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How one draft day can change your franchise forever

Florida Football Insiders

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Every year in the NFL draft there are certain players who are labeled “Franchise changers,” because they allegedly can help turn a struggling team around. Unfortunately, most years, those “franchise” guys don’t end up delivering. And then, the next year the cycle starts over, a lot of the time for the same teams still searching.

Well, we know in previous draft history the Sunshine State pro teams have had such occasions where one draft day, one (or maybe two) draft selections make all the difference and change the club’s fortunes for the short or maybe long term.

First up is the guy in the photo above.

It was April 26, 1983, when the Miami Dolphins made a selection that changed not only their direction at QB, but by his second season, would change how the NFL began to look at offense and specifically, the passing game. That day in New York, the Fins took eventual record breaking Hall of Famer, Dan Marino with the 27th pick.

It was the first time in draft history that six quarterbacks were taken in the opening round. And even though fellow eventual Hall of Famers John Elway, first overall and Jim Kelly were later, there were names like Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien, that also were selected before Marino, too.

It didn’t take long. In fact it was 1984, Marino’s second year in the NFL, where he and the Dolphins, which had once been a plodding run the ball and smother with defense team, completely re-invented the attacking passing game. Marino broke records for completions, yards, touchdowns, almost everything that year, and the Dolphins stomped to a 14-2 record and went to the only Superbowl of Marino’s career.

Marino went on to a 17 year career, with nine Pro Bowls, three All-Pro nominations, and the 1984 league MVP.

His play paved the way of the “pass happy” NFL that you now see, where almost every QB throws the ball 40 times a game and for 4,000 yards. A franchise and league changing player for sure, Marino went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Next up was April the 22nd, 1995. The day that the first round of that draft laid the foundation for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers future, and eventual 2002 Superbowl win.

That day, the Bucs GM Rich McKay “wheeled and dealed,” and ended up trading down in the first round with the Eagles and still picking 12. Then, he traded back up into the first round for the 28th pick of the Cowboys, using one of the Eagles picks from the trade.

The two names he got? Take a look:

Yes, the former Miami All American, Warren Sapp had shaky drug rumors in his background check that made teams leery, but the Buccaneers had done their homework. And, they took the risk and ended up getting a player who became one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the modern era of the NFL.

Over his 13 season Hall of Fame career, Sapp finished with seven Pro Bowls, and 96.5 career sacks, and most importantly helped change the losing culture of the previous 15 years in Tampa Bay.

The other player selected that day was fellow eventual Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. While some teams backed off the FSU All American because of concerns about his size and weight to play linebacker in the NFL, the Bucs and McKay knew what they had seen on those Seminole Saturdays. And in the end, Brooks became one of the great linebackers of the last three decades in the NFL. His 11 Pro Bowls, five first team All Pro selections, staggering 1,700+ career tackles speak for themselves.

However, he bonded with Warren Sapp, as they were roommates in training camp and on the road. And, they together with veterans Hardy Nickerson and John Lynch led the Bucs defense to total domination in the late 1990’s. The Bucs, with Sapp and Brooks leading the way, won it all in 2002. Sapp and Brooks have since gone in into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2014.

Finally, the Jaguars experienced a “franchise changing moment” on April 18th, 1998.

That’s the day they drafted former Gators running back Fred Taylor ninth overall and grabbed the greatest runner the Jags have ever possessed. Taylor ran for 1,200+ yards and a record 14 rushing TDs his rookie year. That was on the way to a 13 year career with seven 1,000 yard seasons in Jacksonville. He made only one Pro Bowl (2007) but left Jacksonville with every single season and career rushing mark imaginable, and most of them are still standing a decade after his career has ended.

Taylor was the “hammer” in the Jaguars offense that had QB Mark Brunell firing passes to the likes of Jimmy Smith and Kennan McCardell that made them one of the best offenses in football in the late 1990’s-early 2000’s. And he is still regarded by fans and media who covered that era and those teams, as one of the key reasons they sustained a great level of play.

So, the draft approaches Thursday night, and the names Darnold, Allen, Barkely, Chubb and others are being kicked around. Will one or more of them be able to do what Marino, Sapp, Brooks and Taylor did? Possibly. And maybe, even, a couple of them will end up being stars or maybe a Hall of Famer.

That’s the hope, especially for those in the top part of the draft, that their franchise’s fortunes can change for the better on one night with one pick (or two like the Bucs 25 years ago). A pick that makes a lasting impact and sets the team on the course for great things.

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