published Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Greeson: NFL draft choice: Go for fence or play safe

The future of the NFL will be changed Thursday. Don't know if it's good or bad for any particular team, but it will be different.

The draft -- pushed back into May to make sure the league has a viable talking point in almost every month of the year -- is filled with question marks and puzzles. Teams pay big money to craft their best guesses about the best prospects that best fit their needs.

Those guesses are fraught with peril, and misses cost millionaire executives their jobs and billionaire owners eight-figure investments.

So general managers are faced with the choice of swinging for a game-changer who could cost them their jobs or trying to gauge the safest pick who could modestly help the team but not improve the state of the franchise enough to keep their jobs later rather than sooner. Understandably, more often than not, GMs eschew the risky pick. You land a starter, great. You miss on a first-round quarterback, well, brush up that resume, Buttercup, because the ax soon will be falling.

In truth, there's a hard argument that swinging and missing on a first-round quarterback is more damaging to a franchise than not having a quarterback of the future.

Look at the Tennessee Titans, who spent a first-round pick on Jake Locker this time three years ago. Locker has battled injury and showed enough flashes to make you think he could be the guy. But "could be the guy" is just enough to get you beat. "Could be the guy" makes everyone wonder if he has enough help. "Could be the guy" makes teams spin their wheels until answers are apparent. "Could be the guy" clips coaches' careers when the answers become evident.

So it goes that the Titans are standing with the No. 11 pick in round one, floundering in an NFL sea that is filled with franchises dog-paddling along while being dogged by a longing for quarterback stability.

With that, the questions about the top quarterbacks in this draft class have been hashed and rehashed more than anything this side of the potatoes at Waffle House.

Johnny Manziel's strengths as a playmaker and a potential face of a franchise are immediately balanced with his sub-6-foot stature and the off-the-field issues that have been overblown by a 24/7 news cycle and the hype of SEC football.

Blake Bortles' prototypical size and measurables are quickly linked to his questionable performance against a subpar schedule and the fact his own college coach said he does not feel Bortles is a franchise quarterback.

Heck, Derek Carr is answering questions about whether his brother's struggles in the NFL will affect his potential production.

Good grief -- and yes, much of this is having an extra three weeks to debate the pluses and minuses of these guys. But the fact remains that regardless the amount of debate, change is coming.

Who swings for the fences with Manziel, the former Heisman winner with the superstar ceiling?

There are as many as five teams among the first eight that have serious questions at quarterback. Two of them -- the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 and the Oakland Raiders at No. 5 -- have been permanetly marred by first-round quarterback busts in recent years.

Oakland picked Jamarcus Russell No. 1 overall in 2007, and that's become the face of bad NFL picks considering Russell is out of football and among the players drafted behind him were the best receiver (Calvin Johnson), running back (Adrian Peterson), middle linebacker (Patrick Willis) and cornerback (Darrelle Revis).

The Browns' last three first-round quarterback picks were Brandon Weeden (2012), Brady Quinn (2007) and Tim Couch (1999). Ouchstanding.

Minnesota and Jacksonville also recently have been burned with first-round quarterback busts Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert.

So who knows where Johnny Football may bounce or where Bortles will be opened. In fact, spending a top-10 pick on a quarterback has hardly been a recipe for success considering the last two quarterbacks selected among the first 10 picks to lead the teams that drafted them to a Super Bowl victory are Peyton Manning, who went No. 1 overall in 1998, and Trent Dilfer, who went sixth in 1994. Eli Manning, you may remember, actually was drafted by the Chargers in 2004 and then traded to the Giants.

Here's hoping, though, that if the Titans have a chance at No. 11, they should snap up Manziel. Forget finding a starter: He has the potential to be a star.

Plus, I've always preferred swinging and missing than leaving the bat on your shoulder.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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