Born: San Diego, California
D.C Awards Criteria: Drafted 2nd overall after only one year as a starter, only played in the NFL for 4 seasons, started only 17 games while throwing 5 TD’s and 13 INT’s
The 1999 NFL Draft is one of the greatest in the history of football. It had some of the greatest players of our generation including, Donovan Mcnabb, Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Champ Bailey, and Chris McAlister. It’s a draft that shaped some franchises and set some back for years to come. There is one dark side to this draft, it had a terrible collection of quarterbacks. Aside from Mcnabb and arguably, Daunte Culpepper, the draft was full of flunkies and busts. The first pick of this draft was former D.C Award winner, Tim Couch. The second pick was McNabb. The third pick was the quarterback who had the shortest pro life out of any of the quarterbacks selected in the first round. This man is Akili Smith.
Akili Smith was not a starter for long at the University of Oregon. He was a backup for his first three seasons as a Duck. Before his senior season, Smith was named as starter for Oregon and proceeded to take the college world by storm. During his senior season, Smith threw 32 touchdowns through only 11 starts. These stats impressed NFL scouts, who immediately put Smith near the top of the quarterback rankings after only one season as a starter.
The draft order for the 1999 NFL draft was Browns, Eagles, Bengals, Colts and Panthers. Before the draft, the New Orleans Saints were attempting to move up in the draft, in order to obtain running back, Ricky Williams, who was projected to be a top 5 pick. The Saints offered a trade to the Bengals in which they would give up an absurd nine draft picks in order to switch spots (The Saints had the twelfth overall pick). The Bengals, who apparently knew exactly what they were doing in one of the deepest drafts of all time, declined the trade. The Bengals ended up drafting Smith, while the Saints eventually worked out a deal with the Redskins and Panthers in order to get the 5th pick, and ultimately, Williams. Keep in mind the players drafted between No.2 (The Bengals) and No. 12 (The Saints original pick) included Smith, Williams, Edgerrin James, Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister, and Daunte Culpepper, any of which could have slid into the Bengals grasp had they done that trade. Nonetheless, the Bengals seemingly had their man with Akili Smith, their quarterback of the future.
Smith missed a huge chunk of 1999’s Bengal training camp due to contract disputes and a subsequent holdout. This cost him valuable time to build relationships with his receivers and offensive line, and to learn the playbook. Still, Smith eventually signed and was named the Bengals starting quarterback heading into the 1999 season.
Smith’s career as a starter was not unlike his career in general, short and unpleasant. Smith ended up starting only 4 games during the 1999 season, going 1-3 and throwing 2 TD’s compared to 6 INT’s. He was eventually booted out of his starting spot in favor of the lovable loser Jeff Blake. However he would regain the spot the following year, while the Bengals hoped that their quarterback of the future would be able to develop and be successful at the pro level.
His next year was as unsuccessful as his first. Throughout 11 starts he threw 3 TD’s compared to 6 INT’s. Those three touchdowns would prove to be the last of his career, as through the next two years he started 0 games and threw one last interception until he was finally released by the Begals, four years after they drafted him. His final numbers with the Bengals, 17 starts, 5 TD’s 13 INT’s. He would try out for the Green Bay Packers but was never signed and after a year in the CFL he retired from football completely.
Smith is the poster boy for NFL scouts over evaluating unproven talent. Smith had only one year as a full time starter under his belt and was suddenly the No.2 Quarterback prospect in the country, quite the change for someone with little experience as a starting quarterback. But Smith also was able to show the league why their scouts should take all things into consideration, including experience. So today we salute you, Akili Smith, the man who taught us all that in football there is a reason that if you hardly start in college, you hardly will start in the pros.