The NFL Draft is a pageantry of world class athletes with world class attitudes, good or bad. The stakes are high, the pressure intense, the scrutiny impossibly heavy to bear.
Every year the experts, pundits, and gurus all have their favorites compiled from the mountains of data and matrix' from countless tests.
Despite all the money, the manpower, and tests, however, the draft remains a largely unproven dynamic. This is especially true for the most demanding position, the quarterback.
For every Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, or Mark Sanchez, there will be 100 more Ryan Leaf's, Rick Mirer's, Andre Ware's, and Heath Shuler's.
By now, Jimmy Clausen's slide to the 48th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft is
well documented, and does not need revisiting in this discussion. However, fair or unfair, perceptions about the young man are moot at this point.
Let us for one moment forget that Mel Kiper, Jr. has a man-crush on the Golden Domer. Let us all forget how agitated Kiper was on draft day, as Clausen continued to slide.
Clausen was the face of Notre Dame football during his tenure there, and had improved steadily year after year. He is a classic drop back quarterback with good mechanics, a decent release, and a decent arm. Clausen finished his collegiate career with 8,148 passing yards, and ranks first or second in 32 different categories for the Irish.
However, he only managed a record of 16-18 as a starter, and although his team might not always have been the most talented on the field he gave them a chance to win.
Supposed character issues, not that strong of an arm, or whatever other negatives you may think of may be well warranted, and further may be right on the money. These negatives from a fan's or scout's perspective may be within reason, but will ultimately not play out until Clausen plays.
So Clausen slides down the draft and is selected by a team with a strong running game, a defense led by a young stud linebacker, and a coach who loves to run the ball and play defense.
Let's not revisit a certain Bay Area quarterback that slid down the draft in a similar fashion in the same year Alex Smith was first overall, that would be too easy.
Before continuing please note that I am not a Smith apologist, nor basher. But there has to be questions to his "breakout" performances last year and the large percentage of which came way of the spread offense.
Can spread offense quarterbacks succeed? Of course they can, just look at New Orleans. Can Smith succeed? I am not saying that he cannot.
But given the current QB situation in San Francisco, I believe they may have been remiss by passing on Clausen, given he is the prototypical drop-back QB that the power running game needs.
What use is the power running game and smashing people in the mouth, if there is no hope of catching the defense bringing extra defenders in the box? More and more of the NFL is predicated on formations, matchups and schemes, and coming out in a shotgun is not conducive to the running game/play-action that Jimmy Raye's offense leans on.
I like Smith, and admire his class in handling all the different things that have been thrown at him in his career, and I want him to succeed. I believe had he been in a different scenario, his career might have unfolded quite differently than it has.
Let us all admit in this comparison that talent and desire are the obvious weights on the scale of NFL success, and that situational play also has a large role as well. A quarterback can of course turn the fortunes of a franchise around, but he can't do it alone. Set that against the backdrop of being a NFL rookie, and your team likely not very good, and you have the recipe of a draft bust.
Teams that typically choose quarterbacks that high are usually pretty bad. No supporting cast, no defense, no running game, or have to rely on the rookie quarterback far too much.
This is why I feel that Clausen will be the best QB drafted in 2010.
Situations in which these young men who carry the hopes of a fan base, a city, and their team, are put in play a large role in their success or failure. Clausen operated in Charlie Weis' system at Notre Dame, and the type of pro offense he ran is very similar on many levels to what NFL teams run. Carolina, like the Niners, want to run a power running game, and will not ask Clausen to do too much initially.
“I think it’s going to help me tremendously being in coach Weis’ system,” Clausen said. "I’m going to hit the ground with my feet running and do everything I can to help the organization win.”
It's no secret that the Niners were rumored to have interest in Clausen, given their obvious ties both in history as well as the front office. When former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan left the team, many observers thought that the team would naturally draft Clausen, as McCloughan had been Smith's biggest supporter.
Many reports surfaced before the draft in regards to Clausen not slipping past the Niners at 13.
In the end, nobody will know until we are at least three to four years from this point. Analysts, experts, and scouts are wrong all the time about quarterbacks coming out of college, and Clausen is no different despite his pedigree. And these people are PAID to do this for a living!
Could Smith come out this year and have a true breakout year by passing under center? Could Clausen be a complete flop? Could Clausen start early, but have a glass ceiling in which his upside is not as great? All these scenarios and many more are possible.
But I feel that the question cannot be denied given this team's recent history and franchise quarterbacks or lack thereof.
Did the Niners necessarily need a quarterback that high in the draft? Of course not. But you don't pass on franchise QBs when you have the chance to draft them. Given the situation with the NFC West this year, I think this team will win the West running away.
Years from now the Niners might be kicking themselves, or they may be the most relieved in knowing they passed on Clausen. No one really knows for sure, and that's the real beauty of it.
What do you think?