by Colin Lindsay
GBN Editor and Publisher

April 21


To QB or not to QB …
that is the question facing half the teams with top ten picks at next month’s draft. And needless to say how teams like Houston (with the #1 pick overall), Jacksonville (#3), Cleveland (#4), Oakland (#5), Tampa Bay (#7), Minnesota (#8) and even Tennessee at #11 ultimately decide to proceed regarding their respective QB situations which have a huge impact on the rest of this year’s opening round evolves. The current buzz around the NFL is that none of those quarterback-needy teams have yet to be convinced that any of the top prospects at the position including Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Central Florida‘s Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville are worth a top 5-10 pick. At the same time, there is an unusual number of really good players at other positions, while there is also a strong group of second-tier QBs that will be available during the second day of the draft. New Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien, for example, was recently quoted as saying that he doesn’t see a lot of separation bewteen the very top guys and the second tier. According to O’Brien, there are “strengths and weaknesses with every one of these guys. I don’t see where there are one or two guys, or three guys, that are just light-years ahead of the rest of them.”

The most intriguing of this year’s QB crop, of course, is A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who is if nothing else the most polarizing prospect in this year’s draft. Heck, he may be one of the most polarizing prospects ever. Indeed, NFL.com has is even running a scorecard on who likes and who hates the once, and likely future, ‘Johnny Football’ who just may be, along with South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, the only true potential franchise-altering prospect in this year’s draft, but who also comes with a boatload of red flags including far from prototype size and an unproven record as a game manager in the pocket. Meanwhile, Central Florida’s looks like the safest of this year’s Big 3 QB prospects, but even his former college school said he ‘was no Andrew Luck” and would need some development time once he reaches. Then, of course, there is Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who was a strong candidate to be the #1 pick this year, until he had a lousy pro day and his stock has been tumbling since, although its hard to see him falling all that far. On the other hand, the stock of a number of second-tier QBs including Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Aaron Murray of Georgia, Logan Thomas of Viringia Tech, Pitt’s Tom Savage, and Keith Wenning of Ball State all appear to be on the rise, although it is also possible that A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Eastern Illinois‘ Jimmy Garoppolo could be trending down.

As a result, just about every one of the QB-needy teams with top ten picks are reportedly strongly considering passing on a QB with their first pick and waiting until the second or third round selections to address their QB issues. Of course, the issue is complicated by the fact that most consider the 2014 draft to be one of the most talented in recent years with as many as 7-8 really elite prospects that will be hard to pass on. At least that‘s the buzz. But who knows for sure! In fact, all of these teams are still checking out the top QB prospects in earnest either by bringing them in as part of the 30 onsite visits each team is allowed or by working them out privately. This past weekend, for example, Cleveland was in Texas working out A&M’s Manziel, while Jacksonville reportedly was in Louisville working out Bridgewater; that after they had already had him in to their facility on a visit. Bottom line is that at this time of the year team’s don’t like to waste and tend to focus their efforts on players they already have a pretty good grade on. And right now there are still too many teams looking at the top QBs to think they’ll all pass early on.

Here’s the problem for these teams. The NFL is a passing league such that can not win without a quality QB. In fact, let me rephrase that: YOU CAN NOT WIN IN THE NFL WITHOUT A QUALITY QB! And if you don't have one you have to get one, period! Former NFL head coach Mike Holmgren was quoted the other day when asked 'what do you do if you really need a quarterback in a draft in which every quarterback is a question mark and there are better players all over the board' by saying “You’ve got to take one, unfortunately.”

And right now the projected starters for the so-called QB needy teams at the top of the board include journeymen like Ryan Fitzpatrick at Houston, Chad Henne at Jacksonville, Brian Hoyer (coming off an ACL) for Cleveland and Matt Schaub for Oakland, not to mention either Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel at Minnesota. Indeed, what the good folks in Houston and Jacksonville, and for that matter in Tennessee where incumbent starter Jake Locker has struggled since being selected with the 8th overall pick in 2011, is that Indianapolis, the other team in the division, already has Andrew Luck who has all the look of the next Tom Brady. And the Texans, Jags and Titans have to know that they can draft all the pro bowl DEs, OTs and WRs they want, but unless they get a competitive QB themselves they face the prospect of being the Bills, Dolphins and Jets of the past decade. There is a similar story in Tampa Bay, which has raised some eyebrows because of its focus on QBs in the pre-draft build-up, but the Bucs play in a division where the opposing QBs are Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan and Josh McCown and Mike Glennon just aren‘t likely going to get it done.

And yes one can find a quality starting QB during the second day, as Super Bowl champion Seattle did when they selected Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft. The truth of the matter though is that Wilson was the exception and history and stats say your best odds of hitting on a QB - by far - are in the opening round and the higher rated the better. Bottom line is we won’t know for sure until draft day how all this plays out, but there is a pretty good chance that if the top QBs aren’t selected within the top 5 picks, then teams like Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Tennessee almost surely will jump in. Then there are other teams like Dallas at #16 and Arizona at #20 that could very well jump on a QB for developmental purposes as neither Tony Romo nor Carson Palmer are getting any younger, if a top guy was surprisingly available. Heck they may do it anyway.

Trending … While much of the draft focus is on the travails of the QBs other players who may be trending up as we enter the homestretch include WRs Odell Beckham of LSU and Indiana‘s Cody Latimer; Tennessee OT Ja‘waun James; Nevada G/T Joel Bitonio; Colorado State C Weston Richburg; Boise State DE/OLB Demarcus Lawrence; OLBs Jeremiah Attaochu of Georgia Tech and Arizona State’s Carl Bradford; CBs Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech, Dexter McDougle of Maryland and Arizona’s Shaq Richardson and Washington State safety Deone Bucannon. On the other hand, players that could be trending down include WRs Marqise Lee of USC and Florida State‘s Kelvin Benjamin; Stanford G/T David Yankey and possibly even Minnesota DT Ra‘shede Hageman. Stay tuned!

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January 23: Super Bowl Buzz building … ‘The’ big game is still over a week away, but already there is a real buzz growing about this year’s Super Bowl in New York next weekend. Certainly, the NFL and CBS network execs have to be thrilled with a match-up of arguably the league’s best teams this year in Denver and Seattle in a match-up of arguably the NFL’s two best teams this year. And the game won’t lack for storylines as Peyton Manning and the potent Broncos’ offense battle Richard Sherman and the stingy Seahawks’ defense. And with a record audience expected to tune in at some point next Sunday, there are also expectations some Super Bowl betting records to be broken. For the record, sports bookmakers such as bwin are currently listing Denver as a slight favorite. Figure, though, that football fans, both fanatic and casual, will also be betting on just about anything that moves including the weather at the Meadowlands and whether it will impact the start of the game.

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