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The Eagles Dodged A Bullet By Drafting McNabb In 1999

The Eagles took Donovan McNabb in a quarterback-heavy 1999 NFL Draft. How would things have been different if they had picked a different QB?

The Eagles took Donovan McNabb in a quarterback-heavy 1999 NFL Draft. How would things have been different if they had picked a different QB?

Entering the 1999 NFL Draft, three quarterbacks were being pursued very heavily: Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith. The Browns, Eagles, and Bengals were all in need of a franchise quarterback and all ended up selecting one of the three. The Eagles ended up with McNabb, who took the team to new heights while the Browns and Bengals drafted busts.

Draft Prospects

Donovan McNabb had all the skills to be a successful NFL quarterback. He had the strength, size, and speed to play at a very high level. At Syracuse, McNabb had a 35–14 record and was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year three times from 1996 through 1998. He had 8,389 passing yards, 1,561 rushing yards, and 96 total touchdowns during his college career.

From McNabb’s first year in 1995 to his last in 1998, Syracuse finished ranked in the AP and Coaches Poll in all four years. In 1997 and 1998, McNabb led the Orangemen to become the Big East champions.

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Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith were the top three quarterbacks, and all would be drafted with the top three picks. Not far behind were Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown who were taken around 10 picks later.

The 1999 QB class was even being compared to 1983’s featuring Elway, Kelly, and Marino. The 1999 QB class never came close to living up to the hype as only McNabb and Culpepper made the Pro Bowl, with neither being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and recap the top of the first round:

1999 NFL Draft:

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  • #1 Browns: Tim Couch (QB, Kentucky)
  • #2 Eagles: Donovan McNabb (QB, Syracuse)
  • #3 Bengals: Akili Smith (QB, Oregon)
  • #4 Colts: Edgerrin James (RB, Miami)
  • #5 Saints: Ricky Williams (RB, Texas)
  • #6 Rams: Torry Holt (WR, NC State)
  • #7 Redskins: Champ Bailey (CB, Redskins)
  • #8 Cardinals: David Boston (WR, Ohio State)
  • #9 Lions: Chris Claiborne (LB, USC)
  • #10 Ravens: Chris McAlister (CB, Arizona)
  • #11 Vikings: Daunte Culpepper (QB, UCF)
  • #12 Bears: Cade McNown (QB, UCLA)

The McNabb Effect

The Eagle’s second overall pick was surrounded by busts. If the Browns didn’t make a typical Cleveland move in selecting Couch and instead had drafted McNabb, the Eagles would be stuck with Tim Couch or Akili Smith.

The Eagles could have just as easily gone a different direction and considered drafting Heisman-winner Ricky Williams. Running back Ricky Williams was far from a bust, but he had a disappointing NFL career. Even when the Eagles drafted McNabb, he was met with boos from the masses. Many fans felt that he would be a bust and keep the Eagles in the cellar of the NFC East.

Andy Reid was also hired as head coach for his first year in 1999. Reid was not well known to most football fans during the 1990s and emerged as a head coaching candidate out of nowhere. The Eagles took a chance on him and it paid off big dividends. The Reid-McNabb duo became one of the top NFL forces during the 2000s.

Donovan McNabb pleased those who believed in him and proved those who doubted him wrong. McNabb led the Eagles to four-straight NFC Championships during his first six seasons. Unfortunately, McNabb’s hopeful Hall of Fame resume still lacks the Super Bowl victory that Philadelphia fans desperately wanted.

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