April 10, 2007, 3:15:37 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ
The greatest puzzle of the NFL draft is why it’s so hard to spot a great quarterback.
You would think that everything an NFL team needs to identify the next championship quarterback is right before its eyes – accuracy, arm strength, decision making and ability to avoid the rush. His college team’s record should tell you if he’s a winner. Interviews with coaches and teammates should say worlds about his leadership.
So if you get to draft college football’s top quarterback, you should be sitting pretty for a decade or so, right? But that’s not the way it works.
Even among the very best college quarterbacks, proven winners have been in the minority since the Colts struck gold in 1998 by making Peyton Manning, from Tennessee, the first player drafted.
Those of us with fuzzy memories might think Manning was a slam-dunk pick from the start. Actually, there was considerable debate over whether the Colts should take Manning or Ryan Leaf, from Washington State.
Manning was considered the more grounded individual and safer pick. Yet, critics saw him as un-athletic and mechanical and unable to win big games. Leaf wasn’t as polished but was considered by many the more athletic and better prospect for the long haul. A similar debate now concerns Brady Quinn from Notre Dame and JaMarcus Russell from LSU.
But who knows if either is really a future NFL star? If either is drafted first overall, he will be the eighth quarterback taken first in the last 10 drafts. Of the previous seven, only Manning and the Bengals’ Carson Palmer are unquestioned stars.
Tim Couch, taken by the Browns in 1999, flopped. David Carr, taken by the Texans in 2002, has just signed with the Panthers as a backup. The jury is still out on the Falcons’ Michael Vick, the Giants’ Eli Manning (drafted by the Chargers and traded) and the 49ers’ Alex Smith.
Couch was the first of five quarterbacks taken with the first 12 picks. Of those, only the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb, picked second, has enjoyed long-term success. Joey Harrington, taken by the Lions two spots after Carr, didn’t pan out. He bounced to Miami and will now back up Vick.
Why are there so many highly-drafted quarterback busts? Obviously, the transition from college to NFL quarterback is more difficult than we might think.
More important, however, is that huge signing bonuses and the threat of losing a quarterback through free agency make it imperative to find out as soon as possible whether a quarterback can win. Young quarterbacks get thrown into the fire prematurely, often with the league’s worst teams.
A quarterback’s success is tied heavily to where he winds up. Give a talented young quarterback the right coaching, right system and right supporting cast and he should be a star. Put the same player in an unstable situation with weak talent and he might be a flop.
Though Trent Green was a veteran when he arrived in Kansas City in 2001, his has been a classic case of the right way to handle a quarterback. He was playing for a quarterback-friendly head coach, Dick Vermeil, in a quarterback-friendly system. The Chiefs brought in Priest Holmes in 2001 to beef up the running and short passing attack and a year later acquired standout left tackle Willie Roaf to put the finishing touch on an outstanding line.
Green blossomed into a Pro Bowl quarterback. A similar quarterback-friendly situation under Vermeil enabled the Rams’ Kurt Warner to jump from obscurity to a Super Bowl MVP Award in 1999, in the wake of a season-ending injury to Green.
Should the Raiders, who pick first, take Quinn or Russell, he’ll have a quarterback-friendly coach, Lane Kiffin, and highly talented wide receivers, Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. But he’ll also have a weak line and a questionable running game, and will need Moss and Porter to play with the enthusiasm they lacked last season.
Of the top overall quarterback picks who’ve thrived the most, Palmer wasn’t even asked to play as a rookie and Peyton Manning survived a 2-14 rookie season before enjoying a breakout season in 1999. Last season, of course, he led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory.
Yet that still leaves Manning two rings shy of the Patriots’ Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick and the 199th player drafted in 2000. When it comes to championship quarterbacks, isn’t it weird that this time of year we spend so much time talking about the wrong guys?
The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
This is a bit of a reversal of my previous thinking, but I think we do need to find out what Croyle can do; especially now that we have added yet another OT in Damion McIntosh.