The 1992 Colts had draft's top two picks, and it didn't work out as anyone hoped

Shutdown Corner

The Cleveland Browns have the chance to transform their franchise with the first overall pick in this week’s NFL draft. The same goes for the San Francisco 49ers and their second pick.

Combine the excitement those teams have to pick Nos. 1 and 2, and you have the 1992 Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts had the first and second pick of the NFL draft 25 years ago, which is almost unprecedented in major American professional sports history. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the Colts had the top two picks in an unwinnable draft.

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From 1936-1997 every NFL draft produced at least one Hall of Famer, with the exception of 1992. Almost every draft since 1997 has a player in the Hall already or strong candidates who aren’t Hall-eligible yet. Though a few good players came out of that 1992 draft, it’s unlikely any will ever be voted into the Hall of Fame. There were only two All-Pro seasons combined for the 28 first-round picks.

Indianapolis chose defensive tackle Steve Emtman and linebacker Quentin Coryatt with the first two picks. Emtman and Coryatt didn’t need to be Hall of Famers for the Colts, but they were far from that. They were supposed to transform a dreadful franchise, but injuries limited Emtman to 18 games with the Colts over three seasons, and Coryatt to 78 Colts games. Neither made a Pro Bowl.

“I won’t call them busts,” said Rick Venturi, the Colts’ defensive coordinator in 1992. “Those two guys could have changed the game for you. When you don’t get it because of injuries, you’re going to struggle.”

The Colts’ 1992 draft story is unique. Since 1969, they’re the only team in any of the four major American pro sports leagues to have the top two picks in the same draft. They were lucky to get the first two picks, then unlucky to have them in what turned out to be perhaps the most unremarkable draft in NFL history.

When teams go on the clock this week at the NFL draft, they’ll know that despite all the enthusiasm for their high picks, nothing is for certain. The 1992 Colts could tell you all about it.

Steve Emtman (79) and Quentin Coryatt (55) were the first two picks of the 1992 draft. (AP)
Steve Emtman (79) and Quentin Coryatt (55) were the first two picks of the 1992 draft. (AP)

The Colts pulled off an incredible trade heist to turn backup quarterback Chris Chandler into the second pick of the draft. In 1990 Chandler was in a contract dispute after the team drafted Jeff George first overall, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up their 1992 first-round pick for Chandler (a 1988 third-round pick with 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in two seasons) in a trade. Chandler threw five touchdowns and 14 interceptions over two seasons with the Bucs, who were 0-6 in his starts.

The Colts hit the jackpot when the Bucs ended up with the NFL’s second-worst record in 1991. The Colts earned the first overall pick of the 1992 draft the old fashioned way, by going 1-15 in 1991. Suddenly they had the top two picks, which is incredibly rare.

A single team has never had the first two picks in a Major League Baseball draft. The only time it has happened in the NHL was 1968 and 1969, but both years the Montreal Canadiens had the first two picks because of the so-called “French Canadian rule,” which for a brief period gave the Canadiens first dibs on prospects from the province of Quebec. The last time an NBA team had the first two picks in a draft was the 1965 San Francisco Warriors, but territorial picks were involved in that draft too. The only other time an NFL team had the first two picks was the 1958 Chicago Cardinals, when there were only 13 picks in the first round.

So the Colts had a once-in-forever chance to draft 1-2. However, it wasn’t immediately obvious who those two picks should be.

“It wasn’t like Jan. 2 we knew those guys would be our picks,” Venturi said. “For me, that winter was probably the busiest winter I’ve ever spent.”

The Colts prepared for all possibilities, including trading down. The staff scouted just about everyone in that draft. There were a few possible combinations for the first two picks. Early in the process, Venturi said he hoped for defensive tackle Sean Gilbert and cornerback Troy Vincent, though the front office and staff eventually came to a consensus on Emtman and Coryatt.

That consensus took a while to come together. The picks were not entirely set with less than 24 hours to go before the draft.

“It was not ever a slam dunk. It took the whole winter of constant film study, the [scouting] combine and workouts,” Venturi said. “It went down to the last minute because all of us had opinions.”

The Colts brass fell in love with Emtman, a phenomenal defensive tackle at Washington with a fantastic work ethic (“You couldn’t help but like him,” Venturi said). The draft that year started on a Sunday. Two days before the draft, general manager (and current Colts owner) Jim Irsay told the media the team liked Emtman No. 1 but had four candidates vying for the No. 2 spot: Coryatt, Gilbert, Vincent and 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard. That probably wasn’t a draft smokescreen; the team really was undecided.

The Colts settled on Coryatt as the other pick, but in 1992 the ability to sign a player mattered. There was no rookie contract scale. In 1987 the Colts drafted linebacker Cornelius Bennett second overall, were unable to sign him, and traded him to the Buffalo Bills in a three-way deal that brought running back Eric Dickerson to Indianapolis. In 1992, the Colts still had to worry about which picks would sign a contract with them.

Before the Colts had a deal with Emtman, Coryatt agreed to a contract. It wasn’t easy. Coryatt’s agent Steve Zucker said the day before the draft, there was a contentious 11-hour negotiating session over the phone. Zucker said it was as intense of a negotiation as he had been a part of.

“It wasn’t without a lot of hanging up,” Zucker said. “We were really going at it.”

At that point, Zucker knew the Colts didn’t have Emtman under contract. So he had the Colts include in the contract that Coryatt would be the first pick, something that would have changed NFL history – and how we remember the careers of Coryatt and Emtman. The Colts agreed to that request, Zucker said. Then at 8:30 a.m. the next day, a few hours before the draft, Zucker said he got a call from Colts owner Robert Irsay. Irsay told him Emtman would be the first pick, but to make it up to Coryatt he’d give him an extra million dollars, Zucker said. Emtman got a four-year, $9 million deal with Coryatt not far behind at four years and $8.7 million.

“It was like someone paying him $1 million to butt in line ahead of him at the movies,” Zucker said. “So we went No. 2.”

Coryatt recalled that the Colts had promised he’d be the first pick, but it didn’t bother him to go No. 2.

“I did not care one bit,” Coryatt said. “I just wanted to play football.”

In hindsight, not going first overall might have been a blessing.

“I think there was probably more pressure on Steve than myself,” Coryatt said. “It didn’t put any pressure on me [to be the second pick]. It was more on Steve because he was the first player taken.”

Emtman and Coryatt made history by going 1-2 to Indianapolis. Now all they had to do was turn around a franchise.

That didn’t happen.

Part of the reason the Colts settled on Emtman and Coryatt was they were relatively safe picks, which is funny in retrospect.

“We took what we thought were two clean prospects,” Venturi said.

There was no real argument then about the two picks, especially Emtman.

“Emtman was a great college player at that time,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said in a phone interview this month. “That was the beginning of guys getting bulked up with the strength [training] and manufacturing strength. They did it and all that, and he was just breaking down physically once he got into the league.”

Coryatt was a bit of a project because he was born in the Virgin Islands and didn’t have the football experience that many high-end NFL prospects have. But he was a physical marvel who had a fine final college season (and, like Jadeveon Clowney many years later, became a legend based on what they still call “The Hit” at Texas A&M).

“He didn’t have the deep football background, but his combine was legendary,” Venturi said.

“There had not been a linebacker like that for many years,” Zucker said. “And the way he played in college, he was unbelievable. I thought he would be a super-superstar. I thought he’d be in the Pro Bowl every year.”

Venturi said the Colts changed their defense, from a true 3-4 to a hybrid, to fit their two new rookie stars. The change allowed Emtman to line up over guards at defensive tackle and Coryatt to play off the ball as a weak-side linebacker.

Both of them played pretty well early on. As a rookie, Emtman had a 90-yard interception return on fourth down to seal a win over Dan Marino and the 6-0 Miami Dolphins. It set an NFL record for the longest interception return by a defensive lineman. It turned out to be his greatest NFL moment, by a wide margin. That same day, Coryatt suffered a season-ending broken wrist, a sign of things to come for both young stars.

When the 1992 draft is remembered, Emtman and Coryatt are lumped in with many other failed picks through the years. That’s not entirely fair because both could play.

“I think the injury issue was more why Emtman never emerged,” Kiper said. “Coryatt did. He had a pretty good career.”

In 1993, Emtman blew out his ACL, MCL and patellar tendon. He rushed back for the 1994 season, and was never the same.

“As you get away from it for a few years, it’s like, ‘Man, it would have been a lot smarter to get 100 percent healthy,’” Emtman said in a 2016 interview with Fox Sports. “But I didn’t, and it’s kind of one of those things I wish I could have changed, but I don’t regret anything.”

Emtman was a great college player, and showed flashes of that before the injuries hit. Yet, history isn’t kind to a first overall pick who managed just eight career sacks. When NFL.com ranked the 50 No. 1 overall picks since the AFL and NFL combined drafts, Emtman was 48th. He ranked ahead of Jared Goff, the 2016 top pick who has played seven games, and the notorious JaMarcus Russell.

“No, no, no, he was not a bust,” Venturi said about Emtman. “The injuries stopped what would have been a very good career.”

Coryatt had his career knocked off track too. Venturi says Coryatt was on the right path but a coaching change and a subsequent shift in his position might have set him back. Venturi was fired after two seasons with Emtman and Coryatt – that’s what happens when the Nos. 1 and 2 picks don’t produce enough and the team goes 4-12 in their second year – and the new defensive staff moved Coryatt closer to the line of scrimmage in more of a pass-rushing role. Venturi said Coryatt, as an inexperienced player, would have benefited from developing at one spot.

Coryatt said he was coming into his own after three or four seasons, but doesn’t blame a coaching change for never reaching a Pro Bowl level. He had some fine moments from 1993-95, playing in 16 games each season with a 150-tackle season in 1993. But he says his career took a turn due to a pectoral injury in 1996. He tried playing through it, which he says was a mistake.

“When you talk about the older generation of football players, you’re almost brainwashed into just pushing through and playing through injuries,” Coryatt said. “I played two or three games with no pectoral muscle. I wish I had fixed it sooner. When it was time to fix it, there was nothing left. It had atrophied so bad, there was nothing left to attach. They said it was like half a pec. If I have a regret, it was playing through that and not getting surgery right away.”

Coryatt played just two seasons after that injury, an ineffective 1997 season with the Colts, then an unremarkable four-game comeback in 1999 with the Dallas Cowboys after a year out of football.

Still, Coryatt doesn’t make excuses. Injuries are part of the game, he said. He noted that players deal with coaching changes all the time. And when he looks back on his NFL career, it’s not a sad recollection.

“People always ask me that one,” Coryatt said after a laugh, when asked how he looked back on his career. “I look back on my career as, I got an opportunity to play at the highest level. Did I have the talent to be a Pro Bowl player? I believe so. Things didn’t happen that way. You give it your all and sometimes things don’t happen the way they’re supposed to go.

“I’m happy. And it could have been better.”

Coryatt said he’s grateful for the time he spent in the NFL. He teaches and mentors young football players now. Emtman owns a property management and real-estate development firm in Spokane, Washington.

The Colts didn’t win a division title for seven seasons following the disappointing 1992 draft, though they made the AFC championship game as a wild-card team in 1995. Indianapolis’ fortunes started turning in 1998 when they nailed the first overall pick, drafting quarterback Peyton Manning.

Venturi is out of coaching but does a lot of media work, mainly in Indianapolis. He still follows the draft closely. He estimates he has spent more than 200 hours breaking down this year’s draft prospects. When he hears about the Browns’ reported indecision over the first pick, he thinks back to what the Colts were going through 25 years ago and what happened after those picks didn’t work out as planned.

“I’ve been there. I understand it,” Venturi said. “You’re so tight because you can’t make a mistake at that spot.”

The 1992 NFL draft is viewed as one of the worst in history, the only one from 1936-1997 without a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Here is a recap of the first round:

1. Indianapolis Colts – Washington DT Steve Emtman
Injuries were the main reason his NFL career lasted just 19 starts.

2. Indianapolis Colts – Texas A&M LB Quentin Coryatt
A regular starter from 1992-97 for the Colts, but he never made a Pro Bowl.

3. Los Angeles Rams – Pittsburgh DT Sean Gilbert
Gilbert played 11 seasons with four teams and made a Pro Bowl. He sat out the 1997 season over a contract dispute.

4. Washington Redskins – Michigan WR Desmond Howard
He didn’t pan out as a receiver (1,597 career yards) but made a mark as an electric return man and Super Bowl XXXI MVP for the Packers.

5. Green Bay Packers – Florida State CB Terrell Buckley
Undersized and prone to giving up big plays during three Packers seasons, Buckley settled into a decent 14-year career and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots.

6. Cincinnati Bengals – Houston QB David Klingler
Was overdrafted before everyone realized stats were inflated for college quarterbacks in run-and-shoot offenses. Had 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in the NFL.

7. Miami Dolphins – Wisconsin CB Troy Vincent
Probably the best player in the 1992 first round, Vincent had 47 interceptions with five Pro Bowls. He’s one of two players in the round who made an All-Pro first team.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Stanford OT Bob Whitfield
A longtime starter with the Falcons, Whitfield played 15 years with one Pro Bowl.

9. Cleveland Browns – Stanford RB Tommy Vardell
Yep, the Browns drafted a fullback ninth overall. “Touchdown Tommy” had 403 carries for 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns in eight NFL seasons. The coach of the Browns when they made the pick? Bill Belichick.

10. Seattle Seahawks – Virginia OT Ray Roberts
Roberts lasted four years with the Seahawks and five with the Detroit Lions as a starter at left tackle.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers – Miami OT Leon Searcy
Searcy, a right tackle, started 111 games over eight seasons with the Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

12. Miami Dolphins – Georgia Tech DE Marco Coleman
Coleman had a solid career spanning 14 years with six teams. He made one Pro Bowl and had 65.5 sacks, second-most in the 1992 draft class.

13. New England Patriots – Virginia Tech G Eugene Chung
Chung lasted just two years as a starter, mostly at guard, and was out of the NFL after the 1997 season.

14. New York Giants – Notre Dame TE Derek Brown
Brown’s career was derailed due to injuries. With just 401 career yards he’s remembered as one of the biggest Giants draft busts ever.

15. New York Jets – Nebraska TE Johnny Mitchell
Mitchell’s career was out of the NFL after 57 games, with 2,103 yards and 16 touchdowns.

16. Oakland Raiders – Clemson DT Chester McGlockton
McGlockton had a good career as a huge interior defender, getting four Pro Bowl nods and making first-team All-Pro once, in 1995.

17. Dallas Cowboys – Texas A&M CB Kevin Smith
Smith started in two Super Bowl wins for the Cowboys and finished with 19 career interceptions.

18. San Francisco 49ers – Washington S Dana Hall
Hall was gone from the 49ers after just three seasons, and after three more seasons with two other teams he was out of the NFL.

19. Atlanta Falcons – Southern Miss RB Tony Smith
Smith had just 329 career rushing yards and will forever be known as the player Atlanta selected with the pick acquired in the Brett Favre trade with Green Bay.

20. Kansas City Chiefs – Tennessee CB Dale Carter
Carter made four Pro Bowls, but also got in plenty of trouble. He was suspended for the entire 2000 season after a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

21. New Orleans Saints – Indiana RB Vaughn Dunbar
In 39 NFL games, Dunbar had just 935 yards rushing.

22. Chicago Bears – Ohio State DE Alonzo Spellman
Spellman played nine seasons with 43 sacks, and is remembered for his well-publicized battle with bipolar disorder.

23. San Diego Chargers – Tennessee DE Chris Mims
Mims had a good career, with two double-digit sack seasons. He played eight NFL seasons overall, seven with the Chargers.

24. Dallas Cowboys – East Carolina LB Robert Jones
Jones was a regular starter for the Cowboys on three Super Bowl championship teams, and played 10 seasons with four teams.

25. Denver Broncos – UCLA QB Tommy Maddox
The Broncos drafted Maddox and John Elway played seven more seasons. Maddox started four games in Denver (the Broncos lost all four) and then he was shipped off to the Rams. Maddox was out of the NFL for five years, but returned in 2001 and started 32 games for the Steelers over five seasons.

26. Detroit Lions – South Carolina State DE Robert Porcher
Porcher was a fantastic player for 12 seasons, racking up 95.5 career sacks with three Pro Bowl appearances. He had five double-digit sack seasons.

27. Buffalo Bills – Arizona OT John Fina
Fina had a long career as a left tackle, starting 131 games. He played 10 seasons for the Bills and one with the Arizona Cardinals.

28. Cincinnati Bengals – Miami S Daryl Williams
Williams made a Pro Bowl and played 10 seasons between the Bengals and Seahawks, picking up 31 career interceptions.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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