April 13, 2010

Thoughts on Jimmy Clausen, the NFL Draft, and why it's time to give it a rest on all the Todd McShay bashing.

In the last three years, I've seen just about every throw that Jimmy Clausen has made in a Notre Dame uniform. I've seen him in just about every scenario, I've experienced the highs and lows of his career, and had a million conversations about him. It's been four years since he committed to ND, and not a day has gone by in his ND career where he hasn't faced intense scrutiny.

Now that he's about to enter the biggest week of his life, I figured I'd break down Jimmy's draft prospects from my own perspective as a fan and close follower of his college career.

6) First things first, where is he going in this draft?? It's tough to really pin down in terms of percentages where he's likely to end up.

-St. Louis -- 10% - Sounds like it's Bradford
-Detroit - 0% - No
-Tampa Bay - 0% - No.
-Washington - 10% - Now that they have McNabb, I can't see it. If they want a young quarterback, they can afford to wait a year or two.
-Kansas City - 25% - The Weis connections are intriguing, but I can't see that happening. If Clausen was a can't miss Manning type, maybe they take him. But they already have Cassel.
-Seattle - 30% - Pete Carroll making the play for Jimmy C?? Wow, that would be interesting. Could be a good fit for Clausen actually.
-Cleveland - 40% -- If he's there, this is going to be fascinating. I'm not sold on Mike Holmgren as a GM, but he does seem to have some level of acumen for evaluating QBs. He has hinted that he's not really crazy about Clausen. Maybe it's all smoke, or maybe he's not interested.

One thing that might hurt Clausen's draft status is that this draft has some nice 2nd-4th round values out there. I think that is hurting Clausen a little bit. Holmgren seems to think he can find a productive QB in the middle rounds. McCoy, Lefeoveur, Pike, Tebow, Jevan Snead...those are pretty good options. I could see 1-2 of those guys becoming good NFL quarterbacks.
--Oakland - 20% - Man, you never know with the Raiders. This would not shock me. Al Davis knows at this point that Russell is not the guy. I think they'll draft a QB, but not sure about the first round.
--Buffalo - 60% - Even if Buffalo isn't crazy about Clausen, how could they not make this pick?? At least Clausen would make them relevant and put a spark in that franchise. If they go draft Bruce Campbell, is that going to get anyone excited about the Bills?? Just draft Clausen and hope that his confidence doesn't get ruined playing for Chan Gailey for the next three years. Maybe the worst head coaching hire of all time. For Jimmy's sake, I hope he doesn't go to Buffalo.
--Jacksonville -- 25% -- Maybe, but not likely.
--Denver - 50% -- Wouldn't shock me if they took him if he was still there. Denver knows they need a franchise QB at some point.
--Miami - 0%
--San Francisco -- 50% -- Another intriguing possibility if Clausen slips. Would he rather go 13 to the 49ers or 9 to the Bills?? I'd go to the Niners in a heartbeat.

The Niners and Seahawks each pick twice in the first round. I gotta think Clausen would go to one of those teams if he was still around in the teens.

After that, I don't really see anybody until Minnesota at 30. The Vikes would have to be jumping for joy if Clausen is still there at 30.

My guess is that Buffalo takes him. If not, they might as well just move to Toronto now. Personally, I'd love to see him end up in Seattle or San Francisco. Get him back to the west coast, out of the cold weather, he can quietly put up numbers away from the spotlight a little bit, and both those franchises are at least somewhat competitive.

5) Every time I read a column/article on Jimmy, the Brady Quinn comparisons pop up. I certainly can understand why people are raising the issue, but having watched both of these guys for years in college, they really are not all that similar in terms of ability. Clausen didn't have Brady's playmaking abilities, but he was so much more poised and accurate in throwing the ball. How many times did we see Brady come out all pumped up to start a game and airmailing passes to the sideline?? We sort of overlooked that stuff when Brady was in college, but that's a critical throw in the NFL. You never saw that type of inaccuracy out of Clausen even in his early days at ND.

The other thing is that Clausen always had the "big time" 5 star pedigree that Brady Quinn never had. There was a reason that Clausen was the #1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school. If Clausen had gone to USC and started there for three years, he'd probably be viewed a lot like Carson Palmer or Mark Sanchez. A high school stud who went to USC and won big and now is destined to be a star in the NFL.

I do understand why people are raising the Brady Quinn comparisons for Clausen though. No matter what you think of the Charlie Weis offense, it's impossible to deny that it was great for quarterbacks and the passing game. Did he just make these guys look better than they are?? I can't believe how poorly Brady Quinn has fared in the NFL. It's like none of his skills were transferrable to the pros. He got to the Browns, and completely fell apart.

Did Weis' offense not have as many reads as a typical NFL offense?? Brady was so efficient in college, but now it's like he's playing hot potato. Last year with the Browns, he'd do a three step drop and couldn't wait to get the ball out of his hands. He'd be like 7 for 9 for 34 yards. Nice completion percentage, but it doesn't matter when you're punting after a three and out. The name of the game is first downs and touchdowns. Seems like the Weis offense was built around quick throws, but sometimes you gotta hang in there and get the ball down the field.

Anyway, Clausen has proven to be more accurate and more daring when it comes to getting the ball down the field, so maybe he won't run into those same problems in the NFL. Even though I'm generally leery of college "system" quarterbacks, it doesn't mean you should completely avoid them. Everyone got scared off by Jeff Tedford guys after a series of busts (Akili, Boller, etc), and that's what knocked Aaron Rodgers down the draft board. Now, he's one of the best young QBs in the game.

4) One other note on the pedigree thing. The "high floor, low ceiling" whispers on Jimmy Clausen have been raised by McShay and others who think that Clausen is a finished product and won't get much better in the NFL. I don't know where I stand on that, but it sort of mirrors a post I wrote on here last winter about Jimmy Clausen as the ultimate "outlier" in sports today.

If you look back at Jimmy's history, he's always had a leg up on the competition. Between being held back in 6th grade, having a private quarterback coach as a kid, playing at a small private high school in California instead of against the top big school competition, playing for a QB guru in college, and quite frankly, playing probably the softest schedules in the history of Notre Dame football, isn't he a little bit of a concern as a "maxed out" guy who isn't going to get that much better in the NFL?? He's basically had every edge and advantage that you could possibly ask for in his development, but the NFL is the cream of the crop. Talent eventually wins out. The reason there are so many random I-AA guys making it big in the NFL is that a lot of these guys don't develop as players until they get to the league.

Does this mean that Clausen is going to be a bust in the NFL?? No, of course not. He could be a star. And we've seen plenty of quarterbacks make it in the NFL from all different sorts of backgrounds. Clausen didn't exactly play the toughest schedule at ND, but it's not like he was Joe Flacco playing a I-AA schedule or PacBen Roethlisberger playing a MAC schedule. Those guys have worked out just fine.

It's just something that concerns me though. College production is the best indicator of future success at quarterback, but we've seen enough Tim Couches out there who put up great numbers in college and couldn't hack it at the next level for me to just dismiss the "low ceiling" talk about Clausen.

The other red flag that has been raised is the character question, which seems like a bunch of BS to me (although it is a little weird that there were like ten witnesses to that CJ's thing and no assault charges were filed on the alleged perpetrator...was there more to that story?). His teammates seem to like him, and I don't see him pulling a PacBen in the NFL and getting into a bunch of trouble with the law. No one has questioned his work ethic either, so it's not like he's a Jamarcus Russell type.

I think the larger intangibles question of leadership might be the more relevant inquiry. Isn't the overwhelming whiff of Ewing Theory emanating out of the ND locker room right now something to take into consideration?? Part of it is the new coach, but I think the new leadership group of Dayne Crist and Manti Te'o certainly seems like a more team-oriented group. Clausen had more of an "I'll do my job, you do yours" leadership style. Nothing wrong with that, but some quarterbacks have a knack for rallying the troops and getting their teammates to dig down deep to finish off a drive. That's where I feel we're headed with Dayne Crist. I don't know what that says about Jimmy Clausen, but I'm really not all that broken up about turning the page with new leadership at quarterback.

Then again, Clausen made it happen in the clutch. How many comeback drives did he lead this year?? When it got to be crunch time, Clausen made plays. If you produce, players will respect you. If he had even a half-decent defense, ND would have been a BCS team this year.

2) Maybe I've just become desensitized to ND criticism through the years, but I don't understand all the Todd McShay hate out there. What is everyone's hangup with this guy?? Because he's not high on Jimmy Clausen?? What if he's right?? Are people really that upset about this??

I actually don't mind McShay. Is he always right?? No, not even close, but at least he has an opinion. I'd rather hear a guy go out on a limb with a take than just trot out the same cliches and hype that you hear from everyone else. Half these NFL first round picks are busts. It's sort of insulting to present the draft as if every guy picked in the first round is a great pick. I need a foil who is willing to be the bad guy. As great as it is to see Mel Kiper on draft day, he's lost his edge. No one knows more than Mel about some random outside linebacker from Louisiana Tech, but he's not going to take too many controversial stances.

McShay has had some spectacular misses (Jamarcus Russell), but I remember him questioning Vernon Gholston before the draft and calling him a bust candidate. And that's exactly how it played out. No one else had the guts to say it.

I was a little unsure of McShay at first and wondered where this guy came from, but he's grown on me. Maybe he's been harsh in his analysis of our two pro qb prospects, but I can't deny that he was right on Brady Quinn thus far. Brady has been a bust. He's not accurate and doesn't throw it well down the field, which were the two big concerns about him coming out of college. McShay said he wasn't a top 10 player, and he's probably right.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what guys like McShay say. Scouts and GMs are the guys making these picks. It's not like McShay drafted Jamarcus Russell. He's just following the lead of all these dope NFL scouts. Having seen how the guys running the Bengals have drafted in the last 20 years, I'd rather have McShay conducting the Bengals draft than anyone in the organization.

People are just too thin-skinned with this stuff. The reality is that guys like McShay and Mark May have been right more often than not about our players and our program. The only way we're going to shut the ESPN critics up is by winning games, producing All-Americans, winning bowl games, and producing NFL pro bowlers at the next level. Until then, it is what it is.

Jimmy C is going to get a chance to start in the NFL without question. Even McShay concedes that. The best way for Jimmy Clausen to prove McShay wrong is by going out and having a great NFL career. I hope it happens.

1) Ok, time for a projection. There's not really any one quality that guarantees success or screams out bust when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, so I like to think of guys who remind me of the player in question.

Clausen reminds me of a few different people. If I had to project his future, I'd go with these percentages of him emulating these guy's careers.

30% -- Phil Rivers -- Franchise qb, legit star, 10+ year career with the same team, Pro Bowler, makes all the throws, great leader, capable of winning a Super Bowl with him

Man, I'd like to put this a little higher, but I'm just not there yet. Clausen has a little bit of the Phil Rivers edginess to him and throws a great ball, but I don't think he has the same presence as Rivers (Rivers is 6'5"). I mean, Rivers has been a little shaky in the playoffs, but there's no question that he's a franchise QB in every way. Rivers has a cannon and throws probably the best deep ball in the league. Maybe Clausen surprises me and gets to this level, but I don't think we'll be seeing him leading teams deep into the playoffs five years from now.

Another "franchise" guy here could be Matt Ryan. Now that intrigues me a little more as a comparison. Ryan is a slow, 220 pound type with great accuracy and great poise. Isn't that pretty similar to Clausen??

35% -- Jay Cutler, Jeff George -- Productive QB, fringe franchise QB, has 1-2 legitimately great All-Pro type years, capable of leading a team to the playoffs in the right system, but also a little flaky and not ever "The Man" for any franchise for a long period of time.

Truthfully, this is where I see Clausen emerging. I think he has a chance to be a good NFL quarterback. I could see him having a nice 4-5 year run where he's productive and clearly entrenched as a starter somewhere. But I'm not sure that he's a "12 years for the same franchise" type of guy. He seems like one of those guys who will probably wear out his welcome in a couple different stops, might get traded at some point in his career, might have injury concerns that slow him down, but still one of those guys who you can feel ok about if he's your quarterback.

If Jake Delhomme can be a 4-5 year starter in the NFL, you gotta like Jimmy's chance to start somewhere and be productive. I think this is ultimately the category where he'll end up. Not a star, but not a bust either.

35% -- David Carr, Tim Couch -- Bust, maxed out before he got to the NFL, played in a pass happy offense in college, not enough ability to translate to big success in the NFL

(Gulp). I can't shake this category for Clausen. How good was David Carr in college?? I remember seeing him at Fresno State and thinking there was no way he could be a bust. Carr threw 46 tds in his senior year with only 9 picks, and threw for almost 5,000 yards with a 64.5% completion percentage. Sound familiar??

Then he got to the NFL and was completely overwhelmed. I don't know what happened, but he never became anything better than a below average starting quarterback. He actually started for 5 years in Houston, but never put it together. We'd read these "Carr ready to bust out" stories right before the fantasy drafts every year, and then you'd look back at his stats and see 11 tds and 12 ints. By year five, it had become obvious that he was not a franchise QB.

I hate to think of Clausen as a bust, but we've seen so many busts coming out of college that it's always a possibility. If he gets in the wrong system or gets behind a terrible o-line, all bets are off. Heck, I'll say it right now. If he ends up in Buffalo, I'll go ahead and say he'll be a bust. Couldn't ask for a worse fit for him. Bad coach, bad organization, bad weather, shaky fanbase, bad vibes. Pretty soon, he'll lose his confidence or get banged up behind a bad line, and the whole thing unravels.

I think a 65% success rate is a pretty fair evaluation for Clausen. There are some bust questions out there, but he's got the tools and the drive to be a good one.

Can't wait to see how it all plays out.


Anonymous said...

Agreed about Todd McShay. He seems like a poser, I guess. But whatever. ND fans just get too extravagantly exercised by him. They definitely love to hate Todd McShay.

Yes, he clearly has something against JC, but it's probably deliberate and calculated on ESPN's part.

I don't see JC being a bust. He just seems to be too tunnel-visioned about making it in the NFL, and he does seem to have the passing skills and know-how across the board for big-time success. I think any cockiness he seems to possess is probably not a big deal.

BQ has struggled, IMO, because he's just too tightly strung, you might say. And the funny thing is, it's not his muscular physique so much that makes him that way, but more his preoccupation with weightlifting, if that makes sense. It's more psychological, and not physical.

Kudos on another good blog. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Your argument that Jimmy played in a pass-happy offense really makes no sense. In comparison to almost every other major college football program, Weis' West Coast system is very balanced. Bradford, McCoy, Pike and Lefevour (the other top QBs in this draft) all threw the ball MUCH more than Clausen did in college. Also, keep in mind that Quinn only played for Weis for one year, so the comparisons really are not that fair. One last thing, the argument about Jimmy being maxed out is ridiculous. Peyton Manning's only weakness coming out of Tennessee was that he was maxed out. Good call there, huh?