also ran a 4.6. Oops--try again. Uuuhh, Gee I don't know--too small? Brock was 5-11, 205, comparable to Barber (5-10, 200) as well as Curtis Martin (#4 all-time with 14,101 rushing yards). Sorry.
Did Forsey simply not have the ability? Are you kidding? Forsey led the nation in scoring with 32 touchdowns in 2002. Forsey went down into NCAA history books, becoming only the third player ever to record more than 30 touchdowns (six receiving and 26 rushing) in one season, joining Troy Edwards and Barry Sanders. He had 68 career touchdowns (third in college football history), 4,045 rushing yards and 6,670 all-purpose yards in his Boise State career.
Emmitt Smith, the top running back in NFL history (18,355 yards), by comparison, had just 36 career touchdowns and 3,928 rushing yards in college. Jerome Bettis (#5 in NFL rushing all-time) had 1,912 rushing yards in college, or less than half of what Forsey did. Martin had just 2,643. Barber had 3,389. In fact, of the NFL's top ten all-time rushers just four--Tony Dorsett (6,082 at Pittsburgh), Marshall Faulk (4,589 at San Diego State), Marcus Allen 4,554 at USC) and Eric Dickerson (4,450 at SMU) could top Forsey. Brock had more yards than Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Martin, Bettis and Jim Brown. Nice try, though, on that lack of ability for Forsey.
Not from a BCS school? Ye of little college football knowledge! Did you ever hear of Walter Payton (#2 all-time with 16,726 yards)? He didn't go to USC, Ohio State, Michigan OR Texas. Payton went to Jackson State. How about LaDanian Tomlinson, a product of TCU? Using the school that a player went to as a prerequisite for the NFL just shows how far the league has sunk.
So the NFL "know-it-all's" blew it with Forsey. He in fact wasn't too slow, wasn't too small and was from Boise State, a far better team than Jackson State by any measure. Legendary coach Mike Ditka said that "Forsey should be starting for the Chicago Bears!" But don't listen to him, he doesn't know anything. Ditka was merely a five-time Pro Bowl selection, a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, two-time NFL Coach of the Year, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and winner of three Super Bowl rings, one as a player and two as a coach.
The only real time Forsey was given a chance was when he started a game vs. the Cardinals due to injury. All Forsey did was rush for 134 yards and a touchdown and account for 161 yards of all-purpose offense in a 28-3 win. Besides probably ranking near the top all-time for rushing yards per start, Forsey really didn't do much and was dropped from the team soon after. By the way, Forsey's Chicago coach has not won any Coach of the Year awards, is not in the Hall of Fame and has not won any Super Bowls or anything approaching it.
Ditka was a player and coach in the NFL's glory days, when desire counted for something. Back then, a hard-nosed player like Forsey with more heart than anyone currently playing the game would have been a star. Now, 134 rushing yards in a game doesn't count for anything because he's too slow. How sad for the NFL.
Next, you have the story of Bart Hendricks, who led the nation in passing in 2000 with a 170.63 passing efficiency mark and in touchdown passes with 35. Hendricks was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award. Hendricks was 6-0, 205 when he came out of Boise State. That's comparable size to Dave Krieg (6-1, 193) who is #12 all-time with 38,147 passing yards. The great Sonny Jurgensen (#25 with 32,224 yards)? Sonny was 5-11, 202. Someone who was 6-1, 194 couldn't have been a good quarterback right? El Wrongo, for that individual happened to be legendary Johnny Unitas who at one time held nearly every passing record in the book and is still #11 with 40,239 yards.
The late great Jack Kemp had to be bigger than Hendricks. Boy, you don't learn too quickly. He was 6-1, 202 when he twice led the Chargers into the American Football League Championship game and then won two titles as quarterback of the Buffalo Bills. The future Vice Presidential candidate passed for 21,218 yards during his 10-year career.
So Hendricks definitely had the size and better ability coming out of college than all of the above. What, you think Jurgensen had anywhere close to the numbers that Bart Hendricks put up at Boise State? Guess which player was 77-156 for his career with 1,119 yards, 16 career interceptions and six touchdowns and which one went 650-1142 for 9,020 yards, 78 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. If you said "Hendricks passed for 1,119 yards and Jurgensen 9,020", you probably are currently employed as an NFL scout. But keep reading--you may learn something. Even the great Johnny Unitas completed just 245 passes for 3,139 yards and 27 touchdowns for Louisville. Here's another nugget: none of the above players were anywhere near as fast as Hendricks, who ran for 1,019 yards in his college career and shoe 77-yard run up the middle in the 2000 Humanitarian Bowl and 73-yard scamper vs. Louisiana Tech in 1997 are two of Boise State's top 15 longest runs from scrimmage.
As for being from a non-BCS school, hmmmm. I have to point out that the all-time record holder for passing yards in the NFL went to a school very similar to Boise State. It's a team that the Broncos have beaten two straight years. If you still don't know who the player is, keep thinking you're an expert on NFL talent working for one of the so-so teams. I'm referring of course to Brett Favre, whose 65,127 passing yards is #1, and who went to Southern Mississippi. May I remind you that Rich Gannon, who is considered as one of the top 25 NFL Draft Steals of All-Time, played at Delaware. Gannon, who spent 17 seasons in the NFL, was selected to the Pro Bowl four times, led the Raiders to the Super Bowl and was the NFL Most Valuable Player in 2002, threw for 1,567 yards his senior year at Delaware. Hendricks threw for 3,364 during his senior year at Boise State. And Dave Krieg went to little Milton College. Guess the school really doesn't matter, does it?
O.K., so the NFL blew it with Hendricks also. That's oh-for-two.
And if you screwed up by not selecting Hendricks with a high draft choice, you really blew it with the next guy. This guy--Ryan Dinwiddie threw for 799 more yards than Hendricks despite playing 2 1/2 seasons instead of Bart's four. If you think several of the quarterbacks in the history of the NFL can match his career passing efficiency (168.79) think again--Dinwiddie is #2 all-time in college football.
Which brings us to Ian Johnson, whose rare combination of speed, toughness, endurance, ability to move the pile and catch passes led NFL scouts to go to their bosses and tell them Ian wasn't any good. They would say he's slow--only 4.4 in the 40, which compared to LaDanian Tomlinson's 4.54 is like the tortoise and the hare. With Tomlinson bringing up the rear. Ian came out of Boise State with 58 rushing touchdowns, breaking the Western Athletic Conference record held by another player you may have heard of: Marshall Faulk. Johnson finished with 4,174 rushing yards.
So Ian Johnson's size, speed and ability eclipse Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber, and all but perhaps two or three running backs in this year's class. Will he get a chance as an undrafted free agent? That depends to a large extent if the Minnesota Vikings coach is more like the current Chicago Bears coach or more like Mike Ditka.
He's on the same team as Adrian Peterson, who had one of the most successful rookie seasons in NFL history. Oh and by the way, it was Ian Johnson who outplayed Peterson in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and not the other way around. Unless of course you think that the Bronco defense is tougher than the Oklahoma defense. And maybe it is.
Forsey, Hendricks, Dinwiddie, Johnson. Too slow? Phooey. Too small? Hogwash. Not talented enough? What planet are you from? Still think the school has something to do with talent do you?
I am compelled to bring up little Walter Payton again from Jackson State, one of the top rushers in history. And little Johnny Unitas, one of the top passers in history as well as Terry Bradshaw from Louisiana Tech (one of Boise State's conference mates in the WAC) who happens to be one of the most successful quarterbacks in history. "Well so, that's just rushing and passing. I know the top receiver had to come from a big school, because..., well they're just better." I'm really starting to pity you now. Actually, the top receiver of all-time is Jerry Rice (22,895 yards), who went to Mississippi Valley State (emphasis on Valley State), which of course is not in the Southeastern Conference.
Those are all well and good but the bottom line is scoring. And the #1 field goal kicker of all-time is....(drum roll)...Jan Stenerud (373 career field goals) of Montana State, another former conference mate of Boise State in the Big Sky Conference.
So schools that are the same or smaller size and ability than Boise State are among the all-time greats in rushing, passing, receiving and scoring. And the next time you NFL scouts think a Bronco player wouldn't join them if given a chance, I shall leave you with the following:
Originally chosen in the fourth round of the 1986 draft out of I-AA James Madison University as a linebacker, Charles Haley emerged as one of the leading pass rushing defensive ends of his era. Haley also holds the distinction of being the only player in NFL history to play on five Super Bowl winning teams. He helped the 49ers to two crowns and later won three rings with the Cowboys.
Harold Carmichael was a seventh round pick by the Eagles in 1971 out of Southern University. He caught 590 passes for 8,985 yards and 85 touchdowns during his career and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
Selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 82nd pick in the 1974 draft out of Alabama A & M, John Stallworth proved to be one of four future Hall of Fame players chosen by the Steelers in unquestionably the best single draft in NFL history. Stallworth soon emerged from first round pick Lynn Swann's shadow to become the top receiver on the team. He caught 537 passes for 8,723 yards and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
When Buffalo used a fourth round pick in the 1985 draft to select a wide receiver from Division II Kutztown University they had little inkling that Andre Reed would develop into one of the best receivers in NFL history. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Reed still ranks sixth in NFL history with 951 career receptions. He was a key member of four Super Bowl squads.
Chosen with the 93rd pick in the 1969 draft out of Grambling State, Charlie Joiner went on to play 18 seasons in the NFL and retire as the career leader in receptions with 750. After playing for the Oilers and Bengals, he found his niche in San Diego catching passes from HOF quarterback Dan Fouts. Joiner was named to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Selected as a "Future" pick by Dallas in 1964, Bob Hayes went on that fall to win two Olympic Gold Medals and earn recognition as the "World's Fastest Human." A running back at Florida A&M, he became a game-breaking wide receiver for the Cowboys and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He caught 371 passes in his career, including 71 touchdowns, and averaged 20 yards per catch. He was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Following in the footsteps of fellow Tennessee State defensive linemen Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Claude Humphrey, Will Wynn and Cleveland Elam who all enjoyed solid NFL careers, Richard Dent was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 203rd pick of the 1983 draft. By 1985 he had developed into one of the top rush ends in the NFL and was named the MVP of Super Bowl XX. Dent completed his career with 137.5 sacks and has been a finalist for induction into the Hall of Fame five times.
Taylor ran just a 4.67 40 in the NFL Combine following his college career at Delaware State. Despite not being the #1 receiver on his team, Taylor finished the 1989 season with 60 receptions for 1,077 yards and ten touchdowns (the fourth most touchdown receptions by a player in the NFL that year). In his nine NFL seasons, Taylor recorded 347 receptions for 5,589 yards (an average of 16.1 yards per catch) and 43 touchdowns. He also gained 1,517 yards and two touchdowns returning punts. Taylor was selected to two Pro Bowl teams and has three Super Bowl rings.
Few players have had larger shoes to fill than when Leroy Kelly replaced Jim Brown in the Cleveland backfield. He was successful enough to earn his own bust in the Hall of Fame. Kelly twice led the NFL in rushing and gained 7,274 yards and rushed for 74 touchdowns while earning Pro Bowl recognition six times.
Selected by Green Bay in the final round of the 1999 draft out of Alcorn State, Donald Driver has gained more than 1,000 yards receiving in six of the last seven seasons. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, he has 577 career receptions for 7,989 yards.
Ed "Too Tall Jones
Jones played college football at Tennessee State and was selected in the NFL Draft by Dallas. Jones, a member of the famed "Doomsday Defense", he played defensive end from 1974 through 1978 and again from 1980 through 1989. By the end of his 15 years with the Cowboys, he was officially credited with 57 quarterback sacks. Unofficially, his career sack total is 106 (sacks did not become an official NFL statistic until 1982). Jones was a two-time All-Pro player with three National Football Conference championships and a Super Bowl ring.
In the same draft in which they selected defensive tackle Joe Greene with the fourth overall pick, the Pittsburgh Steelers used the 238th to choose defensive end L.C. Greenwood. The Duo would help propel the Steel Curtain defense to four Super Bowl titles. Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowl selection.
Despite having a brother already enjoying success in the NFL, Shannon Sharpe wasn't chosen in the 1990 draft until the seventh round by Denver. He went on to become one of the most prolific tight ends in NFL history. At the time of his retirement, his 815 catches and 10,060 yards were the most ever for a tight end. Sharpe played on three Super Bowl Champion teams and was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection.
Deacon Jones played at South Carolina State and Mississippi Vocational College (now Mississippi Valley State) before being selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 14th round of the NFL draft. Given the current NFL system of six rounds, Jones would not have been drafted. He went on to become one of the best pass rushers in NFL history. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and earned All-Pro honors five times. Jones was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.
The Cleveland Browns selected Willie Davis in the 15th round of the 1956 draft. After playing football for two years in the Army, Davis joined Cleveland in 1958 and played two seasons before being traded to Green Bay. Davis played on five championship teams in 10 seasons. A five-time All-Pro, he was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.