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  1. #1
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    [Whiners] Quality draft pick could be silver lining in *****' lousy season

    Ira Miller

    Wednesday, December 1, 2004

    The so-called franchise quarterback is back in vogue in the NFL, and the ***** need one. Because of their lousy season, they'll have a chance to get one, too.

    Tim Rattay could be serviceable if he had a decent supporting cast, but he is not a player to build a team around. Quarterback Matt Leinart of USC appears he could be, and so he's the answer to the most popular question in town this week:

    What should the ***** do with the first choice in the 2005 draft?

    Help is needed at a lot of positions, but it is becoming increasingly clear in today's NFL that the franchise quarterback is key, and when you have a chance to get one, you'd better do it.

    "They're hard to come by," said Bill Polian, president of the Indianapolis Colts, a team that has no quarterback problem. "If you don't have a good one who can lead you from behind, who can win games in the fourth quarter, then you have to have an absolutely dominant defense and you must have a dominant running game and you must have a dominant kicking game. It's that simple. That's the formula if you don't have the quarterback."

    Clearly, the ***** are dominant in no area, which is why they have the inside track on the first pick next April.

    In four games since returning from his latest injury, Rattay has been abysmal in the fourth quarter, losing seven turnovers and compiling a passer rating of 46.2. In the last three weeks, the ***** lost consecutive games against teams that were a combined 5-22 before playing San Francisco, and Rattay lost a total of nine turnovers in those three games.

    It's not all Rattay's fault, obviously. He is surrounded by little talent at wide receiver and running back and operates an ill-conceived offensive scheme behind a horrid offensive line. But to win, a team needs a quarterback who can rise above the players around him. Rattay is little more than a decent backup who needs everything around him to be perfect to succeed.

    NFL scouts believe Leinart has an edge on Cal's Aaron Rodgers as the best quarterback likely to be in the draft; both are juniors and can't declare their draft eligibility until after bowl games. Scouts say Leinart is more instinctive; Rodgers appears somewhat mechanical at times. The differences, however, are small, and opinions could -- and probably will -- change many times between now and April.

    What the ***** have to hope is that one of them becomes a stud, that this draft -- considered weak by most experts -- doesn't turn out like 1994, when the first-round quarterbacks were Trent Dilfer and Heath Shuler.

    A franchise quarterback does not have to come from the top tier of the draft, of course. New England got lucky late with Tom Brady. San Diego's Drew Brees, a candidate both for MVP and comeback player of the year, could be available as a free agent.

    There is also a second tier of draft-eligible quarterbacks to be studied, including Dan Orlovsky (Connecticut), Andrew Walter (Arizona State), Kyle Orton (Purdue), Charlie Frye (Akron) and possibly Alex Smith (Utah).

    A couple of years ago, journeymen quarterbacks like Rattay were thought to be OK; Dilfer and Brad Johnson even won Super Bowls after moving around the league because Baltimore (2000) and Tampa Bay (2002) had great defenses. Brady, a sixth-round pick, was no franchise player before he emerged in 2001. And Kurt Warner went from stocking grocery shelves to become a two-time league MVP.

    Now, however, the "franchise quarterback" is once more under the microscope, perhaps because the emphasis on enforcing pass defense rules is opening the game up again. Here's another reason: Given the transitory nature of teams today, a great quarterback can provide stability. That may help explain this trend: Between 1967, when the first NFL-AFL common draft was held, and 1997, the top overall pick in the draft was a quarterback just eight times in 31 years. Since 1998, the first pick has been a quarterback six times in seven years.

    One of those six, Peyton Manning, is the NFL's top-rated passer at 126.6, well above the existing record (Steve Young, 112.8 in 1994). Daunte Culpepper, Brees, Donovan McNabb and Brian Griese all are above 100, too; the combined record of those five as starters is 35-13.

    Further, there are seven teams with records of 8-3 or better. All of them are led by a quarterback they drafted, five of the seven in the first round and another with the first pick of the second round.

    The only quarterback in the NFL's upper echelon who was not a high draft pick, however, might be the best of them all -- New England's Brady. In what is admittedly a subjective ranking of the NFL's starting quarterbacks, Brady earns the top spot because he not only puts up great numbers, but he wins. He has two Super Bowl MVP awards to attest to that. Without him, the Patriots would be just another team.

    Manning is on the way to the best statistical season any quarterback ever had, but in the AFC Championship Game last year, he threw four interceptions. Until Manning can win that final game under tough conditions, Brady is ahead of him.

    Both Brady and Manning operate under difficult, but different, circumstances. Until this year, Brady had to carry a team without a running game. Manning has to carry a team without much of a defense.

    "That's a big difference," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Brady is very seldom ever behind (the Patriots have scored first in a record 19 consecutive games). I don't want to take anything away from Brady, because it's nice to be in that situation, but it's a whole lot different when you've got to score as much as Peyton has done."

    There are no journeymen like Dilfer or Johnson near the top of the NFL quarterback food chain today. In The Chronicle ratings, only one of the current top 13 quarterbacks has played for more than one team: Brett Favre, who was drafted by Atlanta in 1991 and traded to Green Bay in 1992 because Jerry Glanville, the Falcons' former coach, said he wouldn't play him. And eight of the top 10 were first-round picks.

    Because the AFC has more good, young quarterbacks, it is the dominant conference, with AFC teams holding a 32-18 edge over NFC teams in interconference games.

    Eight AFC teams have winning records. All of them except Denver are led by a quarterback no older than 28.

    New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi is one of the league's strongest believers in the value of a franchise quarterback. Accorsi drafted John Elway for Baltimore in 1983 (but owner Robert Irsay traded him to Denver), used a first-round pick in a supplemental draft on Bernie Kosar in Cleveland, and this year engineered the trade with San Diego that brought Eli Manning, first pick in the draft, to the Giants.

    "The Bears won 40 years ago with Billy Wade, and the Redskins won three (Super Bowls) without really a star (quarterback), but if you have a chance, he gives you an edge," Accorsi said.

    The ***** need all the edges they can get. If they find a quarterback, at least their crummy record this year would be good for something.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    CHART:
    4th-quarter flop

    Tim Rattay's fourth-quarter statistics for four games in November:

    Attempts: 44
    Completions: 23
    Completion pct.: 52.3
    Yards: 326
    Yards per attempt: 7.41
    TDs: 1
    Interceptions: 4
    Fumbles: 4
    Fumbles lost: 3
    Passer rating: 46.2

    Rating the quarterbacks
    E-mail Ira Miller at imiller@sfchronicle.com.

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    Re: [Whiners] Quality draft pick could be silver lining in *****' lousy season

    Quote Originally Posted by Ira Miller
    Until Manning can win that final game under tough conditions, Brady is ahead of him.
    What a crock! Mr. Miller, ask yourself one question: Which QB would you want to start on your team? The painfully obvious answer is Manning. Brady is ahead of Manning in nothing.
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: [Whiners] Quality draft pick could be silver lining in *****' lousy season

    Quote Originally Posted by HUbison
    Brady is ahead of Manning in nothing.
    ...except Super Bowl Championships and MVP awards. I agree, though, I'd rather have Manning with a halfway decent defense.
    DJRamFan
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    NFC Champions: 1979, 1999, 2001
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