Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three: The Silver Age (1976-1983)

1981-1985 was the second-greatest five-year era in Miami Dolphins History. The team never reached the ultimate championship-winning height of the 1970-1974 era, but five playoff appearances, four division titles, three conference championship games, and two Super Bowl appearances aren’t nothing either. The very successful drafts of the 1976-1983 period built the teams that teased fans with title hopes for five years running. After blowing top pick after top pick in the 1971-1975 drafts, Miami completely turned that around between 1976 and 1983. Only 1981’s number-one pick produced little of value though that was mainly due to bad luck (really, really, really bad luck). They hit on a number of second-rounders as well. From 1976-1979 Miami added many of the defensive players that keyed their strong defenses of the early 1980’s. However, it must be noted that none of those players became actual stars. Some Pro Bowlers yes, but nobody you’d really call a game-changer. Mainly smart, dependable players. From 1980-1983 Miami stockpiled all of the offensive stars that keyed their incredible aerial attack of the mid-to-late 1980’s: Marino, Duper, Clayton, and Stephenson. So we can see the seeds of a potential problem to come: would Miami be able to replace their aging defensive players just as their offensive was peaking? More on that next time.

1 17 Larry Gordon LB
1 19 Kim Bokamper DE
2 49 Loaird McCreary TE
3 80 Duriel Harris WR
4 98 Melvin Mitchell G
6 174 Gary Davis RB
7 185 Joe Ingersoll G
7 200 John Owens DE
8 230 Bob Simpson DE
9 257 Norris Thomas DB
10 281 Gary Fencik DB
10 282 Don Testerman RB
11 312 Dexter Pride RB
12 338 Randy Young T
12 341 Darryl Brandford DT
13 366 Bernie Head C
14 396 Bob Gissler LB
15 423 Ron Holmes RB
16 450 Mike Green K
17 480 Jeff Grantz QB

Finally, a good draft again. Top pick Larry Gordon made Miami's Silver Anniversary team, Kim Bokamper made a Pro Bowl, and Duriel Harris served as a good deep threat for the Dolphins for 8 seasons. This draft could have been even better had Miami held onto 10th round pick Gary Fencik, but they waived him and he became an All-Pro safety on some great Bears' defenses. Like Leon Gray, another one that unnecessarily got away.

1 13 A.J. Duhe LB
2 40 Bob Baumhower NT
3 71 Mike Watson T
5 113 Mike Michel P
5 123 Leroy Harris RB
7 180 Bruce Herron LB
8 207 Horace Perkins DB
9 237 Robert Turner RB
10 264 Mark Carter T
11 291 John Alexander DE
12 321 Terry Anderson

Only the top two picks stuck but MIA got a Pro Bowl LB in Duhe and an All-Pro nose tackle in Bob Baumhower who was probably the best player on Miami’s ‘80’s Killer Bees defense.

2 51 Guy Benjamin QB
3 64 Lyman Smith DT
3 81 Jimmy Cefalo WR
4 93 Gerald Small DB
4 106 Eric Laakso T
5 111 Ted Burgmeier DB
6 163 Doug Betters DE
7 178 Karl Baldischwiler T
7 190 Lloyd Henry WR
8 217 Sean Clancy LB
9 247 Bruce Hardy TE
10 274 Mark Dennard C
12 331 Mike Moore RB
12 333 Bill Kenney QB

A very productive draft. Cefalo, Small, Laakso, and Dennard all played 7 years in the league. Hardy played for 10. And Betters was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1983 (though he never really reached the same heights of that season before or since). Miami spent the first-rounder as part of a trade for RB Delvin Williams. Since I’m only looking at drafts I won’t analyze that deal too closely here, but Williams only gave Miami one good season. On the other hand, it was a great season and Miami made the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. Also, with hindsight it doesn’t appear any good backs remained by the time Miami would have picked.

1 24 Jon Giesler T
2 53 Jeff Toews G
3 61 Tony Nathan RB
3 63 Mel Land LB
3 65 Ronnie Lee T
4 107 Steve Howell FB
5 134 Don Bessillieu DB
6 162 Steve Lindquist G
7 189 Uwe von Schamann K
8 206 Jeff Groth WR
8 215 Glenn Blackwood DB
9 244 Jeff Weston T
10 258 Jerome Stanton DB
10 272 Mike Kozlowski DB
11 299 Mike Blanton DE
12 327 Larry Fortner QB

Miami topped its 1978 draft here with a total of 7 quality players drafted. Unfortunately, while they all contributed, none of them were stars. The best was probably Tony Nathan, your classic change of pace pass-catching running back.

1 21 Don McNeal DB
2 48 Dwight Stephenson HOF C
3 75 Bill Barnett DE
4 100 Elmer Bailey WR
6 158 Eugene Byrd WR
7 185 Joe Rose TE
8 212 Jeff Allen DB
8 214 David Woodley QB
9 239 Mark Goodspeed T
10 271 Doug Lantz C
10 272 Ben Long LB
11 279 Phil Driscoll DE
12 325 Chuck Stone G

A great top-of-the draft here. McNeal played excellent DB for 10 years and Stephenson ended up a Hall of Famer. Barnett and Rose were decent role players for 6 years. The 8th round selection of David Woodley proved ultimately to have tragic consequences for both team and player.

1 13 David Overstreet RB
2 56 Andra Franklin RB
4 84 Sam Greene WR
4 96 Brad Wright QB
5 126 Ken Poole DE 1981
5 138 Tommy Vigorito RB 1985
6 152 Mack Moore DE 1986
6 154 Fulton Walker DB 1986
7 179 Mike Daum T
8 208 William Judson DB
9 235 John Noonan WR
10 261 Steve Folsom TE
11 291 Jim C. Jensen WR
12 318 John Alford DT

David Overstreet was the only first-rounder taken by Miami in the 1976-1983 era that didn’t pay off for the team. Overstreet spurned the low-paying Dolphins for the Canuckian goodness of the CFL for two years, then died in a car accident in 1984 following a promising first season as a Dolphin. Andra Franklin did a good job for a few years as a tough steady plugger-type running back in Shula’s system until a broken leg ended his career. Overall, a disappointing draft.

1 24 Roy Foster G
2 52 Mark Duper WR
3 80 Paul Lankford DB
4 108 Charles Bowser LB
5 120 Bob W. Nelson NT
5 136 Rich Diana RB
6 161 Tom Tutson DB
6 164 Ron Hester LB
7 170 Dan Johnson TE
7 192 Larry Cowan RB
8 220 Tate Randle DB
9 239 Steve S. Clark G
9 248 Mack Boatner RB
10 271 Robin Fisher LB
10 276 Wayne Jones G
11 303 Gary Crum T
12 331 Mike Rodrigue WR

Another strong 1-2 selection as both Foster and Duper became Pro Bowlers.

1 27 Dan Marino HOF QB
2 55 Mike Charles NT
3 76 Charles Benson DE
6 167 Reggie Roby P
7 195 Keith Woetzel LB
8 223 Mark Clayton WR
9 250 Mark Brown LB
10 278 Anthony Reed RB
11 306 Joe Lukens G
12 334 Anthony Carter WR

Arguably Miami’s best draft class ever. Marino alone makes this draft a contender, but Miami also got Mark Clayton, probably the best WR the Dolphins ever drafted, and an All-Pro punter, the late Reggie Roby. Mike Charles and Mark Brown were good defensive players. The only disappointment here was Miami took a flyer on Anthony Carter who had already opted for he USFL. A smart gamble but when that league tanked MIA stupidly traded away his rights for bust Robert Sendlien (who?).

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One (1966-1970)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two (1971-1975)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three (1976-1983)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four (1984-1989)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five (1990-1995)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six (1996-1999)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven (2000-2004)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two: The Age of Atrophy (1971-1975)

From 1970 to 1974, the Miami Dolphins posted an 8-3 postseason record. From 1975-1980, the record was just 0-2. Six seasons, two playoff appearances, and two embarrassing first-round losses. Why the drop-off? The drafts of 1971-1975 tell the tale. Miami simply failed to pick enough good players to replace the aging and retiring stars of their championship years. Most writing on the subject that I've seen has focused on the defection of Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield to the WFL. But in 1975 Csonka and Kiick were 29-year-old running backs who each averaged only 3.8 ypc. Warfield was a 33-year-old receiver. Miami needed to replace or at least complement those guys with younger talent, WFL or no WFL. And for the most part they couldn't do it. In Part One I noted how Miami hit on four straight first round draft picks from 1967-1970. That roll crashed to a halt over the next five years. Don Reese and Daryl Carlton were flat-out busts. Mike Kadish played for nine years and was a good DT. Unfortunately, he did it for the Buffalo Bills; Miami dealt him in an ill-advised trade a year after picking him. Miami traded its first-round pick in '73 for WR Marlin Briscoe. Briscoe caught only 57 balls in his three years, not exactly great numbers. However, the trade is defensible in that Miami did win two Super Bowls with him and the 1973 WR draft class was horrible. The NFL stripped Miami of its 1971 first-rounder for tampering to steal Don Shula away from the Colts. (Of course, if you count that as a trade than you could say the Dolphins got tremendous value there). The second round picks weren't much better than the first-rounders.

So who's to blame for these disasters? Well, I've written about Joe Thomas before. As Miami's Director of Player Personnel his brilliant acquisitions in the 1966-1970 period built one of the great teams of all-time. But Thomas still held down that job in 1971 and 1972 and those drafts produced very little. Thomas left in '72 to work for the Colts. Don Shula was firmly in charge of the Dolphins by then but he did not have ultimate control over personnel at that time. The guy who replaced Thomas was Bobby Beathard and though he's got a great reputation now, his drafts here don't look very good at all.

Overall, I count only 9 quality players acquired over these five years, though you could bump that up to 11 if you count Briscoe and Bob Matheson, a good LB who played a key role on the No-Name defense and for whom Miami traded their 1972 second-round pick. Of course I'm being generous counting some of the bolded players below as quality players. QB Don Strock gave Miami 14 years, but he only started 20 total games as a Dolphin. WR Freddie Solomon had a fine 11-year career, but only three of those came as a Dolphin. Benny Malone had a short career. The best player Miami drafted in this period was Ed Newman, an excellent offensive guard. The seond-best was probably Nat Moore was a very good receiver. Two valuable players but, as you can see, Miami drafted 0 stars between 1971 and 1975. One must acknowledge that as a result of their great success Miami drafted late in the first-round unlike 1966-1970 when they picked near the top of the first round. Still, Miami turned up gems in other rounds in those early years as well but Thomas and Beathard couldn't repeat that success over the next five years.


2 47 Otto Stowe WR
3 74 Dale Farley LB
4 99 Joe Theismann QB
6 151 Dennis Coleman LB
7 178 Ron Dickerson DB
9 230 Vern Den Herder DE
10 255 Ron Maree DT
11 282 Vic Surma T
12 307 Leroy Byars RB
13 333 Lonnie Hepburn DB
14 359 David Vaughn TE
15 386 Bob Richards G
16 410 Chris Myers WR
17 437 Curt Mark LB

One of the team's worst drafts ever. Miami got but one quality player out of this draft: Vern Den Herder, a 12-year defensive end. Miami did grab Joe Theisman in the fourth round but Joey T chose to play in the CFL rather than back up Bob Griese. Miami later traded his rights to the Redskins but got little in return. As stated earlier, the first-round pick here was lost as a penalty for stealing Shula away from the Colts. Second-rounder Otto Stowe was a huge bust, catching only 18 passes in his two seasons with Miami.


1 25 Mike Kadish DT
3 77 Gary Kosins RB
4 91 Larry Ball LB
4 103 Al Benton T
5 129 Charlie Babb DB
6 155 Ray Nettles LB
7 161 Bill Adams G
7 180 Calvin Harrell RB
8 207 Craig Curry QB
9 233 Greg Johnson DB
11 285 Ed Jenkins RB
12 311 Ashley Bell TE
13 337 Archie Robinson DB
14 362 Willie Jones LB
15 389 Bill Davis DT
16 415 Al Hannah WR
17 441 Vern Brown DB

Another terrible draft. First-rounder Mike Kadish provided nine solid seasons of defensive tackle play. Unfortunately he did it for the Buffalo Bills. Miami traded him after just one season for washed-up O-lineman Irv Goode. And it's not like Miami ever got to see what Kadish could do; he was on the taxi squad for '72 and never played. Miami traded their second-round pick for Bob Matheson, a good linebacker so at least they got something there. DE Larry Ball and DB Charlie Babb lasted seven and eight seasons repectively with the Dolphins so including Matheson ultimately Miami wound up with three quality players from this draft. But none of those guys ever made a Pro Bowl. Oh, and if you know where Charlie Babb's Super Bowl ring is, for God's sake please let him know!

2 52 Chuck Bradley TE
3 78 Leon Gray T
4 104 Bo Rather WR
5 111 Don Strock QB
5 130 Dave McCurry DB
6 156 Ed Newman G
7 160 Kevin Reilly LB
7 163 Benny Shepherd RB
7 178 Willie Hatter WR
7 182 Thomas Smith RB
8 208 Archie Pearmon DE
9 234 Karl Lorch DE
10 260 Ron Fernandes DE
11 286 Chris Kete C
12 312 Mike Mullen LB
13 338 Joe Booker RB
14 364 Greg P. Boyd DB
15 389 Bill Palmer TE
16 416 James Jackson DE
17 442 Charlie Wade WR

The top pick went to Buffalo for Marlin Briscoe. As I said, he helped them win two Super Bowls but he didn't catch many passes. Whatever the merits of the deal, being 27 at the time Briscoe was no long-term receiving prospect. And as it turned out neither were TE Chuck Bradley and WR Otto Stowe, huge busts (as was Otto Stowe in 1972). Miami snared one excellent player in 1973, Ed Newman, and All-Pro offensive guard who played 12 years for the Dolphins. Long-time backup QB Don Strock went to Miami in the fifth. Looking at his stats, I see Strock wasn't anywhere near as good as I remembered him being. Guess that's why Shula didn't give him the starter's job in 1980 when Griese's career ended. Strock probably helped Miami more as Dan Marino's caddy than anything else.

Turns out the best player Miami drafted in 1973 never played a down for them. Leon Gray wound up one of the NFL's best offensive tackles of the '70's. But Miami waived him before that happened and he became an All-Pro for New England, a division rival! Truly one of the worst personnel moves in team history.


1 26 Don Reese DT
2 38 Andre Tillman TE
2 47 Benny Malone RB
2 52 Jeris White DB
3 78 Nat Moore WR
4 104 Bill Stevenson DB
5 130 Cleveland Vann LB
6 136 Randy Crowder DT
6 156 Bob Wolfe T
7 164 Carl Swierc WR
7 182 Joe Sullivan G
8 208 Melvin Baker WR
9 212 Tom Wickert T
9 234 Bob Lally LB
10 260 Gary Valbuena QB
11 286 Gerry Roberts DE
12 312 Jim Revels DB
13 338 Clayton Heath RB
14 364 Sam Johnson LB
15 390 Larry Cates DB
16 416 Jessie Wolf DT
17 442 Ken Dickerson DB

A little bit of an improvment. But not at the top. Don Reese was an all-time classic bust. Busted that is. He and 5th round pick Randy Crowder got caught selling cocaine and by Joe Robbie fiat were summarily released from the team. The second round picks at least all turned out to be decent players. But none lasted particularly long with Miami. Tillman was out of football after four years. Malone was an ok RB for four years. And White lasted for nine years but only three with Miami. The one really good player here was Nat Moore. Finally Miami hit on a receiver in the draft and Moore even made an All-Pro team in his best season.

BTW, can you believe how long these drafts used to be?

1 23 Darryl Carlton T
2 36 Freddie Solomon WR
2 49 Stan Winfrey RB
3 75 Gerald Hill LB
4 100 Bruce Elia LB
5 106 Morris Owens WR
5 127 Barry Hill DB
6 143 Steve Towle LB
7 179 Phillip Kent RB
8 205 Barney Crawford DT
9 231 James Wilson G
10 239 Clyde Russell RB
10 256 Joe Jackson TE
10 257 Joe Danelo K
11 283 John Dilworth DB
12 309 Joe Yancey T
13 334 Leonard Isabell WR
14 338 James Lewis DB
14 361 John Graham QB
15 387 Skip Johns RB
16 413 Vernon Smith C
17 439 Dwaine Copeland RB

Another first-round bust in Carlton. The only good player to shine out of 1975's pile of garbage? Freddie Solomon, a speedy receiver who along with Nat Moore gave Miami one of the better receiving combos in the NFL. Briefly. Miami ended up dealing Freddie to the Niners just three years later so he could win Super Bowl rings for somebody else.

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One (1966-1970)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two (1971-1975)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three (1976-1983)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four (1984-1989)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five (1990-1995)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six (1996-1999)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven (2000-2004)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One: The Golden Age (1966-1970)

It’s Draft Month. And that means it’s time for Miami Dolphin fans to willfully delude themselves once more into believing that with a few great picks the stench of team failure will finally disappear, replaced with the fragrance of postseason triumphs. As one might expect, the successes and failures of the Miami Dolphins franchise align almost perfectly with the team’s successes and failures in the draft. When the team drafts well they contend for championships (and even win a couple). When the team drafts disastrously, as they have for the past decade and counting, they morph into what they are today: the worst team in football. What did the team once do so right? Where did it all go so horribly wrong? If you want answers to those questions, the first step is to analyze the team’s drafts dating all the way back to that very first one in 1966. Taking advantage of Pro Football Reference’s fantastic new draft pages, for each year I’ll list every player Miami drafted along with the round and overall draft position of each player. Quality players taken will be in bold. There’s no hard and fast rule but generally if a player lasts for at least 5 or 6 years I’ll count him as a quality player. I’ve divided up four decades of drafts into seven somewhat arbitrary eras. The first era, 1966-1970, I shall dub, “The Golden Age”.

The reason? Because these drafts supplied much, if not most, of the key talent for a team that earned five straight playoff berths, four straight division titles, three straight Super Bowl appearances, two straight NFL championships, and a perfect season. Over three decades later, the 1970-1974 stretch still ranks as the best five-year period in team history. And one of the best in NFL history for that matter.

In those first five drafts Miami picked up 17 quality players, 18 if you count Paul Warfield (and why wouldn’t you?) who they traded for with their first-round selection in 1970. That’s a very good total and, counting Warfield, those 18 men included three Hall of Famers, three All-Pro’s, and three Pro Bowlers. Make sure to note the results of the all-important first-round picks. In four consecutive seasons Miami used those picks to obtain three future Hall-of-Famers plus a great All-Pro defensive end in Bill Stanfill. Miami didn’t just nab quality players in those first five drafts, they signed all-star talent, the kind that wins championships. Overall, these five drafts produced all of Miami’s key offensive skill position players and almost all of the best players later known as the No-Name defense. Of course as a Dolphin fan it can be depressing now to realize that the drafts of those earliest years have still never been bettered. And unless you’re in your 50’s you don’t even remember those long-ago days of uncanny draft expertise.

1 1 Jim Grabowski RB
1 2 Rick Norton QB
2 9 Frank Emanuel LB
3 18 Larry Gagner G
4 26 Dick Leftridge FB
5 34 Grady Bolton T
6 42 Ed Weisacosky LB
7 51 Don Hansen LB
8 64 Bob Petrella DB
9 74 Bill Matan DE
10 83 Pat Killorin C
11 92 Sammy Price RB
12 101 Howard Twilley WR
13 110 Kent Kramer TE
14 119 Phil Scoggin K
15 128 Jerry Oliver T
16 137 Don Lorenz DE
17 146 Mike Bender
18 155 Rich Kestner E
19 164 Doug Moreau TE
20 173 John Tooker DB

A very slow start for Miami. The only quality player selected was 12th round selection Howard Twilley who ended up as the longest-lasting Dolphin from the inaugural 1966 team (and he caught Miami's first Super Bowl TD ever). But in the expansion draft of 1966 Miami also snagged a future Pro Bowl offensive tackle in Norm Evans who lasted a decade with the Dolphins. In this last official AFL draft, Miami wasted their top pick on FB Jim Grabowski who spurned the Fish, choosing instead to play for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, probably a wise move as he arrived there in time to win two Super Bowls before his middling career ended. Oddly, Grabowski's yards per carry average declined every single season of his six-year career. No lie.

1 4 Bob Griese HOF QB
2 29 Jim Riley DE
4 84 Bob Greenlee T
5 129 Gary Tucker RB
6 138 Bud Norris TE
7 163 Larry Seiple TE
9 216 John Richardson DT
10 241 Tom Beier DB
11 266 Jack Pyburn T
12 294 Stan Juk LB
12 295 Jim Whitaker DB
14 344 Charles Stikes DB
15 372 Jake Ferro LB
16 397 Maurice Calhoun FB
17 422 Larry Kissam T

Again only two quality players, Bob Griese and long-time punter Larry Seiple, but I suspect most teams would be willing to trade away their entire draft for a Hall of Fame quarterback. The top two QB’s in that year’s draft were Griese and Heisman Trophy Winner Steve Spurrier. When the Niners used the overall #3 pick on the future “Old Ball Coach”, Miami's choice at #4 was easy and the rest is history.

1 8 Larry Csonka HOF RB
1 27 Doug Crusan T
2 35 Jimmy Keyes LB
2 54 Jim Cox TE
3 62 Jim Urbanek DT
3 73 Dick Anderson DB
5 118 Jim Kiick RB
6 142 Kim Hammond QB
6 146 Jimmy Hines WR
7 172 John Boynton T
8 217 Randy Edmunds LB
9 226 Sam McDowell T
9 240 Tom Paciorek DB
10 253 Joe Mirto T
11 280 Cornelius Cooper T
12 307 Paul Paxton T
13 334 Bob Joswick DE
14 362 Ray Blunk TE
15 388 Ken Corbin LB
16 416 Henry Still DT
17 442 Bill Nemeth C

The team’s first great draft. This one featured Hall-of-Famer Csonka, the greatest running back in team history, All-Pro DB Anderson, versatile Pro Bowl RB Kiick, and a long-time contributor in tackle Doug Crusan. Despite many pathetic attempts to do so, Miami's never been able to replace Csonka who was the heart and soul of the Dolphins' championship teams.

1 11 Bill Stanfill DE
2 37 Bob Heinz DT
3 63 Mercury Morris RB
4 89 Norm McBride DE
5 115 Willie Pearson DB
5 128 Karl Kremser K
6 141 Ed Tuck G
7 167 John Egan C
7 174 John Kulka C
8 193 Bruce Weinstein TE
9 219 Jesse Powell LB
10 245 Jim Mertens TE
11 271 Mike Berdis T
12 297 Dale McCullers LB
13 323 Amos Ayres DB
14 349 Glenn Thompson T
15 375 Chick McGeehan FL
16 401 Lloyd Mumphord DB
17 427 Tom Krallman DE

Miami didn’t waste any of their top picks in 1969. Stanfill was a great defensive player, Heinz and Mumphord were solid ones for years, and though his career was cut short by injury, Morris provided the perfect complement to Csonka’s power in Miami’s championship backfield. Forget the drug problems, the prison term, the rap songs, the attitude, the crazed TV appearances when anybody makes a run at an undefeated season. Just know Merc was one of the few players to average over five yards per carry for his career. Pure speed.


2 29 Jim Mandich TE
3 55 Tim Foley DB
4 81 Curtis Johnson DB
6 132 Dave Campbell DE
7 159 Jake Scott DB
8 185 Narvel Chavers RB
9 211 Hubert Ginn RB
10 237 Dick Nittenger G
11 263 Brownie Wheless T
12 289 Mike Kolen LB
13 315 Dave Buddington RB
14 341 Gary Brackett G
15 367 Pat Hauser WR
16 393 Charlie Williams G
17 419 George Myles DT

Though a malcontent, Scott proved to be Miami’s all-time best safety and was a steal in round 7, as was Mike “Captain Crunch” Kolen in round 12. Miami nabbed their starting corners here too. Tim Foley made a Pro Bowl and Curtis Johnson may not have been the greatest cornerback of his day, but the man sported one of the most impressive Afros you are ever going to see. His helmet couldn't begin hold it all. As I mentioned before, the team's number one pick went to Cleveland in exchange for Hall-of-Famer Paul Warfield, arguably the best deep threat in NFL history. Warfield played for the Dolphins for “only” five seasons but the 1970 draft was a terrible one for receivers and Miami's move to trade rather than draft a WR proved to be wise. Of 1970's WR draft class only Ken Burroughs and maybe Rich Castor had good careers but they weren't Warfield and since Miami probably doesn’t win those two Super Bowls without him you'll take the shorter blue-chip contribution anyday. Every bolded player above gave the Dolphins at least eight seasons. I chose not to count Hubert Ginn as a quality player. While he somehow lasted for nine years as an NFL back (six with Miami), he only rushed for 521 yards in his entire career (and don't forget the 49 receiving yards!).

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One (1966-1970)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two (1971-1975)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three (1976-1983)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four (1984-1989)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five (1990-1995)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six (1996-1999)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven (2000-2004)

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Greatest Quarterback of All-Time: Bart Starr

Check out any Greatest Quarterback of All-Time debate on the internet. You’ll find all the usual suspects of the last quarter century: Montana, Favre, Marino, Elway, and now Brady and Manning. A few people with respect for football history might throw in Unitas’ name. The NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team lists Baugh, Graham, Unitas, and Montana as the four greatest quarterbacks of all time. Somehow, all these lists omit the name of one man overwhelmingly qualified to be a candidate for the unofficial title of the greatest of all-time. Allow me to present his career to you in a simple ten-point outline:

1) Five championships, the most ever
2) All-time leader in career postseason passer rating
3) Only QB to win three consecutive NFL championships
4) Led the NFL five times in passer rating
5) An MVP award
6) Two-time Super Bowl MVP
7) Eight consecutive playoff wins
8) Eighth all-time in career yards per attempt
9) Career rushing average of 5.3 yards per carry
10) One of only three QB’s to lead team on last minute championship-winning TD drive

Incredible. Unparalleled postseason success, clutch play, and excellent regular season performance. That sure sounds like the resume of the greatest ever. I freely admit I came late to the idea of Bart Starr as the best ever and my eyes were opened to the idea by the very convincing cases made by Allen Barra and The Cold Hard Football Facts. I’ll do my best here not to rehash or steal what they’ve already written so brilliantly.

It’s no mystery why even supposed football experts have unjustly overlooked Starr’s greatness for so long. Not only do Starr’s career numbers look unimpressive by today’s standards, they look unimpressive compared to the best QB’s of his own time. Take a look:


Starr trails the pack in completions, yards, and touchdowns. His relatively low yardage and touchdown totals combined with the stereotypical image of Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers as a team that did nothing but run power sweeps, served to permanently erase his brilliant play from people’s collective memory. But, as we saw with John Elway, cumulative numbers don’t tell the whole story. Starr may not have thrown as often as his greatest contemporaries, but when he did there was nobody better. Check it out:


Starr vaults to the top in each of the most important categories, yards per attempt, interception percentage, and completion percentage, while his passer rating is only a hair behind Jurgensen and Dawson (and Dawson probably should be lowered slightly since he played most of his career in the AFL versus defenses most likely a notch below NFL defenses in quality). I’m not trying to prove Starr was definitively better than those other guys. The point is to show it’s no stretch to say he was as good as anybody in the 1960’s. Oh, let’s not forget he was excellent on the ground as well:


Only Brodie’s running ability compares to Starr’s. So Starr was an excellent passer and runner. And while Vince Lombardi famously preferred to run, Starr was no “caretaker” quarterback simply content to handoff and throw short as so many mistakenly believe. In the first place he ranks eighth all-time in career yards per attempt and in his best seasons he routinely topped the eight-yards per pass mark. The man threw deep and usually connected. Secondly, while it obviously didn’t hurt Starr to have two Hall of Fame running backs, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, in his backfield, those guys were pretty much finished by 1965. When the Packers’ running game was well-below average in 1965 and 1966, ranking near the bottom of the league in yards per carry, Starr posted some of his finest seasons, winning two NFL championships and an MVP award. In Starr’s final championship season of 1967, his team’s leading rushers were the immortal Jim Grabowski, Ben Wilson, and Donny Anderson. Starr won with great running games and he won without great running games.

The numbers clearly show Starr to be one of the best passers of his era. In the regular season that is. When it comes to the postseason Starr proved he was not just the greatest of his era, but of all-time. Starr owns the NFL record for career postseason passer rating: 104.8. In the playoffs Starr's QB rating, completion percentage, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, and yards per attempt all actually improved! When it mattered most, Starr raised his game to the ultimate level and he did it whatever the situation.

1) Bad Weather Games. Starr guided his team to NFL titles in three horrible weather games: the 1961, 1962, and 1967 championship games. Most are familiar with the sub-zero temperatures of the 1967’s Ice Bowl, but the 1961 game also featured freezing Green Bay weather, and the 1962 game in New York saw a wind chill factor of 20 below and winds up to 40 m.p.h. Given the field conditions, Starr’s numbers for those three games are understandably less than spectacular but games played in those type of conditions are often decided by turnovers. Starr threw five TD’s in those games and ZERO interceptions. His opposite numbers, Y.A. Tittle and Don Meredith, combined for zero TD’s and six INT’s. The Packers won because Starr didn’t make crucial mistakes. (And despite my earlier promise I did steal that bit of interesting info from Allen Barra’s Book.)

2) Road Games. Starr played in three road playoff games. He won the 1962 and 1966 NFL Championship Games. He lost only the 1960 Championship Game, 17-13 to the Eagles. That was Starr’s first playoff game and he did not play badly in that tough loss. He led his team on a 4th Quarter drive to take the lead. When his special teams and defense gave up the eventual winning TD on the subsequent Eagles’ drive, Star again led his team down the field. On his final pass, from the Eagles’ 22-yard-line Starr connected with Jim Taylor who could only get as far as the 8-yard-line before being dropped by Chuck Bednarik’s great open-field tackle. Starr would never again lose a postseason game.

3) Shootouts. Starr’s best postseason performance was the 1966 NFL title game. He threw for 304 yards and 4 TD’s, and beat Dallas’s Doomsday defense 34-27. Starr led his team to 33 or more points on three other postseason occasions but his opponents’ offenses could not keep pace.

4) Beating the Best. Joe Montana couldn't get past the Giants in the playoffs. Roger Staubach couldn't beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning's had his troubles with the Pariots. By contrast, no team gave Starr’s Packers any kind of trouble in the biggest games. The Giants were the Eastern Conference's best team in the early 1960’s but Starr’s Packers handled them easily in the 1961 and 1962 title games. Cleveland replaced the Giants as the Eastern Conference champs in 1964-1965 and the Browns rolled to a championship over the Colts in 1964. But Starr’s Packers beat them convincingly in 1965. Then, in 1966-1967 the Dallas Cowboys emerged as the Eastern Conference’s powerhouse team but the end results were the same; Starr led his team to two more NFL championships. In 1967, the NFL's best record belonged to the L.A. Rams, who led the league in offense and defense. Starr faced them in the first round of the NFL's new divisional format and beat them handily 28-7. Unfortunately, Starr never got to play his greatest rival, Unitas’ Colts, in the playoffs (both were hurt for the 1965 playoff tiebreaker game). However, Starr won all four regular season games between the teams in 1965 and 1966, propelling the Pack to the Western Conference title in those seasons.

5) Clutch Play. Five titles and eight straight playoff wins alone speak to Starr’s clutch play in the biggest games as do his total of just four interceptions in his playoff career. But Starr saved his best for last: The Ice Bowl. In some of the toughest conditions in NFL history, Starr became the first QB in NFL history to lead his team on a game-winning touchdown drive ending in the final minute of play (only Joe Montana and Eli Manning (!) have since duplicated that feat). To cap his legend, after going five-for-five on the final drive and moving his team to the Dallas one, without telling his teammates what he planned to do Starr kept the ball and scored the winning TD himself.

In every kind of game against every great team of the day, Starr proved he was the best QB of them all. While he threw far less than the other top QB’s of his time, when he did so he was deadly, leading the league five times in passer rating. Yes, he was surrounded by many Hall-of-Fame teammates, but note that Starr was still playing extremely well even after most of his great Hall-of-Fame teammates and coach were either gone or well past their primes. Starr could run, throw the ball deep, and win both on the road and in horrible weather conditions. He won with great running games and terrible running games alike. He called his own plays and his teammates attested to his great leadership skills. Based on all the evidence, I believe Starr could win in any era and with any type of offense. If you had to win one single game and could pick any quarterback to lead your team, your best chance to win would be with Bart Starr at the helm. All hail Bart Starr: The Greatest Quarterback of All-Time.

Not The Greatest Quarterback Of All-Time: The Series

Tom Brady
Brett Favre
John Elway
Dan Marino
Johnny Unitas
Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham
Joe Montana
Bart Starr