When the A11 Football League brings up the possibility of having quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Vince Young, JaMarcus Russell, Michael Vick or other past first-round National Football League pivots play in its league starting in the spring of 2015, the skepticism is understandable.
Understandable, that is, until one looks at the history of spring football leagues, and their ability to attract former NFL first-rounders to come play for them.
The last ex-NFL first-round quarterback to play in a spring football league was Jim Druckenmiller. A 1997 first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers, Druckenmiller played just six games (one start) for the Niners, throwing just 52 passes and one touchdown pass, posting a passer rating of 29.2…and going 1-0 as a starter.
In 2001, Druckenmiller played in the XFL with the Memphis Maniax. After starting the season as a backup, he ended that season second in the league with 13 touchdown passes, third with 1,499 passing yards and fourth in completion percentage (54.8).
The XFL’s only Player of the Year, Tommy Maddox of the Los Angeles Xtreme, also was a first-round choice once upon a time. Drafted in 1992 by the Denver Broncos to be John Elway’s heir apparent, Maddox was 0-4 as a rookie starter, then didn’t start another game until playing in the Arena Football League, then the XFL. Maddox led the Xtreme to the XFL’s only title, and was the circuit’s top player in terms of passing yards (2,186) and touchdown passes (18).
Maddox was able to parlay his only spring football season into five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which he was 15-16-1 as a starter and earned NFL Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year honors.
Before Maddox and Druckenmiller, the most famous NFL first-round QB to play in a spring football league was a young, sometimes-reckless lefthander by the name of Steve Young. Young was a different case, however – he already was playing for the United States Football League’s Los Angeles Express before being chosen as the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL’s 1984 Supplemental Draft of players in the USFL and Canadian Football League whose rights already weren’t owned by an NFL team.
Young, of course, went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career after two seasons with the Express. He played two seasons in Tampa before being traded to the 49ers, where he played for 13 seasons. Young also won three Super Bowl titles – one as a starter.
Joining Young in the USFL for two seasons was 1983 Buffalo Bills first-round pick Jim Kelly, also a future Pro Football Hall of Famer. Kelly joined the USFL’s Houston Gamblers for the 1984 and 1985 seasons, and would have played for the New Jersey Generals in 1986, but after the USFL folded, he played for the Bills for 11 seasons and took them to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
These are just some of the past examples of former NFL first-round quarterbacks who found success in past spring football leagues. The A11FL is going to find prime NFL-quality talent which fits the A11 game – and it’s very possible that talent will come in the form of past (and maybe future) NFL first-round quarterbacks.