22 Sep 1996: Quarterback Brett Favre #4 of the Green Bay Packers attempts to escape the grasp of Derrick Alexander #90 of the Minnesota Vikings during the first half at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Packers 29-21. (Credit: Getty Images)
Sometimes, a pick is a bad pick not because the player that was selected was necessarily a bad player, but because of what the team making the pick managed to miss out on as a result. Such is the case with Derrick Alexander, who the Vikings took with the first of two first-round selections in the 1995 NFL Draft. While Alexander wasn't great by anyone's definition, he was at least serviceable. However, the scenario that played out on that day in 1995 has shown us that we could have had something significantly more than "serviceable" had Denny Green played his cards correctly.
The Vikings had acquired the 11th overall pick in 1995 as part of the trade that sent future Hall of Famer Chris Doleman to the Atlanta Falcons (the Falcons had previously acquired the pick from the Denver Broncos). One of the Vikings' biggest needs was along the defensive line, where they had defensive tackle John Randle tearing things up, but since the Doleman trade and the departure of Henry Thomas after the 1994 season, the Vikings had some serious holes to plug up front. They attempted to plug one of those holes with Derrick Alexander.
But man. . .could they have done a whole lot more.
While Alexander was having a good season for the Florida State Seminoles, there was a guy from one of FSU's in-state rivals that was having a great season. That man was University of Miami defensive lineman Warren Sapp. To put it simply, in the 1994 college football season, Sapp was a beast. In that season, he won the Bronko Nagurski Award (best overall defensive player), the Lombardi Award (best defensive lineman or linebacker), and the Bill Willis Award (best defensive lineman), as well as being a consensus first-team All-American. He was also a finalist for the Outland Trophy, and was named the Defensive Player of the Year by the Football Writers' Association of America.
But on draft day, rumors about Sapp started to surface. . .rumors of drug use and other character issues. Thus began the drop of Warren Sapp on the draft board. He wasn't the first defensive lineman off of the board. . .Florida's Kevin Carter and Boston College's Mike Mamula both went with the sixth and seventh picks, respectively. A couple more picks came and went, and Sapp continued to drop. The analysts were incredulous about the drop, not quite comprehending how Sapp could have fallen so far so quickly.
Surely the Vikings would be the team to break Sapp's fall, wouldn't they? A tandem of Sapp and John Randle would terrorize opposing offensive lines like few defensive tackle combos the league had ever seen, and the Vikings had the opportunity to make that happen.
But, remember. . .we're talking about Denny Green.
The Vikings' card went up to the podium, and Paul Tagliabue made the announcement that the Vikings had selected Alexander instead of Sapp. With the next pick, I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set a new land speed record in getting to the podium and claimed Sapp for themselves.
(That 1995 first round was pretty good to the Bucs. . .with their second first-round pick that year, they took Alexander's Florida State teammate, a linebacker by the name of Derrick Brooks.)
Alexander played four seasons in Minnesota, registering 18 sacks in that time. He didn't do much until his final season in Minnesota, the 1998 season. . .after which he immediately skipped town and signed with the Cleveland Browns, where he played for one season before washing out of the NFL. Sapp went on to a career that will put him in the Hall of Fame, finishing second all-time in sacks for a defensive tackle. . .the guy he finished behind in that category is the guy who should have been his teammate in Minnesota.
Sorry, Derrick Alexander. . .I'm sure you played hard and you're a nice guy and everything. . .but the Vikings made the wrong choice on that April morning in 1995.
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