No One Knows Anything About Quarterbacks Part 1
BY ADAM GREENE
That’s a rough way to start our draft coverage, but there it is. No one, not a single soul on Earth, knows anything about quarterbacks. We all have our ideas on what makes a good quarterback when we see it, but ultimately I’m convinced of one thing; You can’t make a QB. You can only find one.
That doesn’t mean a guy can’t improve as a player. Obviously, that can happen. But I don’t think anyone, anywhere can mold pure talent into an NFL quarterback. I believe those guys are just born.
The truth is, it’s a crapshoot at that position. Draft analysts, general managers and head coaches get it wrong all the time. Mel Kiper thought JaMarcus Russell would be the next John Elway. Mike Mayock, who now runs the Oakland Raiders as their GM, thought that both Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker were better pro QB prospects than Cam Newton.
The fact is, there are scores of Youtube videos dedicated to showing all the times Kiper has whiffed on a prediction, even famously saying he would quit NFL draft analysis if then Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen (his top-ranked QB in 2010 draft) didn’t turn into a successful NFL QB in eight years.
That deadline was hit in 2018. Exactly three seasons after Clausen’s career as a back up came to an end. Kiper, as far as I can tell, will be helping along with ESPN’s draft coverage in April, even if he has to wear a hazmat suit.
So how do I do in this whole picking the best QB thing?
Significantly better than my competition, but not perfect by a long shot. I did my first draft evaluation in 2014 and picked, without question, Teddy Bridgewater, out of Clemson, as my top quarterback that season. It seemed to me that one had to go out of their way to NOT pick Bridgewater, using every single made-up metric they could come up with other than actual talent and performance on the field.
Most analysts had either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel as their top QB prospect. I didn’t like either of them. Now, six years later, Bortles is barley hanging on in the league as a back up. Manziel is hawking insurance and trying to talk Vince McMahon into adding him to the XFL (if it still exists next season. And, you know, there’s a “next season” of anything).
Bridgewater, of course, was the best of the group out the gate, nearly tore his leg off in a practice accident, then came back to still be the best of all of them by a wide margin. And that includes second round pick Derek Carr.
As of today, 2015 isn’t going to look good on anybody picking quarterbacks, but for the record, I liked Marcus Mariota better than Jameis Winston, whatever that means now.
But it was the 2016 draft where I dunked on everyone with a Vince Carter stare-down. While all of NFL punditry and general managerial staffs debated between Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, I was the lone voice in the wilderness. Who did I like?
Dak Prescott. And it wasn’t close. In fact, in my final rankings I had Prescott No. 1, Wentz No. 2 and didn’t have Goff in my Top Five. Was I right? About Prescott, yes. About Goff, no.
But Dak is the perfect symbol of how my QB ranking system works. It’s why I picked Deshaun Watson as my top quarterback in 2017 (and completely missed Patrick Mahomes).
And it’s why in 2018, when everyone was talking about Sam Darnold, I said Baker Mayfield was the guy. But I did bring something up when talking about it.
You see, a lot of your draft analysts want to talk about a guy’s “ceiling.” Meaning, they’re projecting, with their imaginations, how good this guy will be in his career. Where I come from, we call that “playing pretend” and the perfect example was from that very 2018 NFL draft. I though Mayfield was the best quarterback prospect based on my criteria and, at the same time, showed how everyone else’s criteria was just so much crap.
Because if you wanted to talk about a “ceiling,” no quarterback in that draft had a higher ceiling than Lamar Jackson. But no one, AND I MEAN NO ONE, had Jackson as their top-ranked QB. Most didn’t even have him as a first round pick (I did. I had the Cincinnati Bengals taking him). In fact, there was a real argument (that still pisses Jackson off) that he should change positions and be a wide receiver.
So, like I said, I hit more than I miss. What I miss out on is a guy like Mahomes that can transcend the film. Make freakish plays. Do things in an NFL offence he never did in college. Michael Jordan on the football field kind of stuff. Because I’m not basing my analysis on my gut or my imagination or what I hope will happen. I base it on what I actually see.
I don’t rank a guy No. 1 that could turn into something in three years. I rank a guy at the top of the list that could win in the NFL if called on today.
So what am I looking for? We’ll get to how it all works in Part 2.
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