Most undrafted free agents, statistically, are not even supposed to make practice squads, much less NFL 53-man rosters, so starting eight games is house money. That said, many in Case Keenum's contingent of fans, especially those with a U of H logo in their Twitter avatars, expected and promised more than an 0-8 record in eight starts from college football's all-time passing yardage leader.
And in the face of doubters, Keenum gave it to them. He went on to become a part-time starter for the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams in 2015 and 2016, and from there, became one of the great stories of 2017, leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game, a playoff run that even had a signature, Keenum-fueled moment:
The Vikings went on to lose 38-7 in the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, but Keenum wound up cashing in on his 11-3 record as a starter in 2017, signing a two year, $36 million ($25 million guaranteed) with the Denver Broncos. We will see how Keenum does as the unquestioned starter coming into a season for the first time in his career (the Broncos had the No. 5 pick in the draft and DIDN'T take a quarterback), but my radio colleague, former NFL stalwart Alfred Williams on 104.3 The Fan in Denver, got me thinking about Keenum's overall body of work versus his 2012 draft class contemporaries.
Williams' opinion is that if you did a re-draft of 2012, knowing what we know now, Keenum would be the first overall pick. Williams cited the NFL's becoming more friendly to smaller, system-centric quarterbacks over the last six seasons — Baker Mayfield, No. 1 overall pick, for example — as a reason why Keenum would be so highly sought after.
I disagree with Williams' declaration that Keenum would be No. 1 overall — gotta be a healthy Andrew Luck, still, or Russell Wilson, right? — but agree with the premise that the league completely whiffed on Keenum as a prospect, allowing him to go completely undrafted through seven rounds of the draft. For reference purposes, here are the 11 quarterbacks that WERE selected in the 2012 draft:
1/1.ANDREW LUCK, IND (Stanford)
1/2. ROBERT GRIFFIN III, WAS (Baylor)
1/8. RYAN TANNEHILL, MIA (Texas A&M)
1/22. BRANDON WEEDEN, CLE (Oklahoma St.)
2/57. BROCK OSWEILER, DEN (Arizona St.)
3/75. RUSSELL WILSON, SEA (Wisconsin)
3/88. NICK FOLES, PHI (Arizona)
4/102. KIRK COUSINS, WAS (Michigan St.)
6/185. RYAN LINDLEY, ARI (San Diego St.)
7/243. B.J. COLEMAN, GNB (Tenn-Chattanooga)
7/253. CHANDLER HARNISH, IND (Northern Illinois)
Honestly, if they could do a "30 for 30" on the 1983 draft class, I think they could at least do a short "30 for 30" on this one. Start at the top. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III both looked like the absolute truth after their rookie years, and Luck looked like a top five quarterback for the next decade after three years. Griffin was the Rookie of the Year in 2012.
Now, look at both of them — Luck is an injury-riddled mystery going forward with the Colts, and Griffin is barely hanging on as a backup in Baltimore. Tannehill has been just as injury-riddled as Luck and Griffin, and Weeden is now Deshaun Watson's backup. Those are the FIRST ROUNDERS.
Now, consider that, despite the failure of that first round class, and with Brock Osweiler (QB failure personified, personal wealth notwithstanding) as the only second round pick, this class still has two Super Bowl winners (Wilson, Foles, third round picks), a Super Bowl MVP (Foles, of all people), and the QB who cracked the "fully guaranteed contract" barrier (Kirk Cousins, fourth round pick). It's really remarkable.
So, getting back to Keenum, where would he go in a re-draft of this 2012 class? Personally, I think there are two ways to look at this. The first way is "Knowing what we know about Case Keenum's (and everyone else's ability in that class) to adapt to the NFL game, and considering still, his limitations, where would Case go if we could back to draft weekend 2012?"
The 2012 draft class isn't stacked like 2011s or 2014s, but it's pretty damn good. I think Luck still goes No. 1 in a re-draft, and the Colts, with the benefit of hindsight, would make a point to not get him murdered (oh, and a point to never, ever hire Ryan Grigson). I think Wilson would be in the top five, for sure, and Cousins becomes an easy first rounder. I think it's safe to say that Keenum would be, worst case, a second day (rounds two and three) pick, and probably early in the second day. As a ceiling, I see Case as a Teddy Bridgewater situation, where a team might trade into the back end of the first round to take him.
The second way that I look at this is more of a current day outlook — in other words, if the league decided to make all of the 2012 draft class free agents on, say, June 1, 2018, and the league could have a draft of JUST those players, then where would Case Keenum be drafted? This is essentially a way to determine which of the 2012 draftees hold the most current value right TODAY. This diminishes the value of guys who are injured (Luck) or guys who have had six seasons of football wither their value away (Doug Martin comes to mind, but also guys like Luke Kuechly, who are good players with clear injury issues).
I say, given the importance of the quarterback position and Case's relative health and recent performance, he would be, at worst, the third quarterback taken behind Wilson and Cousins (yes, ahead of Foles, I don't trust Foles), and I think overall, he'd be in the top ten or 12 players taken. ("No brainer", non-QB top 12 players include, in no particular order — Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, Chandler Jones, Fletcher Cox, T.Y. Hilton, and Harrison Smith. Crazy to think that the Texans might have drafted two of the guys in the top 15 or 20 of this exercise, with Whitney Mercilus and Brandon Brooks.)
Overall, this is nothing but great news for Case Keenum fans, and if you're wondering just how inexact this NFL player evaluation science is, remember, Brock Osweiler was taken ahead of Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and, yes, Case Keenum.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.