Historic Drafts: 1983 – The Greatest NFL Draft by Gareth Evans

Historic Drafts: 1983 – The Greatest NFL Draft by Gareth Evans
Reading Time: 5 minutes.

The Greatest NFL Draft – 1983

As the 2021 Draft moves ever closer, I’ll be taking a look at some of the most historic NFL Drafts. Some will be remembered for the quality of the players taken. Or stories that unfolded on the days leading up to and on Draft Day. For instance, the class of 1981 produced the defensive greats Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott and Mike Singletary. And there were some great all-round classes in 1957, 1981 and 1989. Where four of the first five picks were inducted to the Hall of Fame.

The classes of 2004, 2005 and 1971 produced some memorable quarterbacks. While the merits of their 2020 counterparts will be judged years from now. But Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua all have a chance to be remembered as illustrious signal callers. Arguably the greatest draft of all, however, took place at the Sheraton Hotel in New York on April 26-27, 1983.

The Quarterback Class

Going into the Draft, the talk was of two highly touted college football passers. Pittsburgh’s Dan Marino and Stanford’s John Elway. Elway could have been a poster boy for a movie star playing a college football player. A blonde Californian and dual threat quarterback. Elway was a two-sport star at Stanford. Also playing college baseball, he was taken in the second round of the MLB draft by the New York Yankees.

Stanford’s QB was the favourite to be the first player taken. Foreshadowing Eli Manning’s petulance over 20 years later, Elway made it clear that he did not want to go to the team with the first pick. The Baltimore Colts then had a problem.

He wanted to play for a West Coast team. Or if not then Dallas or Miami. As well as expressing concern about playing for the Colts’ coach, Frank Kush. Publically threatening to pursue a professional baseball career if the Colts took him. Leaving Baltimore with little option but to try and trade him. Unable to complete a trade before Draft day, the Colts called Elway’s bluff and took him at no.1.

Several days later, Denver traded fourth pick Chris Hinton, two players and their first round pick in 1984. Elway was off to the Broncos. Where he won two Super Bowls, an MVP award and made nine Pro Bowl appearances. A pretty good return for the first pick.

Six Quarterbacks Taken in the First Round

After Elway, Pitt’s Dan Marino was also predicted to be taken in the first round. He was, but not before a further four passers were taken. Penn State’s Todd Blackledge surprisingly went to Kansas City at No.7. Miami Hurricanes’ Jim Kelly to Buffalo at No.14. Tony Eason from Illinois at No.15. And, to some booing from New York fans, University of California-Davis quarterback Ken O’Brien to the Jets at No.24.

Pitt’s Dan Marino fell to the Dolphins at the end of the first round (Image credit: pinterest.com)

Dan Marino had a great first three seasons at Pitt where he led the Panthers to a 33-3 record. However, Marino and Pitt’s performance dipped in his senior year. Like Aaron Rodgers in 2005, his fall from a predicted high first round pick, fuelled the drive in his professional career. After a solid rookie season, Marino was the NFL MVP in 1984. Breaking season records for passing with 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes. Leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl where they lost to Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers. Marino is arguably the greatest quarterback never to win a Super Bowl. But retired with many NFL career records, including passing yards and touchdown passes.

University of Miami’s Jim Kelly snubbed the Bills to join the USFL (Image credit: stateoftheeu.com)

Beyond Elway and Marino

Like Elway, Jim Kelly was not keen to join the team who drafted him. Preferring instead to join the Houston Gamblers of the rival USFL league. Like Marino, he was his league’s MVP in 1984, passing for 5,219 yards and 44 touchdowns. The USFL folded in 1986. So Kelly honoured his NFL pick and led the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowl appearances. Like Marino, he finished a distinguished career without a Super Bowl win.

Of the other quarterbacks, Ken O’Brien had a solid nine year career with Jets. Passing for over 100 touchdowns. Tony Eason made a Super Bowl appearance as part of the Patriots team overwhelmed by the dominant 1985 Chicago Bears. Todd Blackledge spent the majority of his seven year career as a backup for the Chiefs and Steelers.

Other Notable Picks

Legendary running back Eric Dickerson was drafted second overall (Image credit: pinterest.com)

An extraordinary forty-two Pro Bowlers and eight Hall of Famers were taken in the 1983 Draft. In addition to quarterbacks Elway, Kelly and Marino, was 2000 yard running back Eric Dickerson from SMU (the second pick). Tackles Jim Covert (to Chicago at No.6) and Bruce Matthews (to Houston at No.10) were top 10 picks who ended up in the Hall of Fame. Joining them in Canton would be legendary cornerback Darrell Green. Taken by Washington at No.28. And Richard Dent, star defensive end of the Bears’ Super Bowl winning team. An absolute steal as the 203rd overall pick in the eighth round.

In addition to Dent in the eighth round, this draft is littered with Pro Bowl players and household names of that era. Nebraska running back Roger Craig won three Super Bowls with the 49ers. And Louisiana State defensive end Leonard Marshall won two Super Bowls with the Giants, both went in the second round.

Depth of talent in later rounds

Washington’s Charles Mann also won two Super Bowls, and was the last pick on the third round. Miami Dolphins Pro Bowlers punter Reggie Roby and wide receiver Mark Clayton were taken in rounds six and eight respectively. One of the most impressive rookies to come out of the college football ranks that year was Nate Newton. A guard from Florida A&M University. He who won three Super Bowls as a Dallas Cowboy protecting Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. He was undrafted.

Anyone wanting to research great college and NFL players of the 1980s and 1990s, would do well to read through the various rounds of the 1983 NFL Draft. Still the greatest to date.

Stanford’s John Elway was the top pick in 1983 NFL Draft (Image credit: usatoday.com)

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