x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The rookie quarterback is the MVP in the NFL draft

The quarterback bar has been set so high that teams must resist inflating player evaluations to meet it, thus creating unrealistic expectations.

Andrew Luck is being sought after by Indianapolis Colts.
Andrew Luck is being sought after by Indianapolis Colts.

Quarterback in the NFL is an important position, which you already knew. What might be less apparent is that it has surpassed in importance the goalie in hockey, the starting pitcher in baseball, the coxswain in rowing, the anchor in a relay race. There is no more exalted role in team sports.

Reminders of this incontrovertible truth flow constantly, even in the hibernation between seasons. The Seattle Seahawks pledge US$26 million (Dh95.5m) for three years to Matt Flynn, whose body of work is thinner than supermodels.

Drew Brees declines $19m per annum from the New Orleans Saints, setting his price in the low 20s, and the consensus among those in New Orleans who struggle to pay their light bills is, "Pay the man". For decades, they have craved a QB like Brees and they are not about to endorse his escape.

The Indianapolis Colts jettison Peyton Manning, four times the league's MVP, out of concern that those neck surgeries might hasten his decline.

Most of Indianapolis, opting for pragmatism over sentimentality, says, "Thanks for the memories" and can barely contain their enthusiasm for Stanford's Andrew Luck, who will be selected as Manning's replacement with the first pick in tomorrow's draft. They know that the past does not always predict the future.

Manning becomes a Denver Bronco and Tim Tebow, deemed insufficient despite delivering Denver to the second round of the play-offs, carries out one final handoff - his playbook to Manning - before departing involuntarily. In Denver, they know winning ugly does not foretell winning unceasingly.

At the draft, however, the importance of a quarterback will be shouted from the rooftops with the first-round selection of … Ryan Tannehill?

Eighteen months ago, Tannehill was on the back end of passes thrown by his college team.

Then the starting quarterback got injured. So the wide receiver, who took snaps in high school but was judged lacking for such duties in college, lobbied to replace him.

To cut a long story short, Tannehill stepped in and played as if he were injected with Manning genes. Still, the glare radiating from Luck and Robert Griffin III obscured all other draft-eligible quarterbacks, and the geeks who compile mock drafts initially projected him going, at best, toward the rear of the first round.

Well, look now.

Most mockers have promoted Tannehill to between fourth (Cleveland Browns) and eighth (Miami Dolphins), with any number of teams believed to be plotting to trade up for him.

Wait, did Cleveland not invest a third-round pick in a quarterback (Colt McCoy) just two years ago?

Yes, but an incubation term for quarterbacks is so yesterday. Whatever grace period they once were afforded has vanished. (Thank you - or, curse you - Cameron Newton.)

The evolution of professional football into a pass-first, pass-second sport means that few teams can thrive minus a quarterback who can say about the two-minute drill, "Who needs two minutes? Gimme 90 seconds, tops."

The last play-off field contained nine of the 10 quarterbacks with the league's loftiest passer rating. The only mid-pack guys in the post-season were Joe Flacco of Baltimore (17th) and Andy Dalton of Cincinnati (20th), whose coaches lean towards old-school ball control. And Tebow, whose coaches were scared witless to let him thrown downfield.

Alex Smith further illustrates the point. Though his passer rating was ninth, the 49ers are unconvinced he is the eventual answer, never mind that he was drafted No 1 overall in 2005. San Francisco went hard after Manning.

Quarterbacks fall into two camps: the game manager and the game controller. One wins games, the other Super Bowl rings.

Quick quiz: What do Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and both Peyton and Eli Manning have in common, other than they can pick up the tab at a family reunion dinner without worrying about an overdrawn credit card?

They were front and centre on the past nine Super Bowl champions, some more than once.

The last quarterback of modest portfolio to shower in confetti was Brad Johnson back in the league's Stone Age (2003).

Which explains the frothing over Luck and Griffin. Both are straight out of the quarterback laboratory, carrying a 15-year warranty.

Tall, athletic, strong, charismatic, aware, accurate, commanding, intelligent. At least, those attributes are hoped for in Luck and Griffin. The quarterback bar has been set so high that teams must resist inflating player evaluations to meet it, thus creating unrealistic expectations.

All Luck faces is replacing a QB who reinvented the position, so cherished that Indianapolis named a hospital after him.

All Griffin, the presumptive No 2 pick by Washington, faces is justifying the Redskins having to mortgage their future - three first-round choices and a second up to 2014 - to advance a mere four slots in the draft line.

Soon after they come off the board, some desperate team will spend sticker price on Tannehill, gifted but lightly tested, with only 19 college games to his credit.

He is, obviously, a quarterback.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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