K.C.’s Worst Draft …Thursday Cup O’Chiefs

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to grading NFL Draft classes.

But even Stevie Wonder can look at the Kansas City Chiefs 1975 class of draft picks and declare it the absolute worst group in franchise history.

In fact, it may go beyond even Kansas City. The ’75 draft class very well may be the worst draft class in the history of the NFL, no matter the year or team. There’s no question it would be on the medal stand at the end of the competition.

It would simply be hard to match the remarkable disaster of that selection meeting and the long term effect it had on the team’s rebuilding attempts.

How bad was it? Here’s a taste of the sheer ineptitude – only one player of the 11 the Chiefs selected with ’75 draft choices made the team. In fact, only one played in a regular season game. Just one of 11 – the odds would say a GM and coach could throw darts at the draft board and hit for better than that.

“Last year was a bad year from the standpoint of the draft,” then head coach Paul Wiggin said in the days after the team’s 75 season. “It was a disaster.”

Here’s a complete list of the Chiefs 1975 draft choices and the trades involving that draft.

The NFL Draft that year was held on January 28-29, 1975 – pretty standard scheduling in those days. It was the next season that the league moved the draft to April and that’s where it’s stayed through this year and next week’s 2011 NFL Draft.

The draft that year was 17 rounds, with 442 selections. There was a new head coach on board in Wiggin, as he stepped in after Hank Stram was fired. Wiggin’s first day on the job was January 23, or five days before the draft started.

Stram had run the entire football operation for several years and the Chiefs had struggled in the Draft. The team’s personnel department had four scouts. Veteran coach-scout Tommy O’Boyle was the de facto player personnel director. The scouts were Lloyd Wells, Max Boydston and Ed Buckley.

During the 1974 NFL Draft, Stram must have sensed the pressure that was falling around him from owner Lamar Hunt and the team’s then general manager Jack Steadman. The Super Bowl Chiefs were growing old and slowly fading away. Stram’s drafts had not been good enough to replenish with top talent.

So in that ’74 Draft, Stram traded away eight draft choices for the ’75 Draft, including the first-round pick. That turned out to be the sixth pick in the draft, and the Houston Oilers scored when they used it to select LB Robert Brazile.

Stram made what was likely the most disastrous exchange in Chiefs history. At the trading deadline in October ’74, he sent veteran DT Curley Culp and the ’75 first-round pick to the Oilers for DE John Matuszak and the Oilers’ 3rd-round choice in 1976.

While ‘Tooz burned the candle at both ends, he was on the field for 22 games in the 1974-75 seasons. He was out of shape and his priorities had nothing to do with football. An overdose of valium and vodka in training camp at William Jewell College almost claimed his life, and he was eventually traded to Washington in ’76. That third-round choice worked out pretty good, as they drafted WR Henry Marshall in ’76. He became one of the most productive receivers in franchise history.

Culp ended up playing for eight more seasons, went to four Pro Bowls and was the 1975 Defensive Player of the Year. Brazile played for 10 years, appeared in seven Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro five times.

So as the Chiefs entered the ’75 Draft, they were without their choices in the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 15th rounds. It left them with just two of the first 136 players. Coming off back-to-back 5-9 seasons, it was not a formula for rebuilding.

They selected 11 players in all. Those players ended up playing a grand total of 11 games for the Chiefs. That remarkably bad number is a bit misleading because one player had all 11 games – that was sixth-round choice RB Morris LaGrand out of the University of Tampa. He played in 11 games before he was released in the second half of that ’75 season.

The other 10 players never stepped foot on the field for a regular season game. In fact, those other 10 never played a real NFL game anywhere.

It was a football disaster of iconic proportions. At a time when the franchise was in desperate need of more talent to replace the departing legends of the Super Bowl IV champions, there was no transfusion. The pipeline was dry.

One player epitomized the ineptitude of the ’75 Draft – that was the first player they selected, second-round choice TE Elmore Stephens out of Kentucky. He was the 34th player drafted that year. The Chiefs had been trying to replace Fred Arbanas for years and thought the 6-3, 235-pound Stephens could be that man.

Stephens did show up at William Jewell College in Liberty for the start of training camp. But after two pre-season games, Wiggin and his staff knew that the TE was not going to replace Arbanas, and wasn’t good enough to make their rebuilding roster. So on August 19th, they traded Stephens to the New York Giants for a conditional draft choice.

Here’s what happened in the next seven months for Stephens:

  • September 2 – the Giants placed him on waivers.
  • October 11 – a robbery at Stephens’ apartment in Lexington, Kentucky nets the culprit $1,000 in cash and a $500 wristwatch. Stephens and three other men find the man they believed robbed the apartment, 24-year old Luron Taylor. They kidnap him from his residence and place him in the trunk of their car.
  • October 12 – in the early morning hours of this fall Sunday, Stephens strangles Taylor and the four men dump his body into the Ohio River.
  • October 14 – based on a description from Taylor’s girlfriend, Stephens and two others are arrested on kidnapping charges. They are jailed on a $100,000 bond.
  • October 21 – a body washes up near downtown Louisville and is pulled out of the river by the police. It’s identified as Luron Taylor.
  • October 23 – Stephens and two others are charged with murder.
  • January 24, 1976 – after deliberating for 11 hours, 40 minutes, a jury of 7 women and 5 men in Fayette County Circuit Court found Stephens guilty of kidnapping and reckless homicide charges.
  • February 21, 1976 – Stephens is sentenced to 21 years in prison.

“When your highest draft choice is arraigned for murder you know you haven’t had too good a year,” Wiggin said at the time.

It was a bit unusual that year, but it really fit with what had gone down in the previous five seasons under Stram. Even the great Hall of Famers from those Super Bowl teams could see and feel what was happening. They were ready to retire and there was not anyone to step into the job.

“You want to know why we’re not the team we once were?” asked Hall of Fame DT Buck Buchanan after the ’75 season. “Look around. We’re an old team. A lot of these guys are the same guys who were here when we won the championship.

“Look at the guys who’ve left – a lot of them were never replaced. It used to be when a guy was ready to retire there was somebody ready to take his place. Not anymore.”

The man who shouldered the blame for disasters like the ’75 Draft was owner Lamar Hunt.

“The biggest thing I can fault is that we got away from the thing that built the Chiefs – the draft,” Hunt said in the days after the ’75 season. “We started trying to trade for our talent and got away from the concept of drafting.

“Frankly it was my fault. I let it happen. We didn’t have a good enough scouting system. By trading we were trying to make up for our deficiencies.”

Nothing exposed how bad things had become than the 1975 Chiefs Draft.

One Response to “K.C.’s Worst Draft …Thursday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • April 22, 2011  - txchief says:

    Although this draft was a disaster, the 1983 draft pick of Turd Blackledge hurt the franchise even more.

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