On Thursday, without the benefit of free-agent additions and losses to guide them, 32 NFL teams are going to start the process of drafting players they can't speak to after the draft or work out with.
Of those 32, a little less than half of them have significant questions at quarterback. Some are obvious (insert Vikings here). Others have question marks. Still more are looking a year or two out and not liking what they see – a portent of potential mediocrity.
Just as the backup QB is the most popular guy in town on a struggling team, on draft day a quarterback can energize a fan base like no other. One need look no further than Denver. Tim Tebow showed up at the Senior Bowl and stunk it up to the point he couldn't even blame the dog. He went from being a Day One prospect to being a Day Three prospect. Scouts put their reputations on the line saying, "He's a great kid off the field, but my job is to recommend on what he can do on the field." As far as the raised-eyebrow crowd in Mobile saw it, he was dead in the water – even if he could potentially walk on it.
Then the guns came out of the holsters. Fire your piece. Take your player. Move on. And a funny thing happened between the Mobile Massacre and draft day. Tebow's stock rose like a phoenix from the flames. Fourth round? Not even close. Third round? Guess again, my friend. Second round? More realistic, but these coals are white-hot, not orange hot. Sure enough, Denver made the jump. Tebow was a first-rounder and, almost out of reflex, Broncos fans snapped up T2 jerseys like nobody's business. Commerce moves forward, if not the franchise.
The only qualifying statement needed to bring Tebow into a discussion of NFL quarterbacks is that, despite a poor performance when all eyes of the NFL world were on him, he somehow gave his draft standing an impressive Heimlich and went with the 25th pick in last April's draft. Let the record reflect, VU still has it on plant-gun authority that had Tebow been available when the Vikings were scheduled to pick in the first round, Jahvid Best may have still have ended up with Detroit, but it wouldn't have been with the Vikings' pick. Tebow wouldn't have made it out of the first round. And that was a "normal" draft. 2011 is anything but normal.
All the intentional subterfuge that gets thrown around (over beers we call that lying) about team intent, this week is going to expose the value of the draft like never before.
Most analysts will tell you that Blaine Gabbert is more NFL-ready than Cam Newton, especially if there isn't going to be a chance to work with the coaching staff before it's "go time." Yet, few are willing to say that the Carolina Panthers are going to use the first pick on Gabbert.
Two months ago, a popular draft landing spot for Newton was in Minnesota. A month ago, he wouldn't get past Washington at No. 10. Now he doesn't get out of the Carolina Mid-South territory. Amazing!
Gabbert still holds his own cache – he won't get past the fifth pick. But, what about "the rest?" – the rabble that are scheduled to follow the Big Two. Their stock is rising for no perceptible reason. They haven't played games since. Yet, they're the underground buzz.
The Vikings are sitting in prime-time trade territory with pick No. 12. Rational wisdom would say the Vikings could trade back three, four or five picks, recoup the lost third-round pick sold for magic beans to Bill Belichick and still get QB Jake Locker at No. 16, 17 or 18.
As the buzz train rolls, the Vikings may have to trade UP to get Jake the Snake. What? Welcome to the Wild West of NFL drafts in the modern era. Peter King's bromance with Andy Dalton would have him coming off the board to Tennessee at No. 8. Others like Ryan Mallett as a first-round prospect. Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick have their champions pushing them as first-round prospects.
It could be scary. In a year when teams aren't going to be able to "school up" a rookie QB until a labor settlement is reached (or forced by jurisdiction), one would think NFL decision-makers would be hesitant to risk the next five years of franchise health on a young quarterback. The record should reflect the only thing Matthew Stafford has done often is wince, the Jets have won despite pretty boy Mark Sanchez (not because of him) and, in a world measured by postseason heroics, media darling Matt Ryan – known in the regular season as "Matty Ice" – has been put on ice in the postseason. The accolades the new breed of NFL QB is enjoying only go so far. None have taken their team to the next level. They're doing their job, nothing more.
If, as we predict, the Vikings move back in the first round to get a third-round pick, they may lose out on Locker and possibly Dalton. If they stand pat on their second-round pick, Mallett and Ponder could both be gone.
Do they deserve to be off the board when the will get picked? Nope, from Newton on down. But it's the Wild West draft. Put money on it. It won't be the Year of the Quarterback, but it will be the Draft of the Quarterback.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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