Suck For Sam? Why Next Year’s Quarterback Is Always The Right Move

Joe Caporoso on the annual cycle of calls to tank for the next great quarterback prospect….

The New York Jets need to do everything in their power to tank this season because next year they can select Sam Darnold or another quarterback from a historic 2018 class. This year’s quarterback class lacks any franchise players so the Jets should avoid the position entirely. 

Does this sound familiar, Jets fans? Browns fans? Bears fans? Fans of any team who does not have a long term answer at quarterback and is perpetually looking for one? Next year’s prospect and next year’s quarterback class is always elite. This year’s quarterback class is always weak. Tanking is a straightforward process that is a clean path to the first pick and a franchise quarterback with the first overall pick, right?

This line of thinking is rehashed in annual perpetuity among fans, analysts and the Twitter echo chamber, despite repeated examples of 8-12 month out projecting turning out to be incorrect. Why is everybody always anxious to kick the can down the road and why is tanking not the clean process most assume is to be?

The New York Jets are in major need of a quarterback, and Smith must be considered if they keep the ninth and 13th overall picks — though their top priority should be to trade down and accumulate as many extra selections as possible. The Jets are another team that needs, well, everything, including an offensive guard and a pass rusher. Still, a franchise quarterback would be high on their list, and they should absolutely consider adding Smith”

Yes, that Smith is Geno Smith but don’t pick on the author of that article. This was not an uncommon opinion on him in the months before the 2013 NFL Draft. It takes a quick Google search and shuffle through old mentions during a disappointing 6-10 New York Jets 2012 season to remember the days when tanking for Geno was a thing…

If it wasn’t going to be Smith headlining the 2013 class, it was going to be USC Golden Boy Matt Barkley, who many Jets fans were skeptical about due to the recent struggles of Mark Sanchez. Yet, league wide Barkley was once considered an elite prospect not just for the 2013 class but for the 2012 class.

As usual, plenty of teams will head into April’s draft in search of a franchise quarterback. The problem is, aside from Andrew Luck, the pickings are starting to look increasingly thin.

Matt Barkley’s announcement Thursday that he would return to USC for his senior season robbed the draft of a top-10 pick. That leaves Luck, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones as the only sure-fire first-round prospects — and neither Griffin nor Jones has announced his intention to turn pro.

Ironically, this was a draft that produced Russell Wilson as a third round pick and Kirk Cousins as a fourth round pick. Landry Jones has busted as a pro and after a monster rookie year, RG III is on his way out of the league after a rapid decline.

Barkley remained a “prize” quarterback prospect after the 2012 season as a headline target alongside Geno Smith. He was consistently considered the “front-runner” as the top pick and was a player many fans were salivating for a year in advance.

We saw a similar process play out with Christian Hackenberg, who was coronated after a strong freshman year at Penn State and regularly discussed as a potential top five pick, as his career played out at Penn State, along with a player the Jets would “miss out” on by not being bad enough to have the first pick in the NFL Draft. 

McShay’s mock draft, which uses Football Outsiders projections to determine the order, has a distinct Big Ten feel at the top with Hackenberg, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook (No. 2 to Cleveland) and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa (No. 3 to Oakland) representing the top three picks. –

Beyond early individual projections regularly being incorrect (we have also seen this with players like Tahj Boyd, Tyler Wilson and Johnny Manziel) there always seem to be an inclination to play down the talents of an upcoming current draft class compared to the one coming after it.

You can see it with how the perception of Deshaun Watson has changed in one year. Last April teams were being cautioned against taking Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch because they could wait for Watson in 2017. All he did was go back to school, put up roughly the same production, lead his team back to the National Championship game and shred apart Alabama’s defense en route to a title. Now, Watson is commonly referred to as “not a franchise guy” and somebody who should go behind Mitch Trubisky, who started 13 career games and could not beat out Marquise Williams for two years at UNC.

Within the infrastructure of scouts, draft analysts and fans there seems to be a fear of committing to the quarterbacks who are set to be drafted next. It is safer to say “this isn’t really the year, wait until next year.” Theoretically, once you commit to somebody being “the guy,” you are locked in to that opinion and a degree of your reputation is staked to him. From the General Manager on down, you can buy yourself time by kicking the can down the road and not firmly committing the coveted ‘franchise QB’ to a prospect you are not 100% certain of.

With fans, once a franchise quarterback is selected you are stuck with rationalizing his play, rallying around him and in many cases becoming a perpetual apologist for him. Similar to how scouts and a draft analyst are hesitant to hand out that commitment, fans can be hesitant unless a player fits a perfect mold in their head.

There is also an ongoing misconception about “tanking” and how easily it can be accomplished. Last year’s Cleveland Browns were the closest thing we have seen to a team emulating the Sam Hinkie 76ers and yes they ended up with the first overall pick. However, if Quincy Enunwa does not go superhuman against them and their kicker doesn’t miss a chip shot versus Miami, they are picking 4th or 5th. Even with the first overall pick (and the 12th pick), the Browns are not commonly expected to select a quarterback.

The Jets are probably going to be very bad this year. The Jets were also very bad last year and won 5 games and with better kicking versus Cincinnati, they win 6. The absence of walking crisped toast Darrelle Revis, bearded turnover machine Ryan Fitzpatrick and a declining Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Nick Folk isn’t going to cost them 5 wins. Remember, the 2013 Jets were widely expected to be the worst team in the NFL and they went 8-8. The putrid 2012 Jets pulled out 6 wins and even the Brooks Bollinger led 2005 team managed 4-12.

Remember, Todd Bowles, Mike Maccagnan and everybody else in the building is working for their job year to year. Every guy on their roster is playing for their next contract. You can not physically lay down and lose intentionally in the NFL. The Jets will likely lose plenty but to act like there will not be other bad teams in the NFL and they will cleanly roll to 0-16 for a guy who has 9 starts at USC is comical.

We have no idea what the next year holds for Darnold, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson and the other 2018 prospects. They may thrive and prove themselves to be unquestioned first round picks. They may get hurt. They may struggle. They may chose to stay another year in school. They may pull an Eli Manning and refuse to play for a certain team in the NFL.

We do know Watson may be on the board for the Jets with the sixth pick. Why exactly should they pass him up if he’s there? When evaluating Watson, Mike Lombardi recently made the point:

Deshaun Watson has to be evaluated in a different set of circumstances than what’s been evaluated in the past…he is a guy who has great leadership…he has unique ability to motivate and lead a team. He can be your poster child. He’s never going to be a 65% passer and run a precision offense but what he does is make a lot of plays and those plays help you win games. The teams that are smart stop trying to evaluate Deshaun Watson through their lens and start evaluating him through his lens. Look at what he can do and utilize his skill set…if you just go out and say ‘we need this quarterback’ will never find him. There are no quarterbacks out there that perfectly fit what you want to do.

It is easy to pick apart a player after 38 starts when he is in the spotlight at a major program over 3 years. The small sample size of Trubisky and Darnold is cleaner but incomplete. In 2017, whether it is Watson or another one of the top QB prospects, if the evaluation shows he can be “your guy,” you take him. You do not kick the can down the road and hope everything breaks perfectly over the next 12 months so you can draft somebody else.

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Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports