The 1995 NFL Draft was one that ultimately helped shape the league for the better part of a decade-and-a-half. It was a draft, like most, filled with both busts and overachievers, and some who just were what they were.
But that year’s draft was historic because it featured a once-in-a-generation quarterback prospect from a historically black college that elevated himself above Power Five players in the minds of some NFL analysts and scouts, and more importantly, at least one NFL franchise.
The Carolina Panthers held the top pick in the draft, with their fellow expansion team Jacksonville Jaguars holding down the second spot.
Running back Ki-Jana Carter of Penn State was thought to be the draft’s top talent, but there were several other very talented players in the draft. Offensive tackle Toni Bosseli defensive end Kevin Carter and defensive tackle Warren Sapp were among some of the other highly regarded players.
Then there were the two quarterbacks that people thought had the potential to be franchise players. There was Penn State’s Kerry Collins, who had just led his team to a perfect season in 1994. He was a pocket passer from a Big Ten school with the “big-time” pedigree that has suckered many a scout into choosing the wrong quarterback. He had the look and feel of what a franchise quarterback was (and to some extent still is) supposed to be.
And then there was Steve “Air II” McNair from tiny Alcorn State. McNair had just completed a career in which he owned just about every Division I-AA (now FCS) record and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting despite playing at a lower level. He threw for 14,496 yards and 119 touchdowns, 44 of them thrown his senior season.
Still, despite strong performances in all-star games, the buzz prior to the draft was that McNair— stop us if you’ve heard this before — possessed all the physical tools but perhaps wasn’t smart enough to be a franchise quarterback. Some had him falling out of the top 10 of the draft.