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Donovan McNabb and the inglorious end of the QB draft class of 1999

Donovan McNabb was the last man standing from the once-heralded quarterback draft class of 1999. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Five quarterbacks were chosen in the first round that year, and the dreaded ‘Can’t-Miss’ label was given to several of them. Only McNabb — and, Daunte Culpepper, briefly — fulfilled their promise and all five suffered ignominious ends to their careers. Here, in all their infamy and in order that they were drafted, is the story of the 1999 NFL Quarterback Draft Class....

Maybe Tim Couch (first overall pick) was overrated as a prospect, and maybe he was doomed from the start by playing for a dismal franchise that to this day just can’t get anything right. We’ll never know exactly what did him in, but after being tabbed to be the franchise signal caller for years to come he was ultimately done in by his own poor performance on the field and by chronic shoulder injuries that sapped his throwing ability and led to embarrassing allegations about HGH and steroid use in his failed attempts to recover. His personal life suffered, too, but we’ll get to that. Meanwhile, Cleveland continues to fail in about every conceivable way.

That McNabb (second overall pick) is the most decorated of all of these men is less an affirmation of his underrated career and more an indictment of the collective disappointment that his classmates came to embody. He had a rocky road to earning the respect of Philly fans but ultimately led the Eagles to a decade of NFC East dominance that included five NFC Championship appearances and the Birds’ first Super Bowl appearance since 1980. Yet his disturbingly precipitous downfall was highlighted by his mercurial, flighty personality — he inexplicably ran out of gas in the Super Bowl, didn't know the rules for overtime and apparently had suspect practice habits and a weak grip on the playbook. And now, after a dismal season in Washington and a half-season flameout in Minnesota, McNabb is almost certainly done in the NFL — even if he doesn't think so.

Scouts probably should have seen the failure of Akili Smith (third overall pick) coming a mile away. A physical phenom and one-year-wonder at Oregon, he was too raw and too inexperienced to succeed, especially for the then-woebegone Bengals. He’s right up there with Ryan Leaf for the title of Biggest QB Bust of All Time (though Leaf wins the Jerk Competition by miles), and even the quarterback-guru Packers couldn't resuscitate Smith’s career.

For a brief period of time it seemed that Culpepper (11th overall pick) would be the brightest star of the class. He made the Vikings a contender and set all types of franchise throwing records in Minnesota, but a catastrophic knee injury in 2005 derailed his career. After being cut by the Vikings he was never the same player in Miami, Oakland or Detroit, and his career was probably shortened in part by his bizarre insistence on being his own agent.

Cade McNown (12th overall pick) was the clean-cut pretty boy of the Class of ‘99. The southpaw from UCLA was famous for clutch performances and losing his lunch on the field, but his skills never translated to the NFL. He bombed with the Bears and couldn’t get back on track with the 49ers, and his backup at UCLA ultimately had far more NFL success than he did. McNown did manage to get himself banned from the Playboy mansion and to steal Tim Couch's Playmate girlfriend (separate incidents), tarnishing his squeaky clean image in the process. Silver lining: Couch got his girlfriend back and married her.

Drafting quarterbacks is a notoriously inexact science and never was that more true than with the Class of ‘99. Take Culpepper out of the equation (disregard his quirky personality, and his success curtailed by injury makes it hard to label him either a bust or a success), and add one McNabb to three parts Couch/Smith/McNown and you’ve got a 25 percent success rate with these first-rounders. An inexact science indeed. But who could’ve predicted that each would flame out so ingloriously? It’s a sad, strange end to a tale that began with so much hope.

Side note: Other quarterbacks from later rounds in the '99 NFL Draft include Brock Huard (picked in round 3 and more successful than most of the first-rounders), Aaron Brooks (a 4th round pick who defines the boom/bust cycle in modern textbooks), Joe Germaine (the smart money says he still probably looks like he's 12-years-old), Kevin Daft (who?), Michael Bishop (round 7 pick from Kansas State who would have had more success in today's NFL) and Chris Greisen and Scott Covington (both apparently also selected in round 7 — congratulations on being in Wikipedia).

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