Jimmy Clausen in the NFL Draft
by Trevor Whenham - 4/16/2010
It's only fair since I am writing an article about Jimmy Clausen and his NFL Draft prospects to be up front about one thing - I am the furthest thing from a Jimmy Clausen fan. I'm underwhelmed by his arm, I think he crumbles under pressure, and I think that he's obnoxiously cocky. He's every bit the product of being developed under Charlie Weis, and that's the furthest thing from a compliment in my eyes. And he played for freaking Notre Dame. All that being said, Clausen is one of the more intriguing players in the draft this year because of the drama and uncertainty surrounding him. To evaluate him there are two questions to ask - where is he going to land, how good is he going to be? Let's look at each in turn:
Where is he going to land?
A couple of weeks ago this would have been a very easy question to answer. Clausen is unquestionably viewed as the second best quarterback in this draft. The Rams have been locked in on Sam Bradford for a long time, so that meant that Clausen would be the second quarterback off the board. Washington has the fourth pick and they needed a quarterback, so Clausen seemed destined to be a Top 4 pick. But then the Eagles lost their minds and traded Donovan McNabb inside their division to the Redskins and the draft was turned upside down. Washington isn't likely to invest in another expensive quarterback, so Clausen is on his way down. But how far?
There are other teams that need a quarterback. The problem for Clausen is that each of those teams have solutions that could work in the short term, and they have plenty of other pressing needs, so they may opt to take different players with their high picks, take another quarterback later on, and wait for another year for a franchise type player. That situation fits for Seattle with the sixth pick because though Matt Hasselbeck needs a replacement he doesn't necessarily need one tomorrow (and besides, in Pete Carroll's deluded mind he seems to think that Charlie Whitehurst is some sort of undiscovered gem). Cleveland needs a quarterback, too, but Mike Holmgren is building with patience and I'm not convinced that he'll build around a quarterback when the team needs players everywhere else as well. In his past experiences he has chosen to build his fortunes around quarterbacks who weren't A-plus talent, and he may not do the same again.
Oakland at eighth needs a quarterback badly, but they are already overpaying for one guy who definitely hasn't worked out, so they could be hesitant to do so again, and they could choose instead to pick up some help for their offensive line instead. Buffalo at nine seems to be the consensus spot for him in recent days, and it makes sense. If they aren't completely convinced by his upcoming visit, though, then they could pass and pick up a QB in the second round instead, or they could rely on their three workable solutions on the roster already for another year.
If he slips past Buffalo at ninth then he could fall like Aaron Rodgers did. After Buffalo there are few teams that need a quarterback for several picks. Seattle has a second pick at 14th that they could use to pick him, but if they pass him at sixth, which I expect that they will, then they will likely assume that picking up a QB isn't a priority, and they won't take one in 14th either. In other words, if they want Clausen then they won't risk letting someone else take him. The most likely scenario is that one of the teams we have already talked about, or another team with a QB need, will trade into the late teens or the 20s to pick him up. There's even the chance, if Clausen slips out of the Top 10, that he could fall into the second round. No matter what happens there is no doubt that Clausen will be fired up to badly beat McNabb the first time the two meet to extract revenge for the millions this potential freefall could cost.
We have one clue from the NFL that Clausen could have a rough day when the draft starts. They have invited 16 players to attend the draft - more than usual - and yet Clausen was not on that list. That doesn't mean that he won't be a Top 16 pick, but it does mean that there is a perceived chance that he could fall hard, and the league doesn't want to embarrass him if things go badly. At the very least that confirms the theory that there is an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding the player.
Is he going to be any good?
We could spend hours looking at this from a very technical level, but I'll leave that to the experts. Clausen needs to convince one of those teams from No. 6 to No. 9 that he is worthy of the investment required to take him. From my admittedly biased viewpoint I think that that will be hard to do. On his pro day Clausen performed in a way that perfectly sums up what I feel about him. He was perfectly competent, completing most of his passes effectively, but he struggled with the longer passes, and there wasn't anything he did that stood out as outstanding.
Clausen is above average in most everything he does, but there isn't one thing that stands out as exceptional. There are a number of things that sound at least mild alarms, though. He has some questions about durability, and he's dealing with the recovery from foot surgery right now. He's not a strong leader in the traditional sense, and there are questions from several critics about his work ethic and game smarts. He's certainly not the least cocky payer in the draft. His arm release is low and will need to be adjusted, and that adjustment is rarely entirely smooth. His accuracy is decent, but it's not overwhelming, and accuracy is as important as anything in the pro game.
I know that I'm being critical, but I do want to be clear that I don't think that Clausen is going to be a Ryan Leaf-type disaster. I just think that he's a lot more Rex Grossman than Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco, and I'm certain that if the Bears had it all to do over again they wouldn't have used their first round pick in 2003 on Grossman. I don't expect Clausen to be a crash-and-burn disaster. Instead, I think he'll be one of those slow and frustrating disappointments that take a few years to play out and make fans go gray before their time. If my team had the choice between picking him and picking the best player on the board I would sincerely hope that they do the latter.
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