As we turn our attention here on Football Relativity to the NFL draft, we begin by focusing on quarterbacks. We’ve already broken down Tim Tebow and the value of intangibles, and now we turn our attention to a first-round prospect: Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen. And as we do, we soon discover that Clausen is one of the toughest quarterbacks to assess in the NFL in quite a while. While we have no doubt that Sam Bradford will be and should be the first overall pick in this year’s draft, Clausen is tougher to slot.
Clausen comes from an impressive pedigree. His brothers played quarterback at Tennessee, and Clausen entered Notre Dame as the top quarterback in his class and as Charlie Weis’ prized recruit. And over his career, Clausen performed well, improving every year so that in 2009 he completed 68 percent of his passes and threw 28 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Clausen isn’t the most gifted quarterback, a la Sam Bradford this year or Matthew Stafford last year, but he has the tools a QB needs to succeed. Clausen is full of positives as a prospect.
But there are warning flags on Clausen too. His attitude is confident, but unlike Mark Sanchez last year, that confidence has an edge that turns it to feel more like cockiness. So when we hear tales of Clausen getting sucker-punched in a restaurant, for some reason we feel like he deserves it. Clausen will need confidence to bounce back from the struggles that a young quarterback will undoubtedly experience, but he also needs to avoid cockiness in order to win over his teammates enough that they will support him.
Clausen’s ties to Weis are also nettlesome. Weis’ previous big-time quarterback, Brady Quinn, hasn’t set the league on fire. While it can easily and perhaps fairly be argued that Quinn hasn’t yet gotten a full shot at starting, you can also argue that Quinn isn’t going to pan out. That reflects poorly for Clausen. Weis probably gave better-than-average quarterback coaching for the college level, which is a plus now but makes you wonder whether Clausen still has massive room for improvement. This is another factor that makes evaluation tricky.
Given these red flags, it’s no surprise that Clausen has elicited big-time differences among draft analysts. And this year’s draft order makes these differences even more pronounced. Most of the QB-needy teams – Washington, Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville – are in the top-10, and it’s hard to stomach Clausen as a top-10 prospect. But if he slips in the first round, Clausen could plummet a la Quinn or Aaron Rodgers into the 20s, given the fact that most of the teams picking in the teens are set for the forseeable future at quarterback.
The bottom line is that Clausen will be either underdrafted in the 20s or below, or overdrafted in the top 10. It’s hard to see a middle ground for him. And that’s the conundrum for anyone trying to analyze the draft or simply come up with a mock draft.
So where should Clausen go? I wouldn’t take him in the top 10. I don’t see him as a special prospect. He could be a Chad Henne type pro, which is an asset to a team, but Henne was rightly a second-round pick. At the same time, a team that drafted Clausen at pick 24, as Green Bay did with Rodgers, would get a steal.
But we get the sense that before a team can steal Clausen, someone will reach on him. And that reach for Clausen will end up being a mistake. He will go higher than he should and will be off the board by pick 10.