Make no mistake, the NFL draft has officially gone wacky. With the upcoming announcement that Peyton Manning will be released and become a free agent, the Indianapolis Colts have managed to create a bidding war for one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the NFL. This, in and of itself, will most likely shake up the draft: if one of the several franchises who need serious QB help does manage to nab Manning (and assuming they’re in the top 8 franchises in the order), this would potentially create less of a market for Ryan Tannehill -- then again, it might make more of a demand from him for a team under the Panthers who might take a shot at trading up to try and get Tannehill if they fear another team may snatch him up.
However, I suspect this is only the beginning. I think more draft shake-ups are coming, even though now it might be limited to the top five picks in the draft. Still, I’m going to make a bold prediction, complete with Roger Goodell impression:
With the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts take Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor University.
What would possess me to make such a prediction? We’ll see, after the jump...
James Dator’s piece on Russ Lande shaking up the top 100 draft picks notwithstanding, I’ve actually been giving this scenario some thought for a while now -- since at least before the Combine, I might add, so this is not being swayed any by RGIII’s measurables. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me, at least in my mind. So, let’s take a look at why.
The Colts have been loudly saying that Luck is their #1 pick. Sure, there’s been talk about doing their due diligence and all, but the Colts have pretty much been shouting from the mountaintops that Luck is the heir-apparent to Peyton Manning. Even sources inside the organization have been quoted as saying, “Luck is The Guy.” Yet, the eye-test of the Colts franchise doesn’t pass the test for all the talk about Luck.
It’s widely believed Jeff Saturday will retire from the NFL. This is pretty much an unmitigated disaster for the Colts, because their offensive line leaks like a sieve, and Saturday was really the only anchor they had. Add to this the fact that a lot of people think Reggie Wayne may follow Peyton to wherever he lands, and you’re down to a Colts offense who has only one aging weapon in Dallas Clark (he’ll be 33 in June). Granted, Irsay can try and build up the offense once again around Luck, but I don’t see that happening, even with the cap room he’s saving by cutting Manning loose -- especially not with a defense as porous as the Colts have been.
Andrew Luck, if he should land to the Colts, had best be prepared for at least three years of less-than-spectacular performances from the Colts franchise before they finally move back into the spotlight once again. Just the problems with the offensive line alone are proof of that. Luck’s time with what is admittedly an excellent Stanford offensive line is a dream he’ll wish he had, should he wake up to the nightmare that is the Colts’ offensive line -- he’ll have no protection to speak of, compared to what he’s been coddled with in Stanford.
Enter Robert Griffin III. With scouts and the talking heads lauding him as comparing favorably to Michael Vick (if not our own Cam Newton), RGIII is being seen as the best chance for a new beginning for a NFL team seeking their franchise quarterback. For all of the talk the Colts have spouted about Luck being the natural choice, I disagree with that assessment, and my reasoning behind why RGIII should be the natural choice for the Colts is in his own brand of athleticism.
Luck isn’t exactly adept at extending the play, especially on his feet. RGIII can extend those plays, which means the offensive line won’t have to be upgraded as significantly right off the bat aside from finding at least a decent center to replace Jeff Saturday. It would mean RGIII would have to be more like Atlanta Falcons-era Michael Vick and be more of a scrambler, but he has the speed to make that work. With a decent-to-good free agency signing (like Marques Colston from the Saints, or Vincent Jackson from the Chargers), RGIII will have some offensive weapons to utilize in addition to his scrambling ability.
Better yet, taking RGIII would allow Irsay and the Colts to finally start addressing the defensive side of the ball. Under Polian and Manning, the focus has been all about offense, and it did work so long as Manning was in the mix, making the calls at the line of scrimmage and then making the plays -- and we all saw what happened when Manning suddenly wasn’t able to play for the entire 2011 season. Irsay and the Colts can focus more on defense in the draft and in free agency with the savings from Manning’s cap space, and right the course back to a more balanced football team that won’t have to try and shoot out the competition on a weekly basis.
As it is, the more I hear the Colts saying “Luck”, the more I think of another word: smokescreen. I just don’t see Luck being able to revitalize the Colts franchise the way their fanbase would want. After this last season, I can imagine the Colts will want instant results, and rebuilding the franchise around Luck is going to be at least a three-year project to upgrade both the offense and defense to where it needs to be before Luck will be able to lead them back to greatness. I believe RGIII will give them a bit of a jump on that -- it’ll still take time to rebuild the franchise after the mess Bill and Chris Polian made of it, but it will give the Colts fans something to whet their appetite.