Are We Overlooking This Year’s NFL Bridge Quarterbacks?

Are We Overlooking This Year’s NFL Bridge Quarterbacks?

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Arizona Cardinals' Sam Bradford (9) and Josh Rosen (3) watch teammates during an organized team activity Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Matt York/Associated Press

NFL franchises don’t need to sacrifice competitiveness at the altar of development.

The Chicago Bears went down this path a year ago. Mike Glennon’s signing didn’t work as planned, but the logic was sound. Glennon, who presented some potential as a starter, provided an adjustment period for Mitchell Trubisky.

As the game evolves, a disconnect exists between the collegiate and professional ranks. NFL coaches are becoming more adept at learning how to incorporate spread principles into their schemes, but the learning curve can be steep for prospects who aren’t accustomed to pro-style concepts after years of operating within simplified systems.

Taking a snap from under center as well as simple three-, five- and seven-step drops are foreign to some. While these aren’t difficult tasks, they need to be learned over time. Some rookies are better picking up on the nuances of playing the position than others.

Trubisky only started one season for the North Carolina Tar Heels before becoming the second overall pick in the 2017 draft. He needed some time, and Glennon served as the intermediary. The 6’6″ quarterback’s play didn’t keep Trubisky out of the lineup for long, as Glennon’s offense averaged 15.3 points per game through four contests.

Ideally, the 28-year-old would have made it a few more games before Trubisky entered the lineup.

The plan can and has been taken a step further this offseason.

A true bridge quarterback should be more than a placeholder. A team should be able to compete and win games in the short term while still preparing the franchise’s chosen savior for his eventual time in the spotlight.

With a competent option on the field, a team can come together and eventually provide an ideal cockpit for the next quarterback whose time will come due to performance, financial implications or future personnel movement.

The Cardinals, Bills, Browns and Jets have an opportunity to undertake this approach because each has a legitimate starting option beyond their top-10 draftees.

Arizona now features two of the game’s most natural passers in Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen. Bradford is only one year removed from setting an NFL record with a 71.6 completion percentage (which the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees broke last season).

The 2010 No. 1 overall pick accomplished this feat while playing behind an awful offensive line with little to no running game.

“I’ve stated this several times: Sam Bradford is our starter,” head coach Steve Wilks told NFL Network’s Omar Ruiz during minicamp. “We gotta go out there with 11 guys, and Sam’s going to be the first guy out there. But everybody’s fighting for a position, so I’m not going to hold [Rosen] back at all.”

Bradford is a proven commodity, and his 2016 performance indicates a top-shelf starter, as Pro Football Focus noted:

Tyrod Taylor could start the year as the Cleveland Browns' starter.

Tyrod Taylor could start the year as the Cleveland Browns’ starter.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

As well as Bradford performed during stretches, his injury history will be a deciding favor regarding playing time. Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer described his former quarterback’s knee problems as “degenerative,” and he missed 14 games last season.

“Because of the way the Cardinals are managing Sam Bradford’s healththose achy kneesit’ll open the door for Josh Rosen to get opportunities with the ones [first team],” NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reported.

“Wilks said the plan today is for Bradford to start, get a lot of working during seven-on-seven and individual drills with the first-team offense. When they get to team drills, they’re really going to manage his time, and that’s where Josh Rosen, who is the established No. 2 quarterback already, will be working with the first-team offense.”

A healthy Bradford is a superior player to Rosen. The only thing that should keep the nine-year veteran off the field is injury maintenance.

The Browns placed themselves in a far trickier situation.

General manager John Dorsey traded the 65th overall pick to acquire Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills. The organization doubled down at quarterback by selecting reigning Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield first overall.

These additions make Cleveland’s quarterback room unquantifiably better than last year’s version. However, the handling of who starts and why is a difficult subject.

Once Taylor officially dons a brown and orange uniform, he’ll be the best quarterback to line up in Cleveland since Bernie Kosar last took a snap for the team. The previous statement is both an indictment of the team’s woeful quarterback evaluation skills and a testament to Taylor’s ability.

As the Bills’ starter the last three seasons, Taylor provided above-average performances, according to PFF:

He also helped the team make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 campaign. Limitations can be found in Taylor’s game—consistency as a passer chief among them—but he will provide the Browns offense with three defining traits.

Taylor ranks among the league’s best in turnovers. His interception rate is exceptional: only 16 takeaways since the start of the 2015 campaign. Nineteen quarterbacks threw 10 or more interceptions last season alone.

Second, the 28-year-old adds a different dynamic to the offense because of his athleticism. The Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton is the only quarterback to rush for more than Taylor’s 1,575 yards during the previous three campaigns.

Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley plans to tailor the offense to his quarterbacks’ skill sets. Taylor should be used in rollouts, zone reads, draws, etc.—which will make the Browns’ rushing attack more potent.

Finally, quarterbacks who excel under pressure are hard to find, and Taylor ranked among the best last season, according to PFF’s Sam Monson:

The Jets have the luxury of keeping Josh McCown as their starter to begin the 2018 season.

The Jets have the luxury of keeping Josh McCown as their starter to begin the 2018 season.Joe Mahoney/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Mayfield is, by far, the best quarterback prospect from this year’s class. Yes, there will be calls for him to play if Taylor struggles at any point. After all, he’s the No. 1 overall pick. And, yes, he’s a little older at 23 compared to others.

But the Browns—more importantly, Hue Jacksonneed wins now after last year’s 0-16 campaign, and Taylor places them in a better situation to open the season.

“I’m not going to back off of this,” Jackson told Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “We can keep writing this narrative: Tyrod Taylor’s the starting quarterback of this football team, and that won’t change.

Can Josh Allen beat out AJ McCarron for the starting gig in Buffalo right away?

Can Josh Allen beat out AJ McCarron for the starting gig in Buffalo right away?Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press/Associated Press

The same can be said of the Jets going with Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater as opposed to Sam Darnold.

General manager Mike Maccagnan couldn’t believe Darnold fell to the third overall pick after the Jets swapped selections with the Indianapolis Colts well over a month before the actual event, according to MMQB’s Albert Breer.

Darnold was supposed to go No. 1 overall. The quarterback believed he would hear his name called when the Browns were on the clock. But he didn’t. Then, the Giants passed. The Jets were ecstatic. The organization’s quarterback search dates back to Joe Namath’s departure after the 1976 campaign.

Patience is required, though. At 20 years old, Darnold is still a baby. His understanding of the position and concepts is further behind compared to Rosen and Mayfield, even with all the natural tools present to be a standout performer and franchise leader.

The 38-year-old McCown falls on the other side of the spectrum. The veteran provided his best professional season in his 15th campaign with a 67.3 percent completion rate, 2,926 passing yards and 23 total touchdowns before breaking his hand.

“You want a long-term answer at every position, not just quarterback,” head coach Todd Bowles said, per Newsday‘s Calvin Watkins. “So we’re trying to find guys, and Josh, again, he played well last year, and we got the addition of Teddy, and we’ll see what he can do, and the young guys are still practicing. But you want a guy that has stability at the position for a long time.”

The Jets’ excitement can hold, even if it’s a year or two before Darnold is ready to take the reins.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Of all the situations, the Bills’ may be the most tenuous since it’s similar to last year’s Bears’ dilemma. AJ McCarron isn’t an established starter like Bradford, Taylor or McCown. Instead, he’s a former backup with starting potential, much like Glennon was once viewed.

The Bills haven’t been as adamant in naming McCarron the starter.

“We’re not going to rush him, but you know if he somehow wins the job, he wins it,” general manager Brandon Beane said of the seventh overall pick, Josh Allen, per NYUp.com’s Matthew Fairburn.

McCarron shouldn’t be overlooked in this competition. While he hasn’t started a game since the 2015 campaign, his last start came in the playoffs, where he performed well against the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his four professional starts, McCarron completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 763 yards, five touchdowns and only one interception.

Allen was the least consistent among the top quarterback prospects. And McCarron showed he can be a competent starting option, albeit in limited opportunities.

A quarterback’s timetable should be based on the individual’s progress, not on circumstances beyond his control. The Cardinals, Browns, Jets and Bills don’t need to be in a rush. Each organization can simultaneously achieve the goal of winning games while developing a first-round pick because their bridge quarterbacks are quality starters.

           

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.

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May 17, 2018 at 07:32AM

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