It’s never a good idea to make knee-jerk reactions over extremely small sample sizes, but Johnny Manziel’s first career start this past weekend couldn’t have gone any worse if it were written by Tim Burton and the idea he didn’t succeed Sunday and won’t ever succeed as an NFL starter because he’s too short, too small, whatever, is just not a good enough answer for me.
Maybe Manziel will wind up more Danny Kannell than Dan Fouts. Maybe it’s not meant to be. Perhaps the diminutive, six-foot former Heisman Trophy winner who’s become the butt of everyone’s jokes will never be worth the 22nd overall pick the Cleveland Browns used to draft him in May, leaving him somewhere near the top of what is an alarmingly long list of draft day busts at the quarterback position over the past five years. And maybe that list would be smaller if these kids coming out of college were somewhat prepared to play at the professional level before being thrown to the wolves.
Consider this: of the 61 quarterbacks drafted since 2010, only 13 are currently starting in the NFL (14 if you include former second-round pick Jimmy Clausen, who has played in just three games since 2010 and is 1-9 as a starter, but will replace Jay Cutler in Chicago this weekend). Twenty-seven have yet to appear in a game.
Fourteen are out of the league. Only four of the 61 are among the top 20 active quarterbacks in passer rating, a list that includes Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill. That’s right. Ryan Tannehill. The fact he’s a distant fourth on this list behind two former No. 1 overall picks in Newton and Luck and a serviceable Dalton shows the clear divide between boom or bust when drafting quarterbacks. The game is either more sophisticated than it was 10 or 15 years ago, making college an irrelevant stepping stone in player
development, or NFL coaches are not doing a good enough job bringing quarterbacks up to speed before handing them the keys to the Mercedes.
Something’s got to give. The college quarterbacks playing in a pro-style offense, meaning an offense that resembles those predominantly used at the NFL level, have a clear edge over those running the Wing T at Slippery Rock. The increased influx of the spread offense several years back was supposed to level the playing field. It hasn’t. The number of successful college quarterbacks who crash and burn in the NFL is still way too high.
There needs to be a buffer between college and the NFL, a developmental league of sorts to allow quarterbacks coming out of college to get their feet wet on the field in games where the stacks aren’t nearly as high as they are in the NFL, a beneficial alternative to a.) standing on the sideline holding a clipboard for five years while the incumbent starter sucks wind or b.) being thrust into the starting role from Day 1
and developing bad habits that become difficult to break out of.
There’s also something to be said for the maturity – or lack thereof – of those who fail so quickly in such hilarious fashion. Remember Ryan Leaf? More importantly, remember the pre-draft talk in 1998 when he and Peyton Manning were considered the top two quarterbacks coming out of college. There was actually some debate as to which one would be selected first overall. Some scouts like Leaf’s strong arm.
Others preferred Manning’s maturity. The Colts got it right while the Chargers were stuck with a mental midget who flamed out within four years.Perhaps there’s no minor-league system or learning curve that would’ve prevented Leaf from being one of the NFL’s most recognizable draft-day busts, but if you don’t think a few humbling seasons of playing in front of small crowds in even smaller cities with no street lights or running water won’t wipe the look of entitlement off a few faces you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the current state of affairs in professional football.There’s way to know for sure whether or not a developmental league to help young players mature physically and mentally while bridging the ever-widening gap between college and the pros will actually work, but it’s clear the current system isn’t working.
The numbers don’t lie. There are way too many draft-day busts and far too many mediocre quarterbacks in the NFL, both starters and backups. The Bears are turning to Clausen. Think about that for a second. That’s their solution to this mess. When the Bills realized their 2013 first-round draft pick EJ Manuel wasn’t the answer, they turned to Kyle Orton, another “meh” veteran who’s only hung around this long because there are no other alternatives.
If you’re sick of seeing quarterbacks put up video game numbers in college only to wind up working the fryer at Chick fil A in four years, then embrace the idea of a system that allows for a far less bumpy road before these kids get from Point A to Point B. Instead of lamenting the fact there aren’t enough good quarterbacks to go around, let’s be proactive about trying to make them better.
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