When I first got out of college, I lived in a crappy house with a group of roommates. One of them - Buc - fancied himself an NFL draft expert. He would work up countless mocks and opinions and trades and the like. This despite the fact that I lived with the kid and knew exactly how much football he watched.
Buc was an avid poker player (as were all of us, really; it was how we came to live together). He spent his waking hours at the underground card room we frequented. We might all have gathered ‘round for Sunday NFL, sure, but I can't remember the kid watching more than a game or two of non-UK college football.
About a week before that year's draft - 2007 - I decided to have a little fun with Buc. We were all hanging out in the living room, and we were talking about the draft. Buc mentioned that he had the Eagles picking a defensive lineman with their first pick.
"Really?" I said. "You don't think they'll take a quarterback?"
"A quarterback?" Buc asked. "They've got McNabb."
"McNabb tore his ACL last week," I said.
Brad figured out what I was doing immediately. "Yeah," he said. "Some offseason workouts or something."
Buc jumped up. He disappeared downstairs for a few hours while we stayed upstairs and laughed at him, finally coming back up later, looking exhausted and saying "Okay, I got it worked out."
We got a lot of laughs that day.
(For the record, yes, that was mean. But two things: First, had Buc taken even five seconds during his hours of re-mocking to go online, he would have seen that I was lying. And second, Buc's main claim to fame around our house was his insistence on peeing with the seat down and, when we got mad at him, saying "What's the problem, just clean the seat before you sit down." So he deserved a little bit of being mean.)
Anyway, Buc's reasoning for not knowing about Donovan McNabb's "injury" was that "I'm a draft expert, not an NFL expert." And within a year or two, Buc was writing for a reasonably notable site as its de facto "draft expert," and the day he got the gig was the day I realized writing NFL mock drafts was one of those "opinions are like assholes" things.
Fast-forward to this year's mocks. I spent much of my Monday trolling through mocks, curious where various quarterbacks were projected to go (more on that later). Johnny Manziel is projected to go third or fourth in most mocks. In one - on a top-flight site, featuring top-flight "knowledge" - he's not projected as a first-rounder at all.
I tallied 15 or 20 mocks before I got bored with the whole thing. Manziel was projected to go to seven different teams (plus that guy who mocked a whole first round without him). Blake Bortles seven. Teddy Bridgewater six. Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo four. Tom Savage three.
Look, I get that we have months of NFL-less time, and there's this draft waiting, and we have to do something. But ESPN has two draft guys doing mocks. CBSSports.com has five. NFL.com has nine. So let me ask you one question:
If these mocks, even ones done for the same site but by different people, aren't at least sort of similar, shouldn't all those guys be fired?
It's a crap shoot. We know it's a crap shoot. The best mocker is going to get like a quarter of the picks right. Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have never proven particularly adept at this, despite their lofty resumes.
When I started prep for this column, I was going to discuss each primo quarterbacks' best and worst landing places based on where the consensus seemed to have them going. I didn't need to know one specific destination, but three or four would be nice. Unfortunately, "consensus" isn't really a thing. When Teddy Bridgewater can slide from a possible 1-1 pick to out of the first round without playing a game (which is utter gibberish and even as a Kentucky fan I'm rooting for Bridgewater to make them all look dumb), using only the gurus' "projections" as the basis for discussion is foolhardy.
So instead, I'm going to knock out a swath of teams - the ones who obviously aren't going to go to a new quarterback this season, so discussing their fantasy prospects there don't make sense - first, then we'll discuss all the quarterbacks as they fit in with all the teams that might take a quarterback. Because I don't know who'll go where, and you don't know who'll go where. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. don't know who'll go where.
And Buc doesn't know who'll go where.
The big names
There are a handful of quarterbacks who might be taken this weekend. With apologies to Jimmy Garoppolo, A.J. McCarron, Tom Savage, et al, though, who aren't likely to do much in 2014 no matter where they end up, I'll be focusing on the top four. They are (presented in alphabetical order, because I don't want to classify this as any sort of ranking):
Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, and Johnny Manziel
Now, while I don't really know whose hands are big enough, or whose runny-aroundy ability will or won't translate to the pros, each of those guys does have things he does better and things he does worse.
Obviously, Manziel is the rusher of the foursome, with several times over the number of rushing yards and touchdowns as the others in significantly fewer games. But he's little, and while an improvisational style is not necessarily an indictment, he certainly hasn't run a pro-style offense. He's kinda teeny for a quarterback, which could inhibit him (or he could be all Drew Brees-y about things). As for his intangibles and the like, I'm not ever going to condemn a college kid for being a college kid, so let's move on to ...
Bridgewater, who (speaking as a Lexington-based Kentucky kid who was sort of on the fringes of Bridgewater-ville for years now) was something of a robot in college. I lived an hour and change from this kid's base of operations, and he was never in the news. He's in the Peyton Manning mold as a field general, operating as a field coach in an offense that should convert well to the pros. He has struggled in cold weather, and he's not exactly a long-ball passer ... shit, Teddy Bridgewater is Peyton Manning, isn't he?
Meanwhile, Carr won't be surprised by anything in the pros, by virtue of his brother. He looks like a hell of a quarterback, with a beautiful release and great ball security. Unfortunately, there's more than a little Rex Grossman to him - he looks pretty, but can make some bad decisions. His scouting reports include lines like "... will impress in workouts, interviews and on the board," that don't actually address his abilities as a football player. Still, he showed some impressive adaptability in college, and he can throw it a long way, even if sometimes it doesn't go to exactly the right place.
Finally, Bortles seems like the one whose current ability and long-term potential don't quite line up. He ran a short-pass offense in college that didn't really press the issue, and better defenses really shut him down. Still, he does have quickness, and he really knows where the ball is going when he throws it. Whatever team takes him needs to be set up for success around him, rather than giving him a work-in-progress, but he's unlikely to screw up such a situation.
Now, where might they go, and where might they be successful? Let's dive in.
They aren't going here, or they will and it won't matter
Can we all agree that these teams are unlikely to take a quarterback, and even if one of them did, that quarterback wouldn't matter in 2014? I'll just ignore them here and we'll all go about our business. Half the teams. Handy.
If they go here, they aren't doing much
Could I see any of these teams draft a quarterback? Sure, it's possible. Jerry Jones has been linked to Manziel. There's been talk that Kansas City might look for Alex Smith's replacement. Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick - these are not long-term super-successful choices.
But even if the Dolphins or the Giants or the Bills do grab one of the quarterback prospects, they're more likely to run with what they have for at least the coming season. Considering the situations in Arizona, in Cincinnati, etc., the quarterbacks in question could have bright futures should they end up there. But those are theoretical futures, not 2014-15 futures.
So I'd like to settle on the eight remaining teams, the ones that (a) might draft a quarterback, and (b) might use him.
The Browns have been running out The Quarterbacks of Sadness ® for a while now; the last time they ran anything out there better than "Aw, puddin'" was 2007, when Derek Anderson started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns to go with 19 interceptions. So, you know, decent, but even then we weren't talking Tom Brady or anything.
The Browns have on roster right now Brian Hoyer, Alex Tanney, Tyler Thigpen, and Vince Young. Young's had his moments - his history is well-known - and Hoyer looked decent in 2013 before tearing his ACL. Still, there's not a lot behind center to dissuade the Browns from looking elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the team has 2013's best receiver in fantasy (Josh Gordon) and the No. 6 tight end (Jordan Cameron). They added a theoretically above-average running back (Ben Tate) and a decent No. 2 receiver (Nate Burleson) in the offseason. The team's offense is not the disaster it has been; frankly, it's good times for any quarterback.
Will they take a QB? God, you'd think so. They have the fourth overall pick and the 26th (thanks to unloading Trent Richardson on the Colts) and, despite adding Vick and Thigpen in recent weeks, have every reason to try to get someone for the future. I had a tough time finding a mock that didn't have Cleveland using one of its two picks on a passer, if that's worth anything at all.
With Matt Schaub gone to Oakland, the Texans have Ryan Fitzpatrick now, along with Case Keenum and T.J. Yates, to play quarterback. It's still basically a one-receiver offense - they live and die with Andre Johnson, and DeAndre Hopkins and Garrett Graham and the like are just supplements (the team cut long-time tight end Owen Daniels, who signed in Baltimore).
Arian Foster, back from injury, will be the team's lead running back, with newly added Andre Brown taking over the Ben Tate role. Not many teams have a better RB/WR combo than Foster and Johnson, which is nice, but it's not like having Johnson made Keenum any great shakes at the position last year.
Whatever quarterback the Texans roll with in 2014, he'll need to be able to run things on his own. Johnson is all well and good, but he's about to be 33; Foster is just back from a herniated disc and most of a season out, while Brown hasn't exactly been the paragon of health in his career. The Texans as a team are a bounce-back candidate, to be sure, but a lot will have to go right.
Will they take a QB? The team has the first overall pick, and the subsequent firsts. Early on in this whole process, it looked like there was every chance they would use that first overall on Manziel, on Bortles, on Bridgewater, but at this point it seems pretty clear it's going to be Jadeveon Clowney or a trade-down.
By the time their second pick comes around, it seems unlikely any of the "okay to start this year" guys will still be around, with the possible exception of Carr. The only way I see them drafting a quarterback this weekend and starting him in 2014 is if they trade down, and as we've seen, even teams that discuss such options are often far too hesitant to actually do it. They might well take a quarterback in the draft, but it won't be the biggest names, and it looks like Fitzpatrick stands a decent chance of being the team's starter at least at the start of the season.
The Jaguars persist in being not very good. Maurice Jones-Drew is gone (and Justin Forsett, if you want to say that's worth much). They signed Toby Gerhart to share the carries with Jordan Todman, and Cecil Shorts will have to carry the receiving game - lord knows they won't go back to Justin Blackmon at this point, and Ace Sanders and Mike Brown are only okay.
Blaine Gabbert certainly wasn't the answer in Jacksonville, and while Chad Henne could be a serviceable quarterback if a team has literally every other piece, the Jags ... don't. Any quarterback Jacksonville takes will inherit the weight of an awful franchise. On the other hand, expectations couldn't be much lower.
Will they take a QB? Decent chance, I'd say. They have the third overall pick, and seem to be a popular "expert" destination for Manziel. Their best bet is a quarterback like him who is versatile and improvisational, and that's definitely him. It would be a "make or break" location for both quarterback and team in the case of Manziel, as he could be a wild success or a complete implosion.
I suppose an iffy quarterback's first choice of any teammate in the world would probably be Calvin Johnson ("What do I do? Throw it! Calvin will be there!"), but Adrian Peterson has to rank pretty high on that list as well. He's a security blanket like few others.
Beyond Peterson, the Vikings saw Cordarrelle Patterson progress from "barely involved in the offense" to "61 fantasy points in four games" over the course of last season; if he is the player he was from Week 13 on last year, he can be a game-changed as a wide receiver in the mold of Randall Cobb, Alshon Jeffery, or a healthy Percy Harvin, catching passes and running the ball. Greg Jennings (good) and Jerome Simpson (mediocre) are both still in Minnesota, and they added Lestar Jean (definitely exists) as well.
Will they take a QB? The Vikings have the eighth pick; assuming the smart guys are smart, Manziel will be gone by then. Bortles seems like a popular choice for them at eighth, but as I said, that's more of a long-term play. There's a good chance Peterson can't kick back and wait for a long-term play in his career.
Still, the Vikings have to take a quarterback, don't they? There's only so long they can roll with guys like Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel.
Every once in a while, the networks will put out celebrity game shows features has-beens and the like, trying to make a career resurgence. You know, Million Dollar Password and Hollywood Game Night and Riot. It never works, but it's probably entertaining.
That's the Raiders of late. They added a past-his-prime running back (Maurice Jones-Drew) and a past-his-prime quarterback (Matt Schaub), plus a probably-past-his-prime receiver (James Jones). They still have a not-sure-about-any-prime Darren McFadden at running back, and decent No. 3 and 4 receivers like Rod Streater, Denarius Moore, and Andre Holmes.
It's not the worst collection of talent in the league, but the Raiders will really need to start a quarterback who can command things to run with that group. But it promises to be entertaining, at least.
Will they take a QB? Honestly? I don't think so - at least, not one of the big'uns. They have the fifth overall pick, and it really looks like Manziel will be gone by then. Bridgewater's stock has fallen too far, for whatever reason, for him to be a choice at five. They're also not likely to be looking at the others there; this is a team with too many other needs on the offensive line and on defense to go that way. This is Schaub's last chance, and it seems like they're going to give him the full opportunity.
The jury is still out on whether Sam Bradford really deserves any more chances; between injury and middling performance, he's been a disappointment so far. Still, the team has weapons; Zac Stacy was a great rookie running back, and the team has receivers galore - Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Chris Givens, and now Kenny Britt.
Okay, so we don't have a whole lot of reason to believe these are anything like elite receivers (same for the team's tight ends, Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks). The entire foursome combined for 193 fantasy points last season, or 28 fewer than Josh Gordon managed by himself.
Will they take a QB? They have the 14th pick, and have been linked to quarterbacks a time or two, but overall, it seems unlikely. No, it looks like Bradford will get at least one more shot at the job.
It might be early for the team to give up on Mike Glennon, who was decent but nothing special a year ago, but a new coaching staff with Lovie Smith and Jeff Tedford might want to put their own guy in place. They also signed Josh McCown from the Bears, and while he had a relatively great partial season last year, he's also a soon-to-be 35-year-old who was a high-school coach two and a half years ago.
Whoever the Buccaneers go with at quarterback, here's hoping he finds a rapport with Vincent Jackson in a hurry. Mike Williams was traded to Buffalo, so the second-best Buccaneers receiver is, what, Louis Murphy or Chris Owusu? I don't know, it's not inspiring. The team does have both Brandon Myers and Timothy Wright at tight end, and some amalgamation of Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey, and Mike James at running back, but as far as pass-catchers go, they're leaning heavily on Jackson right now.
Will they take a QB? Probably not. Some of the mocks have them taking a flyer on a first-round guy, but there's enough else to worry about in Tampa Bay, and they have two quarterbacks who both ought to be at least decent. Best bet is they give Glennon and/or McCown another year to make it work, and quarterback time will come next year if those guys can't do it.
Hurt Locker! Jake Locker has had moments in his career, but he's far from a sure thing in the long term, and this is the last season of his rookie deal. The Titans brought in Charlie Whitehurst as a backup.
The Titans are fast running out of name skill players, though. Chris Johnson is gone to the Jets, leaving Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle as the team's running backs. Kendall Wright and Nate Washington are the primary wide receivers, and Delanie Walker - fresh off a resurgent year - at tight end. They also signed Dexter McCluster out of Kansas City as a whatever-position-he-plays - he's been a receiver, a running back, a kick returner, but he's never been great at any of those things.
Read those names again. Find one on that list that you would want to trust in as a rookie (or any) quarterback.
Will they take a QB? Some think so, but why set up a young kid for likely failure when you could spend the year evaluating Locker once and for all and really build for the future one way or the other in 2015? New head coach Ken Whisenhunt should look at his roster and realize they won't compete this season. He'll get forgiven for a rough season if he can make the point he's building for the future.
Things can always happen. Maybe the Cowboys or Chiefs will end up dealing their starter or something. But ultimately, it looks from here like the Browns, Jaguars, and Vikings are the most likely teams to dive on one of the start-him-now guys, and with good reason. Of course, there are four big names in this draft, so someone else will get one of them - with the Texans as the next-best bet to go to a new starter.
The Browns, picking fourth, seem like they have a great mix of pieces for a quarterback, needing someone to do the least on his own. That certainly sounds like Bortles, though Manziel seems most likely to go at four if he's there, and few at this point seem to think there'll be two quarterbacks in the top four.
The Jaguars are the team who will need a quarterback to be the most flexible, most versatile, and that's Manziel. With their third overall pick, it's really hard for me to see them passing on him.
And the Vikings, with the eighth pick, will want a quarterback to be smart and run things, give the ball to Peterson without making bad decisions, utilize a flexible weapon like Patterson. That sounds, to me, like Bridgewater.
That leaves Carr as the wild card among the big names. The mid-level teams, with quarterbacks like Fitzpatrick and Schaub and Bradford, might make a splash with a name quarterback. That said, considering the candidates, he might still be floating around early in the second round, and Carr could find himself with a starting job as well.