Luck of the QB draw
Panthers benefit from Clausen's fall; Raiders add quality at a cheap price
As hard as it is to get good quarterbacks these days, this year's draft illustrated that sometimes it's just a matter of being lucky.
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Before the draft, the Washington Redskins made the most significant offseason move, getting Donovan McNabb from the Philadelphia Eagles. Owner Dan Snyder now has the best quarterback he's had since buying the Redskins. But how about these moves: Jimmy Clausen to the Carolina Panthers (a second-round choice) and Jason Campbell to the Oakland Raiders for virtually nothing?
The Panthers and Raiders could end up being good just by being lucky.
As agonizing as it was for Clausen to drop to pick No. 48 and lose out on more than $40 million in the process, he ends up in a great situation in Carolina. Coach John Fox thrives on running the ball, and a running team makes it easy for a rookie quarterback to get in the lineup and learn. In the past two years, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez all made the playoffs as rookies on running teams.
The plan at the moment is for Matt Moore to start, but Clausen has been billed as the most NFL-ready quarterback because Charlie Weis ran an NFL-type offense at Notre Dame. Clausen doesn't have to live up to expectations. He just has to win a job.
Campbell went to the Raiders for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2012, which is a small price to pay for a quarterback with Campbell's starting experience. Getting Campbell could put the Raiders in the seven- or eight-win category.
From the inbox
Q: Given the draft the Lions just had, is it too much to expect 8-8 out of them this year? Of course this is dependent on the rookies panning out, but it seems like they drafted guys who have very little potential to become busts.
Gary in Middlebury, Ind.
A: That might be a little much, but the Lions are clearly on the right path. They have firmed up the defensive line, but the secondary still has major holes and the linebacking corps became thinner with the trade of Ernie Sims to Philadelphia. I'd put them more at the six- or seven-win level. The key for the franchise is the development of Matthew Stafford. He has more weapons to throw to with Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler coming in to spread the field more. Jahvid Best should add explosiveness to the offense. Next year's draft could be the key to finally getting the Lions over the top. At least, there is hope and a plan.
Eddie in Clarksdale, Mich., even though Alex Smith might just be a middle-of-the-league quarterback, I do think the 49ers have a chance to be in the playoffs. Part of it is being in an easy division. But the other part is they made a commitment in the draft to improve the offensive line, getting Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. They have a good defense and a good running game. Charlie in Orlando, Fla., thinks Ben Roethlisberger should have three strikes against him instead of two because the motorcycle accident should be included with the two off-the-field assault accusations. The Steelers still consider the motorcycle incident just an accident. Brian in Bath, N.Y., wanted to remind critical Packers fans that general manager Ted Thompson will sign a free agent if it makes sense. Brian is correct in noting Thompson signed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett when he first got to Green Bay. But Thompson's strategy is to build through the draft, not free agency, and that's not going to change anytime soon. Scott in Pueblo, Colo., wonders if cap numbers are still calculated the same way during this uncapped year. There is no change in the accounting principles. Teams don't receive a leaguewide cap sheet, but if the cap comes back, the accounting hasn't changed and those numbers are in the NFL system. To Daniel in Louisiana, now that the draft is over, the Darren Sharper story moves to the forefront in New Orleans. The Saints want him back and he wants to return, but they are prepared to move Malcolm Jenkins to safety if Sharper leaves. Don't be surprised if the Redskins make a run at him. Ryan in Fresno, Calif., there is no way the 49ers should consider trading Frank Gore. He's been too good for too long for them to just get rid of him for draft choices. First, running backs don't get great value in trades. Second, he is the heart of a team that wants to run the football. Stephen Z. in San Antonio asks if player conduct is a bigger problem in the NFL than the other sports. The only thing I know is that the NFL has more than 1,500 players on rosters, so odds say more pro football names will be in the headlines for offseason mistakes than names from the other sports. In all sports, players are going to mess up.
Q: I really don't get why Denver jumped up to No. 22 in the first round. Did they really think Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant wouldn't be available when they picked at No. 25? They could have grabbed either at No. 25 and traded to the top of Round 2 to grab Tim Tebow, who likely would have been around. If not Tebow, then Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy. There is no way, regardless of what happens with Tebow's career, this move can be considered anything more than a brain cramp by the Broncos. Thoughts?
Shane in Los Angeles
A: Although I didn't like the Tim Tebow selection for them in the first round, the Broncos probably had no choice but to move into the lower first round to get a wide receiver. Bryant wouldn't have been the right fit for the Broncos because of his work ethic. Bryant should do great for the Cowboys in time. Brandon Marshall was a headache for Josh McDaniels, so it wouldn't be logical to take Bryant if McDaniels had questions about his work ethic. Thomas was probably going to go to Baltimore at No. 25, and the Broncos had to fear St. Louis or Tampa Bay moving up to take a wide receiver. Thomas was a character choice for the Broncos.
Q: I have a question regarding 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. I keep reading how certain players (such as Albert Haynesworth) cannot adapt or do not wish to adapt from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Why is it hard to switch? And why can't a defense be both 4-3 and 3-4 depending on the situation? Is it harder than just substituting players between plays?
Biff in San Francisco
A: In the 4-3 system, the defensive linemen are usually asked to protect one gap, giving them the ability to defeat one blocker and rush into the backfield to get the quarterback or the running back. Linemen love that because they get sacks and tackles. In the 3-4, the system is designed for the linebackers to have all of the glory. The defensive linemen in the 3-4 have to cover two gaps, forcing them to wrestle with blockers at the line of scrimmage and not be involved in many plays. Haynesworth has thrived in the one-gap system. He felt as though he couldn't get more than two or three sacks in the 3-4, and that's not what he signed up for when he came to the Redskins.
Q: Do you think Reggie Nelson could end up on the Eagles in a trade?
Birdaretheword in Hershey, Pa.
A: For the Eagles to be wiling to accept Nelson, the Jaguars would have to give him away. Nelson just never seemed to connect with the Jaguars' defense. He has had good coaching in Jacksonville, so if it didn't work out there, what would make you think it would work in Philadelphia? For the Eagles to consider Nelson, they'd have to able to get him for a sixth-round pick and just bring him to camp to compete for a backup job. I don't see that happening.
Ry in New Orleans
A: That is correct. The Jets would have to lose another unrestricted free agent to bring in a Mark Brunell or a Sharper. The Jets have done more than any of the other final four teams by making trades for cornerback Antonio Cromartie and WR Santonio Holmes. They added safety Brodney Pool, RB LaDainian Tomlinson and Taylor. Some might argue the Jets did too much. It's not certain they are better at running back with Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight and Tomlinson than they were with Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Greene. Are they better at guard with Vladimir Ducasse replacing Alan Faneca? They made major steps forward, but I think they took a step or two backward in the process.
Q: Why does Minnesota do nothing in free agency? It seems the Vikings think they can win the Super Bowl with what they have. What do you think?
Vikes Fan in Minnesota
A: There wasn't anything out there that could make the Vikings that much better. Because they lost Chester Taylor and Artis Hicks, they had the chance to add a couple of unrestricted free agents, but the signing of CB Lito Sheppard has really been their only notable move. They clearly didn't like the backup running back options, so they traded up in the second round to get Toby Gerhart. They were set at wide receiver and along the defensive line. As long as Brett Favre comes back, they are fine by not doing much in free agency.
Q: My question is not that Sam Bradford will be a bust, but why am I the only one seeing this? History shows the Sooners have NEVER had a starting quarterback in the NFL. Bradford played one good season behind a great college O-line, he's soft-spoken and fragile.
David in Fort Collins, Colo.
A: The league and the Rams hope you are wrong. What I like about him is that he's smart, accurate and a decent athlete. The Rams had no choice but to take him. Taking a defensive tackle wouldn't have done anything to significantly improve that team. You win in this league with quarterbacks. Think about it for a second. They drafted Chris Long and Adam Carriker in the first round. Where did that get them?
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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