Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Handicapping the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes

Let the watch begin!
Amidst the constrant stream of undeserved hype surrounding the NFL preseason, there is one thing that deserves adoration; one glorious aspect of the NFL that seperates it from other professional sports, creating a vibrant, exciting league each and every season. Hope. Whether it be in life or in sports, hope is a powerful thing. The mere idea that your favorite team could turn their fortunes around overnight is a strong allure to staying invested.

In no sport is hope more readily available than in the NFL. It's no wonder then that the NFL is easily our nations most beloved sport. Think about it -- if you're a Kansas City Royals fan, what hope do you have? What reason do you have to buy tickets in August when the team is already 20 games out of first? What possible reason could you have to buy the jersey of your favorite up-and-coming young star when you know for a fact he'll be wearing Yankee pinstripes in a few years? The same could be said for the NBA, where the formula for success is as simple as having the lucky ping-pong ball in exactly the right year. Where's the hope in that?

The NFL though...that's where true hope lives. That's where a perennially bad team like the Rams can pick up a nobody QB named Kurt Warner and end up with The Greatest Show on Turf. That's where a sad-sack franchise like the Patriots can toss in an untested 6th round pick (who couldn't even start for his college team!) amidst a group of washed up veteran free agents and form a modern dynasty. Obviously Rams and Patriots fans weren't expecting those things to happen, but the mere knowledge that it can happen is important to fan bases.

The word parity is tossed around quite often in relation to the NFL. For the most part, I think it's overplayed/overused, but it's definitely been a big part of the league's identity. The ability to quickly and efficiently build a winner is something that almost no other sports league can boast. Beyond the extreme examples of the Rams and Patriots, there have been dozens of 'miraculous' turnarounds in the last couple decades. That's why Lions fans, Texans fans, and Browns fans think they could be the 'surprise' playoff contender this year.

Now that I've built up this grand concept of "hope", it's time to bring it all crashing back down. For bad teams, reality almost always sets in. Talent usually wins out in the end, and if you don't have it, then you lose...simple as that. See, you can point at the Patriots and Rams as examples, but in the end, it turns out they hit on Hall of Fame level QB's! I suppose John Beck could be the next Kurt Warner, but I kinda doubt it.

Finally, I think the NFL is on a clear path away from parity. Last season witnessed perhaps the biggest disparity between the haves and have nots since the new division alignment in 2002. 9 teams finished with double digit victories, tied with 2005 for the highest number since 2002. 13 teams finished with double digit losses, tied for the 2nd highest number since 2002. Of the last five seasons, the 2010 campaign featured the least amount of far. Now, keep in mind that this is only a small sample size and it means relatively little. Also keep in mind that the new CBA will almost assuredly bring back the type of parity that saw at least 13 teams finish in the 7-9 range from 2006-2009.

Even considering this, the next couple of seasons could more closely mirror baseball than the typical NFL season. Obviously that's my opinion, since I predicted an astonishing 10 teams to finish with 5 wins or fewer. Just for some perspective, that would be tied for the highest number since 2002, and would be significantly higher than the average number of 7.7 teams in that same time period.

So why am I raining on everyone's parade and picking against parity? Simple...quarterbacks. The quarterback position is THE key position on the field, and you can't win without one. Unfortunately, it's been in a slow decline for the past few decades. Looking at the current NFL, you have guys like John Beck, Tarvaris Jackson, Chad Henne, and Jason Campbell all figuring to be starting QB's. Even worse, scrap heap QB's like Matt Moore and Rex Grossman figure prominently on teams depth charts! Add in the woefully unprepared (and probably untalented) crop of rookies, and you have a serious problem. Nothing against Kyle Orton, but how is it a good thing that he's a top 15 QB? Meanwhile, teams featuring Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning have massive advantages over the other slouches in their division.

Let's not pretend like this hasn't always been the case to some degree, but the current state of the game elevates the importance of having a franchise QB. You could win a Super Bowl with Phil Simms or Mark Rypien in the early 90's, simply because the game was different. Now, you'd be hard pressed to make it out of the Wild Card round with a running/defense team. The Jets, of course, are a bit of an outlier in this area, but did you really take them seriously in those AFC Championship games?

The fact is, you MUST have a stud QB to compete. Unfortunately, there's simply not enough of them to go around. Blame that on over expansion, poor talent evaluation, too much early compensation, the proliferation of the gimmicky college spread offense, or whatever else you want. Fact is, the league has a talent crisis on hand.

Thankfully, the 2012 NFL Draft is coming to save us all! Finally, a draft loaded with QB's! Finally, a draft that can give REAL hope to a poor, depressed franchise!

Hope, thy name is Andrew Luck.

Luck is easily the most hyped QB prospect since Peyton Manning. Many have actually compared him to a young John Elway. That's pretty high praise for an unproven college junior, but given his prodigious talents, it's hard to say the hype is completely unwarranted. His availability, along with some very curious personnel decisions around the league, has led to one of my crazy conspiracy theories. You know how NBA teams will mysteriously go down the toilet at the end of a tough year? All of a sudden, their leading scorer has boo-boo and he needs to be shut down for the year? Yeah, we all know what's going on...they're tanking. Of course, the draft lottery somewhat negates this strategy, but it still happens each and every year. Well, I've always wondered why this doesn't happen in the NFL...but I think the strategy is finally catching on.

Think about it...why else would the Redskins choose John Beck? They've been a laughingstock for years and they badly need a franchise QB. Why not throw an already lost season in order to land Shanahan's "Next Elway?" Likewise, it makes little sense for Miami to stick with Chad Henne...but then again, they've been needing a replacement for Marino for over a decade. Why not throw Henne to the wolves and ruin the year? Long term, it kinda makes sense.

Therefore, it seems appropriate to monitor the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes throughout the season. After all, what else do these awful teams have to play for? We can't talk about Green Bay all day, can we? Let's handicap this thing!

Note: Level of Need presented by Buffalo Wild Wings...and no, they aren't actually sponsoring me. I'm just hungry for wings. The hotter the sauce level, the higher the need.

It would be a little too fishy if we lost that many games...but at least we can dream!

Arizona Cardinals

Projected Record: 7-9
Current Starter: Kevin Kolb
Last Game: 4-7, 68YDS
Level of Need: Medium Sauce
Breakdown: There is literally zero chance Arizona ends up with Andrew Luck after giving up so much for Kevin Kolb. For one, they'll simply be too good. For all the Kolb hate I exude, it's hard to believe he won't be a league average type of player...especially in the NFC West. For another, they're in the NFC West!!! How could you possibly lose that many games in the NFC West?! Nope, not happening...though it would be interesting to see what decision they would make if put in that situation.

Minnesota Vikings

Projected Record: 7-9
Current Starter: Donovan McNabb
Last Game: 6-11, 40YDS
QB of the Future: Christian Ponder
Last Game: 8-13, 84YDS
Level of Need: Spicy Garlic
Breakdown: We all know McNabb isn't the longterm solution, but the Vikings believe Ponder is. That alone makes them questionable in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. In addition, they probably won't be bad enough to land the top pick. It's hard to say what McNabb has left, but he's definitely better than guys like Beck or Henne. Having him on board probably cements Minnesota in mediocrity for the year, thus taking them out of the picture. They better hope Ponder is for real then! Personally, I'm not sold...

Just window shopping

Cleveland Browns

Projected Record: 6-10
Current Starter: Colt McCoy
Last Game: 9-10, 135YDS, 1TD
Level of Need: Mild
Breakdown: Look, nobody can really say with certainty that McCoy is definitely going to be a stud QB for the next decade, but I highly doubt Luck is prominent on the Browns radar. McCoy was thrown into a really difficult situation last year and he played admirably. Nagging injuries and a heavy dose of Brian Robiskie at WR severely limited what he was able to do, but his poise and accuracy had to be encouraging for a franchise that looks fondly upon the Kelly Holcomb era (I might have made that up...still, name a better QB since him!). And if that weren't enough, McCoy has impressed everyone around with his leadership and hard work during the offseason. There are, of course, plenty of jokes that can be made about his visit to Brett Favre's home, but his drive to learn and improve is definitely a positive. (Insert joke about taking pictures together here) The Browns consider McCoy their longterm solution, and I'm not the only to think he's going to be an  excellent player...perhaps even a Pro Bowl level talent. This, coupled with their easy schedule and improving roster, makes me believe Cleveland isn't a major player in this sweepstakes. Then again, it is Cleveland. If anybody could find a way to screw things up and ruin Colt's career, it would be the Browns.

Detroit Lions

Projected Record: 5-11
Current Starter: Matthew Stafford
Last Game: 6-7, 71YDS, 2TD
Level of Need: Mild
Breakdown: Pretty similar to Cleveland in that they have an exciting, young starter who still hasn't quite proven himself yet. Stafford has certainly looked spectacular at times, but he simply hasn't been able to stay on the field long enough say for certain how good he is. Unlike Cleveland, who only invested a 3rd round pick on their QB, Detroit has little option but to ride out the Matt Stafford Experience after investing the #1 overall pick on him just a couple season ago. Given their across the board improvements -- and the fact that Suh might singlehandedly kill every QB they face -- I'd be shocked if Detroit ended up with a top 3 pick. Needless to say, they won't be going QB unless Stafford snaps his right arm off at the elbow...which is actually a possibility.

The Wild Cards

San Francisco 49ers

Projected Record: 6-10
Current Starter: Alex Smith
Last Game: 2-7, 10YDS
QB of the Future: Colin Kaepernick
Last Game: 9-19, 117YDS, 0TD, 2INT
Level of Need: Hot
Breakdown: I probably should put them in the first category, because with Jim Harbaugh already on board, it would definitely look fishy if the 'Niners ended up with Luck. It's not that San Fran won't be bad, it's that it's going to be tough to lose consistently in the NFC West. Just too many wins on the board. Seriously though, if anybody could use the shot in the arm that Luck would bring, it's San Francisco. The once proud franchise that boasted Joe Montana and Steve Young has fallen hard. You can definitely do worse than Alex Smith as your starter, but the former #1 overall pick has had a rough time in San Fran. Saying the two need to seperate is more than an understatement. Colin Kaepernick was drafted in the 2nd round to be the QB of the future, but since he can't actually throw, I'd say they'd be better served with Luck behind center. But that's just me...

Tennessee Titans

Projected Record: 6-10
Current Starter: Matt Hasselbeck
Last Game: 5-6, 55YDS
QB of the Future: Jake Locker
Last Game: 7-10, 89YDS, 1TD
Level of Need: Hot BBQ
Breakdown: At this point, I'm making the assumption that Chris Johnson will be on the field at the start of the year. If that changes, then Tennesse jumps right into contention. Like McNabb in Minnesota, Hasselbeck was brought in to mentor the QB of the future, Jake Locker. Locker has some skills, but accuracy is definitely not one of them. Unfortunately for Tennessee, that seems to be a pretty important skill for a QB to have. Still, there's a sense that Locker has been the victim of poor coaching throughout his career, so perhaps his time under Hasselbeck will be just what he needs. With Hasselbeck on board, however, it seems unlikely that Locker will get an opportunity this season...or maybe even next. After using a top ten pick on Locker, it's doubtful that Tennessee would be willing to move on so quickly. Then again, maybe an end of season dose of Locker, without Chris Johnson, would make them re-think their strategy.

We just drafted a guy pretty high...but we could be convinced to move on

Denver Broncos

Projected Record: 5-11
Current Starter: Kyle Orton
Last Game: 2-6, 37YDS
QB of the Future (Maybe): Tim Tebow
Last Game: 6-7, 91YDS
Level of Need: Honey BBQ
Breakdown: This is a clear case where the level of want far exceeds the level of need. All indications are that John Elway is obsessed with Luck...who happens to be "The Next Elway." Makes sense. Unfortunately, this line of thinking completely ignores the fact that he already has one slightly better than average QB (Orton), and one intriguing, potentially good prospect (Tebow). As I've said before, it confounds me why they won't get some compensation for Orton and give Tebow a chance. At least see what you have! If he's bad, you get a really good pick and you can go full bore after Luck. That, of course, probably makes too much sense. As it stands, an extended period of Orton starts probably ensures too many wins to seriously contend for John Elway's long lost illegitimate child.

Cincinnati Bengals

Projected Record: 4-12
QB of the Future: Andy Dalton
Last Game: 11-15, 69YDS, 0TD, 1 INT
Level of Need: Mango Habanero
Breakdown: Here's where we start getting to the truly needy teams. Cincinnati has an interesting QB quandary on their hands with incoming QB of the future Andy Dalton and the bizarre/stupid/moronic Carson Palmer situation hanging over their heads. At this point, it looks like Palmer is 100% serious about staying away from the Bengals, so that means they REALLY need Dalton to work out. Unfortunately, the early returns have not been positive. Even considering that preseason is 100% worthless, I think Cincinnati will quickly regret investing a 2nd round pick on Dalton. The question is, will they have enough losses to be at #1? If they play Gradkowski, it would seem unlikely. He's not great, but he's also not the worst thing out there. If they ride Dalton the whole way, there's a pretty solid chance. Unfortunately, there's plenty of competeition, and the Bengals might actually have too much talent on hand. Just their luck, right?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected Record: 3-13
Current Starter: David Garrard
Last Game: Injured
QB of the Future: Blaine Gabbart
Last Game: 9-16, 85YDS
Level of Need: Hot
Breakdown: Garrard may be the official starter right now, but let's be honest and admit that Gabbart will be starting within the first 5 or 6 games. I'll give Gabbart this; he actually looked like he belonged on an NFL field in his first preseason game. Of course, that was against New England's second team, but still. I'm on the record as not being a huge fan of Gabbart, but I'll reserve my judgment a bit and take a wait-and-see approach. Regardless, you know for certain that Jacksonville wouldn't hesitate to dump Gabbart if given the opportunity to land Andrew Luck. The Jaguars have been completely boring and irrelevant for quite some time now, and the excitement that Luck would bring would be invaluable to their moribund franchise.

Blatantly going for it!

Seattle Seahawks

Projected Record: 4-12
Current Starter: Tarvaris Jackson
Last Game: 3-5, 13YDS
Level of Need: Blazin'
Breakdown: Wow, they're not even trying to hide it! They must really want Luck! How else could you explain their insane decision to bring in T-Jaxlongterm solution? I'd give a body part to see a transcript of the conversation between Pete Carrol and Jackson.

Pete Carroll: "Look Tarvaris, let's be honest about this situation. You're bad. Like, really bad. You couldn't even beat out a 40 year old man for the starting position! I know you're probably offended, but think about your options. Who else is going to offer you a starting job? The UFL? Ha! You probably wouldn't even make a roster in the UFL! It's simple...we give you way too much money and lie to everyone about how much we love you, and you just go out and do your thing. You get playing time and a fat check, and we get Andrew Luck! It's a win-win all around!"

Tarvaris Jackson: (Hanging his head low, tears trickling from his eyes) "But...but...Brad Childress said.....OK, fine."

You have to applaud their strategy, but they're in the wrong division to pull this off. Even T-Jax could accidentally win a few games against Arizona and San Francisco! Sorry guys, looks like Matt Barkley time for you.

Buffalo Bills

Projected Record: 4-12
Current Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Last Game: 7-9, 44YDS
Level of Need: Wild
Breakdown: After dumping Lee Evans just weeks before the season, the Bills end goal is crystal clear. They've had very little success with previous QB of the future candidates (J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards), so sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick over questionable talents such as Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbart was a smart move. Truthfully, Fitzpatrick was pretty decent last year, but I doubt that anyone is under the illusion that the 29 year old is anything more than a stopgap. Like Jacksonville, this franchise is completely irrelevant and is potentially on the verge of being moved. Unlike Jacksonville, the Bills have a storied history in their hometown, and it would be a shame to take this team away from Buffalo. It's not the stadium or the market that's holding the Bills's the management. Since Jim Kelly retired, the Bills have been unable to find an adequate longterm solution at the most important position on the field. This is most likely due to Ralph Wilson's delusional belief that Jim Kelly is still the starter (because he's 100 years old). Seriously though, I'll be rooting for the Bills to win the sweepstakes, because I think they deserve a break.

Miami Dolphins

Projected Record: 3-13
Current Starter: Chad Henne
Last Game: 4-8, 77YDS, 1TD, 2INT
Level of Need: Blazin'
Breakdown: Miami chose to stick with Chad Henne. They voluntarily chose to stick with Chad Henne. As in, no gun pointed at their head. They wanted to start Chad Henne. And in case that goes south (which it clearly will), they signed Matt Moore as insurance. Chad Henne. Matt Moore. Losing. Need Andrew Luck.
Special Note: Miami and Buffalo play each other twice this season. It's going to be exactly like the little league episode in South Park where every team tries its hardest to lose so they can be done with baseball for the summer. Go ahead and put those on your DVR. Like, right now.

Al Davis Division

Oakland Raiders

Projected Record: 3-13
Current Starter: Jason Campbell
Last Game: 6-9, 66YDS
Level of Need: Blazin'
Breakdown: Forget about the 'Next Elway' thing...Al Davis probably thinks Luck is John Elway! It's not his fault! He was already 120 years old when Elway entered the NFL! Seriously though, Oakland's massive whiff on JaMarcus Russell set the franchise back half a decade. Hitting the jackpot with a guy like Luck would be such a huge boost, especially after moving back to LA (which is probably inevitable...hey it worked once...wait...). I'm not ready to deem them one of the favorites yet, especially when considering their division, but they've definitely got the talent (or lack thereof) to pull this off.
Bonus Thought: If I'm Andrew Luck and I see that Oakland has the #1 pick, I'm staying in school for my senior season. With the new CBA severely limiting the earning potential of incoming rookies, there is literally no incentive for Luck to place his future in the hands of Al Davis. And yes, I would find this hilarious. Maybe not as hilarious as if Luck refused to play for Cincy (how ironic would that be?!), but hilarious nonetheless.

The Favorites

Carolina Panthers

Projected Record: 2-14
Current Starter: Cam Newton
Last Game: 8-19, 134YDS
X-Factor: Jimmy Clausen
Last Game: 4-7, 69YDS, 1TD, 1INT
Level of Need: Caribbean Jerk
Breakdown: I'm going to be nice and temper their level of need...for now. We'll see what happens down the road. In all honesty, this is potentially the most interesting scenario, by far. As we all know, Carolina just invested the #1 overall pick on Cam Newton...after investing a high 2nd round pick on Clausen the year before. You know how I feel about Newton, but a true and accurate judgment is impossible until he's given an opportunity to fail. He will be...and I'm certain he will seize that opportunity in the same way that he seized the giant bag of cash Auburn gave him to sign. I've got them as the grand prize runner-up right now, but it deefinitely wouldn't be an upset if they were sitting at #1 by the end of the year. At that point, it'll be fascinating to see what they decide.

Washington Redskins

Projected Record: 1-15
Current Starter: John Beck
Last Game: Did not play
Level of Need: Blazin', dipped in Wild sauce, stuffed into a whole habanero pepper, coated with cayenne pepper, and lit on fire.
Breakdown: They have John Beck and Rex Grossman as their primary QB's. Need I say more? When I went through their schedule, I honestly could not find a single victory. The one victory I "predicted" was given under the "they have to win one, right?" thought process. Their QB's are the worst in the league, their RB's are among the worst, their WR's are all ancient, their offensive line is equivalent to a rotted out wood plank fence, and their defense is beyond reprehensible. If I'm being completely honest, I'm not sure if I'm joking or if I'm being serious when I say they are throwing the season. Looking at their roster, it's hard to argue that they aren't.


I'll update the watch once a week, hopefully every Wednesday.


  1. I've always been in the mindset that using a 2nd round pick on a QB is the worst thing you can do. They usually have obvious holes in their game (size, strength, intelligence, etc) that prevents them from becoming quality QBs.

    Just look at recent 2nd round picks since 2005:
    Clausen, Dalton, Kaepernick, Pat White, Henne, Brian Brohm, Kolb, Beck, Drew Stanton, Kellen Clemens, Tavaris Jackson.....Not a single quality starter much less a Pro Bowler in the group. And all of them have set their franchises back (except the Eagles with Kolb who struck gold with Vick 2.0) because they lost at least a year trying out to see if these guys can play.

    You have to go all the way back to 2001 when Drew Brees was selected #32, and he would have been a top 5 pick if he was 4" taller to find a QB drafted in the 2nd round actually help their team.

  2. It is pretty incredible how bad 2nd round QB's have fared. Common draft wisdom says to draft QB early and take RB late. Typically, that holds true.

  3. Continuing on with the disparity conversation, at first, I've been inclined to agree with you because of your QB argument. Let's face it, it's not hard to sell someone on the fact that there's a lot of trash out there right now! However, a little brief research has caused me to question this notion.

    In each the last two seasons, there have been at least 10 QBs with a passer rating over 90.0 and at least 20 over 80.0. According to though, that didn't happen ONCE in all the 1990s! In fact, in 1994 and 1996, Steve Young and Brett Favre were the only guys in the LEAGUE who posted a passer rating over 90.0! And most of the other years, it's only a few guys over 90 and maybe 10-15 over 80. That really surprised me!

    Now, I realize that there could probably be some arguments about the evolution of the game changing some elements: how the passer rating is perceived, the ever-increasing value placed on the passing game over the last 5 years or so, and, most notably, stricter unnecessary roughness rules favoring the offense on the whole. I'd definitely want to do some more research to see what this all means... but at least at first look, it's hard to see how QB play has really declined. If anything, QBs being asked to pass more in this pass-wacky NFL should hurt their numbers, if defenses are expecting to see more of the pass... right?

    I am reminded of the column you did on the decline of the NBA center position, where you listed out the top guys today, then did the same for a year in the 90's. That was pretty revealing. Could a similar piece on QBs be in the making? I'd be curious to see what you come up with.

  4. Without giving any specific right now, you can't compare passer rating from era to era and expect any kind of accurate result. Many of the highest rated passer ratings of all time are modern day, non HOF QB's. Are these guys better than Terry Bradshaw or Johnny Unitas? No way. Fact is, QB rating is an incredibly flawed stat that is totally unreliable across generations. Call it the West Coast Offense effect. Being a decent game manager and completing a high percentage of short passes can artificially inflate QB rating and make you look better than you are.

    Even if you don't want to buy that I think your stat of 10 QB's with passer rating over 90 is telling enough. With passer rating at all time highs, only 10 were over 90. You can't deny how important the passing game is in todays game. Without a star at QB, you can't win. So that means 2/3rds of the league is automatically disqualified.

  5. Focus less on the passer rating itself and more on the value of QB play. I mean, the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, considered the greatest team of all time, won with a backup QB and just over 2000 yards total through the air. When does that happen now? Other than the fluke Ravens Super Bowl, you can't win without a prolific passing game. We all know how hard it is to land a top tier QB, so it's no wonder that parity is declining.

  6. So it's not so much that QBs aren't as GOOD... it's simply that they're more necessary than ever. I definitely agree with that statement. Your point about the Dolphins is perfect - I mean, how long did we hear that running the ball and playing D was all you need? Sadly (kind of), I think the 2000 Ravens will be the last true example of that we see in a long time... maybe ever if current rules changes stand!

    I've long been a proponent of scrapping the Y/A stat and making it Y/Completion. It's ridiculous that two of the four components of QBR have Attempts as a denominator. This is totally unnecessary, and that's why the rating favors 'efficient' passers. We already have C/A to tell us how good you are at getting the ball into the guy's hands - why would we also make the Yards stat contingent on attempts? Divide it by completions, and then we truly know how 'valuable' those %ages of passes that you did complete actually were. It just makes more sense.

  7. I would still say both statements are true. I think the QB position is very down. Again, a cross comparison of QB rating won't yield any accurate data to support that. Then again, it's hard to even make that judgment when the styles of play are so dramatically different as well. Either way, the point about QB value is definitely true and it sort of eliminates those teams that don't have stars.

    The Y/A thing is interesting. I actually don't think there's a problem with Y/A, but I'd need to look at it further. For the most part, you see a difference between Kyle Orton's Y/A and Peyton Manning's. Still, the passer rating stat is severely flawed.

  8. I think you are all crazy. According to ESPN's John Clayton
    half of the league has 'ELITE' QBS..(I realize this was written in Jan. before Rodgers went nuts in the playoff but the premise is still there)

    Of course I think he is ridiculous in what he is saying and his idea of 'elite' QBs is way off the mark.

  9. Wow, Eli Manning is elite? I like John Clayton, so I'm just gonna pretend this never happened. Seriously, I wouldn't even consider Matt Ryan elite!