Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano expressed a combination of excitement and relief that Andrew Luck will soon be his quarterback.
“We've got a great one for years to come,” Pagano said. “If you don't have a quarterback, it's really, really hard to win, especially in the National Football League. I'm going to sleep tonight knowing that we have a quarterback for a long time.”
The Colts hope Pagano's restful sleep is justified. Indianapolis will pick Luck with the No.1 selection in the NFL Draft at 8 tonight in New York City. He looks like the real deal, a special quarterback worthy of the “franchise player” role. But the history of the No. 1 pick reminds us there are no guarantees.
Picking a “random” starting point – Peyton Manning going to the Colts in 1998 – here's a look at the last 14 players taken No. 1 in the draft, followed by a verdict known as Boom or Bust:
1998: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
The last time the Colts were in this situation, they had to decide between the University of Tennessee's Manning or Washington State's Ryan Leaf. You know the outcome. Manning became one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Leaf's life, let alone his career, has been one struggle after another.
Manning proved that the right No. 1 can make a franchise. He turned the Colts from not especially lovable losers into one of the league's elite.
1999: Tim Couch, QB, Cleveland Browns
Couch didn't have the pedigree of Manning, but the perennial rebuilding Browns thought the Kentucky product could be the type of big-arm quarterback to lead them finally toward the Promised Land. Or at least a playoff berth. Instead, the Browns ended up with the top pick again the next season.
Couch played five seasons, threw more interceptions than touchdowns and did not lead the Browns to the Promised Land.
2000: Courtney Brown, DE, Cleveland Browns
This time around, the Browns went defense with the productive end from Penn State. He played five seasons with the Browns, compiling 17 sacks and, again, no trips to the Promised Land.
2001: Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons
The word for Vick is dynamic, but fragile and erratic are close behind. When he's on, he's fun to watch and sometimes unstoppable. But his time in Atlanta fizzled with attitude and, eventually, a prison sentence for his role in a dog-fighting ring. Since then, he's come back and played well, when healthy, with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Verdict: Not quite Boom, not quite Bust
2002: David Carr, QB, Houston Texans
Helpful tip: If you're going to draft a quarterback, make sure you also have an offensive line. Carr, the hotshot out of Fresno State, might have had a tremendous career if he'd entered the league with a better-built team. He was sacked 76 times in this first season. He had some decent years with the Texans (3,531 yards passing in 2004), but has bounced around as a backup the last five years.
2003: Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
It's fairly unfathomable now, but Palmer didn't take a snap his rookie season, standing and learning behind Jon Kitna. From 2005 to 2007, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The only thing stopping him from long-term glory was a knee injury that limited his mobility. It was a good pick by the Bengals. No one can predict injuries.
2004: Eli Manning, QB, San Diego Chargers
Yes, he was drafted by the Chargers. No, he would not play for them and the Chargers arranged prior to the draft to trade him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers. A good deal for both teams, but a tad better for the Giants.
Eli might not be considered as brother Peyton's equal, but he has more rings and he's in his prime now.
Verdict: Boom (for the Giants)
2005: Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Smith is a tough one to judge. He seemed like an underachiever during his first few seasons, but finally, in his seventh year, he helped the 49ers to the NFC Championship game. However, not too long after the season, the 49ers decided to go ahead and talk with free agent Peyton Manning about possibly moving west. Ultimately, Manning said no and the 49ers stuck with Smith. Or are they stuck with Smith?
Verdict: Bust, but not completely
2006: Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans
Williams or Reggie Bush? That was the debate. The Texans went with defense and Williams became one of the more feared pass rushers in the game. Alas, Houston watched him leave in free agency this offseason.
2007: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders
They're thinking of changing the term “Bust” to “JaMarcus.”
2008: Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins
That's pretty bold, picking an offensive tackle first. It would help if he had an elite quarterback to protect. But he's a four-time Pro Bowl player, so that pretty much settles it. And he's still 6-foot-7 and 317 pounds.
2009: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
In his third season, he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns and he led the Lions to the playoffs. I repeat: He led the Lions to the playoffs.
2010: Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
Bradford's production has been underwhelming so far, but he has been on a fairly lousy team and missed time last year with injury. The Rams thought enough of him to trade away the No.2 pick in this year's draft, so that says something. This is a pivotal season.
2011: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
All Newton did was defy his critics, take the Ben Roethlisberger style of quarterbacking, add even more speed and throw for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns. Some say Newton's style is changing the type of quarterbacks NFL teams hope to pursue.
So over the last 14 drafts, I count 7 ½ booms, so that's better than a 50-50 proposition. Colts fans can rest assured the odds are with them. They do have an offensive line, right?