INDIANAPOLIS — Technically, the Giants have two No. 1 overall draft picks at the same position.
I say “technically” because in 2004 Eli Manning was swapped immediately to the Chargers, who held the fourth pick, sort of putting a damper on the whole “first overall selection” thing.
Two years prior to that, David Carr was the first-ever draft pick in the history of the Houston Texans. The Fresno State product was supposed to become the team’s franchise quarterback, but failed rather miserably, winning only 22 games in five disappointing seasons.
As a result, Carr has rightfully been labelled a bust. But there are two factors working in his favor to enough of a degree that we’ve resisted the urge to pile on in the same way we did with the likes of JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch.
First, Carr was dealt a 2-7 offsuit in Houston. The offensive line was historically bad and he was sacked a record 76 times as a rookie.
“Obviously you would’ve liked to have things go different,” Carr told me today, “but we were fighting an uphill battle in Houston.” He thinks that maybe he was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn’t know it then, but hindsight is both beautiful and painful.
“I thought he had everything you needed to be good,” NFL.com senior analyst and scouting guru Gil Brandt told me. “But it’s like he’s never seemed to recover from that horrendous first year.”
Carr was far from perfect in those early years, but he also can’t help but wonder what might have happened had he not been the top choice, or had he come out in another year entirely.
“You just look at the situations that some quarterbacks walk into. If you get picked later in the first round, you’re obviously on a better team,” he said. “My good friend Aaron Rodgers was picked later, and landed on a good team. Same thing with Ben (Roethlisberger). The Pittsburgh Steelers were a quarterback away from being a pretty good football team and a couple Super Bowls later Ben’s doing alright.
“It’s tough at the top of the chart because your team’s not gonna be very good, so it was definitely an uphill battle. But I’m happy — I’m blessed to be here in the Super Bowl. Although it’s obviously in a different role than I would have liked.”
Carr has adjusted well to being a backup, and Brandt notes that he’d “love to have Carr on the bench as my backup quarterback.” He’s spent three of the last four years behind Manning in New York, with a 2010 pit stop in San Francisco. He’s thrown just 58 passes since his last start, which took place when he was a member of the Carolina Panthers in 2007. In 2010, he didn’t take a single snap.
“I’m prepared just like (Manning) is,” Carr said. “It’s just that he steps on the field first, and I get to watch. He’s done a good job staying healthy this year, so my number hasn’t been called. But I’ll be ready.”
He and Manning have a close friendship that was actually born before either was in the NFL, back in 2001. It doesn’t sound as though there’s any animosity. They have a lot in common as former top picks, the major difference being that Manning has a ring on his finger and a Super Bowl MVP trophy on his mantle.
For Carr, this is Super Bowl appearance no. 1 (it’s only the second time he’s been to the playoffs), but the circus atmosphere is something he’s used to.
“It’s very similar to the experience at the draft,” he said. “It’s a lot of the same media — a lot of the same hype and build-up around the event.”
At the ’02 draft, he was the center of attention. Today, he’s an afterthought. But it seems as though he’s embraced his role. You can tell that he’s frustrated — and probably always will be — about how things transpired a decade ago, but he also notes that this week has been kind of pleasant.
“Because you’ve gotta prepare as a starting quarterback and prepare as if you’re going to play, but you don’t have to deal with all the hype.”