We’re a few hours from kickoff of a preseason NFL Monday Night Game between the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins, which means Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III get an early stage. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to go over some early thoughts on both of these quarterbacks, along with other high-profile young signal-callers.
Here’s nine thoughts encompassing RG3, Johnny Football, Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick, all whom have questions of a different variety looming over them in 2014.
- *We’ll begin with RG3, simply because he is the morning star around which the firmament of my NFL universe revolves (I have no idea if that sentence made sense, but you get the general drift). I’m expecting a big year from him. I think his problems of last year were vastly overstated, as the problems of the team were put on his shoulders. Combine that with a full offseason of preparation, a fully healthy knee and a head coach that doesn’t actively hate his guts, and I see an excellent season. What that means for the team is another question, but the Redskins will throw the ball effectively.
- *If anything does RG3 in, it will be stubbornness. His competitiveness is his greatest attribute, but there are two areas that it works against him. The first is a stubbornness about not being buttonholed as a read-option quarterback. I believe in his pocket passing ability, but why not embrace the skills that make you different from everyone else? Then, when he does run, RG3 is way too stubborn about wanting to take extra yards at the cost of a big hit. Embrace who you are and run the read-option, but be smart and go down when the defense closes in.
- *Directly related to RG3 is the question of his backup. I like Kirk Cousins a lot and believe he can make it as the starting quarterback on a playoff team. He’s got work to do in cutting back on mistakes—he makes the ill-advised pass much more frequently than RG3, but Cousins seems to be a bit more accurate in throwing the 10-15 yard pass. If this season gets away from Washington early and Griffin is not playing well, new head coach Jay Gruden is going to have make a very tough call.
- *Manziel is in a tough situation, all too similar to the one RG3 was in for two years. It’s called having Kyle Shanahan as your offensive coordinator. Not only is Kyle mediocre at the job, he clearly prefers working with equally mediocre dropback passers, as opposed to someone more electrifying. The Browns traded up to get Manziel, and now everyone in the organization seems to be actively putting him down. This is the fault of the team, not the quarterback, but as was the case in Washington, the QB will take the rap.
- *I believe in Manziel and think he can get it done. I like his fire, his mobility and I like his zip on the ball. By “get it done” in Cleveland, I mean get a team to 7-9 or 8-8—in spite of media hype to the contrary, there are still 21 other starters on any football team not called the quarterback. Johnny will need a lot more help, but the Browns should just go for it and put him in.
- *Let’s shift over to Indianapolis, where Andrew Luck enters his third season with a divide of opinion that has traces of Moneyball in it. If you’re a stats guy, you probably don’t like Luck—his numbers weren’t all that different from RG3’s a year ago, which is to say they were only marginally better than Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and other quarterbacks acknowledged to have had bad years. But if you’re an “all he does is win” believer, than Luck’s 22-10 career record speaks for itself.
- *Most of the time, I value the opinion of the scouting establishment and seek it out. That’s not the case with Luck. Too many people, starting with ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper, compromised their credibility on Luck by feeding the absolutely insane hype that tracked him in his senior year at Stanford. The “once-in-a-generation” rhetoric, a standard which requires that Luck be better than Peyton Manning (five MVPs) and Joe Montana (four Super Bowl rings) to be met. Consequently, when I see the scouting establishment rush to proclaim that Luck has already arrived, I see people engaged in political gamesmanship to protect their reputations.
- *There needs to be two different standards on Luck. The first one, applied to those who stoked the flames of insanity in 2011, is that he win more MVPs than Peyton and more Super Bowls than Montana. The more reasonable standard is this—is Luck already pretty good, and set to have a good, long career? Is he capable of raising his game in the clutch? Is he tough and the kind of player who is fun to watch? The answer to all of those is yes.
- *Colin Kaepernick is facing a threshold year in San Francisco, with injuries and personnel problems probably limiting the defense a bit. I’m very confident in Kaepernick’s ability to get it done and in fact I would consider him the best of the young quarterbacks. He’s got the arm strength, he’s got the running ability and he’s got what RG3 and Manziel don’t have, and it’s a body that’s built to last. And he’s fearless. Kaepernick is the quarterback I would build a franchise around.
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