Kentucky fans don’t have much reason to pay close attention to the 2012 NFL draft. Barring any surprises there are only two Kentucky Wildcats with chances to be selected. Probably in the later rounds. But with it being draft time, Kentucky fans can’t help but remember thirteen years ago when the guy from their own backyard was the best prospect in the nation. Like this draft, there were only two Kentucky players drafted in the 1999 draft, and one of them was the first overall pick, Tim Couch. Couch was selected by the Cleveland Browns, one of the most historically bad franchises in the NFL, and could never overcome the lack of talent throughout the organization. He played only five seasons in the NFL, with just one playoff appearance to show for it. Analysts insist that if Couch had been in a better situation he would’ve been able to flourish. Fox Sports Ohio’s Pat McManamon, a beat writer for the Browns during the Couch era, shares that same sentiment. He says that Couch had the talent to succeed, but that his underachieving career characterizes all that the Post-1999 Cleveland Browns were:
Couch was done in by expansion, his own struggles (to which he readily admits) and the impatience of the Browns. A team trying to find a quarterback spent his tenure trying to decide if he was the quarterback.
“When you’re in it, you think completely different,” Couch said. “But when you get removed from it you realize. That was almost an impossible situation to be successful in. It really was. We just didn’t have a lot of talent. Every week was a struggle. Then I had my problems. I kept getting hurt. It was one thing after another.”
Being selected first overall in the NFL Draft comes with the responsibility of being called to help your team succeed immediately. That can be a lot of pressure for a kid directly out of college to deal with. And it was especially difficult for Couch.
“When I look back at that season now, I think the best thing would have been if I had sat for the year behind Ty and just learned,” Couch said. “It’s one thing if you’re a young Ben Roethlisberger who goes to such a veteran team. You can put a young quarterback in that situation. As an expansion team … it’s very similar to what happened with David Carr in Houston. It’s almost impossible for a guy to go in and start right away.
“I wish I had the opportunity to sit and learn that first year.”
“As I look back I certainly should not have played,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to handle the situation.”
Couch’s collegiate career was marked by a head coaching change that allowed him to become one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. Coach Hal Mumme’s Air Raid offense allowed Couch to show off his ability to throw the football at an elite level, and eventually led to him being drafted by the Browns. Let’s say Couch stays one more year in Mumme’s offense, enters the 2000 NFL draft, and goes to a different situation. Are we looking at a potential pro bowl quarterback? It’s tough to call but you never want to see an athlete, especially a Cat, not live up to his hype. What could have been.