Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger was at a community appearance on Thursday morning at Harvard Elementary School. As these normally appearances go, Swearinger spent a few minutes talking to the media about football, the Texans, and the state of the union in D.J.'s world.
With Swearinger one season removed from patrolling the secondary for the South Carolina Gamecocks, naturally, the conversation steered toward Swearinger's opinion on his former teammate and top draft prospect, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Not surprisingly, Swearinger was effusive in his praise for the 270 pound beast:
"Just having them two [Clowney and J.J. Watt] down on the D-line, it'd be unstoppable. I'd just be yelling out, 'Interception. Interception.' That's it. It's just another J.J. Watt, but two-tenths (of a second) faster. ... He has a heart for the game, he loves the game and you can't pass that up, if you ask me."
Now, Swearinger's espousing a big board with Clowney's name at the top is understandable -- Clowney's a former teammate, D.J. is a current defensive player, he's swept up in the euphoria of the potential havoc a Watt/Clowney duo could wreak. I get all that.
Now, the rest of you who are touting the "draft Clowney" viewpoint don't get off so easy, and let me say right now that D.J. Swearinger will be the last person to bring up Clowney's name as a potential #1/#1 for the Texans that doesn't get slapped with my new rule, and it goes like this:
If you propose the Texans draft Jadeveon Clowney with the number one overall pick, you must, in your next sentence, outline very clearly what your plan is for the quarterback position next season.
The Texans have issues everywhere on this team, that's understood. Holes in the offensive line, a total lack of any pass rush from people not named "Watt," an inability to force turnovers, special teams issues. I mean, you don't go from 12-4 to 2-14 without having more holes than Sonny Corleone's rotted corpse laid out on the causeway.
But in this day and age in the NFL, it begins and ends with quarterback play, and the statistics prove out that there is no higher percentage way to find a franchise quarterback than using the number one overall pick to select one. Of the eight quarterbacks in the divisional round this past season, three were former number one overall picks (Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck).
Of the 12 quarterbacks selected number one overall since Peyton Manning's draft in 1998, six have gone on to become what I would categorize as "franchise" guys -- Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Matt Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck. (On Stafford, I'll admit the jury is still out, but I think easily two thirds of the league would trade their guy for him. Hell, even former #1/#1's Carson Palmer and Alex Smith have both had some success and could win games in the right team situations. Hell, they have won games in the right situations.) Yes, Clowney-holic, there are quarterbacks who have been successful, won Super Bowls even, who weren't even first round picks, let alone the first selection overall. Kaepernick, Brees, Wilson, Brady I've heard the names. But if your rationale is to bring up the successful examples of unconventional means without bringing up the graveyard full of total failures in the same sample space, then I can't listen to you.
(Hint: Russell Wilson is literally the only third round pick at quarterback who comes close to qualifying as a franchise quarterback in the last 16 drafts. Maybe more, I just didn't feel the need to go back any further than 1998. Tom Brady, 6th round, same thing.)
It's akin to saying that you're setting out to become rich, and then concocting a business plan built around winning the lottery. Hey, other people have won the lottery before! So can I!
As best I can tell the "draft Clowney" crowd falls into one (or both) of two buckets:
1. Can you imagine Clowney and Watt and how unstoppable that combo would be?!? Yes, I can absolutely imagine it. It would be an awesome display to watch each week. Two superheroes destroying offensive tackles league wide....and the Texans playing in a bunch of ugly 13-9 games and finishing 6-10 instead of 2-14. Gee, awesome. Hey look, just because something sounds great doesn't mean it's the best solution. I believe my colleague Nick Wright put it best on a recent appearance on Sports Talk Live on Comcast Sports Net -- he basically said drafting something other than a quarterback is like putting in a really nice home theater when your house is missing a roof. That nails it. The Texans had the best defensive football player on the planet and finished 2-14 last season. What's the floor for the team with the best quarterback? 9-7? At worst?
2. Clowney is clearly the best player, because none of these quarterbacks is Andrew Luck. No, they're not, but if you're going to forego plans at the most important individual position in team sports because of who the prospects are not, then welcome to decades worth of futility. Franchise quarterbacks come in many different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. So what if none of these quarterbacks are Andrew Luck? Guess what, this is the draft class you're picking from, Texan Fan. Worry about what these guys are, not who they are not. (And oh by the way, how about Andrew Luck win a road playoff game before we anoint him as some sort of unattainable gold standard for every quarterback prospect for the next ten drafts? Luck is good, he's very good. So is someone, at least one, in this draft.)
The Texans' quarterback play, save about the first three weeks of the Case Keenum Experience, was truly punchline level horrific this season. The team needs a new quarterback, a new face, a new leader. Bob McNair thinks this team is much more talented than its 2013 record (I disagree, I would say "slightly" not "much," but that's another argument for another time.), and I can tell him that the only way the only way they make the great leap forward back into playoff contention is with drastically improved quarterback play.
The house needs a new roof, and the only available solution for that ailment is to hit the jackpot in the draft, and the undeniable best odds on hitting said jackpot is with the first overall pick. Manziel, Bridgewater, Bortles -- one of these guys (maybe more) is "that guy."
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SHOW ME HOW
Scout them up, evaluate, and pick one. This is why you brought in a quarterback guru as a head coach, Bob.
So, back to you, Clowney-holic. Draft Jadeveon, huh Sparky? Ok, would you care to tell me your plan for the quarterback position in 2014?
Yeah, I thought so.