Early NFL Draft Thoughts
Seeing as how the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles are dead to me, I’m diving head first into the draft. This is going to be pivotal for the franchise; the prospect pool is shaping up to be the deepest in recent memory, and the Eagles will hold three picks in the top 50. The roster’s most pressing needs must be addressed, and there’s a growing sentiment within the fan base that one of those needs is, well, quarterback. Michael Vick will be the starter in 2012, but his age, contract, playing style, and propensity for getting injured are going to force the Eagles to make a decision. With most of the bonus money paid out by the end of next season, the front office could cut Vick without suffering significant cap repercussions. I’ve become increasingly ambivalent about Vick. He can be as exciting to watch as any player in the league, but his high-risk style and baffling decision-making have combined to make me very wary about his future. At the end of the day, I do not feel Michael Vick is a quarterback who can lead this team to a Super Bowl. As such, I believe it is time to start thinking about who will be the Eagles’ real quarterback of the future, and I believe he can be found in the 2012 draft.
I was lukewarm about last year’s quarterback prospects but feel the opposite way about the 2012 crop. In fact, I think this class has a chance to be the best since 2004. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Matt Barkley are franchise signal callers, in my opinion. And I think Ryan Tannehill’s raw skill set makes him an intriguing option as a developmental prospect who could flourish after a year or two of apprenticeship.
Andrew Luck is viewed as the best quarterback prospect to come along since Peyton Manning or John Elway or ever, depending who you ask. There really isn’t much more to say because his game has been broken down, broken down again, and lauded ad nauseum. It’s at the point where people — haters, specifically — are just looking for something to criticize. And I understand why. Does Luck have JaMarcus Russell’s arm? No, but he has no trouble throwing the ball downfield and making all the throws in general. Arm strength is overrated anyway. The Andrew Luck hype has gone way off the deep end, but it is warranted. He’s the real deal. Given the talent Luck will be working with at the NFL level, I think he’s going to be even better as a pro. He really is a carbon copy of Peyton Manning, just a far, FAR superior athlete. It’s actually a scary thought.
Up until a few weeks ago, Matt Barkley was pretty much seen as a lock to be the second quarterback drafted in April. Then Baylor played Texas. Anyway, Barkely has a solid arm and is accurate with the football; he puts nice touch on some of his passes but struggles to drive the ball down the field consistently. Barkley goes through his progressions, manipulates safeties, and always keeps his eyes down field. While he is not a great athlete, he doesn’t move like molasses either. Still, he’s not going to run away from anyone. I like that Barkley has steadily improved in each of his three seasons at USC and continuously come away impressed with how he directs the offense and manages a game. He isn’t necessarily the sexiest of quarterbacks and won’t wow you with a single skill, but he’s solid and steady and gets the job done. The words that come to mind when you watch Barkley play include “polished,” “mature,” and “poised.” He is a tough customer who isn’t afraid to hang in the pocket and take a hit to make the throw. There’s also a workmanlike quality to his game that is endearing and comforting, and it makes me think he’ll be just fine in the pros, though not a superstar. My only concern: I wonder just how much of a finished product Barkley is and am skeptical about his ceiling. Overall, I feel he’ll be a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL, but I don’t think he’s in the same class nor possesses the potential of Luck and the subject of the next paragraph.
My favorite quarterback in this class is definitely Robert Griffin III, or RG3. He deservedly won the Heisman Trophy Saturday night and has taken the country by storm this season, starting with the very first game against TCU. Everybody is hopping on the bandwagon and the hype is only going to build as the draft approaches. Because RG3 is that exciting to watch. More importantly, he’s good. I just love everything about his game. RG3 doesn’t have Luck’s measurables, but there’s not a single player in college football who’s smoother or throws a prettier ball. Just the way passes come out of RG3’s hand lets me know he’s a special breed. Some of the throws he makes are simply amazing and leave the viewer in awe. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched him play this season and said, “Wow” or “Yeah, he’s a pro.” Honestly, his game reminds me of what we’re seeing from Aaron Rodgers right now. RG3 is a freak athlete who can move the pocket and extend plays with his legs. He is always looking to pass first, and that’s the best part about him. But just in case he can’t pass, RG3 also has the kind of speed that allows him to race by defenders and pick up chunks of yardage. He could have been an Olympic hurdler if not for football. I actually think RG3 is the best pure athlete I’ve seen at the quarterback position since Michael Vick. The resemblance is mainly due to their similar statures (Vick is 6-0 and RG3 is 6-1) and the fluidity of their motion — you know, the ability to juke defenders into shame. I’ll go ahead and say RG3 will run under a 4.5 at the Combine and have scouts drooling (more than they are already).
RG3 throws pinpoint darts, but it’s a very catchable ball that leads the receiver and lets him do something after the catch without breaking stride. He is deadly with intermediate throws and can also effortlessly fling the ball down the field with zip and authority. I just always keep coming back to this: It’s really fucking fun to watch RG3 play. If he was Luck’s size, he’d be challenging the golden child for the top overall pick, there’s no question in my mind about that.
I value intelligence and accuracy more than anything in a quarterback prospect, and RG3 has both in spades. He’s smart and sharp with a unique, likable, and infectious personality, as well as a top student; comes across very positively when interviewed, and even has a healthy dose of swagger I view necessary to being a winner. As for accuracy, it is without question the best part about RG3’s tangible skill set. He’s supremely accurate. On every kind of throw. Two numbers: 18 and 20. The first is the number of touchdowns RG3 had thrown through the first four games of the season, and the second is the number of incompletions he threw during that span. Mind-blowing, even if two of those opponents were Stephen F. Austin and Rice. Two more numbers: 72.4 and 10.84. The first is RG3’s completion percentage on the season (lowest for a single game was 61.8%), and the second is his yards per attempted pass. Just think about how ridiculous that is. Every time he goes to throw the ball, it’s equivalent to a first down.
Lastly, I think there’s a lot to be said for where RG3 has had his success — not at some storied powerhouse football school with a long tradition of winning and sending players to the pros. He did it at Baylor. RG3 has brought Baylor football from total irrelevance into the national consciousness and single-handedly built and established a brand. He is the reason Baylor can dream about one day being a BCS championship-caliber program, and his legacy is sure to live on. I don’t think the immense responsibility and burden of leading an NFL franchise will faze RG3 one bit. That’s why the Washington Redskins should do everything in their power to draft him — RG3 is the quintessential candidate to be the franchise savior and iconic player who ends the past 20 years of hopelessness in DC.
With that in mind, I hope the Eagles are in position to select RG3 with their first pick. He’s going to end up going in the top 10, I’m certain of that. Think about how much sense it makes. Jeffrey Lurie is going to bring back Andy Reid next season no matter what. I’m resigned to that, and I’ll soon write an article about why I think it’s the right move (yes, you read that correctly). I think Michael Vick gives this team the best chance to win next season, but, as we’ve seen this year, the Eagles need two starting quarterbacks — with the backup preferably being someone who could start for most other teams. It is a necessity because of the virtual guarantee that Vick will suffer an injury at some point and miss multiple games. What better way to let RG3 spend his rookie year than the way it all began for Reid in Philadelphia, just like what happened with Donovan McNabb and Doug Pederson. RG3 will get to be the backup and soak in the offense, but there’s also the very real possibility that he’ll have to start for an extended period of time. A mini trial by fire and on-the-job training. Perfect. As we’ve seen recently, numerous rookie quarterbacks are coming right in and immediately leading NFL offenses. Shit has changed a lot within the last 10-15 years, and RG3 has the mental aptitude and innate understanding of the game to make the same transition. Anyway, if he shows enough in his audition, the Eagles front office would be fiscally shrewd to cut Vick after 2012 (when most of his bonus money will already have been paid out) and make Robert Griffin III the starting quarterback and face of the franchise (along with LeSean McCoy, of course). I know the Eagles won’t select RG3 even if they have the opportunity, but let me dream. Thanks.