In this version of Draft Rewind, we go back to the year 1998 – a year before Minnesotans famous and obscure were going to party like it’s 1999.
The narrative of that draft was going to be who would go first overall at quarterback – Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf? History has clearly reported how that turned out.
But the Minnesota Vikings were sitting at No. 21 and had to wait a long time for their number to be called. They knew they weren’t getting Manning. They were glad they didn’t get Leaf. There were hopes that maybe someone who was a hot commodity would drop to them like cornerback Charles Woodson, offensive tackle Kyle Turley and Tra Thomas, running back Fred Taylor or linebackers Keith Brooking and Takeo Spikes would be available.
Nobody expected that Randy Moss would be available a few hours into the draft. He was being drafted in the aftermath of the Lawrence Phillips era – a player with troubling red flags whose talent won out, only to eventually be a giant bust for the Rams.
It was a bad time to have off-field red flags and Moss had more than his share.
There were several landing spots for him. Moss said later he had been assured by Jerry Jones that if he was still on the board at No. 8, they would select him. Instead, they took linebacker Greg Ellis.
It wasn’t until the 16th pick that the reality of the Moss drop started to take shape. The Tennessee Oilers – yep, the oil-rich mountains of Tennessee were the Oilers for a short period of time after they fled Houston – selected a wide receiver, but it wasn’t Moss. It was Kevin Dyson, a decent receiver but no Moss – just as Al Toon was taken before Jerry Rice turned out to be a bad franchise move for the Jets.
Once Dyson was drafted, it became real. Moss could make it to the Vikings at 21. The sweetest irony of the teams sitting between picks 17-20 wasn’t that none of them had wide receiver as a front-burner need, but that the last two picks in front of the Vikings were made by the Packers and Lions.
All three Minnesota foes from the current configuration of the NFC North had a shot to take Moss, instead of spending the next five years drafting and signing defensive backs to counteract the Vikings’ single draft decision. The Bears ended up with running back Curtis Enis. The Packers got defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday and the Lions took cornerback Terry Fair.
In hindsight, all war rooms kick themselves for their decisions.
The Vikings got Moss at No. 21 and the rest was history. The 1998 draft also brought Minnesota another Ring of Honor guy in sixth-round center Matt Birk, but, seeing as Moss was never expected to make it to the Vikings, the team could have had the impossible dream draft if time travel was available.
With the 51st pick midway in the second round, the Vikings selected linebacker Kailee Wong. Leonard Little ended up with the Rams, but would have been an interesting player in a defense in need of depth.
In the third round, the Vikings took cornerback Ramos McDonald from football hotbed New Mexico – the same school that would bring center Ryan Cook to Minnesota with the pick acquired from 1999’s first-rounder Daunte Culpepper. They could have had an undersized step-too-slow wide receiver named Hines Ward. With Moss in the fold, Ward likely would have been out of play, but hindsight doesn’t cut out depth chart issues.
In the fourth round, the Vikings took linebacker Kivuusama Mays from basketball school North Carolina. They could have had Ike Reese.
When you get one Hall of Famer and another one who you could make an argument is a second HOF member, that is enough for any draft.
Moss to Minnesota shouldn’t have happened. It did. It was epic. The fact it could have been better is probably asking too much, but it could have been one for the ages – even though, as mobsters say, the Vikings’ 1998 draft was “made” when Moss got signed. The rest was gravy – and that gravy was made by a local kid who went to Harvard.
The story of the 1998 draft is that the Bears, Packers and Lions all had a chance to draft Randy Moss and they didn’t.