You have to feel sorry for draftniks, professionals and amateurs alike. The postponement of the NFL’s annual meat market by a fortnight has meant that many commentators have already used up their theories and predictions and are now being forced to come up with increasingly unlikely forecasts in order to fill up their column inches. By this time, these writers would be evaluating the draft and discussing its impact on each team; instead, they are now growing weary and starved of ideas. May 8th cannot come fast enough (a sentiment none with which none of us could disagree).
The best evidence of this fatigue is the dubiousness of some of their latest prophecies. These tend to reflect an eagerness to be the first to come up with an implausible scenario which, despite the low probability, could become reality. Some of these have concerned the St Louis Rams’ hypothetical actions in the first round of the draft, where they own the second and thirteenth picks. Early sensible predictions saw Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson go to the blue-and-gold in recognition of the team’s needs in the offensive line. Other mock drafts saw the Rams pick wide receivers Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans. Less popular, less likely, but, nonetheless, quite justified guesses concerned defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or linebacker Khalil Mack. Some writers were also playful with the prospect of trades taking place, with the Rams moving down from number two, or even up from number thirteen, thereby adjusting their predictions accordingly. All of these moves have been aptly summarized. The two-week delay has made them dull.
One of the more surprising names that has been added to the list is that of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. This has been given greater credibility by NFL.com writer Charles Davis’ forecast that the Rams could take Manziel with the thirteen pick, a prospect which analyst Daniel Jeremiah calls “a real possibility”. Adding further fuel to the fire is the fact that the Rams themselves have admitted to work out a number of quarterbacks, including Johnny Football. This has naturally excited the Rams online fan community, some of whom support the move, and others who do not. I, for one, have my doubts about this…not just as a good move for the Rams, but even whether it is a convincing proposition in the first place.
The Heisman Trophy winner is undoubtedly an exciting prospect and is considered one of the strongest talents in this year’s quarterback class. His numbers and folk-hero status in college football are a testament to his abilities. However, some have raised concerns about the possibility of these talents transferring successfully to the faster professional game. These have centered around off-the-field distractions, limited anticipation, and a tendency to improvise dangerously. These are significant concerns for teams who might be hoping to avoid the risk of Manziel following the footsteps of a similar cult figure from recent college football history: Tim Tebow. While a number of analysts see Manziel being drafted early by a quarterback-hungry team – including even by Houston as the first overall pick – some even see him slip out of the first round entirely. There is considerable uncertainty here, raising doubts as to whether a team with specific needs would risk delaying a rebuilding plan by taking a punt on a new signal-caller.
But here, perhaps, is the main rub: the Rams already have a starting quarterback. Yes, he might not be an elite quarterback, or even, at times, a good one. But he is not a bad one either, and the Rams have already publically committed themselves to Sam Bradford as next year’s starter, as I feel they should do. Drafting Manziel – or any high-profile quarterback for that matter – would effectively bring an end to the Sam Bradford experiment (“Hooray!”, some might say”) as I do not feel that Number Eight would respond positively to such a public display of a lack of confidence in him. Some argue that Bradford could then become a valuable bargaining chip, but this would be a risky move for a franchise that cannot afford one. Rams fans know what they have in Sam and of what he is capable; as regards Manziel, we know next to nothing.
The Manziel-to-St Louis scenario is, therefore, likely to be a result of a combination of smokescreening by the Rams (perhaps in an attempt to make the second pick more valuable to potential trade partners) and over-thinking by bored and antsy experts. Sure, the Rams will probably draft a quarterback, but this is likely to be a mid-round prospect who could serve as a viable backup and could even turn out to be a starter (Russell Wilson, anyone?). But they are unlikely to mortgage the franchise’s future on a whim. Instead, they should, perhaps for one final year, build around the quarterback they already have and hope for the best.
Now watch the Rams draft Manziel…