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1983 Draft

By Patrick Mondout

It is debatable whether or not this was the greatest draft of all time. What is not in doubt is that it was the greatest draft for quarterbacks of all time and one of the deepest with six sure Hall of Famers and close to 40 Pro Bowlers!

John Elway was clearly the number one pick and had been called the greatest college QB of all time. He was as "can't miss" as any draft pick ever. He had an economics degree from Stanford, was a coach's son, he could run, he could throw, he could throw on the run, and he could hit (the latter became a bargaining chip he used against the Colts). He went on to post the most regular season victories and come-from-behind victories in history and he led his team to more Super Bowls than any other quarterback.

Even after Elway was selected by a team he informed he would would not play for, there was still a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks left on the board though both were saddled with issues that dropped them much lower in the draft than their talent indicated. Had all three been available for the 1982 draft, they would have been taken with the first three picks.

Jim Kelly from Miami had shoulder surgery, which concerned many teams. So unsure were the Bills that they passed on him with their number 12 overall pick and took Notre Dame tight end Tony Hunter, who had been projected to go as high as in the top five! The Bills were fortunate the Lions took fullback James Jones of Florida at 13 leaving Kelly to them with the #14 pick they had obtained from the Browns for former #1 overall pick Tom Cousineau. Like Cousineau, Kelly refused to sign with the bills and held out. He later signed with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, where he ran up some amazing stats before finally signing with the Bills after the fall of the failed league. He would lead the Bills to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowls though each one was in defeat.

Dan Marino was an enigma. He came into the 1982 season at Pitt ranked near Elway but had a disappointing season throwing 23 interceptions (Elway, by comparison, had just set an NCAA career record with a 3.13% interception ratio). He also suffered unsubstantiated rumors regarding drug use. The hometown hero was even booed during home games. One of the truly great draft analysts Joel Buchsbaum wrote in Pro Football Weekly that Marino, "is this year's Art Schlichter, according to some people. It will be three years before he's ready to play in the NFL. He's immature and has poor passing mechanics."

It is hard to even invent a more wide-of-the-mark assessment but obviously he wasn't the only one to feel that way. Teams cooled on the Pitt QB and he ended up not only being the sixth and last quarterback taken in the first round, but the third Panther taken after teammates Jimbo Covert (#6 overall) and Tim Lewis (#11 overall).

On the plus side, he was going to play for a team that had just completed a Super Bowl season under a Hall of Fame coach and a team that stole wideout Mark Clayton in the eight round of this draft to go with 1982 second rounder Mark Duper.

Some call Marino the greatest quarterback of all time. That is debatable. That he through for more touchdowns and yards than anyone in the history of the game is not.

Many fans consider Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien draft busts - mostly because both were taken ahead of Marino. I watched this draft live on ESPN and I'll never forget the bewilderment amongst the analysts and fans in New York when O'Brien's name was called out instead of Marino. Yes, it was a mistake, but O'Brien made the Pro Bowl twice - including in his second full season - and threw for a respectable 25,094 yards and 128 touchdowns with only 98 interceptions. Had Marino not been on the board, Jets fans might look back on O'Brien more fondly. Tony Eason, though injuries cut his career short, became the second of the "Class of '83" to lead his team to Super Bowl, though they were crushed by the Chicago Bears. He was a backup to O'Brien on the Jets in 1989 and 1990.

There was, however, one true bust of the quarterback "Class of '83." The Chiefs took Penn State's Todd Blackledge at number 7 overall and he simply never lived up to his potential. In seven forgettable seasons, he threw for only slightly more yards than Marino did in 1984 alone (5,286 vs 5,084). Blackledge is in Canton, Ohio. Right now in fact! Ironically enough, he was born and raised in the Hall's hometown and still lives there.

Other draft busts included the incredibly bad Michael Haddix, who averaged 3.0 yards a carry and scored three touchdowns (on 543 carries in a eight year career!).

The first round not only includes the three Hall of Fame QBs, but one of the best running backs of all time (Eric Dickerson, #2 overall), Curt Warner (a notch below Dickerson until injuries ruined his career), ageless wonder Darrell Green (#28 overall). It also produced great blockers for these QBs and RBs in Chris Hinton (guard, #4 overall), Jim Covert (tackle, #6 overall), Bruce Matthews (tackle, #9 overall), Dave Rimington (center, #25 overall) and Don Mosebar (tackle, #26 overall). In fact, 15 of the 28 first rounders played in at least one Pro Bowl!

The later rounds proved filled with future Pro Bowlers too: Henry Ellard, Wes Hopkins, Darryl Talley, Ron Brown (as a kick returner), Keith Bostic, Leonard Marshall, Roger Craig, Albert Lewis, Dave Duerson, Mike Cofer, Charles Mann, Mark Bortz, Greg Townsend, Earnest Jackson, Mark Clayton, Reggie Roby, Jesse Sapolu, Richard Dent, Tim Krumrie and Karl Mecklenburg. The last five were selected after the seventh round and six time Pro Bowler Mecklenburg was taken in the 12th!

This draft could have been even better. The USFL held its draft in January and had already signed a number of players before the NFL draft while others were rumored to be considering offers from the rival league. Thus a number of promising players fell down draft boards: contemporary newspaper reports suggested that USFL signees Kelvin Bryant, Irv Eatman, Tim Spencer, Craig James, and Trumaine Johnson were probably first round NFL picks and that QB Reggie Collier was ranked "by many" ahead of Dan Marino. David Greenwood, Anthony Carter and Todd Ramsey would also have been drafted early. Even undrafted players, such as future Pro Bowlers Bart Oates, Bobby Hebert and Frank Minnifield, went on to have successful careers. We will never know how differently the '83 draft would have played out with these six guys thrown in.

While the Chicago Bears not only came away with Jimbo Covert and Willie Gault in the first round, they also drafted five additional starters for their incredible 1985 championship team.

At least one team understood as early as April, 1982 that this draft would be special. The San Diego Chargers virtually traded out of the 1982 draft in order to stock up on '83 picks. In fact, the Chargers did not pick until the 7th round in '82. Heading into the draft with a pair of first round, second round, and fourth round picks, they traded up to end up with three first rounders. Despite this, they did not draft a successor to Dan Fouts, though they almost had a trade completed for John Elway (they refused to part with the #5 overall pick and Baltimore refused to accept an '84 first rounder instead).

Ironically, all six of the first round quarterbacks were selected by AFC teams and between Marino's Super Bowl loss following the 1984 season through the 1997 loss by the Patriots to the Packers, no AFC team won a championship. Marino and Eason each lost once while Elway lost three times followed by Kelly's four straight losses. It took a pair of victories by Elway in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII to finally end the "curse" of the '83 quarterback class. While that made then 2-9 in the big game, they did collectively win 11 conference championships to get there.'s Len Pasquarelli wrote about a year ago that the 1983 draft, "may have been nothing more than a freak, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, some sort of a football harmonic convergence that might never be duplicated." While it was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, there is a logical - if overlooked - reason that so many good players became available this particular season. In January of 1978, the NCAA - acting on a proposal by college basketball power DePaul - agreed alter the rules and allow teams to "redshirt" freshman in sports effective immediately, leading to essentially two draft classes coming out at the same time in 1983.

This draft produced six certain or current Hall of Famers (Elway, Dickerson, Marino, Kelly, Bruce Matthews and Darrell Green) and at least two others who have a shot in Richard Dent and Roger Craig. If the latter two make it, the '83 draft class will join the '57 draft class (Jim Brown, Jim Parker, Henry Jordan, Tommy McDonald, Sonny Jurgenson, Paul Hornung, Len Dawson, and Don Maynard) and the '53 class (Doug Atkins, John Henry Johnson, Bob St. Clair, Stan Jones, Jim Ringo, Joe Schmidt, Chuck Noll, and Roosevelt 'Rosey' Brown) for second best of all-time.* It is also possible that a player turned coach, such as #11 overall pick Tim Lewis (defensive coordinator for the Steelers), eighth round pick Gary Kubiak (offensive coordinator for the Broncos) or ninth rounder Mike Mularkey (Bills head coach), might achieve the kind of success that put Chuck Noll in the Hall and tip the balance in favor of the class of '83.

In any case, it was deeper than any draft my memory and gets the award for NFL Draft of the Century. If you need any further proof, compare it to the dreadful 1984 draft.

Below is the first round of the 1983 NFL draft. We also have the entire 12 round draft.

# Team Player Pos School
1 Baltimore Colts John Elway QB Stanford
2 Los Angeles Rams1 Eric Dickerson RB SMU
3 Seattle Seahawks2 Curt Warner RB Penn State
4 Denver Broncos Chris Hinton OL Northwestern
5 San Diego Chargers3 Billy Ray Smith LB Arkansas
6 Chicago Bears Jimbo Covert OL Pittsburgh
7 Kansas City Chiefs Todd Blackledge QB Penn State
8 Philadelphia Eagles Michael Haddix RB Mississippi State
9 Houston Oilers4 Bruce Mathews OL USC
10 New York Giants Terry Kinard DB Clemson
11 Green Bay Packers5 Tim Lewis CB Pittsburgh
12 Buffalo Bills Tony Hunter TE Notre Dame
13 Detroit Lions James Jones FB Florida
14 Buffalo Bills6 Jim Kelly QB Miami
15 New England Patriots Tony Eason QB Illinois
16 Atlanta Falcons Mike Pitts DE Alabama
17 St. Louis Cardinals Leonard Smith CB McNeese State
18 Chicago Bears7 Willie Gault WR Tennessee
19 Minnesota Vikings Joey Browner DB USC
20 San Diego Chargers8 Gary Anderson RB Arkansas
21 Pittsburgh Steelers Gabriel Rivera DT Texas Tech
22 San Diego Chargers Gill Byrd CB San Jose State
23 Dallas Cowboys Jim Jeffcoat DE Arizona State
24 New York Jets Ken O'Brien QB California-Davis
25 Cincinnati Bengals Dave Rimington C Nebraska
26 Los Angeles Raiders Don Mosebar OL USC
27 Miami Dolphins Dan Marino QB Pittsburgh
28 Washington Redskins Darrell Green CB Texas A&I

1 - Pick acquired from the Houston Oilers
2 - Pick acquired from the Los Angeles Rams
3 - Pick acquired from the San Francisco 49ers
4 - Pick acquired from the Seattle Seahawks
5 - Pick acquired from the New Orleans Saints
6 - Pick acquired from the Cleveland Browns
7 - Pick acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8 - Pick acquired from the Green Bay Packers

* The nine Hall of Famers taken in 1964 include  Bob Brown, T, Philadelphia Eagles - 1st round (2nd overall); Charley Taylor, HB, Washington Redskins - 1st round (3rd overall); Carl Eller, DE, Minnesota Vikings - 1st round (6th overall); Paul Warfield, HB, Cleveland Browns - 1st round (11th overall); Mel Renfro, DB, Dallas Cowboys - 2nd round (17th overall); Paul Krause, S, Washington Redskins - 2nd round (18th overall); Dave Wilcox, LB, San Francisco 49ers - 3rd round (29th overall); Leroy Kelly, RB, Cleveland Browns - 8th round (110th overall); Roger Staubach, QB, Dallas Cowboys - 10th round (129th overall).



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1983 DRAFT

Photo by Michael Ponzini, 2006

Held: April 26-27, 1983

#1 pick: John Elway (pictured)

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