Quarterback is a pass-fail position. Sure, there are two or three on every team, but out of those 80-90 guys, there are 60 or 70 of them who are just around because every team needs one on the field; the others are insurance in case that one guy gets hurt. Half—and probably more—of the teams in the NFL are in the perpetual pursuit of that top-flight signal caller. Which brings us to the Cleveland Browns and Thursday night when Ray Farmer and his staff may very well select a quarterback. I’m OK with that. More than OK. In fact, they MUST take one by halfway through Day 2. What I don’t want them to do, however, is sacrifice their draft board and pass up a Pro Bowl talent in the never-ending pursuit of a franchise player under center.
I’ll reference a couple of things from Craig’s interesting take on Johnny Football being the “safest” pick at No. 4. One of Craig’s go-to arguments in his case for drafting Manziel is how drafting Joe Thomas, an All-Pro and potential future Hall of Fame offensive tackle, in the top five has led to little in the way of wins. The Browns could be staring down that exact same scenario if Auburn tackle Greg Robinson remains on the board when the fourth-overall selection is on the clock.
I disagree with the premise of Craig’s argument. I’d argue that selecting an offensive lineman that high, having him sit on your line for a decade, and never having to worry about that one of 22 starting positions is a huge benefit. The argument Craig seems to be making here (and he’s certainly not alone) is that no other starting position effectively matters until you have that franchise quarterback. That’s not how team building works. Sure, there’s the risk that you chew through your core in the pursuit of a franchise quarterback. There’s also the possibility that you take these seven picks in the first four rounds and add some young, cheap, dynamic talent to a core of Pro Bowlers—say, Joe Haden, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, Joe Thomas, and Alex Mack—and start to fill out two complete sides of the ball. Then, with the rest of the car built, you drop the engine into a team that’s ready to hit the ground running.
Of course, you’re not going to go deep into the playoffs without a good quarterback, but is this team going deep into the playoffs next year? Build a complete team by taking the best players available that fit your system and assess your deficiencies all while picking players that have the best chance of succeeding. Then, perhaps we get a scenario where you can drop a Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson into a complete team and put them in a situation to succeed very early in their career. While it’s true that you don’t sign or trade for franchise quarterbacks, you also rarely, if ever, can trade for top flight wideouts, elite left tackles, shutdown corners, or dynamic pass rushers.
Many of you who I’ve chatted with on Twitter are correct in saying that a good quarterback is worth a No. 1 selection in all cases. It’s also equally fair to say any of those other 60-70 J.A.G.s1 are not worth any more than a fourth-round pick at best. What lies in between then? That’s the sliding probability scale of confidence that, in a organization’s assessment, this quarterback can become a top-tier quarterback. A mid-ranked quarterback can be acquired via trade or free agency2 . There is a certain formula or opportunity cost for each team that is unique. Would I take Johnny Manziel if the team thought he had a 75% chance of becoming a top-tier quarterback over a wide reciever or offensive tackle that they thought was a sure-fire or can’t miss (90-95% chance)? Yes, I probably would, because quarterback is at least that much more important. Now, do I make the same call if the team is less than 50% sure Manziel can become that guy? Do I make that pick if they’re doing it only because he’s the top QB on their board in a weaker QB draft? No, I certainly do not.
At that point, I slide down to the next tier of Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, or the AJ McCarron tier and take my pick of those guys later on the board. I’m admittedly a Bridgewater fan, especially if he can be had with the 26th pick. The Browns need a quarterback, but if they’re not confident enough that one at No. 4 is the quarterback, they should wait part of a round or more. Craig said it himself, you can’t overvalue quarterbacks, but you can overdraft them. He pointed out several scenarios where teams blew up their draft boards and inflated the QB talent artificially and inexplicably select the Ponder, Locker,and Gabbert types in the top 10.
One prime example is an aggregate big board of prospects that Joe Lull (@LullOnSports) shared on Twitter a few days back. Notice the huge dropoff between the fifth- and sixth-best prospects (Matthews at 4.62 and Evans at 8.54). The trio of highly touted quarterbacks fall 11th (Bridgewater), 14th (Bortles), and 15th (Manziel). That is enough of a gap for me to pass on a QB at No. 4.
I know Manziel has eye-popping elusiveness, charisma by the boat loads, and he accomplished all of his accolades in the best football conference outside of the NFL. Those factors are not lost on me. But, his bust factor due to his size, injury concerns due to his running frequency, and inexperience taking snaps under center cannot be overlooked when evaluating the total package. In college, you can survive with some unconventional aspects of your game, but in the NFL, those largely get exploited. I’m not saying that will necessarily be the case with Johnny Manziel, but it is a concern of mine.
I’m all for paying the price it takes to get a quarterback. But, in this draft, with these prospects, up against the elite talent and deep nature of this particular draft the price doesn’t warrant it. I get stomach pains just thinking about being horns-waggled into trading up for Manziel out of pure fear and speculation. It’s Trent Richardson all over again, being fooled by the Vikings into giving up a precious draft pick instead of calling their bluff. It’s a little easier to stomach such a move if moving up from 26th pick given that the price drops. Still, the Browns punted last year’s draft. Let’s hope that punting effort has not gone in vain.
We finally have a well-respected front office, and they have a real chance to display their knowledge and flex their muscles with these seven early-round picks. How many times has a Cleveland team been the first team to pick after the elite talent is gone3? There are plenty of draft authorities who talk about the quartet of Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Khalil Mack, and Sammy Watkins as being far and above the rest of the board. The Browns have the fourth pick, so if they don’t like who’s left at that point, they should partner with someone who buys into that drop-off.
Imagine, if you will, a young quarterback walking in with Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and either Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins to throw to on Sundays. Or, Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, and Greg Robinson anchoring the best offensive line in the league. It all comes down to the front office’s assessment and their big board. If Johnny Manziel (or Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles) is one of their top-rated players, then by all means take them. But, if it’s the outside pressure from the fans to pick the media darling and fear of passing on the enigma driving the decision, then you simply have to take one of the other great options at your fingertips. Above all, I hope the Browns come out looking like one of the smartest teams in the room. We’ve spent far too much time on the other end of that spectrum.