By Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Before the Hall of Fame triumvirate of John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly was drafted in 1983, longtime scouts were comparing them to all-time quarterbacking talents such as Terry Bradshaw and Bert Jones from 15 years before that.
Four decades later, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have sent personnel men digging through memory banks to establish comparables. For only the fifth time since the common draft in 1967, two quarterbacks are about to be selected 1-2 in the National Football League draft.
“That’s one of the more attractive tandems of quarterbacks coming out,” said Thomas Dimitroff, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. “Both Andrew Luck and ‘RGIII’ are special, difference-making players. In my mind, wherever they go, the organizations will be extremely happy with the total package.”
Indianapolis is set to open the draft by taking Luck, the well-bred passer from Stanford, to succeed departed Peyton Manning.
On March 9, Washington traded two first- and one second-round draft choices to St. Louis to move from No. 8 to No. 2 in the first round and presumably select Griffin, who transformed tail-ender Baylor into a 10-game winner last season.
Quarterback always is the most glamorous of positions, but in a draft thin on true blue-chip players, Luck and Griffin are as good as it gets.
In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel poll of 20 evaluators, 17 said Luck was the best player in the draft regardless of position. Griffin had two votes, and Alabama running back Trent Richardson got the other.
When 19 scouts agreed to rank the quarterbacks on a 1-to-5 basis, Luck was a unanimous selection and Griffin came in second on 18 ballots.
In 10 years of polling by the Journal Sentinel, Luck joined Sam Bradford in 2010 as the only quarterback to garner every first-place vote from scouts.
Assigning five points for a first-place vote and so on, Luck led with 95 points, Griffin had 75 and Ryan Tannehill was a solid third with 57.
Following, in order, were: Brandon Weeden, 18 points; Brock Osweiler, 14; Kirk Cousins, 13; Russell Wilson, six; B.J Coleman, Ryan Lindley and Kellen Moore, each two; and Nick Foles, one.
Assuming Luck and Griffin go off 1-2, they will join Tim Couch-Donovan McNabb (1999), Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf (‘98), Drew Bledsoe-Rick Mirer (‘93) and Jim Plunkett-Archie Manning (‘71) as quarterback pairs atop the draft. For their sake, they better hope history doesn’t repeat itself.
Couch and Leaf were abject failures, Mirer never really made it and Plunkett’s career was careening toward oblivion before he righted the ship and won two Super Bowl rings with the Raiders in his mid-30s.
“Do they both look like they should be able to pan out at this level from an athletic standpoint?” Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said. “Sure. But, generally, one doesn’t. It is what it is.”
The Journal Sentinel also asked 20 evaluators which quarterback had the best chance to bust. Osweiler led with eight votes, followed by Tannehill, four; Weeden, three; Griffin and Cousins, two; and Wilson, one.
Notice that Luck wasn’t mentioned.
“I didn’t do Elway, but I have done everybody since then,” one personnel man said. “Andrew Luck is the safest, most no-brainer, franchise-maker, I think Hall of Famer I’ve seen. Look at his measurables. He’s perfect.”
Another scout with more than 15 years in the business said Luck was the finest player that he had evaluated.
Unlike Griffin and most elite quarterbacks over the years, Luck did a full workout at the NFL combine. It was eye-opening, to say the least.
Luck measured 6 feet 4 inches, weighed 235 and ran 40 yards in 4.64 seconds. His vertical jump of 36 inches tied the average for wide receivers, his broad jump of 10-4 was 5 inches longer and his times in the shuttle runs that gauge change of direction, quickness and burst were at or near the wide-receiver average.
Peyton Manning, the man that Luck will replace, was 6-5 ½ and 230 entering the NFL. Although Manning never ran a 40, scouts estimate his time at 4.95.
In spring 1998, Colts President Bill Polian demanded that his scouts obtain times from Manning in the short shuttle and three-cone runs plus a vertical jump. Manning’s vertical was 24, or 9 inches less than the average for quarterbacks at the 2012 combine.
Meanwhile, Luck scored 37 on the 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test, nine more than Manning.
The humble Luck has been compared to Eli Manning, another more reserved quarterback. Luck’s style of unassuming leadership will be tested in the NFL.
“I don’t think he’s Peyton Manning, John Elway, Dan Marino, any of those guys,” one seasoned scout said. “Those guys were special. I don’t think this kid is special in any way except his intangibles.”
When Griffin (6-2 ½, 223) ran the 40 in 4.36 at the combine, he might have become the fastest important quarterback of all time.
To gauge Griffin’s size and speed, consider how these players ran and measured shortly before being drafted:
Cam Newton (6-5, 246) ran 4.58 a year ago. Aaron Rodgers (6-2, 223) ran 4.73 in ‘05. Michael Vick (6-0, 208) clocked 4.48 in 2001. McNabb (6-2 ½, 223) ran 4.57 in ‘99.
In ‘95, Steve McNair (6-1 ½, 224) ran 4.65 and Kordell Stewart (6-1 ½, 212) ran 4.52. Andre Ware (6-1 ½, 215) ran 4.6 in ‘90. The Packers’ Don Majkowski (6-1 ½, 199) ran 4.83 in ‘87.
“Cam made Griffin some money because now everybody is looking at an athletic guy,” said Don Gregory, the Carolina Panthers’ director of college scouting. “Michael Vick made Cam some money. In the right offense, if you move him around and do what (Mike) Shanahan did with (Jake) Plummer, he’ll be fine.”
Griffin was 3 inches better than Luck on the vertical jump and 4 inches worse on the broad jump. He scored 24 on the Wonderlic.
“The Redskins put the world on him,” one scout said. “I’d put the world on Luck or Troy Aikman or John Elway, but I wouldn’t put the world on a guy that doesn’t know anything about reading (defenses), has not been in a pro attack and is going to take time.
“They better do what Shanahan has done and roll him out. He never sets his feet. He’s never in the pocket. He’s got a damn good arm, but if Cam Newton hadn’t had so much success I don’t know that everybody would be so high on this guy.”
A year ago, Blaine Gabbert (6-4 ½, 234, 4.62, 31 on the Wonderlic) tested almost exactly as Luck did this year. In the Journal Sentinel pre-draft survey of 24 scouts in 2011, Gabbert out-polled Newton, 16-8.
One season in, Newton easily has been the better player. When it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, no one has all the answers.
“You know what you’re going to get with Luck,” said another scout. “It’s going to be good. But if both players reach their full potential, then Robert Griffin will be the best player in the draft. He has a higher ceiling than Andrew Luck.”