Stock Tips: Week 13
The NFL has a passer problem.
Not a passing problem, but a passer problem. There's no shortage of guys flinging the ball around the NFL these days; there's just a shortage of guys who can do it at the highest level at the game's highest level.
At the moment, only one of the four truly elite quarterbacks in the league is under 30. That number will be zero once Aaron Rodgers enters his next decade next Monday.
The league is littered with young quarterbacks who came from college systems that made passing success too easy for them. College offenses spread the field to expose matchup advantages that don't happen as regularly in the NFL (you don't find as many 19-year-olds isolated on a receiver in the NFL). Quarterbacks rarely have to make a post-snap read to determine where to go with the football; they've made their decision in pre-snap.
Athletic college quarterbacks attack those overstretched defenses as much with their legs as their arms. Unless they're built like Cam Newton, that is not a healthy approach to playing the position against NFL defenses. The more you run, the more hits you expose yourself to taking. Ask Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick or Terrelle Pryor how that approach is working out for them.
The 2014 draft is far deeper with quarterback prospects than the 2013 draft was, but there aren't nearly enough quarterbacks ready to come into the league and contribute immediately. Teddy Bridgewater could be a starter Day 1. The way Zach Mettenberger has developed, he could be another. The next best bet may be Derek Carr. But that's about it.
That's not nearly the supply needed to match the desperate demand.
No less than one-fourth of the league could use the draft to upgrade at quarterback: Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Oakland, St. Louis, Tennessee and the New York Jets. That doesn't count Tampa Bay, which may also be in the market if there's a coaching change (a move becoming increasingly unlikely). And it doesn't count teams that really should begin looking for their quarterbacks of the future (Arizona, Chicago, Denver, New England).
For too many teams, there is no immediate help coming in the draft. In truth, there rarely is. But there is a way to offset the disadvantage a lot of teams have at the quarterback position.
Bring back the back.
It will be far easier to find running backs who can make an immediate impact, as Gio Bernard and Eddie Lacy and Le'Veon Bell and Zac Stacy have done this year, and Alfred Morris and Doug Martin did in 2012. The 2014 draft will add a few more to the mix.
Just look at what Lache Seastrunk has done at Baylor if you want to glimpse the future of the NFL.
Nobody spreads out the defense more effectively than Baylor. And a big factor in their success has been the presence of Seastrunk, who has the toughness to make the first guy miss and the speed to eat up chunks of yardage in the open field.
NFL defenses have been getting smaller and faster ever since the advent of the Tampa 2. You want to beat those defenses? Hand the ball off to a back like Seastrunk or Ka'Deem Carey, like Arizona did 48 times against Oregon, and pound away at them.
Carey showed again Saturday why he's the most complete back in the draft. He lacks the breakaway gear that makes Seastrunk so dangerous. But he has the speed to get to the edge, the strength to break tackles at the point of attack (as he showed on the first two of his four touchdowns against the Ducks), and the agility to make cuts at full-speed in the second level. Carey's not going to break off the 80-yard runs that Seastrunk occasionally will, but he'll contribute a ton of 15-yard runs that move the chains.
And the best part is that Carey will stay on the field. At 5-foot-10, 207 pounds, he's stout enough to contribute in pass protection at the pro level; he's done it enough in college to prove both a willingness and a knack for doing it. Plus, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's not the receiver De'Anthony Thomas (six catches, 74 yards vs. Arizona) is, but Carey has a dimension that neither Seastrunk nor Melvin Gordon does.
You want to know what the next step is in the evolution of NFL offense? It's running the football from spread sets. It's handing the ball to guys like Carey and James White (26-125-1 against Minnesota) and Andre Williams (897 yards rushing in his last three games).
Then in 2015, there will be an influx of top-tier running back talent unseen in a decade: Gordon (if he stays at Wisconsin), Todd Gurley, Duke Johnson, Mike Davis, Jeremy Hill, T.J. Yeldon.
The NFL is doing everything it can to protect its quarterbacks, from offensive schemes to overzealous penalties. The pocket, believe it or not, remains the safest place for them to be. Especially against a defense stretched to protect against the pass all over the field.
And even more so when teams return to a commitment to running the football. You force defenses to have to truly respect the threat of a run -- in passing situations and out of apparent pass formations and personnel packages -- and you've done something significant to support and protect your quarterback.