‘They Come With a Big Target’
Executives Wary of Expectations on Heralded QB Prospects
They arrive in their new cities with huge amounts of money and hope invested in them. They inspire visions of Super Bowl victories and Hall of Fame induction speeches.
But quarterbacks selected with the first few picks of the NFL draft are far from sure things. So as this weekend’s draft nears and talent evaluators marvel at the skills of quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell of Louisiana State and Brady Quinn of Notre Dame, the savviest executives in the league remember not to get too carried away just yet.
“Those guys that get picked in the top five, the expectations are really unfair,” Dolphins General Manager Randy Mueller said during a news conference last week. “They need to be off the chart men- tally, have thick skin and some toughness, to endure the criticism. Let’s face it: They come with a big target on them. Everybody has kind of bestowed the keys to whatever city they come. . . . Most guys don’t get to sit like [San Diego Chargers starter] Philip Rivers for two years. That’s optimum conditions. Most of the time, they’re thrown out there and have to carry a team, a franchise and a city right away, and that’s a lot. . . . Ask David Carr [the former top pick of the Houston Texans]. Ask some of these other guys. They didn’t know.”
Even so, Mueller and others around the NFL regard this as a promising draft for quarterbacks. Russell is a top candidate to go first overall to the Oakland Raiders. Quinn will be in play from the second pick onward. Scouts say they expect Stanford’s Trent Edwards to go early in the second round, and GMs are excited about a handful of other quarterbacks as well.
“I think it’s a really good group,” Mueller said. “I think there will be some guys picked probably even outside the first round who end up being players in this league. Other than that, everybody has a different flavor they like. That’s why BaskinRobbins has 31 flavors. . . . There are five or six guys who are probably first-day worthy. All have ability to play in this league. I think the hardest part is sorting out the intangibles, and we’ve spent a lot of time on that.”
Said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and the Texans: “There’s some depth. There are some second-round guys and some thirdround guys there.”
The glitz factor, though, comes from having quarterbacks come off the board early, and this draft has that. Russell is physically imposing and has the sort of arm strength that Raiders owner Al Davis always has coveted.
“There isn’t a throw that he can’t make,” said Lane Kiffin, the Raiders’ first-year coach and formerly the offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California. “Some of the throws he can make, I don’t know if anyone else can. He can go way over here and throw a ball 70 yards back over there. But how many times a year does that happen? Maybe two times a year? You have to go deeper than that. He’s a unique leader. He’s different, not very vocal. But you go to their pro day and you watch the players around them. I saw that with Vince Young. . . . JaMarcus is like that. You can see the players respond to him.”
Young, after winning a national championship at Texas with a scintillating performance against USC, became a winning quarterback almost instantly last season as a rook- ie with the Tennessee Titans, even if his passing was less than polished. The teams that draft Russell and Quinn on Saturday undoubtedly will dream of them excelling just as quickly. It might happen, but history says there’s a good chance it won’t. Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said that quarterback is the toughest position to judge in the draft.
“Everybody has a tendency to look at the arm,” Gibbs said, “and the arm, really, is probably dead last. . . . It’s all the other things, really.”
LSU’s JaMarcus Russell, a potential No. 1 overall pick, leads what is considered a good crop of quarterbacks.
Brady Quinn of Notre Dame could go as early as second, where “expectations are really unfair,” one GM said.