Time to reassess conventional thinking on quarterbacks?
The great thing about the NFL is it constantly keeps you guessing. We all have preferences and ideals — whether it comes to team building, philosophy, positional priority in the draft or a variety of other subjects.
You think you know what you know. Right up until the point something happens that makes you second guess yourself.
The conventional wisdom on quarterbacks is that there are two ways to find a good one. You draft one very early in round one or you get lucky later on. Classic examples are the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert — all recent high draft picks. Then you have the likes of Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and of course, Tom Brady — taken much later on.
For the most part, this is how you find a quarterback. But often you end up taking a position where this is the only way to do it. I know I’ve felt that way for a long time. I think it’s fair to say most people do shut their minds off once they feel like they’ve established a hard truth.
The success of Geno Smith feels like a personal dig in the ribs that this league conjures up the improbable so many times. It’s why there isn’t one single way to win a football game — contrary to what the analytically minded group on Twitter would have you believe. This is a sport of variety and opportunity.
Smith appears to have benefitted from time, experience and being overlooked (creating motivation). His wiser head and patience seems to have aligned with the talent that had him drafted early in round two. Now we see a player being ranked in the top five at his position based on 2022 performance.
This journeyman backup, aged 32, has delivered half a season of top-level performances. He doesn’t look serviceable or decent. He looks fantastic.
Meanwhile the ‘golden child’ Trevor Lawrence is struggling in Jacksonville. Zach Wilson, the #2 pick in 2021 after Lawrence, just had a nightmare against the Patriots.
Several young highly drafted players have been thrust into starting roles and they’ve struggled badly. Some may come out the other side better for it — just as Josh Allen did. Remember, he was an internet meme for two years before the light switched on. Now he’s the favourite to be MVP (ahead of Mahomes, Derrick Henry and, well, Geno Smith).
Others will fall away. Perhaps some will do what Geno has done? Take their time, reassess, develop and perform later in their careers?
Smith’s rebirth has certainly made me consider a few things:
1. Don’t automatically write-off struggling young quarterbacks. Perhaps the league should look at Geno Smith’s experience and be prepared to either play a longer game with these players, or be willing to offer more second and third chances?
2. The unexpected will happen and players can and will prove you wrong.
3. While there’s a race at the moment to draft quarterbacks and then start them immediately in order to max-out their cheap rookie contracts — is this the great idea we all perhaps thought? If young quarterbacks are coming into the league and for the most part are struggling — you aren’t getting any benefit. You’re just blowing a young career and your own high pick.
4. Should more teams be prepared to take a longer-term view of things? Kansas City, when they drafted Patrick Mahomes, sat him in year one and started Alex Smith. Only when they felt Mahomes was ready did they trade Smith and go with the younger player. I’m sure if Mahomes wasn’t ready in year two, they would’ve retained Smith. It used to be that young QB’s sat for some time before being handed the starting job. Now it’s just assumed they come in and start as soon as possible. Maybe it’s time to be more cautious with these players?
As part of a personal commitment to consider these points, here are two key takeaways I’d have:
1. Perhaps Drew Lock — himself a former second round pick — can reinvent his career down the line? He has the physical talent. He seems to be of good character. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s inspired by Geno. It’d be nice for the Seahawks to retain both players after this season — but I wonder if another team will give Lock a better chance to start with the hope he can similarly turn things around?
2. If that does happen, the Seahawks will need to add a quarterback (assuming they retain Geno). I still think it would be ideal to draft a young, high-upside QB who can be afforded the time to learn and develop without the pressure to start immediately. I still think the best option for this role would be Anthony Richardson. His upside is as high as you’ll see in any quarterback entering the league. He needs time. It would be a perfect scenario and provided you’re willing to accept you won’t get those ‘cheap’ early years on his contract — you could set the team up for success in the short and long term with a Geno Smith/Anthony Richardson plan.
The future of the interior offensive line
This isn’t a hot topic at the moment and neither should it be. Eventually, though, it will come into focus.
Austin Blythe and Phil Haynes are both free agents at the end of the season. It’s virtually impossible to imagine them retaining Gabe Jackson with a $9m cap hit. Damien Lewis is also entering a contract year.
Typically whenever we start talking about the O-line, people are immediately drawn to which high picks they can use or which big-name free agents they can sign.
In order to retain Geno Smith next year, the Seahawks are going to have virtually nothing to spend. Their $32m in effective cap space will go very quickly.
They will need to find savings somewhere. People might not like to hear it but their O-line scheme is set up to prosper without big names at guard or center.
The Rams model, which Seattle is using, has plugged players in based on certain body types and profiles. We’ve been through this a fair bit already but a quick recap. Los Angeles have used a smaller, brawling, wrestling type at center (Blythe, Brian Allen). They’ve also done a good job finding converted tackles to play guard.
David Edwards was a tackle taken in the fifth round in 2019. He has started at left guard. Up until this year they started Austin Corbett at right guard. He was a former second round pick for the Browns. He played tackle at Nevada. The Rams gave Cleveland a fifth round pick for him in 2019 and played him at right guard. He performed well enough to sign a three-year, $26.25m contract with the Panthers in March.
Blythe was a seventh round pick claimed off waivers who became a starter for LA. His replacement, Allen, was a late fourth round pick in 2018.
Ideally the Seahawks would go out and create an all-star O-line but the truth is — with the expectation of retaining Geno and having minimal cap space — that isn’t viable. Neither is spending multiple high picks on interior offensive linemen when:
a.) The scheme has shown it can succeed without such investment
b.) Other areas of the team require investment
For example, it’s not just the O-line that will be missing players next year. Poona Ford is a free agent. L.J. Collier is out of contract. Al Woods will be 36 and they’d need to make a call on his $5m cap hit. Shelby Harris would be 32 and is due $12.2m. Quinton Jefferson is due just under $6m.
You’d like to keep the group together but it might not be financially viable and there are ageing players included here. Some long term thinking would be attractive.
They have enough picks where they could dabble in both areas (and I have absolutely zero issue with investing in the trenches on either side of the ball — I would encourage it). But I also think positional value is key. There aren’t any pure guards I’ve seen worthy of a high pick. You could convert a tackle to guard but do you want to do that in the first two rounds? It is, in fairness, a strong center class — but there aren’t any Tyler Linderbaum types who fit the size or profile for the scheme. They are all bigger blockers.
As such, they might seek to retain Haynes (who might not break the bank) and possibly restructure Jackson’s deal. They could try Jake Curhan or Stone Forsyth at guard. The return of Joey Hunt to the practise squad could be an attempt to see if he can provide an answer at center. After all, he has the body type this scheme calls for.
Or they could look for value on the open market.
I don’t know how viable any of these options are because it’s early. Yet there are a decent handful of out-of-contract NFL tackles who might project inside to guard and have more success.
I’d love to think there’s a chance they could get to Isaiah Wynn — a former blog favourite who always appeared more suited to guard than tackle. Atlanta’s Kaleb McGary is a free agent. Mike McGlinchey is struggling at tackle for the Niners but could make a better interior lineman. For me, Jawaan Taylor has always been more suited to kicking inside. At center, Garrett Bradbury will reach free agency.
I also wonder if the Bengals might be close to giving up on Jonah Williams. I was never quite sure why a player with such modest testing results and less than ideal measurables was so highly coveted as a top-15 pick. He is struggling at left tackle and he always appeared better suited to the interior. The Bengals are sorted at guard already.
Williams might be available in the off-season for a cheap trade. He’d be playing on his fifth-year option and it would allow Cincinnati to pursue alternatives at tackle. He could be a sort of ‘Corbett’ trade option for Seattle — although it would cost you $12m in 2023 so that might not be plausible.
If they wanted scheme familiarity — LA’s Edwards is also a free agent in 2023. He’s been placed on IR twice due to concussions which is a concern for the player. It might mean he’s relatively affordable though, should he make a full recovery.
I suppose the point is they have options and there might be ways to be creative.
In terms of the draft, I’ve currently only got one offensive lineman listed as a likely first rounder (Tennessee’s brilliant right tackle Darnell Wright). I think Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski is a bit overrated and has the measurables of a guard. I also think Maryland’s Jaelyn Duncan, Clemson’s Jordan McFadden, Arizona’s Jordan Morgan, Oklahoma’s Wanya Morris and Miami’s Zion Nelson are suited to moving inside. The draft could provide some solutions here but testing and the Senior Bowl practises will be big in determining final judgements on positional fit and range.
At center — as noted before — there aren’t any ‘size’ fits for the scheme. Yet John Michael Schmitz, Joe Tippman, Ricky Stromberg, Olusegun Oluwatimi, Sedrick Van Pran and Luke Wypler for me all warrant day two grades at this early juncture. Again, testing will be key.
The 2023 D-line class remains a bit of a head-scratcher
There’s a lot of question marks here I’m trying to get my head around.
Why is Will Anderson’s 2022 season a mile away from what he showed in 2021? Is he saving himself? How good is he, actually? Because based on what he’s shown this year, he’s a notch below the Bosa brothers and some other highly drafted defensive ends.
How good is Jalen Carter? When he flashes he looks great but there’s a lack of consistency to his play and he needs to win the leverage battle more often and do the basics right to complement the ‘wow’ moments. Also — what are his measurables because it’s hard to work out how big/long he actually is.
Is Bryan Bresee ever going to be more than a great idea? He’s missed time due to injuries and a personal tragedy but despite his outstanding testing profile at SPARQ — he’s not shown that much when he has played this year.
Myles Murphy is consistently touted in the top-10 but his body lacks refinement. There’s little tone to his arms and for want of a better way of putting this — he appears to have moobs. He doesn’t have a classic edge rusher’s body. He’s clearly very athletic but he gives off a Shaq Lawson vibe at times. Lawson’s never had more than 6.5 sacks in a season as a former #19 overall pick.
K.J. Henry is incredibly impressive and massively underrated but somehow — despite causing havoc every week — he only has two sacks in eight games. Does he have a problem finishing?
Mazi Smith is the most impactful, athletic, disruptive defensive tackle in college and creates pressure every week. He has one sack in eight games. Same question about finishing. He certainly can do a better job timing his get-off.
Calijah Kancey is very athletic and disruptive but he’s 6-0 and 280lbs. Zacch Pickens has ideal size and shows some great skill but he seems to lack stamina and endurance. Mike Morris only seems to play with great urgency when he takes on Michigan State. Will McDonald has everything you want physically in an edge rusher but his 2022 tape is rubbish.
There are lots of players here you want to fall in love with but something always holds you back. As such it’s a class with some potential but also a lot of question marks.
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