St. Louis Rams: Biggest Draft Day Regret In Franchise History
Sometimes, you have to scratch your head and ask yourself, “What was that team thinking?”
The question could be asked of the St. Louis Rams when they decided to make Lawrence Phillips the sixth overall selection in the NFL Draft in 1996 after the star running back from Nebraska had a history of domestic violence.
It wasn’t just Phillips, however that made people turn heads. It may have been the 1996 draft by the Rams altogether that was perplexing. For a team that had success when it was in Los Angeles – selecting the right pieces of the puzzle – you have to wonder if it lost some of the Disney Magic and forgot how to make the right choices in many of the franchises draft moves. Besides 1996, there have been some questionable calls, especially from the running back position,
- Trung Candidate, 2000
- Cleveland Gary, 1989
- Gaston Green, 1988
Also, this is a team that drafted Bill Goldberg. Yes, that GOLDBERG of professional wrestling fame, in 1990. Maybe some jack-knifed power bombs would shake the core of the franchise and make it a better drafting unit. But we are getting off topic here, so let’s jump back to 1996. Phillips was told by many franchises they would not draft him in the first round because of his legal issues. The Rams stood firm and took the troubled running back – only to produce nightmares and many sleepless nights shortly thereafter.
It’s hard to imagine what could have been – taking Eddie George with the sixth pick or possibly trading down for more picks.
In 1995 season finally arrived, Phillips became an early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. In Nebraska's second game of the season against Michigan State, Phillips had 206 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on 22 carries. After only two games, he was averaging more than 11 yards per carry and had scored six touchdowns.
Phillips was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen, a basketball player for the Nebraska women's team and was subsequently suspended by Head Coach Tom Osborne. The case became a source of controversy and media attention, with perceptions arising that Osborne was coddling a star player by not kicking Phillips off the team permanently. Osborne walked out on a press conference when asked "If one of your players had roughed up a member of your family and had dragged her down a flight of steps, would you have reinstated that player to the team?"
Outraged Nebraska faculty proposed that any student convicted of a violent crime be prohibited from representing the university on the football field.
Osborne defended the decision, saying that abandoning Phillips might do more harm than good, stating the best way to help Phillips was within the structured environment of the football program. Osborne reinstated Phillips for the Iowa State game, although touted freshman Ahman Green continued to start. Phillips also played against Kansas and Oklahoma.
Phillips was widely expected to be selected by the new Baltimore Ravens with the fourth pick to fill their vacant running back position. However, they decided to select the best available player regardless of position and selected future eleven time pro-bowler and future Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Jonathan Ogden. During the draft, ESPN analyst Joe Theismann stated in regard to Phillips: "Everybody's called him the best player in the draft."
The Rams thought so highly of Phillips that on the same day of the draft, they traded his predecessor, Jerome Bettis, to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 1996 Phillips had played 15 games with 11 starts. He carried the ball 193 times for 632 yards for 4 touchdowns. In 1997, Phillips surpassed his entire 1996 total in only 10 games and nine starts, rushing for 634 yards. However, on November 20, the Rams lost patience with him and released him.
That Draft was also known for producing Eddie Kennison with the 18th pick when the team could have had Marvin Harrison or Ray Lewis. In the second round, the team jumped all over Tony Banks when they could have snagged Brian Dawkins, a potential Hall of Famer.