There are several questions concerning the future of the Arizona Cardinals, who are coming off an entirely forgettable 5-11 season.
But there are two things we know: one, they have the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft this April and two, they need a quarterback. Badly.
Conventional thinking says "hey, the Cardinals should draft a quarterback in the first round -- they've got a need there and there are a lot of quarterbacks in this year's class."
This is true, at least the part about the abundance of quarterbacks in the class. There's West Virginia's Geno Smith, whom is considered by most to be the best prospect of this year's signal-calling crop. There's Matt Barkley of USC, the closest thing this group has to a household name entering the draft. Others include Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, Mike Glennon of North Carolina State and EJ Manuel of Florida State.
I know I'm not alone in recognizing the aching need the Cardinals have to get a quarterback that can solidify the position for years to come, but let me be vocal in my suggestion to the team. DON'T PICK ANY OF THESE GUYS!
There is so much discussion in football circles in what makes a pro quarterback elite. Is it their statistics? Is it their win-loss record or how many Super Bowl rings they have? Everyone seems to have their own definition -- thus all the discussion -- but certainly the above ingredients play a huge part in an individual's ruling.
For argument's sake, here's who I consider "elite" at the QB position:
• Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
• Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
• Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
• Tom Brady, New England Patriots
• Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
• Eli Manning, New York Giants
And there's another group of quarterbacks who are well on their way to being "elite" in the future:
• Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
• Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
• Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
• Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
• Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
There is one thing that all of the above quarterbacks has in common: they all excelled at the college level. They all did special things on the football field during games as collegians. Not all of them were first round, blue chip prospects coming into the NFL, but they were all "special".
Aaron Rodgers, while playing under the radar at Cal, led the Golden Bears to a 10-2 record in his junior season, threw 43 touchdown passes against only 13 picks in two seasons and finished ninth in the 2004 Heisman voting.
Peyton Manning finished his college career at Tennessee with a 40-9 record, was a consensus All-American in 1997 and finished in the top eight in the Heisman voting three times.
Brees? He finished in the Heisman top four twice and threw for over 11,000 yards and 88 touchdowns in three seasons at Purdue.
Ben Roethlisberger put up huge numbers at Miami of Ohio, throwing for 84 touchdowns and only 34 picks in three seasons, leading the team to a 13-1 record and a final ranking of 10th in the 2003 AP Poll.
Eli Manning threw 84 touchdown passes and only 35 picks in three years as a starter at Mississippi while finishing third in the Heisman voting in his senior season.
Russell Wilson led the nation in passer rating as a senior at Wisconsin with an almost unheard of mark of 191.8. He threw 33 touchdown passes and only four picks while completing an obscene 72.8 percent of his passes.
Colin Kaepernick threw for over 10,000 yards with 82 touchdowns and only 24 picks while also running for over 4,000 in four years at Nevada.
Joe Flacco, even though it was at Division I-AA Delaware, threw for 4,263 yards while leading the Blue Hens to the 2007 FCS Championship Game.
I don't need to mention the collegiate accolades of Luck and RGIII, do I?
You're probably thinking "what about Tom Brady? He wasn't so special in college." There's some truth to that, but despite not putting up "special" numbers, Michigan went 20-5 in Brady's two years as the starter. Plus, his touchdown-to-interception ratio in 1999 was a very respectable 20-to-6. But Brady's really the exception. Hell, he's the ultimate exception -- future sixth round picks who show up at the NFL Scouting Combine completely devoid of muscle tone don't go on to win three Super Bowls and marry supermodels -- so throw him out.
Now let's focus on this year's class.
Geno Smith put up gaudy numbers for West Virginia, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio was an eye popping 42-to-6, but Smith wasn't able to carry the Mountaineers to more than a 7-6 record as a senior. Many picked Smith as an overwhelming favorite to win the 2012 Heisman, he sputtered in the second half of the season and didn't finish in the top ten.
Ryan Nassib, who one NFL Draft expert surprisingly has rated as the best overall player in the draft, had very average numbers for a very average eight-win Syracuse team.
Mike Glennon threw 62 touchdowns for North Carolina State over the last two years, but also threw 29 picks, including an NCAA-worst 17 as a senior in 2012. The Wolfpack were a ho-hum 15-11 in the ho-hum ACC with Glennon as a starter.
Tyler Wilson of Arkansas went back to school for his senior season and saw his production decrease for a 4-8 Razorbacks team that fell off the national stage under one-year stop-gap "head coach" John L. Smith.
The only candidate in this year's class who did anything resembling "special" in college was Barkley. As a junior at USC, Barkley threw 39 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions for a Trojans squad that had been slapped with sanctions and had really nothing to play for. But as a senior, Barkley took a big step back for a team that was picked by many to win the BCS Championship and instead went 7-6. Yes, having Lane Kiffin as a head coach is a lot to overcome, but come on.
And if the Cardinals were to pick another quarterback named Matt from USC who stunted his own draft stock by going back to college for his senior season, Big Red fans might stage a full-on mutiny.
If the temptation is there for the Cardinals to select a QB with their first round pick, recent history will prove my "don't pick anybody who wasn't special in college" theory. Go back to 2011 when the Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker at #8) , Jacksonville Jaguars (Blaine Gabbert at #10) and Minnesota Vikings (Christian Ponder at #12) all reached for quarterbacks in the first round. Two years later, none of those teams is convinced that they have their quarterback of the future. Two are drafting in the top ten again and the Vikings aren't only because of a Herculean season by running back Adrian Peterson.
The Cardinals, with new head coach Bruce Arians at the helm, need to "settle" for a quarterback who can manage a game and take care of the football in 2013. Rely on your strength -- the defense. We all saw a four-game preview of what that looks like in 2012 when Kevin Kolb did just enough (and I mean just enough) to guide the Cardinals to a 4-0 record before the wheels fell off the wagon.
Resist the temptation and look for your franchise quarterback in the future. You'll be better off for it.