You hear the rhetoric often about how the NFL is a passing league. That is certainly true, because there is no denying the correlation between winning games and throwing the football well. But what often gets lost in that statement is the value that running the football has.
No, you can’t win championships by running the football. But you can get out of the basement by running the ball. The Falcons certainly proved this. Their quick turnaround in 2008 is often attributed to Matt Ryan’s presence on the team, but it was really Michael Turner that made the difference that year. I’m not saying Ryan didn’t have a major impact on that team and the stability and leadership he offered at quarterback was extremely important. But the Falcons won most of their football games off the back and thighs of Michael Turner.
I think the Minnesota Vikings also illustrate this. They have had subpar quarterback play in five of the last six seasons (excluding 2009 with Brett Favre). Yet in three out of those five years they have finished .500 or above, and made the playoffs in two of those years, largely due to the stabilizing presence of Adrian Peterson.
In order to compete at the highest level, that is the level that entails winning Super Bowls or coming awfully close, they are going to need Christian Ponder to play a lot better than he currently is. But they are at least not in the cellar. I know Vikings fans are among the more tortured fanbases in the league, so I can’t sit here and pretend that they are groovy with their current state of affairs. But I’m fairly confident that they are much more content being 8-8 every year than being 3-13 every other year.
So if you’re running a team, that is at least something to shoot for. It’s much more likely to keep you employed, and if you’re an owner to keep some butts in the seats. And if you’re not in an immediate position to be hoisting Lombardi Trophies, your initial goal should be to get to a point where you are a playoff contender year in and year out.
And I think where this manifests is in the draft. Teams know that they need a good quarterback to win a championship, and thus get so desperate that they take guys like Ponder a round earlier than they should. And teams wind up drafting any guy rather than the right guy.
Now, I’m not going to write off guys like Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, or Brandon Weeden. Drew Brees was at almost the exact same point in his young career as many of these guys were, which prompted the Chargers to take Philip Rivers just after Brees’ third season. Then in his fourth season turned his career around, and now is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. If they find themselves in the right circumstance with the right coach and team, maybe one of them can turn around their career and become the next Brees. But it’s not very likely. Right now, you’re just hoping that one of them just becomes the next Kerry Collins at this point.
I think this applies to this year’s draft class. I haven’t finished scouting these quarterbacks, but I’ve seen enough to have a pretty firm opinion of them all. And if you’re asking me to put money on whether five years from now one of these guys will be a Top 15 quarterback, I’m going to say no. I think some of them will become competent starters, but I don’t think they’ll be competent enough that they’d be put on the same level as guys like Jay Cutler or Matt Schaub. And going back to talking about the differing tiers of quarterbacks, I don’t think any of them are likely to be second tier quarterbacks. It’s certainly possible, but only under the right circumstances.
I think this year’s quarterback class is going to mirror that of the 2002 draft class. You’re going to have two guys go very high much like we saw with David Carr and Joey Harrington that year (probably Geno Smith and Matt Barkley), and then probably another guy sneak into the first round much like Patrick Ramsey did. That’s probably between Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib, and Tyler Wilson. Glennon probably gets the edge due to his superior arms strength as it’s usually teams falling in love with a guy’s arm which prompts the move up.
Now that 2002 class produced David Garrard, who was a fourth round pick that year. And Garrard sat the bench early on, but become a competent to occasionally good starter. I don’t think at any point in his career did anybody thought he was a “championship-caliber” guy, but he certainly was competent. I wouldn’t bet against this class producing a Garrard-caliber guy, but probably that’s the best you should hope.
It’ll be interesting to see if teams will learn their lessons from recent drafts like 2011 where they reached on guys. Newton hasn’t been a superstar, but I think that has less to do with his abilities and more to do with the lesser caliber of coaching in Carolina. Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Minnesota have yet to be rewarded with their selections. Minnesota made the playoffs this year, but I’m not sure anybody in Minnesota is uber-confident about a repeat performance. I would assume the feelings out of Minneapolis are that it’s just as if not more likely the Vikings go 6-10 in 2013 as it is that they repeat another 10-6 season.
I just think many of these teams at the top probably should not risk sinking a high pick into a subpar quarterback and be forced to invest three or so years into these guys when they don’t have to.
Kansas City might as well draft a quarterback because they aren’t really hurting for talent elsewhere on their roster. But some of these other teams like Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, Arizona, and the New York Jets who could be tempted to use their Top 10 picks on a quarterback should pass.Besides the Browns, all of those teams are hurting for help at running back and/or along the offensive line. Maurice Jones-Drew is at or near the end of the line for him. Last year, he looked an awful lot like Michael Turner did in 2011. McFadden was terrible last year, and Oakland might as well deal him for whatever they can get now and find a sturdier back later in the draft. Arizona has a decent back in Ryan Williams, but their offensive line is absolutely atrocious. I probably wouldn’t argue with you that one of this year’s crop of quarterbacks would be an upgrade over Mark Sanchez, but with Rex Ryan’s conservative style, if they can run the football well and play good defense, they can win games.
I think it’s going to be interesting to see what ultimately transpires in April. If things go the way they usually go, we’re probably going to see three first round quarterbacks and possibly all three of them go in the Top 10. I’m not saying teams should be avoiding these guys at all costs. But just don’t reach on them. Don’t draft early second round talent in the top half of the first round. Don’t do it.!
And going back to my original point, is that these teams picking in the top ten are currently in the basement. And drafting one of these quarterbacks isn’t going to be the catalyst to get them out of it. For most of them, it’s going to be improving their ground attacks, and for others it will be getting better on defense.