The worst thing about being a bad team in the NFL this season is that you can't compete for the first pick in next year's draft. That choice goes to expansion Houston, which if it had to choose right now, probably would take ...
Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina. Unless he stays in school (unlikely) or is wooed by the NBA, where he might be the next Dennis Rodman -- with more bulk and far less baggage.
OK, all of this is six months away.
But remember that the first pick in the draft should be an impact player. That usually means a quarterback or defensive player who can disrupt an offense.
The quarterback of choice right now is David Carr of Fresno State, although his stock has declined a bit with two straight losses. Still, Dan "The Fan" Snyder, the Redskins' owner, wants to personally scout Carr to determine if he's the real thing. How Dan the Fan would know that is a different question.
Houston, of course, is looking at Carr, too, as well as the other potential first-round QBs, Joey Harrington of Oregon and Ken Dorsey of Miami, a junior who says he is staying in school.
A team using the first pick in the draft on a QB wants him to be John Elway or Peyton Manning -- or at least Tim Couch, who this year is starting to justify being No. 1 in 1999. You don't want Ryan Leaf, of course, but neither do you want a player who might be just ordinary like, say, Kerry Collins or Steve McNair, high first-rounders who are OK, but not much more.
It's all guesswork anyway, because brains, heart and other unmeasurable factors often determine who succeeds. Brett Favre was a second-round pick, Joe Montana a third and Kurt Warner was way, way off the board.
Running backs, who have relatively short careers and are easier to find, rarely are No. 1 overall picks these days.
In fact, the worst decision ever made with a first pick might have been in 1981 by Bum Phillips, who took George Rogers for New Orleans. Rogers turned out to be a pretty good player, but the second pick (and the man all 27 other teams would have taken No. 1) was Lawrence Taylor, who was a lot more than a pretty good player.
Lawrence Taylor played at North Carolina. So does Julius Peppers.
Dom Capers, the Houston coach, loves defense (and coached the Carolina Panthers).
With the first pick ...
GADGETS: As the 2001 season nears the midway point, there have been 13 passes thrown by non-quarterbacks. Five have gone for touchdowns -- by Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, New England's David Patten, Washington's Kevin Lockett, St. Louis' Az-Zahir Hakim and Chicago's Marty Booker.
That's a much better ratio than last year, although there should be about the same number of gadget passes. Of 29 thrown last season, only two went for TDs -- by the Jets' Curtis Martin and the Titans' Frank Wycheck.
RUN, RUN, RUN: So far this season, running backs have gone over 100 yards 44 times and passers have thrown for 300 or more 28 times.
Of the 100-yard rushers, 34 were on winning teams and 10 were on losing teams. The teams of the 300-yard passers are 16-12, which is one reason not to get too excited when a QB's 300-yard games are listed.
It makes sense. A team that runs successfully usually gets ahead, then runs to stay ahead. A team that gets behind passes, then passes some more, as Kerry Collins did last week for the Giants.
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