Bill Polian is in the Hall of Fame in Canton because, like Vince Lombardi, Gil Brandt and a handful of others, he’s a remarkably astute judge of football talent. And when he evaluates the young quarterbacks about to enter the NFL, he doesn’t see a Dak Prescott or a Carson Wentz.
He’s not sure there’s a Franchise Quarterback there. These FQBs tend to arrive at a rate of about two a year, 2016 giving us Dak and Carson after 2015 produced the slightly less inspiring Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
As they convened in Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine, several general managers salivated over Deshaun Watson and Mitch (“please call me Mitchell”) Trubisky.
Mitch Trubisky started only 13 games for North Carolina, though he’s quick to point out that “I played in 30.”
Polian wonders if he’s a flash in the pan, fools’ gold. Appearing on NFL Network, Polian said Trubisky is clearly not ready for the NFL.
“There’s no way an NFL team can dumb down its offense to make up for lack of experience for a guy who’s played only 13 or 15 games,” Polian said.
He sees first-year professional Mitchell Trubisky as another Blake Bortles or Jared Goff, with an electric arm but lacking the knowledge of how to use it.
“People blame the coaching staff: ‘Why isn’t he ready to play?’
“Because he’s not (pause) . . . ready (pause) . . . to play.”
He could not have been more emphatic. “I don’t care where these kids are drafted, they’re not ready to play.”
Polian thinks Watson, the Clemson Tiger who won the last national championship game — and almost won the one before that — may be ready.
But maybe not: “Deshaun is going to make a jump from a non-NFL-friendly offense to the NFL,” he pointed out.
Watson won at Clemson throwing from a spread formation to receivers better than he will have next fall.
Even with high-jumping, glue-fingered Clemson receivers he completed a mere 29% of passes 25 yards and longer. His arm strains to drill 20-yarders when he’s rolling out, the way Prescott does with an easy flick of the wrist.
But despite flaws that make the scouts cringe, they consider Watson the “safest” pick among the incoming QBs. No one should devalue his supreme moments on the national stage. He personifies grit, leadership and experience.
But didn’t we say the same about Vince Young and Matt Leinart?
“There’s a lot to be said for Deshaun in the intangibles area,” Polian said. “Any others who are drafted high, it’s for potential only.”
The Cleveland Browns audaciously and assiduously tanked their way to the No. 1 overall pick. They did not do that for potential only. They need production now. As they’ve been saying for what, twenty years?
But though the Browns respect the field generalship of Watson and the marketing potential of the Ohio-born Trubisky, they’re expected to use the top pick on a Texas A&M pass rusher. Myles Garrett is now being compared to another Aggie, Von Miller, who’s starred in two Super Bowls.
The Browns could pass on a passer at No. 1 and still snare one with their second first-rounder, at No. 12. Trubisky is likely to be there. At least he should be.
As hopeless as the quarterbacking is with the New York Jets, it’s unlikely Watson slides past the No. 6 slot in the draft. Though there are rumors of the Jets pursuing Jay Cutler. Even Cutler would be a major upgrade from Bryce Petty and the long-sequestered Christian Hackenberg, about whom one of his coaches reportedly said “couldn’t hit the ocean.”
Watson is a fine all-round athlete and an accurate short-range passer. He could win for the Jets the way Alex Smith does for Kansas City and Teddy Bridgewater would have done for Minnesota if he hadn’t wrenched his left knee.
Trubisky is more talented than Watson and may be the better player two or three years from now. If he’s available when the Browns make their second first-round pick, they will be tempted.
The home-state angle is alluring. Just like the LA Rams thought a Californian like Goff would bring more box office appeal than Wentz from the Dakota hinterlands.
Trubisky lacks the experience Goff had entering the league, but the numbers are compelling. Trubisky is 6-2, 220 pounds, completed 68% last season, averaged 8.4 yards and threw 30 TDs to 6 picks (compared to 17 for Watson). Trubisky completed 70% against the blitz and won eight of his 13 starts.
And he starred in the Combine, showing a stronger arm than Watson and legs that are almost as fast. He ran a 4.67 in the 40, to Watson’s 4.66.
The Browns may see Trubisky as a savior, but Polian cautions that it will take longer than they think. “When the lights were brightest, in a bowl game against a really good Stanford defense,” Polian noted, “he did not do well. . . .
“It took Cam Newton three years to become an NFL quarterback. The media thought he was great right off the bat, because he made some great runs. He was an average or below-average quarterback for three years.”
Prescott, by contrast, was magnificent as a rookie – Offensive Rookie of the Year, in fact – after being a four-year starter at Mississippi State. Wentz started 42 games for North Dakota State, running essentially a pro-style offense.
Prescott and Wentz could take more time setting up their throws than most NFL rookies because they had stalwart protection: Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick for the Dallas Cowboys; Jason Peters, Lane Johnson (when not suspended for PEDs) and Brandon Brooks (when not sidelined by anxiety attacks) for the Philadelphia Eagles.
My advice for the Browns, who have followed worse: Draft Garrett, draft Trubisky. Then tank another season. By 2018 you might be an average NFL team.
Alan Truex formerly covered the NFL beat for the Atlanta Journal.