April 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Jerry Green

NFL draft's history marked by plenty of hits, and misses

Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick by the New England Patriots out of Michigan in 2000. He's since appeared in five Super Bowls, winning three. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Joe Montana was hardly a scintillating prospect for any pro football team the year he became available for the NFL draft out of Notre Dame. He was considered too skinny, too small and not very worthy as a passer to thrive as an NFL quarterback.

He was skipped over through 81 choices before Bill Walsh selected him for the 49ers at the last man on the third round in 1979.

Tom Brady was regarded, basically, as cannon fodder for some NFL team the year he became available for the NFL draft out of Michigan. Teams need practice-squad players and fourth-stringers to hold clipboards on the sidelines. Brady had not been considered anyone special at Michigan, so why should any NFL scout waste time drooling over his prospects?

He was bypassed as 198 players were selected before Bill Belichick selected him for the Patriots in the sixth round in 2000. As a compensatory pick.

On the other hand, Ryan Leaf was envisioned as a can't-miss quarterback prospect when he became available for the NFL draft out of Washington State. The Chargers selected Leaf with the No. 2 overall pick in 1998, before such an available player as Charles Woodson, who became All-Pro. Leaf was assessed as a college quarterback with Super Bowl potential.

A football takes strange and crazy bounces.

Montana won four Super Bowls with majestic and dominant performances for the 49ers. He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Brady won three Super Bowls for the Patriots — and lost two more. He is a sure shot to qualify for Pro Football Hall of Fame the first year he is eligible some six, seven, eight years from now.

Leaf? Well, he turned into a pro football bum, was cast away and turned to other pursuits. He, so sadly, bummed out also in his second career — crime.

Win some, lose some

The conclusion here is that the pro scouts — lots of good ole boys — the head coaches and the pro general managers make more mistakes and more misjudgments on the few days of the glorified April NFL draft than their football players do during the 16 games of the autumn season.

And every one of those scouts, coaches and GMs work with bull's-eyes etched on the back for their jackets.

"Quarterbacks get too much praise when they win and too much blame when they lose," Jim Finks told me once upon a time.

Well, that was when a I was rookie journalist writing pro football for The Detroit News — and that was 47 years ago. And Finks himself had been an OK pro quareterback and a successful NFL GM.

The select words have remained so tightly accurate through all the drafts — and all the seasons — ever since.

One the other hand, again, those easy targets — the scouts, coaches and GMs — do have their flashes of brilliance. Through the years, Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning were first picks off the draft boards. And all became quarterbacks who won Super Bowls — all festooned with weepy credit by We-The-Media.

Namath won Super Bowl III for the Jets of the then American Football League — and forced NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to toss away his gameplan for the future of pro football. Bradshaw won four Super Bowls for the Steelers. Aikman won three for the Cowboys (and he also was the only quarterback to lose a playoff game to the Lions since 1957).

Plunkett was considered a bust when drafted by the Partiots in 1971 out of Stanford. He was judged a bust again when the migrated to the 49ers. Then he moved to the Raiders and late in his career won two Super Bowls.

Elway, also from Stanford, refused to play for the Baltimore Colts. Traded to the Broncos, he really achieved more praise than deserved early on. He lost three Super Bowls before winning two.

Peyton Manning was picked No. 1 off the board before the ill-starred Leaf in 1998. Manning with an over-abundance of praise won one Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts — despite a multitude of postseason appearances. He lost his second Super Bowl with Indy.

Brother Eli Manning stubbornly declared he would not play for the Chargers if picked No. 1 off the board 2004. The Chargers drafted Eli despite the threat, then were forced to trade him to the Giants.

Since then Eli has won two Super Bowls — both due to quick-witted pass plays late in the fourth quarters. In both games the quarterback for the defeated team was Brady.

Eli — in the strange manner those of us in the media use to judge pro quarterbacks — has not yet received the acclaim of his older brother. Yet Eli has doubled up on Super Bowl victories over Peyton.

The NFL's draft — I have declared this for years — always has been a game of pin the tail on the donkey. You know, the Halloween party game in which kids are spun around until dizzy, then sent off blindfolded to stab a tail at the hindquarters of a donkey pictured on a wall.

It is all OK: the Raiders drafting poor, bewildered JaMarcus Russell first of the board in 2007. Or the poor, bewildered Lions drafting Joey Harrington as the third man in 2002 — then not obtaining sufficient players to protect him.

Stuff happens!

'Wizards' can miss mark

All this nostalgia stuff, of course, is the byproduct of the bleatings that emanated about this weekend's 2013 draft. Tch, tch.

Linebacker Manti Te'o, ignored through the entire first and into the second, partly because of what the Associated Press called "a stinker" of a performance for Notre Dame in the national championship game. Plus his weird phantom girlfriend escapade. All that dumping on one guy who stuck around Notre Dame for education and played a dozen excellent games before the single stinker. The Chargers, with their horrid draft history, traded upward for Te'o.

And oh, how awful, just one quarterback drafted in the first round — Florida State's EJ Manuel by the Bills as 16th off the board. And only another QB in the second round, West Virginia's prolific Geno Smith by the Jets. Now more quarterback controversy in New York — Smith, or another guy, over Mark Sanchez. All Sanchez has done was lead the Jets to the playoffs twice since being drafted in the first round, No. 5, in 2009 after the Lions made Matthew Stafford the top pick.

And finally, Matt Barkley, out of Southern California, selected on the first pick of Round 4 by the Eagles. Barkley, projected a year ago as a first-rounder, dropping all the way to fourth round and castigated again by the AP for frittering away millions by not coming out after his junior season at USC. After all, USC was projected last summer to be No. 1 in the fall — by the same wizards now analyzing this draft.

Then — just perhaps — a college degree might be worth something to Barkley.

And just a little solace for Manti Te'o: Joe Schmidt was drafted by the Lions on the seventh round in 1953.

All Joe did was lead the Lions to three NFL championships; get voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; and become their head coach. And also, Schmidt provided a little spice for us on draft day when he stormed out of the Lions' offices and headed, briefly homeward, on the freeway. He had been overruled owner William Clay Ford, listening to GM Russ Thomas — and quarterback Greg Landry was selected in the first round in 1968.

The draft has always been entertaining. But now descendants of the wizards who missed on their assessments of Montana in 1979 from office cubicles are trying to pin the tail on the donkey on national television. Brought to all of us straight from the Radio City Music Hall in glittery Manhattan.

Where are you going Tim Tebow?

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.

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