by Pete Fierle
The 1990 NFL Draft had a bumper crop of defensive linemen and many teams in search of bolstering their front line on defense. Not included in the list of teams with the DL at the top of their needs were the Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, and New England Patriots who picked 1, 2, and 3 respectively. The Colts had orchestrated a blockbuster deal to receive the first overall pick and had their sights on Illinois quarterback Jeff George. The Jets ultimately targeted Penn State running back Blair Thomas.
That left the Patriots in the driver’s seat as the club fielded offers from around the league who desperately wanted their pick at No. 3. Many teams eyed the most coveted defensive player among that year’s talent in defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy out of Miami (FL).
Kennedy’s rise to the top of the scouting charts was based on an incredible senior season where he led the Hurricanes to a national championship. Hailing from the small town of Wilson, Ark., where he guided the Rivercrest High School to a 13-0 season and state title, Kennedy began his college football days at Northwest Mississippi Junior College. He then enrolled at Miami but served as a backup defensive tackle during his junior year.
It wasn’t until he slimmed down and lost 20 pounds that the nation saw the dominating player he became as a senior. He earned a starting role and played havoc on opposing offenses en route to leading the Hurricanes to an 11-1 record capped by the national championship. Kennedy was named first-team All-America by the Sporting News after an incredible season. His stat line read 92 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 16 quarterback pressures. Twice that season he notched 13 tackles in a game. The first came in a 27-10 win over Notre Dame when Kennedy also added a sack, two quarterback pressures, and two tackles for losses. He repeated the 13-tackle effort against Pitt and also threw in a sack and two tackles for losses in that game.
Defense dominated the 1990 NFL Draft as 16 defenders were off the board in the 25-pick first round including 13 defensive players drafted in the first 18 picks. There was no surprise that Kennedy would be the first defensive player off the board. It was just a matter of what team would take him. Most notable among the teams in the pursuit of trading up with the Patriots were the Chicago Bears
, Detroit Lions
, and Seattle Seahawks.
New England ultimately dealt the No. 3 pick to the highest bidder. The Seahawks, who were in a transition from a 3-4 defense to a four-man front, won the “sweepstakes.” Kennedy was the man they needed. So, Seattle shipped two first-round picks, a third-rounder that year and a fourth-round draft pick the following year to the Patriots in exchange for the third overall pick and second-round choice.
There was no debate that the 6’3”, 300-pound Kennedy was the top defensive prospect but some pundits questioned whether the Seahawks paid too steep of a price to land him. The media’s criticism mattered little to the Seahawks’ front office.
“We're very happy about it, obviously, or we wouldn't have done it. There will be questions about giving up two picks in the top 10 for one player, but we did what we believed was right, not what everyone else perceives is right,” surmised Seattle Vice President and General Manager Tom Flores.
“He was the top-rated player that our scouting system had on the board,” stated Chuck Knox, the Seahawks’ coach. “I think if you went across the rest of the teams in the NFL, he would have been right up there as the No. 1 guy on most boards.”
The move paid off for the Seahawks once they inked the college star to a contract. Kennedy missed his first training camp and all of preseason before coming to terms with the club. He quickly found his home at the right defensive tackle position and played in all 16 games as a rookie. He became an anchor of the Seahawks defense for the next 11 seasons and developed into one of the finest interior lineman ever to take the field in the NFL.
Fierle is the Manager-Digital Media/Communications at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He joined the Hall of Fame's staff in 1988.
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