Confession time: I pay more attention to the NFL Draft than I do to the NFL season. Sure, some of that is just out of natural curiosity to see where former Georgia players go and how well they do, but there is the occasional bit of information to glean that may have some bearing on the college game.
Along those lines, one thing you may have noticed is that after the two obvious talents in Winston and Mariota came off the board, it hasn’t exactly been the Year of the Quarterback. And maybe that says something bigger.
Not to be too dramatic, but it feels as if we are seeing the deterioration of the quarterback pipeline before our very eyes. In the past 15 years, there has only been one other occasion when fewer than four quarterbacks were drafted in the first three rounds. That came two years ago, in 2013, when every signal-caller except EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon remained on the board when the fourth round began.
It’s no secret that the spread offense has left NFL teams leery of college quarterbacks and clinging to their aging pocket passers. The average age of the top 10 quarterbacks last season, as measured by Total QBR, was 33. The 2013 and 2015 classes will do little to alleviate that imbalance, and the 2014 class — which includes Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr — can’t yet be counted on for salvation.
Once again, I’ll pass along the working theory of Steve Clarkson, one of the country’s top youth quarterback coaches. The NFL, Clarkson believes, is at a crossroads at the position. It must either find a better way to transition spread quarterbacks into pro schemes, or it will have to make a major philosophical change to account for the injuries caused when pro teams run the spread. At the NFL level, teams would probably have to rotate quarterbacks to run the spread full time.
That’s some crossroads you got there, fella.
It’s almost existential, if you think about it. If the NFL can’t figure out how to train college quarterbacks coming out of spread offenses to play the NFL game, then the NFL game will have to come to the spread quarterbacks, because that’s what the pros will have to work with. That means either a radical change in how the QB position is stocked at the NFL level, or quarterbacks being prepared differently than they are at the college level.
There’s one other possibility not mentioned: taking quarterback preparation out of the hands of college football altogether. What if the NFL doesn’t want to change and college football doesn’t want to, either? After all, as David Shaw said the other day, it’s not the business of a college head coach to develop the NFL’s players for the league. If this trend continues and neither side is willing to move, is the spread what ultimately forces the NFL’s hand on creating a developmental league?