The latest in NFL Films’ “Caught in the Draft” documentary series aired Wednesday night and, as they were in the episode about the 1974 draft, the Redskins were featured prominently. Washington had the third pick in 1994 and was choosing between Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler and Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer. We all know how that turned out, but I still found it an interesting, albeit painful, look back.
Dilfer was convinced he was headed to Washington, but that changed when Norv Turner was hired as the Redskins’ coach.
“At the end of the regular season, we had Trent Dilfer rated ahead of Heath Shuler,” former Washington general manager Charlie Casserly said. “We thought he was more like what we had been used to with the Redskins — big, strong-armed guy. With the change in coaches, mobility became a big issue, so that’s where Shuler kind of jumped up in the process.”
Casserly didn’t put Shuler in the same class as Troy Aikman and Drew Bledsoe, who were drafted No. 1 overall in 1989 and 1992, respectively, but the Heisman runner-up was considered a can’t-miss prospect. Chris Mortensen sure thought so.
“Personally, I thought Heath Shuler had first-round ability but wasn’t a top pick,” Casserly said. “But what happens is you can talk yourself into, ‘We have to get a quarterback, and if we don’t take one here, we won’t get one.’ ”
After the Bucs took Dilfer at No. 6, the next QBs taken were Perry Klein (111th overall), Doug Nussmeier (116th), Jim Miller (178th) and the Redskins’ seventh-round pick, Gus Frerotte. As Shuler struggled, Frerotte became a fan favorite and eventually won the starting job.
The documentary features an amusing clip from a “McLaughlin Group” episode in 1994. Pat Buchanan had the first word on issue one: ‘How successful will Gus Frerotte be?’
“John, if Heath Shuler’s performance last week is any measure, which is absolute zero, this guy can’t get less than a five,” he said.
Throughout Shuler’s struggles, the reaction from fans and pundits weighed on him.
“I went into Coach Turner and said, ‘Coach, why do these people hate me so much?’ It emotionally affected me because I’d never had people dislike me ever in my life,” said Shuler, who found more success serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007 to 2013.
“We took the guy that everybody said, ‘This guy’s a can’t-miss,’ ” Casserly said. “Well, it didn’t work out. We were trying to find a young quarterback. We found a guy in the seventh round ahead of a guy in the first round. That’s really what happened at the end of the day.”