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Young, Huff carry stigma of soft Longhorns in NFL
Don't mess with Texas players
Young, Huff carry stigma of soft Longhorns in NFL
Posted: Tuesday February 28, 2006 11:05AM; Updated: Tuesday February 28, 2006 12:25PM
Within NFL personnel circles, Texas quarterback Vince Young is this year's flashpoint for the renewal of an old debate: Why do so many highly touted Longhorn players seem to be such risky bets when it comes to the upper echelons of the draft?
Young, the celebrated and ridiculously gifted centerpiece of the national champion Longhorns, is considered a top-five pick in this year's draft and one of the more unique talents in recent draft history. And yet the track record of underachieving UT players who have gone early in the first round still looms over him.
Though Young already has many fans among NFL coaches and personnel officials, there are questions about his unusual throwing motion and how he would fit into a more traditional NFL-style offense. Now there's even controversy surrounding whether he did or didn't score painfully low on the league-administered Wonderlic intelligence test at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week.
But the bigger picture is that Texas has produced so many first-round disappointments in recent years that the very widely held perception within the league is that many Longhorns stars aren't ready for the rigors of the NFL.
Texas has had two players drafted in the first round in four of the past five years and is expected to make it five out of six this year with Young and safety Michael Huff. All told, seven Longhorns have been taken in the draft's top 10 in the past nine years, the best mark in college football over that span.
But consider some of the names on that list:
•Running back Cedric Benson went fourth to Chicago in 2005, but a contract holdout and a midseason knee injury kept him from making an impact for the playoff-bound Bears.
•Receiver Roy Williams was selected seventh by Detroit in 2004, and while his numbers have been decent (99 catches, 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns in 27 games), he has only four 100-yard receiving games, and his impact has been far less than the Lions had hoped.
•Offensive tackle Mike Williams went fourth to Buffalo in 2002 and was released by the Bills last week after four disappointing seasons in which his play was often characterized as either too soft or sub-par. Williams represents a major draft bust for Buffalo.
• Cornerback Quentin Jammer was selected one spot behind Mike Williams, going fifth to San Diego. Jammer has been a starter for the Chargers and has been solid if unspectacular most of the time. But for a No. 5 overall pick, his impact quotient has been disappointing.
•Offensive tackle Leonard Davis was the second pick in 2001, just behind Michael Vick. Davis, however, was moved to a less demanding guard position in his first three seasons with Arizona and only switched to the pivotal left-tackle slot in 2004.
•Running back Ricky Williams saw the New Orleans Saints give up their entire draft for the right to choose him fifth in 1999. Williams has been a very productive pro when he has played, but his story has had more than its share of setbacks amid the successes.
•Cornerback Bryant Westbrook was taken fifth by Detroit in 1997, but he has never come close to living up to that lofty draft slot.
Some league personnel evaluators fault the Texas strength-and-conditioning program, and others say there's a "country club atmosphere'' on campus, with the entire program being the toast of Austin and treated royally at all times.
"There's probably a reason why Vince Young is the first Texas player to enter the draft as a junior,'' said one NFL defensive coordinator. "Nobody wants to leave there. It's so easy. So comfortable. When they do get to the league, those guys just aren't as tough as they should be. Mike Williams was soft. Roy Williams has played soft.''
Huff, the top-rated safety in this year's draft and a probable top 15 pick, is very familiar with the perception that Texas players find the NFL challenging after the insulating environment of Austin.
"It is nice there,'' Huff said Sunday at the combine. "It's kind of our own little NFL town. All the fans love us. Everywhere around the city, restaurants and everywhere, people know us and just love us. I'm sure in the NFL, fans kind of question you and they don't love you as much until you start winning for them. But in Austin, you play for them, they love you.''
Huff said he and his fellow Longhorns know they must deal with Texas' recent track record of first-round disappointments and address the trend as part of their pre-draft screening process.
"I've definitely heard about that perception, because it's been around for a while now,'' Huff said. "And the higher we go in the draft, the more people will be looking at us and kind of wanting us to fail. So it's kind of on us to take the program on our shoulders.''
Six Longhorns were invited to this year's combine. Besides Young and Huff, three other Texas players have a chance to be selected somewhere in the draft's top three rounds: defensive tackle Rodrique Wright, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and cornerback Cedric Griffin.
Texas has not been totally devoid of successful draft picks in recent years. For the first time ever, three ex-Longhorns made the NFL's Pro Bowl this season: Detroit defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (second round, 2001), Pittsburgh defensive tackle Casey Hampton (first round, 2001) and Chicago cornerback Nathan Vasher (fourth round, 2004).
Also, former Longhorn defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs (first round, 2004) was playing solid ball in the second half of the Seattle Seahawks' drive to the Super Bowl last season, Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson (first round, 2005) had a fine rookie season and Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms (third round, 2003) led the Bucs into the playoffs in his third season and first year as a starter. Chiefs running back Priest Holmes went undrafted out of Texas in 1997 but has made three Pro Bowl teams with Kansas City.
But for now, all eyes are on Young as the questions swirl regarding his NFL future. He's an undeniable talent, but if his development as a starting quarterback is slow, some of the familiar criticism of the Texas program will no doubt surface.
"You have to ask yourself how quickly he may be able to help you,'' said a veteran defensive coordinator. "It might be a couple years before he's really ready to take over a team. Maybe the first year he sits, then the second year he plays, but is he any good as a first-time starter? The third year it's his time to play and get it done, but can a head coach hang around and still be there when that day comes?''
Finding just the right team to draft and building an offense around Young might be the key, Colts head coach Tony Dungy said.
"Vince Young is a special, special guy, and if you're willing to tailor your offense to what he can do well, people are going to have to defend things they've never had to defend before, even with Michael Vick,'' Dungy said at the combine. "He has a chance to be something special, but you have to be willing to utilize the talents he has. If you can structure it that way, he can be special.''
Atlanta general manager Rich McKay also believes that Young's unique set of skills could wind up being trendsetting over the long haul.
"He's a big man with a big arm,'' McKay said. "In 10 years, I believe you're going to see a lot more Vince Youngs and Michael Vicks in the game. You don't see it now, because people are scared of [their style of quarterbacking].''
What NFL personnel evaluators might be a little timid about when it comes to Young is the University of Texas' less-than-stellar record of turning out first-round picks who develop into high-pedigree NFL stars. The Longhorns' recent history of draft-day misses hardly works in Young's favor.
Re: Young, Huff carry stigma of soft Longhorns in NFL
So, to summarize, Texas players have a tough time in the NFL, except for the ones who don't have a tough time in the NFL.