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2013 NFL Draft: Looking for Superman

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, April 23, 2013, at 9:18 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 8:14 a.m.

— Shortly after 7 Thursday night, Andy Reid will make a public proclamation about the player the Chiefs drafted with the No. 1 overall pick. His words will no doubt be similar to the ones spoken by Cleveland Browns president Carmen Policy in 2000, immediately after his team made defensive lineman Courtney Brown the NFL Draft’s top choice.

“You find someone better,’’ Policy said, his words now infamous, “and that man is Superman.”

Every top overall pick is Superman on the night he is drafted, and usually for at least a short time afterward. Then things can go sour, as they quickly did for the Browns and Brown, the Raiders and quarterback JaMarcus Russell in 2007 and the Texans and quarterback David Carr in 2002, among other busts.

Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned. For all of their time and money spent researching the draft’s top prospects, the Chiefs can only hope their pick isn’t remembered as an infamous one.

“It’s important for the Chiefs to get this right because it’s a chance to get an elite player,’’ said former Houston general manager Charley Casserly, who drafted Carr for the Texans. “There are some good players at the top of the draft, so if they do this right, they could come away with an elite player. If they don’t do it right, it will set them back.’’

If the Chiefs draft, for instance, Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel and he’s a bust, it could set the Chiefs back for years. They would have to continue their search in future years for the player who can adequately protect the all-important blind side of quarterback Alex Smith.

Failures at the top of the draft certainly set back the Browns, Texans and Raiders. Cleveland reentered the NFL in 1999 as an expansion team after the previous Browns moved to Baltimore.

The Browns had the draft’s first pick in 1999 and spent it on quarterback Tim Couch, who became a bust. Cleveland instead could have selected Donovan McNabb, who went to the Eagles and Reid with the next pick.

The following year the Browns, who had yet to give up on Couch, drafted Brown from Penn State. Everybody then loved the pick.

“I think if you drew up a football player, particularly a defensive football player, and put all the ingredients in you were looking for,’’ said Al Lerner, then the Browns’ owner, “you’d end up with Courtney Brown.”

Brown had a promising rookie season. But injuries limited his playing time in subsequent seasons and by the end of 2004, he was finished in Cleveland. His totals: 47 games and 17 sacks.

Having Couch and Brown fail as back-to-back No. 1 draft picks weren’t the Browns’ only mistakes since they returned to the NFL. But the Browns have been searching for adequate replacements ever since.

It’s no coincidence the Browns have made just one playoff appearance in the 14 seasons since returning. They won more than seven games in a season just twice and not at all since 2007.

Carr lasted five seasons as Houston’s starting quarterback more out of the Texans’ determination to make the pick work than any of his accomplishments. Houston in 2002, like Cleveland three years earlier, was an expansion team and it went for a quarterback to build the team around, instead of assembling the supporting cast first.

“In the expansion draft we had drafted Ryan Young and Tony Boselli at offensive tackle and we had signed (guard) Steve McKinney in free agency,’’ Casserly said. “We felt we had the fundamentals of a good offensive line. We thought David Carr was a guy who was good enough to take us into the playoffs. We never viewed him as John Elway or anybody like that but we thought he would be a good, solid quarterback in the league. With the offensive line we had built, or thought we had built, we thought we had a chance to develop him.

“What happened was Boselli never played for us and Ryan Young barely played for us because of injury. That was a case where our plans just didn’t work out. We kept working on it with the offensive line but we could never get there. We could never get the left tackle position set. That hurt David Carr. If I knew we weren’t going to have an offensive line to start with, I never would have drafted a quarterback.’’

Carr was sacked an astounding 249 times in his five seasons with Houston, no small factor as to why he didn’t work out as planned. Since leaving Houston, Carr has bounced around the league as a backup.

The Texans had the first pick in the draft again in 2006, Carr’s last season in Houston before they made a change at quarterback to Matt Schaub. The Texans made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Russell is arguably the worst No. 1 overall pick ever. He wound up starting 25 games over three seasons with the Raiders, going 7-18. He completed just 52 percent of his passes with 23 interceptions and 18 touchdowns.

“You need a guy that the players follow and the rest of your team follows and the rest of your city follows and that’s what we’ve got,’’ said then-Oakland coach Lane Kiffin after the Raiders drafted Russell. “This is the right guy and this is the right time.’’

The Raiders indeed followed Russell, though not in a good way. Kiffin never wanted to draft Russell, which emerged after Kiffin was fired a year after Russell joined the Raiders. Kiffin was overruled by owner Al Davis, who has since passed away.

Since releasing Russell, the Raiders have spent considerable resources on trying to find a suitable starting quarterback. They signed Jason Campbell, traded for Carson Palmer, drafted Terrelle Pryor and this year traded for Matt Flynn in the three years since they realized drafting Russell was a mistake.

All of this should be a cautionary tale for the Chiefs that no matter how good they feel about their pick Thursday night, those thoughts can change in a hurry.

“Making a mistake with the first pick doesn’t set you back as much now as it once did because those contracts for players at the top of the draft aren’t as big, relatively speaking,’’ Casserly said. “Financially, it’s not as tough to swallow.

“Where it sets you back is that when you play this player, or anticipate playing this player, you’ve backed off from anything else to try to improve that position. If it’s a critical position like quarterback, that really sets you back. If you go a couple of years trying to work through with this guy and it doesn’t work, then you’re starting from scratch again.’’

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