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Thursday, April 27, 2006
Updated: April 28, 1:28 PM ET
The best and worst at No. 1

By Jim Baker
Special to Page 2

You've heard of comparing apples to oranges, of course. What we're about to do here is compare apples to oranges to … what? Sturgeon? With the NFL draft looming, we're looking at its past No. 1 picks and comparing them to the top picks in baseball and basketball's drafts.

Problematic? Heck yes. Basketball has just two rounds and much more at stake when a player's name is called on draft day. Football and basketball players chosen at this level are expected to make the roster right away and, in many cases, are also expected to have an immediate impact. In baseball there is a minor league apprenticeship. Running backs often have brief and violent careers, while baseball players have the possibility of playing until they're 40, unless they pitch for a living -- then all bets are off. The list of disparities goes on from there.

In spite of all the complications, we're going to give it the old college try, taking into account peak value, length of service, All-Star appearances, major awards and, in the case of the more recent draftees, upside.

Andrew Bogut
Bogut carried the expectations of a No. 1 overall pick.
2005
NBA: Milwaukee Bucks -- Andrew Bogut, Utah (F/C)
NFL: San Francisco 49ers -- Alex Smith, Utah (QB)
MLB: Kansas City Royals -- Alex Gordon, Nebraska (3B)

We start with one of the rare cases where the baseball player may get the upper hand faster than the players in the other two sports. While Bogut had a decent enough rookie season (9.94 ppg) and Smith did not (1 TD pass, 11 interceptions), the door is open for Gordon to be a minor league short-timer and to make the short trip from Wichita (where he is now) or Omaha to Kansas City. The Royals' distress might be his opportunity to make the bigs sooner rather than later.
Verdict: No. 1 MLB, No. 2 NBA, No. 3 NFL

2004
NBA: Orlando Magic -- Dwight Howard, SW Atlanta Christian Academy (F/C)
NFL: San Diego Chargers -- Eli Manning, Mississippi (QB)
MLB: San Diego Padres -- Matthew Bush, Mission Bay HS (SS)

There are four basic types of draft picks that turn out poorly, and we'll meet all of them in the course of these comparisons. They are:

• Looked good at the time, but got injured.

• Looked good at the time, but becomes a major headache.

• Picked because a team could not reach an agreement with a better choice.

• Flat-out, everybody-knew-it-at-the-time bad pick.

Then there are those who fail because they manage to fit two or more of these criteria. In the early going of his career, Bush has hit on three of them. He was picked by the Padres because they wouldn't shell out the kind of signing bonus required in the universe created by Scott Boras (No. 3). His offense was suspect from the start and he has done nothing to dispel those doubts yet, posting a .555 OPS at Fort Wayne last year -- albeit in a pitcher's park (No. 4). Two days after reporting to the Padres he was arrested on a variety of charges after trying to sneak into a bar (No. 2). Bush may someday make the majors as a defensive specialist, but it's not looking good at this juncture.

Howard made the All-Rookie first team in 2004-05 and had the most rebounds in the NBA in 2005-06. How many 20-year-olds have ever done that? Manning had his fair share of growing pains in 2005, his second NFL season, but the Giants went 11-5 and scored the third-most points in the league. But the specter of Ben Roethlisberger -- the man the Giants could have had on a silver platter -- will haunt Manning until he takes a great leap forward.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

2003
NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers -- LeBron James, St. Vincent-St. Mary HS (F)
NFL: Cincinnati Bengals -- Carson Palmer, USC (QB)
MLB: Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- Delmon Young, Camarillo High School (OF)

This trio has a good chance of being one of the best ever across the board -- perhaps even the best on this list. James and Palmer you know plenty about -- unfortunately Young just made the headlines for throwing his bat at an umpire in a minor league game (he's been suspended indefinitely). Young is still one of the most-anticipated prospects in years. And it remains to be seen how Palmer (who cracked a three-digit QB rating last season) will come back from his nasty knee injury in last year's playoff game against Pittsburgh. So it would be premature to state where this one might end up 15 years from now. For the time being, though, it's …
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

2002
NBA: Houston Rockets -- Yao Ming, China (C)
NFL: Houston Texans -- David Carr, Fresno State (QB)
MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates -- Bryan Bullington, Ball State (P)

Ming's scoring average has gone up every year he's played in the NBA, and he's been an All-Star each season. Carr has had the unenviable task of trying to lead an expansion team out of the primordial soup, only to have it regress and then some in 2005. It's hard to look your best surrounded by a 2-14 team. Just when Bullington appeared ready to bid for a big league job he jacked up his labrum and won't return until June. It probably won't be until 2007 when he appears in the majors again. By then, he'll be 26. Ain't pitchers a b*&^%?
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

2001
NBA: Washington Wizards -- Kwame Brown, Glynn Academy HS (F/C)
NFL: Atlanta Falcons -- Michael Vick, Virginia Tech (QB)
MLB: Minnesota Twins -- Joe Mauer, St. Paul, Minn. (C)

Vick has the pole position here, and has made the most of it when not injured. Mauer will be something special someday if he, too, can avoid injuries. While the Wizards have to regret the Brown pick after four years of hassles, there's still time for him to make a decent career of it. Will it ever be enough to justify the No. 1 pick? Probably not.
Verdict: NFL, MLB, NBA

2000
NBA: New Jersey Nets -- Kenyon Martin, Cincinnati (F)
NFL: Cleveland Browns -- Courtney Brown, Penn Sate (DE)
MLB: Florida Marlins -- Adrian Gonzalez, Chula Vista, Ca. (1B)

Gonzalez did not light the world on fire in his two major league stints prior to 2006, but is holding his own so far as the new Padres first baseman this season and could still have a nice, 10-year career. Brown has had injuries to all of the following: knee, ankle, neck, elbow and foot. He's played in less than two-thirds of his teams' games since turning pro. He did start 13 games in 2005. Martin has made an All-Star team and was first team All-Rookie. This one could change, but for now it's …

Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

Tim Couch
Tim Couch never lived up to expectations in Cleveland.
1999
NBA: Chicago Bulls -- Elton Brand, Duke (F)
NFL: Cleveland Browns -- Tim Couch, Kentucky (QB)
MLB: Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- Josh Hamilton, Raleigh, N.C. (OF)

Anybody who helps get the Clippers to the postseason gets extra credit -- not that Brand needs it to have a one-up on the competition here. Couch is over two years removed from his last NFL game, and Hamilton may never see the light of major league day, owing to a number of personal problems.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

1998
NBA: Los Angeles Clippers -- Michael Olowokandi, Pacific (C)
NFL: Indianapolis Colts -- Peyton Manning, Tennessee (QB)
MLB: Philadelphia Phillies -- Pat Burrell, Miami (1B)

If the Clippers did it, it's usually not good. Hopefully that is changing now, but it certainly held true in 1998, when they bypassed the likes of Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki to select Olowakandi. At least he's still active, albeit in a backup role with the Celtics. We're still waiting for the big bust-out year from Pat the Bat. Maybe 2002 was his peak, but at least he's closer to that level now than he is to his down years of 2003 and 2004. Manning -- barring injury (he hasn't missed a game yet) and an onset of incompetence from the Colts' front office -- is looking good for another half-dozen seasons of title shots. The Hall of Fame awaits.
Verdict: NFL, MLB, NBA

1997
NBA: San Antonio Spurs -- Tim Duncan, Wake Forest (F/C)
NFL: St. Louis Rams -- Orlando Pace, Ohio State (OL)
MLB: Detroit Tigers -- Matt Anderson, Rice (P)

If God himself came to Earth, He probably wouldn't throw as hard as Matt Anderson did. He wouldn't have been susceptible to arm problems, though. Given Pace's relentless Pro Bowlism, it would take a very strong candidate to bump him to the side. Duncan is that guy, having become one of the best players in NBA history.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

1996
NBA: Philadelphia 76ers -- Allen Iverson, Georgetown (G)
NFL: New York Jets -- Keyshawn Johnson, USC (WR)
MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates -- Kris Benson, Clemson (P)

Three picks, three distinctly different expectations. A wide receiver is only on the field about half the time at best. A starting pitcher gives you six or seven innings every five days. A player like Iverson, however, is expected to play 80-90 percent of every game -- which he has done when not injured. There are, of course, ways to redress those differences between sports. Had Benson turned out to be the second coming of Greg Maddux, rather than the very definition of league average, then an argument could be mounted in his case against Iverson. Johnson has experienced the joys of staying healthy and playing in the right era. Although he has been in the top 10 in receptions only three times, he's No. 20 on the career list.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

1995
NBA: Golden State Warriors -- Joe Smith, Maryland (F)
NFL: Cincinnati Bengals -- Ki-Jana Carter, Penn State (RB)
MLB: California Angels -- Darin Erstad, Nebraska (OF)

Obviously, you have to have players like Joe Smith to round out the league -- guys who play for non-contenders, or teams that get wiped out in the first round of the playoffs without ever attracting much attention to themselves. Ideally, though, that sort of player shouldn't cost the No. 1 pick. Smith's fate, while as pedestrian as his name, was better than that of Carter. A torn ACL, a broken wrist and a dislocated kneecap wrecked three of his seasons and the star-crossed Bengals were left holding the bag. Erstad, then, goes to the head of this particular class on the basis of two things: stellar defense and a killer 2000 season in which he played at a Hall of Fame level. He was also arguably the Angels' most valuable position player in 2002, the year they won it all.
Verdict: MLB, NBA, NFL

1994
NBA: Milwaukee Bucks -- Glenn Robinson, Purdue (F)
NFL: Cincinnati Bengals -- Dan Wilkinson, Ohio State (DT)
MLB: New York Mets -- Paul Wilson, Florida (P)

The all-son draft. Wilkinson's career was mostly spent with mediocre and bad teams … and then he went to the Lions. Counting plus-.500 seasons as wins, sub-.500 seasons as losses and 8-8 seasons as ties, his seasonal career record is 1-8-3. Although he has never become a household name, he is a well-respected player who did make Peter King's Sports Illustrated All-Pro team for 2003. After tearing his labrum during his less-than-stellar debut with the '96 Mets, Wilson had to go a long way to make it back to the majors. That he's had a career at all since then is a testament to modern medicine and his determination. Robinson inked a contract so long, it almost carried through the entire length of his NBA career: 10 years for $68 million. He averaged 20 points per game and found himself, after some late career-drifting, in San Antonio at the end of last season, where he chipped in on their third championship run.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

Alex Rodriguez
Don't think anyone could be disappointed with A-Rod's career so far.
1993
NBA: Orlando Magic -- Chris Webber, Michigan (F)
NFL: New England Patriots -- Drew Bledsoe, Washington State (QB)
MLB: Seattle Mariners -- Alex Rodriguez, Westminster Christian HS (SS)

Here, across the board, is how we expect No. 1 picks to look. Between the three they have been named to 18 All-Star teams, with Rodriguez ticketed for the Hall of Fame since his MVP-worthy 1996 season. The missing ingredient for two of the three is a championship. Bledsoe earned his Super Bowl ring (even if he didn't play in the big game), while Webber still seeks his first title, so we'll rank Bledsoe higher.
Verdict: MLB, NFL, NBA

1992
NBA: Orlando Magic -- Shaquille O'Neal, LSU (C)
NFL: Indianapolis Colts -- Steve Emtman, Washington (DT)
MLB: Houston Astros -- Phil Nevin, Cal State Fullerton (3B)

It can be argued that O'Neal has had the most successful career, in terms of personal and team achievement, of any No. 1 draft choice in any of the three sports since 1980. It might not end up that way when the dust settles, but that's how it appears at this moment. Emtman had one of the most spectacular knee blowouts in recorded history, making Nevin -- a player with injury problems of his own (he has only qualified for the batting title three times in his career) -- the selection for runner-up.
Verdict: NBA, MLB, NFL

1991
NBA: Charlotte Hornets -- Larry Johnson, UNLV (F)
NFL: Dallas Cowboys -- Russell Maryland, Miami (NT)
MLB: New York Yankees -- Brien Taylor, East Carteret HS (P)

Ideally, Brien Taylor put the majority of his fat Yankee signing bonus in some sort of long-term investment. It's what we all would have done at 19, right? His career ended when his shoulder hit the floor during a bar fight, leaving this one a tough call between Johnson and Maryland. While Maryland played for three Super Bowl champions and was selected to one Pro Bowl, Johnson played in two All-Star games and was instrumental in the Knicks' run to the NBA Finals in 1999 before his back gave out. That his potential was much greater than the eventuality is often the curse of the No. 1 pick -- it's never enough for them just to have a good career. It shouldn't cost him in this comparison.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

1990
NBA: New Jersey Nets -- Derrick Coleman, Syracuse (F)
NFL: Indianapolis Colts -- Jeff George, Illinois (QB)
MLB: Atlanta Braves -- Chipper Jones, Jacksonville Bolles School (SS)

Few humans ever born have been able to throw a football like Jeff George. Because of this, he got lots and lots of chances (from seven teams in all) to show why the Colts weren't crazy when they traded up to be able to pick him. It went wrong enough that George ended up holding out, not for more money, but to get traded away from Indy. His 1997 (Oakland) and 1999 (Minnesota) seasons offered glimpses of what could have been. Coleman's problems have been many -- some minor some not so -- but he only made the All-Star team once in his career and only started 70 games twice. Jones may not be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he is going to generate very strong support. He has met all expectations and even exceeded them at times.
Verdict: MLB, NBA, NFL

1989
NBA: Sacramento Kings -- Pervis Ellison, Louisville (C)
NFL: Dallas Cowboys -- Troy Aikman, UCLA (QB)
MLB: Baltimore Orioles -- Ben McDonald, LSU (P)

"Out of Service" Pervis saw more doctors than tip-offs. Injury after injury limited him to 245 starts in his 11 NBA seasons. McDonald had his share of maladies, too, making the full complement of starts just four times. Aikman will be making a trip to Canton, Ohio, this summer to get a yellow sport coat.
Verdict: NFL, MLB, NBA

1988
NBA: Los Angeles Clippers -- Danny Manning, Kansas (F/C)
NFL: Atlanta Falcons -- Aundray Bruce, Auburn (LB)
MLB: San Diego Padres -- Andy Benes, Evansville (P)

It can be argued that Manning made the most of his career considering his knee was messed up from Day 1. Although he never approached his college greatness, he managed to hang on for all or part of 15 seasons, with two All-Star appearances included. Benes won 155 games in his career and made the All-Star team once. The Falcons didn't really have their heart set on taking Bruce with the No. 1 pick and tried like mad to trade the pick away. In the end, he rarely started but did stick around for a decade.
Verdict: NBA, MLB, NFL

1987
NBA: San Antonio Spurs -- David Robinson, Navy (C)
NFL: Tampa Bay Bucs -- Vinny Testaverde, Miami (QB)
MLB: Seattle Mariners -- Ken Griffey Jr., Moeller HS (OF)

In terms of success across the board, this and 1985 are the two best seasons since 1980. The trouble here is picking between Robinson and Griffey. Had Griffey stayed healthy, he would get the automatic nod. But his recent bodily travails have allowed Robinson to get closer than he should have, with two league titles and endless All-Star appearances. At one time, though, Griffey was considered to be the very best player in the game; Robinson did win an MVP in the Jordan-in-retirement years, but he was never the consensus "best player in the game." While Testaverde was never a superstar, he carved out a very long career, and there is something to be said for that.
Verdict: MLB, NBA, NFL

1986
NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers -- Brad Daugherty, North Carolina (C)
NFL: Tampa Bay Bucs -- Bo Jackson, Auburn (RB)
MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates -- Jeff King, Arkansas (3B)

One might be tempted to vote for Jackson here, if only for taking Brian Bosworth on a Nantucket Sleighride in one of the most memorable NFL plays ever. Dougherty, though, was a five-time All-Star with the Cavs and had his number retired by the club. King had a relatively short career (all or parts of 11 seasons) that included two very decent seasons with Pittsburgh and one with Kansas City. Jackson only played in 38 NFL games but rushed for an insane 5.4 yards per carry, was named Rookie of the Year and made a Pro Bowl. Had he concentrated on football and had his hip not taken a walk on him, you could go visit his bust in Canton.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

1985
NBA: New York Knicks -- Patrick Ewing, Georgetown (C)
NFL: Buffalo Bills -- Bruce Smith, Virginia Tech (DE)
MLB: Milwaukee Brewers -- B.J. Surhoff, North Carolina (C)

Has it really been two decades since NBA commissioner David Stern had the closest thing to an on-stage orgasm anybody has ever had at an amateur draft when announcing the Knicks got Ewing? Long time though it may be, Surhoff was still going last year, making up for a lack of peak value with length. Smith gets the gold star here, though, after an extremely long career that featured a record 200 sacks and 11 Pro Bowl nods, not to mention all those trips to the Super Bowl.
Verdict: NFL, NBA, MLB

Hakeem Olajuwon
Ahhh, Hakeem the Dream ... we'll never forget.
1984
NBA: Houston Rockets -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston (C)
NFL: New England Patriots -- Irving Fryar, Nebraska (WR)
MLB: New York Mets -- Shawn Abner, Mechanicsburg HS (OF)

Had the Mets been able to come to an agreement with Mark McGwire this would have been a better draft across the board. Instead, they got Abner, one of the more disappointing picks of the last quarter-century. Fryar was a disappointment too, although not on Abner's level. His was a career filled with off-field distractions. Although the end product looks decent on paper, it would be more impressive if it had come from a pick in a lower round. Olajuwon is a sure-fire Hall of Famer with 12 All-Star appearances and two championships.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

1983
NBA: Houston Rockets -- Ralph Sampson, Virginia (C/F)
NFL: Baltimore Colts -- John Elway, Stanford (QB)
MLB: Minnesota Twins -- Tim Belcher, Mt. Vernon Nazarene College (P)

Another trio where all three represent well. Belcher started 373 games in his career, which is a figure very few ever get to, given the pitfalls that await pitchers. Sampson had an almost immediate impact on the Rockets, a team he took from being so bad they had first crack at him to one that would make the championship series. Knee problems took his career into a slow decline after his third season. It's a tough call for second place, between Sampson's fast impact and fade and Belcher's longer career that was, in the end, about league average. Elway's resume is well-known: five Super Bowls, two titles, nine Pro Bowls and a Hall of Fame induction.
Verdict: NFL, MLB, NBA

1982
NBA: Los Angeles Lakers -- James Worthy, North Carolina (F)
NFL: New England Patriots -- Kenneth Sims, Texas (DL)
MLB: Chicago Cubs -- Shawon Dunston, Thomas Jefferson HS (SS)

Among all the players listed here, Worthy was the first to become a Hall of Famer, meaning he aces this class -- which he would have anyway. Dunston had a long career paining first basemen with his ballista-like arm, but his great tragedy was that he never learned to control the strike zone. Sims put in eight seasons of mostly backup work and is considered by some to be one of the worst first picks in the history of the draft.
Verdict: NBA, MLB, NFL

1981
NBA: Dallas Mavericks -- Mark Aguirre, DePaul (F/G)
NFL: New Orleans Saints -- George Rogers, South Carolina (RB)
MLB: Seattle Mariners -- Mike Moore, Oral Roberts (P)

Was Rogers overvalued in his day? While he certainly put up a good amount of yards, his per-carry average is nothing to do jumping jacks about. Moore's ERAs relative to league average and park are not very exciting either, but he did enjoy a long career. Both men played for one championship team. Aguirre averaged over 20 points per game on two championship Detroit teams -- as he did for his career.
Verdict: NBA, NFL, MLB

1980
NBA: Golden State Warriors -- Joe Barry Carroll, Purdue (C/F)
NFL: Detroit Lions -- Billy Sims, Oklahoma (RB)
MLB: New York Mets -- Darryl Strawberry, Crenshaw HS (OF)

Even with all his problems, Strawberry gets the nod here, because Sims fell by the wayside with a bum knee after five seasons and Carroll had a relatively short 10-year career. Sims did have some awesome yards-per-carry numbers and scored 42 touchdowns in 60 games. Strawberry played Hall of Fame-caliber ball in 1987-88 and at a level just below that in the other eight years of his first decade in the majors, making the All-Star team eight times.
Verdict: MLB, NFL, NBA

TOTALS
It's probably as you would have guessed …

The NBA had 15 firsts, eight seconds and just three thirds. MLB had seven firsts, the NFL five -- but the footballers took 12 seconds to baseball's six. Baseball's No. 1 guys finished third 14 times, and football's did so in nine years.