It’s not Christian Ponder’s fault the Vikings took him too high. It’s not Jake Locker’s fault that Vince Young’s tantrums and lockout uncertainty left the Titans desperate for a quarterback.
But life in the NFL isn’t always fair, and the NFL minted four new “franchise quarterbacks” in the top 12 picks on Thursday night that aren’t likely to be ready for the role.
Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Locker, and Ponder will have to overcome a lot to become successful pros, starting with unfair expectations created because their teams reached too high to take them.
Newton has all the raw talent in the world, but the Panthers will have to be patient and build the team around his unique skills. He’ll have to learn how to overcome adversity, but he’s the one guy in this group that would have gone high in any draft.
Locker is coming off a very disappointing senior season and faces serious questions about his accuracy. The Titans chose him at No. 8 over Blaine Gabbert because Locker is such a good athlete and they love his intangibles. Vince Young was also a better athlete than a passer.
Gabbert was hyped by the draftniks as a top-five quarterback because he looked the part despite a college career that didn’t blow anyone away. He has plenty of talent and athleticism, but it’s worth noting the following quarterback needy teams passed on him: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee, and finally Washington, who traded their No. 10 pick to Jacksonville.
(Consider it a red flag when Mike Shanahan has no legitimate quarterback and passes on a mobile one.)
Ponder, taken No. 12 overall by the Vikings, was the night’s biggest surprise. Coming off an injury-plagued senior season without a great arm, Ponder doesn’t fit the profile of a top-15 pick. Vikings fans certainly didn’t think so; they booed the selection at a team-sponsored draft party Thursday night.
“The thing we went back and forth on was, ‘When are you going to get another chance to swing?’ If Ponder was gone, would we get another opportunity to take a quarterback in this draft?” Vikings VP of Personnel Rick Spielman said. “We didn’t want to take that risk.”
Translation: We reached for him.
“Quarterback was a huge need for us,” Spielman said. “Everybody knows that.”
Spielman wasn’t alone, which made a lot of teams go nutty for an unremarkable quarterback class. There were more teams than usual looking for starting quarterbacks, even before the lockout started. The lack of free agency and trades before the draft compounded the problem, making teams anxious to fill their depth charts and sell their fanbases on new hope.
Four quarterbacks were taken in the top 12 this year, but this isn’t like when Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all went in the top 11 in 2004. This fourpack of quarterbacks is a boom or bust group, and they are bound to get some decision makers fired.
We’re actually surprised that teams didn’t trade back into the end of the first round to grab TCU’s Andy Dalton or Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett. That means we could have another quarterback frenzy to start day two of the draft.
At least the cost Friday won’t be as high as it was for Newton, Locker, Gabbert, and Ponder.