Curtis Enis, RB 1998-2000
It was a bright sunny day in 1998. Many Bear fans expected Paul Tagligbue to step to the podium and announce the Chicago Bears had traded the 5th pick in the draft for several picks in the first round. Picks that could have been Pro Bowlers Grant Wistrom, Fred Taylor, or Randy Moss. Instead, Commissioner Tagligbue announced that the Chicago Bears, with the fifth pick in the 1998 draft, selected Running Back Curtis Enis of Penn State. As Enis stepped to the podium, donning his new Chicago Bears cap and beaming from his brace-filled mouth, I threw a (soft) item at the television. I couldn't believe my eyes. As the 2001 draft is upon us, loyal Bear fans are praying that we don't see a repeat of the organization's performance in the first round on April 18, 1998.
As a result of a dismal 4-12 season in 1997, the Bears held the fifth pick in the 1998 draft. This was the highest the team had drafted since 1982. With that pick, the team selected Jim McMahon, and getting anything close to the Punky QB would be a triumph. In '98, two of the highest touted prospects were Enis and Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss. Unlike the 2001 draft which figures to be wide-open, in 1998 everyone knew exactly how the top five picks would fall. Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were sure to go numbers one and two. Defensive end Andre Wadsworth was sure to go third, followed by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson of Michigan. To the Bears credit, Curtis Enis was the consensus fifth-best player in the draft, and everyone agreed upon this. In February of '98, Chicago signed Edgar Bennett, the durable, all-purpose running back from Green Bay. Most figured this would remove them from the probability of drafting a running back, which left the pick wide o pen.
So in March of '98, it was assured that both Enis and Randy Moss would fall to the Bears at #5. In his first year as VP of Player Personnel, and directing his very first draft, Mark Hatley coveted either Wadsworth or Leaf. Indeed, Chicago needed either a quarterback or a pass rusher. It has been rumored that Hatley and coach Dave Wannstedt offered Arizona a trade of Chicago's 5th pick, plus Curtis Conway and Alonzo Spellman in an effort to trade up for the number 2 selection. The Cardinals instead took San Diego's first and third round selections, plus their 1999 first rounder and additional players to move up to #2 to take Leaf. Thankfully, this didn't work out for the Bears, as three short seasons later, both Leaf and Wadsworth have been absolute busts in the NFL. After the unsuccessful attempt to trade up, the Bears turned their attention to Moss and Enis.
Chicago had both Moss and Enis in for a personal interview and evaluation in March. The Bears started to take the question of character very seriously after the problems they had had with Brian Cox and Alonzo Spellman over the last several years. Enis and Moss' interviews in Chicago were in sharp contrast to each other, as their NFL careers have been. Moss visited first. The 6' 4" standout was pegged as possibly the best wide receiver that would ever play in the NFL, and he was not shy to tell teams they would be sorry if they passed on him. However, the Marshall product had been arrested twice on battery and drug charges, and most every team in the NFL was wary of investing first-round money in him should he have another brush with the law. To make matters worse, while he was in Chicago, Moss missed a breakfast meeting with Bears representatives because he wanted to sleep in. With the lingering questions about his character, this behavior sealed his fate in the eyes of the Chicago Bears.
In absolute contrast, Curtis Enis played the golden boy role while in Chicago for his visit. He spoke very soft to the Chicago media, telling everyone what an honor it would be to play for the Bears organization, his hero was Walter Payton, etc. Enis was not without a questionable past-just three months earlier, he had been suspended from Penn State's bowl game for accepting a bribe from an agent. As it has been reported on a Chicago sports talk station, venerable coach Joe Paterno at Penn State called Enis a "con man". Regardless, Hatley and the Bears were impressed by Enis' personality as well as his skills.
As the draft approached, it still was widely reported that the Bears would not take Enis, but would trade down. There were MULTIPLE holes to fill on this team, and several great running backs available past Enis in the first round in Florida's Fred Taylor and Georgia's Robert Edwards. Other urgent Bear needs were wide receiver and defensive line, and possibly Moss could be picked up later along with a running back or defensive lineman if they traded down.
Plenty of other teams were drooling for Enis, and several had multiple picks to trade. St. Louis had the sixth pick, and desperately wanted Enis to replace the troubled '96 pick Lawrence Phillips. Jacksonville was dangling the ninth and 25th picks, and New England had picks 18 and 22 and was interested.
On draft day, the first four picks fell exactly as planned. As the Bears went on the board for the fifth pick, it has been reported that there were a flurry of phone calls to Halas Hall. Jacksonville's Tom Coughlin reportedly was the last person to stay on the line with Mark Hatley, urging him to trade the pick for Jacksonville's two first-rounders. Hatley stood firm, as he wanted additional picks or players for the fifth selection. Coughlin would not budge, and Hatley was eager to prove he was not a pushover in this his first draft. Several minutes later, Chicago selected Enis. Even the experts covering the draft festivities couldn't believe the Bears took Enis, and predicted they would trade him before the day was over.
Looking back in 2001, it is a sad epilogue on the '98 draft for the Chicago Bears. Curtis Enis rushed for an average of 450 yards per season in his three years in Chicago, and was not re-signed even as a restricted free agent this year. Immediately after the Bears pick, St. Louis selected pro bowl defensive end Grant Wistrom, a position the Bears are still trying to fill. Jacksonville and New England nabbed 1,000 yard rushers in Fred Taylor and Robert Edwards. Even worse, Enis and Moss emerged as complete parallels in their NFL careers. Moss, whom the Bears considered a character risk, signed quickly with Minnesota and earned Rookie of the Year honors for the 1998 season. The mild-mannered midwestern kid Enis turned into "Sybill" the bust, with more strange personalities than rushing yards.
Luckily in rounds two and three Chicago landed hard-hitting safety Tony Parrish and unruly center Olin Kreutz. As Curtis Enis embarks on his second career with Cleveland this season, all eyes in Chicago will be wondering which personality will show up for the Browns each Sunday.
Further Reading
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