Monday, February 06, 2006
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Analyzing the sage and the soon-to-be sorry among early departures for the NFL Draft
Part One: Quarterbacks
SMQ should lead with his Law of Rookie Quarterbacks: Sit 'em. Always. Maybe they seem ready. They're not.
Among elite quarterbacks of the past decade or so, only three - Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman, and now Ben Roethlisberger - started quickly. Favre sat. McNabb sat. Brady sat. Culpepper sat. McNair sat. Vick sat. Palmer sat. Eli sat most of the season, and was terrible the rest. Delhomme sat. Hasselbeck sat. Brunell sat. Kurt Warner sat. Leftwich sat. Trent Green sat. Brees sat. Rich Gannon sat. Steve Young, after a USFL stint, sat. Some of these guys sat for years.
Meanwhile, Tim Couch played. Joey Harrington played. Rick Mirer played. Tony Banks played. Heath Shuler played. David Carr played. Ryan Leaf played (briefly). McNown played. David Klingler and Akili Smith played. Browning Nagle played. The turf is littered with ill-fated efforts to throw kids into the fire before they're ready, and Alex Smith will join the graveyard soon.
Anyway, SMQ isn't warning against drafting a touted quarterback, only playing him too soon. Leave him on the bench for at least three quarters of his rookie season rather than get confused, pounded and picked, crunched until fans begin to boo - or, if you're in Cleveland, cheer as he lies in agony on the field after getting flattened on a block following an interception -and confidence dips so low he cries at press conferences or attacks a reporter.
As always, analysis relating to the pros is filtered through the lens of how it will affect SMQ's favorite franchise, the beloved Saints.
Upside!: Um, duh. Manufactured two straight Rose Bowl performances that left everyone gasping for breath and superlatives. Two of the finest ever amateur athletic performances on a monster stage elevate him to "freak" and "big-game player" status. Has the talent, especially when combined with his height and frame, to be the revolutionary figure at the position Michael Vick is supposed to be. Improved his passing dramatically from sophomore to junior season, eventually (like Vick his freshman season at V-Tech) leading the nation in the tricky passing efficiency category.
Tough Adjustment: Ran a very college style spread option kind of offense based on the run; rarely had to throw a whole lot. Almost never in must-throw situations, and often scrambled out of them much more easily in college than he'll be able to in the NFL. Questions about accuracy linger, especially due to his weird, sidearm release.
Best Fit: An offense - like Vick's in Atlanta - that doesn't try to hem him up inside the pocket and invests in a strong power running game. Young could be the ultimate third-and-short or third-and-medium lethal weapon, but will not fare as well as a pocket passer like Matt Leinart in an offense that puts him in third-and-seven spots because it can't run for five or six yards on first and second down.
He Hopes to Be: A cross between Daunte Culpepper and Randall Cunningham (Vick's jitterbug running style is very different than VY's more Cunningham-esque lope because of the size disparity between the two): a big, strong freak with a cannon arm who scares the hell out of his opponent on every snap.
He Will Be: Donovan McNabb - an instinctive speedster who grows into the job of All-Pro passer while lifting a moribund franchise to longstanding powerhouse, even if the Big One proves elusive.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: Total joy. SMQ can't imagine feeling more excited about a prospect New Orleans has ever had the opportunity to draft - even fellow 'Horn Ricky Williams, whose acquisition was tempered by the most foolish draft day trade in the event's six-decade history - or will conceivably have the opportunity to draft again over the next decade. Young is in a different mold from any other quarterback entering the league - even, because of his size, Vick - and should be selected over Matt Leinart.
If He Was Coming Back: Texas would be automatically preseason Number One and VY would obliterate every defender in his path on the way to becoming the first player to throw for 3,500 yards, run for 2,000, score 50-plus touchdowns, outrun Oklahoma's pregame wagon horses and be awarded the Heisman Trophy at midseason. And his stock still wouldn't be any higher next year.
Upside!: Big, good arm; major passing numbers in a conference that has recently produced three productive starters in Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. Again, freaky passing numbers: way over 60 percent completions both years as a starter, more than 6,500 yards and a 6-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Tough Adjustment: NFL defenses are bit better than those in the MAC; plus every statistic fell dramatically this year after an amazing sophomore season - including net rushing. A decent athlete, but likely won't be much of a scrambler in the pros.
Best Fit: He succeeded at Bowling Green by gunning it: BGSU typically averaged more than 40 passes per game, easily, so he's no stranger to putting it up in every situation.
He Hopes to Be: Leftwich, a stout gunslinger with just enough mobility.
He Will Be: David Garrard or Rohan Davey, a stout backup gunslinger with just enough mobility but not enough accuracy or chops to take over a starting job.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: A shrug, if it's late. The odds against OJ becoming a Saint are infinitismal - the team's first pick will be either Young or Leinart, so there's no need for another QB - meaning things have gone very wrong somewhere if New Orleans calls Jacobs' name.
If He Was Coming Back: Jacobs would have the opportunity to duplicate his 2004 eye-poppers, or at least split the difference with his junior season, and his stock would rise dramatically either way. The decision to leave following an obvious regression, when the chance exists to regroup and come out firing on hapless MAC secondaries in a pass-friendly offense again, is baffling.
Upside!: Everyone expects the guy to be his brother - his brother says Marcus is better, even - so presumably that sort of ability exists, waiting to be tapped.
Tough Adjustment: Even if the league regularly employs domestic violators and practitioners of deviant sex, it still tests for weed. And Little Mexico was stonewalled like he was a third string redshirt freshman making his second start against the Miami Hurricanes; how will he be able to deal with the Miami Dolphins? Immature and inexperienced; completed only one season as a starter and is mentally years away from being able to handle a pro playbook, much less the delicate leadership duties of a number one guy.
Best Fit: Like his brother, a run-first game that lets him create instinctively without forcing him to make a lot of reads - like, more than one per play until Year Three -
He Hopes to Be: How does that old song go? "I wanna be, I wanna be like Mi-ike...I wanna be, I wanna be...like Mike!"
He Will Be: Adrian McPherson - see below - another athletic freak whose college career was cut short before it really got going by an assortment of misdemeanors. Both are extremely raw but uber-talented; some team will take a chance, and if it's a bad team, he'll get his shot soon enough.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: Shock, though not necessarily disappointment. But the Saints already drafted a tremendously gifted, legally challenged project at quarterback last year, and what's the point of another?
If He Was Coming Back: Frank Beamer would be shoving a "Just Say No" pledge in his face - backed up by a heartfelt, "we've dreamed about this since we were kids" lecture by Jeff King at a party - followed by Vick being escorted out of Lane Stadium by campus police, ripping up the Beamer letter and jetting off to D.C. with Antonio Freeman to buy Ghostface Killa tickets as sportswriters scramble to drop Tech from their post-Spring practice Top 10.
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Don't think I haven't noticed this new crowd you're running with, Vick.
Upside!: Should be able to handle snap from center.
Tough Adjustment: You mean other than reading defenses, finding open receivers, having the arm to get the ball to them and putting it in the right spot? Other than everything about playing the position
Best Fit: Das bench.
He Hopes to Be: Jake Plummer, caution-to-the-wind, ad libbing quasi-genius; sometimes brilliant, sometimes erratic, always interesting.
He Will Be: Pick any career back-up fans cringe (or begin humming excitedly, depending on their disposition) to see stepping into the huddle.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: Disgust. Brandon Kirsch lost the starting job at Purdue! To a freshman! And that says, "Ready for the pros" to him?
If He Was Coming Back: He'd be in an uphill battle for the starting job at mediocre Big Ten school. Which, SMQ must say, beats getting cut after the second preseason game.
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