1997. Drunken Miller vs. The Snake. I won't say the moment the 49ers selected Jim Druckenmiller will go down in infamy, but it sure sucked looking back. This post is motivated by ESPN's column today, detailing the 50 biggest busts in NFL Draft History. Fortunately for us, Jim Druckenmiller ranks 11th. The misfortunes of Drunken Miller have been rehashed to no end, so I thought why not look at what could've been. Clearly nothing good can come of this, but I'm curious what people think the end result might have been had the 49ers followed Bill Walsh's advice and drafted Jake Plummer.
There are two issues in play. First, how would this have affected the 49ers short and long term success and two, how would this have affected Jake Plummer's career?
Following the 1997 draft, Steve Young put up back-to-back 100+ passer rating seasons. 1999 saw things come to an end, but before the injury, Young was clearly on top of his game. The 49ers went 13-3 and 12-4 with postseason ending at the hands of Green Bay and Atlanta. The following season saw Steve Young's career come to an end and Jeff Garcia take over as the starting quarterback. The 49ers went 4-12 and 6-10 those first two years, before returning to the postseason in 2001 and 2002. Once Garcia took hold, things were good for a little while. Even though Garcia never had all the physical skills of a big time QB, he took care of business and made things happen.
What would have happened if Jake Plummer had spent 2+ seasons learning under one of the greatest scrambling QBs ever? Assuming 1999 plays out the same way, you'd have to think 4-12 just doesn't happen. Garcia was stuck in a train wreck of a situation. Plummer would have entered the scene in a situation quite similar to Steve McNair. Learn for 2 years and then be handed the keys to the car. It's obviously impossible to predict how the 1999 49ers and beyond would've done, but one has to believe 10-22 between 1999 and 2000 would not have happened. I think at least one playoff appearance results and more importantly, there's NO WAY IN HELL Dennis Erickson ever becomes coach of this team. I don't know what would have happened with Steve Mariucci, but the 2003-2004 depression would not have happened.
And how would Plummer have handled this change?
Jake Plummer future
Jake the Snake came out of Arizona State as a gunslinging, scrambling hero. After starting 9 games his rookie season, the Snake led the Cardinals to their first playoff appearance in 18 years and a rather stunning road upset of the Dallas Cowboys. Things immediately went down hill before Plummer ended up in Denver. While Plummer had a reasonably solid career, he never quite met the expectations coming out of ASU.
What would have happened in San Francisco? As mentioned above, he would have had the opportunity to learn under one of the greatest scrambling quarterbacks in history. Furthermore, you just know Bill Walsh would have gotten his hands on Plummer at some point to work with him. Plummer seems like he could have been a more talented version of Jeff Garcia: better arm and better scrambling, but a chance to learn as opposed to being thrown in the fire, as happened with Garcia.
Of course you never know how things would have turned out for Plummer's career, but I think at the very least his career winning percentage would be much higher. In six seasons in Arizona, Plummer was 34-62, a winning percentage .354. In San Francisco, he'd have won significantly more and I think you'd see much better statistics. In Arizona, some combination of Frank Sanders, Rob Moore and David Boston were his big receivers. In San Francisco he could have worked with guys like Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. Throw in some other great skill position players and I think we could have expected big things from Jake the Snake.
Obviously this certainly leaves us shaking our heads at what could have been. Jim Druckenmiller was a big, fat bust and based on how well things could have gone with Jake Plummer at the helm, I have no problem throwing a nice, big chunk of blame Drunken Miller's way for the franchise struggles since the turn of the century. So, now let's open the floor. Besides spewing venom at Druckenmiller, thoughts on what could have been for a 49er Snake?