Choos­ing a quar­ter­back? Good luck

It’s the hard­est po­si­tion in sports to eval­u­ate, and many teams can’t get it right

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Jar­rett Bell

Go back to the NFL draft on the night of April 27, 2017. The Bills were on the clock in the 10th spot, need­ing a fran­chise quar­ter­back. So they traded away the pick that be­came Pa­trick Ma­homes. Maybe this will work out over the long haul for the Bills, now hitched to rookie quar­ter­back Josh Allen, cho­sen with the sev­enth pick in April. Yet the way Ma­homes has lit it up through five weeks as Andy Reid’s new wing­man, lead­ing the league with 14 touch­down passes, makes me won­der whether Coach Andy suck­ered a former as­sis­tant, Bills coach Sean McDer­mott, to land the ul­ti­mate prize. The de­ci­sion to pass on Ma­homes and for that mat­ter, De­shaun Wat­son — se­lected by the Tex­ans two slots af­ter Ma­homes, could haunt the Bills fran­chise for years. “I’m re­minded of what Bill Walsh once told me,” Mike Lom­bardi, former NFL gen­eral man­ager, told USA TO­DAY, drop­ping the name of the late Hall of Famer who built the 49ers dy­nasty of the 1980s. “The hard­est po­si­tion to eval­u­ate is quar­ter­back, and it’s even harder to coach. In the draft, so few re­ally know. But Andy knew ex­actly what he was get­ting with Ma­homes.” The ax­iom that hind­sight is 20-20 can be es­pe­cially true when it comes to the cru­cial de­ci­sion to draft a quar­ter­back and if so, which one? The in­flux of young quar­ter­backs who have come on the NFL stage within the past three years will un­doubt­edly weigh heav­ily on the for­tunes of sev­eral teams, with much fod­der at­tached to com­par­isons of their de­vel­op­ment or lack thereof. “If De­shaun Wat­son was with the Jaguars, they might be the best team in the league,” said Lom­bardi, who writes for TheAth­letic.com. “How about the Bears? They traded a bun­dle to move up. Was (Mitchell) Tru­bisky the best quar­ter­back in the draft?” Yes, there were a few quar­ter­back­needy teams that passed on Pa­trick Passer. “Kyle Shana­han and John Lynch, it didn’t fit their nar­ra­tive,” Lom­bardi added of the 49ers coach and GM. “They wanted to make a run at Kirk Cousins.” Ah, Cousins. If you saw the Vik­ings’ $84 mil­lion man throw down at the Linc on Sun­day, then caught Alex Smith in one of the worst games of his ca­reer on Mon­day night in New Or­leans, it raises ques­tions about how Dan Sny­der & Co. bun­gled that one. Smith was surely seen by Wash­ing­ton as an up­grade, with at­trac­tive­ness bol­stered by the time spent with the quar­ter­back guru in Kan­sas City. Looks like a down­grade at the mo­ment. The com­par­isons won’t end for Smith, who came into the NFL as the No. 1 pick over­all in 2005 with the 49ers. The next quar­ter­back drafted, Aaron Rodgers, fell all the way to the 24th slot, where the Pack­ers found their suc­ces­sor to Brett Favre. De­ci­sions, de­ci­sions. Per­haps the Jaguars, equipped with one of the NFL’s best de­fenses (al­beit a unit shred­ded by Ma­homes on Sun­day) will rue the de­ci­sion to not only pass on Wat­son and Ma­homes and select in­jury-rid­dled run­ning back Leonard Four­nette with the fourth pick, but also the ra­tio­nale to stand pat with Blake Bor­tles. Jack­sonville had a chance last off­sea­son to cut salary-cap bait with Bor­tles but in­stead re-upped him at three years, $54 mil­lion to go with a solid sup­port­ing cast. Coach­ing might be the quin­tes­sen­tial X fac­tor. Jared Goff, No. 1 over­all by the Rams in 2016, epit­o­mizes that. He seemed like a bust as a rookie. Then along comes whiz kid coach Sean McVay, and a star was born. Goff leads the NFL with 1,727 pass­ing yards and ranks sec­ond be­hind Drew Brees with a 119.7 passer rat­ing. In Buf­falo’s case, af­ter pass­ing on Ma­homes, at least there was an­other crack with Allen. The Browns can re­late. Cleve­land traded the sec­ond pick over­all to Philadel­phia in 2016 and had to watch Car­son Wentz play like the MVP last sea­son un­til he blew out his knee. Now the Browns are en­er­gized by Baker May­field. Still, there’s some gray area when assess­ing just how Buf­falo ar­rived at the de­ci­sion that al­lowed the Chiefs to move up 17 slots in the first round to snag Ma­homes. Spec­u­la­tion per­sists that McDer­mott was the most in­flu­en­tial power bro­ker dur­ing that draft. It seems more plau­si­ble with then-GM Doug Wha­ley fired the day af­ter the three-day draft con­cluded, quickly re­placed by Bran­don Beane, who worked with McDer­mott in Carolina. In any event, it’s odd that the Bills were not among sev­eral teams — in­clud­ing the Giants, Ari­zona, Hous­ton and New Or­leans, ac­cord­ing to agent Leigh Stein­berg — show­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est in Ma­homes. “It’s the most crit­i­cal de­ci­sion that an or­ga­ni­za­tion will make,” Stein­berg told USA TO­DAY. “You have to make a pro­jec­tion that can hold up for the next 10 years. … And if not now, when?” Stein­berg, re­flect­ing on Ma­homes’ rise, praised Smith for help­ing his un­der­study for a year tran­si­tion to the NFL. More strik­ing, though, are the fin­ger­prints of John Dorsey on two of the NFL’s most prom­i­nent ris­ing stars. It was Dorsey, then the Chiefs GM, work­ing the phone on the draft-night trade with Wha­ley. Now Dorsey is the new Browns GM who picked May­field rather than Sam Darnold with the first pick over­all. Time and cir­cum­stances will tell. A few weeks into the sea­son, it looks like the right pick. Said Stein­berg, “The pres­sure and pre­ma­ture judg­ment on these quar­ter­backs is enor­mous.” And so are the de­ci­sions. They can make you or break you and your heart.

DENNY MED­LEY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Buf­falo could have se­lected Pa­trick Ma­homes but traded the draft pick to Kan­sas City.

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