As we count down the days until the NFL Draft (22 days left by my count), there has been ever-increasing speculation concerning the potential of over three hundred college football players, but most of the public speculation has concerned only two of them: quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
In all likelihood, the Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins are going to pick these two players in the above respective order, but there have been numerous reports since the NFL Combine that RG3, as he has become known, has surpassed Luck in value and potential. We as fans, have gone through an entire season of both college and professional football, hearing about the “Suck For Luck” campaign. I believe this is a media creation; no coach or GM in their right mind in the fickle world of the NFL would intentionally risk their own jobs to land any player, no matter their potential.
There have been quarterback controversies (over which one to choose) in the draft ever since there has been a draft, and exacerbated since the draft has been televised.
Six quarterbacks were drafted in the first round of the 1983 Draft. Three of them are now in the Hall of Fame (Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, John Elway), one other helped lead his team to a Super Bowl (Tony Eason), and one more went to two Pro Bowls (Ken O’Brien). The only one that could be categorized as a “bust” is Todd Blackledge, but he did find success as an analyst for ESPN. The funny thing about that draft is that the quarterback drafted the lowest (Marino, pick #27) was the player with the most statistical NFL success, and the one with the most controversy surrounding him, due to a bad touchdown-to-interception ratio his senior year (17-23, compared to 37-23 the year before), rumors of drug use, and possible character issues. Also, the quarterback with the least amount of success in the NFL, Todd Blackledge, was drafted second out of the six, and was awarded the Davey O’Brien Award that year, given to the best quarterback in college football.
In the 1993 Draft, the choice was between Drew Bledsoe from Washington State, and Rick Mirer from Notre Dame. It was a dead heat between the two, but Mirer had the edge in popularity among the press and fans, probably due to Notre Dame being nationally televised almost every week, and comparisons to another Notre Dame quarterback who made an offseason splash (becoming a Kansas City Chief after fourteen years in San Francisco), Joe Montana. I was eleven years old at the time, and living in South Bend, Indiana. Mirer was a local hero, not only for being Notre Dame’s favorite son, but also because he played his high school ball at Goshen High School, about twenty miles away. What I look back at, and find to be interesting is that the comparisons to Joe Montana were based more on Mirer’s deficiencies than his assets. The major comparisons were Mirer’s small and slender build, Mirer not possessing the strongest arm ever found on a quarterback, and not playing in a pass-first offense. The great ones are great because of their assets, not their liabilities.
I think something that scouts, writers, and fans alike didn’t take into account about Rick Mirer was that he always played behind a huge and very talented offensive line at Notre Dame, and quarterbacks at Notre Dame in the twentieth century were never expected to do too much. Notre Dame had always been a pound the ball, run-first offense.
Even though both Seattle and New England were miserable in 1992 (resulting in their high draft status), Bledsoe had one huge advantage in New England that Mirer didn’t have in Seattle. Bill Parcells had taken over as coach of the Patriots after the 1992 season, whereas Tom Flores was coaching Seattle. Sure, both have two Super Bowl victories under their belts, but I want Parcells rebuilding my franchise when it comes down to it.
Bledsoe was drafted at number one by New England, and Mirer at number two by Seattle. Bledsoe of course, went on to lead his team to a Super Bowl (XXXI, 1996) and set the NFL records for attempts and completions in a game and in a season. Mirer went on to journeyman status, but still remained a solid citizen and a class act.
And of course, that brings us to 1998: Leaf vs. Manning. People forget how close of a competition it was between who should be taken first. It could have been decided by a coin-flip. Leaf was supposed to be bigger and stronger. Manning was supposed to have the upbringing and better decision-making skills. There was no reaching here; picking either one would have been celebrated as a victory on draft day.
With the exception of within the Chargers’ organization, you probably couldn’t find a single general manager, owner, coach, scout, pundit, writer, radio show host, commentator, or fan that would openly admit today that they would have taken Leaf over Manning. The scouting reports that favor Leaf have probably all miraculously disappeared. I wouldn’t want to be known as the guy that would have picked Leaf either.
It is more than obvious today that taking Manning first was the right pick, but there has never been a more stark contrast between first and second. Number one becomes a league MVP and Super Bowl winner, number two is shortly out of the league, and facing constant legal problems (a new low: getting arrested twice in four days this week for two separate burglaries).
There were a couple of reasons that were thrown around on why not to pick Peyton Manning: he couldn’t beat Florida, couldn’t win the big game, he was surrounded by great players that masked his flaws. All of these had some substance, but I think the real reason why people didn’t like Manning is that inherited wealth has a stigma in America today. Since Archie Manning was a longtime NFL quarterback, and Peyton grew up around NFL stadiums, he was looked at as football’s equivalent to having a silver spoon in his mouth. Americans will rally around the self-made man any day, but we tend resent it when those at the top were born with certain advantages.
In 1999, we were treated to a three-way race between Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, and Tim Couch. The interesting thing about that year was that none of the three quarterbacks came from schools that are traditional powers. Two of the three became busts (Smith and Couch), but in all fairness, anyone drafted by the Bengals or the expansion Browns had the deck stacked against them. McNabb ended up leading the Eagles to five NFC Championship games (including four straight), and a Super Bowl, although there are a lot of Philly fans out there that would consider McNabb a bust.
That brings us back to this year. It has been a foregone conclusion since the 2011 preseason that barring injury or legal trouble, Andrew Luck would be the first round draft pick of whatever team won his rights by winning the least. Even after Griffin won the Heisman Trophy, Luck remained the best bet for the top pick. After all, since when has a Heisman guaranteed NFL success? There is a laundry list of quarterbacks and Heisman winners in general who have never even tasted success in the NFL: Eric Crouch, Charlie Ward, Gino Torretta, Chris Weinke, Troy Smith, Matt Leinart, Danny Wuerffel, Ty Detmer, Andre Ware (and that’s just the quarterbacks).
So, why the change of heart concerning Luck?
The NFL Combine is a tricky endeavor. Physical, mental, psychological, athletic, and medical tests are all administered at the combine to expose flaws that can’t be seen on film. It can bump up prospects who were not highly regarded previously, and it can bust players down if they don’t do as well on the tests as they had performed during the season.
Griffin was reported to have run a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Reports came out that Luck didn’t have as strong of an arm as was thought. Theories have been floating around that Luck had been playing against relatively weak Pac-12 defenses (as if the Big 12 is any better). This still doesn’t get at the real reason why Luck and Griffin have switched places on a lot of peoples’ draft boards.
There are so many media outlets in this country now that we need a reason to fill space. Accepting the status quo doesn’t fill broadcast time or print space. There would be four months without any NFL Draft news if there weren’t constant differing opinions. There are, of course, always differing draft boards among every NFL analyst in the business, but the majority of talk is going to be about the top pick. If a different pick is favored than previously thought was on top, then that would result in more discussion. But I think there’s a bigger issue at work here.
We are now living in a contrarian society.
Everybody likes to be the voice of opposition. We all want to be different. It just sounds so damn cool to be the guy who thinks the number one guy (Luck) sucks, and the number two guy (Griffin) is really better, but has gone unappreciated (I am being sarcastic with this statement). We have all basically become the sports-equivalent of hipsters with thick-rimmed black glasses, and t-shirts with cartoon characters on them. We all want to be just a little bit different.
Both Luck and Griffin could be future Pro-Bowlers. Both could be busts. One could succeed and one could fail. It could be anywhere in between. No matter which option it is, it’s not going to be because of anything that any pundit says (including me), and no one knows for sure how or why either will succeed or fail until it actually happens. Until we reach that point, both are excellent choices and you could flip a coin to pick either and be confident that a good pick was made.