The upcoming 2014 NFL Draft reminds me a lot of the 2002 draft in the way it feels like it is shaping up. The Eagles, coming off a winning/playoff season, picked 26th that year. They selected cornerback Lito Sheppard in the 1st Round.
A playmaker at corner…seems like a plausible pursuit in 2014, too.
Sheppard had an outstanding career at Florida. He contributed to the Eagles secondary from 2002 to 2008. He emerged as one of the NFL’s best defensive playmakers in his third season, grabbing 5 INT’s, scoring 2 TD’s, and earning All-Pro honors for the Eagles in 2004. He had 6 interceptions in 2006. After 2008 amid some contractual disputes mixed with nagging injury complaints, Sheppard signed on with the Jets, the Vikings and the Raiders in successive years. But there is no denying Sheppard was a huge part of the Eagles’ team success during perhaps their greatest 5-year run ever.
I bring up the Lito Sheppard pick only to remind myself that it’s okay to select a cornerback or safety in the 1st Round— especially if they end up producing the kind of defensive impact of a young Lito. He was also a sure tackler and could come off the edge on a corner blitz. He fit the system and affected the way offenses were called by opponents.
2002 shaped up a lot like 2014 in that you had some premier quarterbacks stealing the early spotlight. Houston had the 1st pick.
The Texans picked QB David Carr out of Fresno State as #1 overall. You might say Carr was the Johnny Manziel of the QB group that year. Boom or bust? Carr ended up getting boomed and busted. In the Texans’ 4-12 season that year, Carr was sacked a record 76 times. Four more rough seasons later, Carr was shipped out of Houston.
The #2 overall pick that year worked out a lot better for Carolina, who selected DE Julius Peppers out of UNC. Peppers went on to become the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The #3 pick went to the Detroit Lions, and they went with another highly-rated QB prospect, Joey Harrington out of Oregon. They called him “Joey Heisman” that year. Harrington got crushed that season on a 3-13 Matt Millen-era team. By 2009 Harrington was out of the league with a lifetime 26-50 record as a starter.
Somewhere in the reflections of the 2002 Draft is a lesson to be learned: When tempted by a flashy QB prospect in the 1st Round, you may be better advised to draft a defensive playmaker.
There are other examples from 2002 where a team benefited by spending their 1st Round pick on a defensive playmaker. San Diego picked CB Quentin Jammer (Texas) at #5…. Dallas picked SS Roy Williams (Oklahoma) at #8….Oakland picked CB Phillip Buchanon (Miami) at #17 and also LB Napoleon Harris (Northwestern) at #23 (Harris earned All-Rookie honors that year—he’s a state senator in Illinois now, by the way)….Baltimore picked FS Ed Reed (Miami) at #24.
Later-round bargains were the best part of the 2002 Draft, and I see that trend developing here in 2014.
The Eagles got the great Brian Westbrook (RB, Villanova) in the 3rd round.
Around the rest of the league in 2002: RB Clinton Portis (2nd round), WR Deion Branch (2nd round), RB Chester Taylor (6th round), DE Raheem Brock (7th round), WR David Givens (7th round)…
Undrafted free agent gems: LB James Harrison, S Ryan Clark, LB Bart Scott…
53 defensive backs were drafted in 2002. I expect about the same number to be drafted in 2014. I promise not to complain if the Eagles go after a playmaker at corner or safety in Round 1.