Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
-- One offensive position group with exquisite draft depth.
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"The Kansas City model worked really well," Gettleman said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "You could cite a number of models where they had a veteran guy and they drafted a young guy. At some point, the torch got passed and away everyone went. And it was a happier way everyone went."
In a perfect world, that would be the ideal game plan for Big Blue. The team would allow Eli to ride off into the sunset at the end of the 2019 campaign and hand the keys to a talented, young quarterback ready to lead after serving as an apprentice in Year 1. That's how the NFL used to develop quarterbacks.
But the rush to put young passers on the field has prompted several teams to skip steps in the developmental process.
"We give young quarterbacks starting jobs before they've really earned them," an AFC offensive assistant told me. "We hand the keys to the offense before they really understand what everyone on offense is supposed to do, and before they can even begin to process what the defense is doing. Plus, you have to manage the 40 seconds of chaos prior to the snap and make solid decisions after the ball is snapped. It's not easy, and it takes a while for quarterbacks to handle all of that responsibility.
"That's why the guys don't want young quarterbacks to start until he earns their respect by showing them that he's ready to take it all on. That comes with time and reps on the practice field. The team will tell you when the young guy is ready to play."
With that in mind, I have a better understanding of the Giants' feelings about Manning at this stage of his career and why they are intent on letting the veteran serve as a mentor for a young quarterback in 2019. The team's top officials still believe No. 10 can play, propping him up at every turn.
"At the end of the day, we saw what Eli was capable of once we gave him help," Gettleman said in Indy. "He can still make big-league throws. He can still make the NFL throws."
Pat Shurmur seconded that opinion.
"I think Eli can help us win games," the Giants head coach said Wednesday. "He proved when the players around him started playing better that he can play at a high level and help us win games. So yeah, at this point, I want Eli back."
Considering Manning completed a career-best 66.0 percent of his passes and posted the fourth-highest passer rating of his career (92.4), I can see why the Giants believe they can still win with their veteran passer when the surrounding pieces are right, but that shouldn't prevent the team from finding and grooming a replacement in 2019. At age 38, Eli can offer sage advice on how to win games and handle the scrutiny of quarterbacking in a major media market. Most importantly, Manning can show a young signal-caller how to prepare and lead a team.
That said, Manning must be willing to share that insight and wisdom with a young player, amiably looking to pass the torch to the Giants' future franchise quarterback. In 2017, Manning created a bit of a stir when he balked at the prospect of coming out of late-season games to allow the organization to get a closer look at Geno Smith and Davis Webb. This time around, Giants brass must get assurances that he is keen on being a mentor at this stage of his career.
"I've spoken frequently about what I think of Eli and how he handles himself," Shurmur said. "How he prepares, and really everything he does behind the scenes, and I think a young player would greatly benefit from that. We all want to learn from somebody that's done it -- players, coaches -- and he's done it at a very high level. And so being in a room with him, I think would only help that player."
If Manning agrees to such an arrangement, I believe there are two quarterbacks to watch as potential apprentices. Dwayne Haskins is an obvious choice, based on his standout pocket-passing ability and natural leadership skills. The Heisman finalist is the prototypical franchise quarterback prospect, but his lack of experience (14 starts at Ohio State) makes him a perfect candidate to "redshirt" as a rookie.
Daniel Jones is also an intriguing apprentice, based on his connections to Manning through his college head coach (David Cutcliffe coached Eli at Ole Miss and Jones at Duke) and quarterback trainer (David Morris served as Manning's backup at Ole Miss before becoming a highly regarded QB handler). As a soft-spoken leader with a high IQ and rock-solid game, Jones could gain valuable insight from Eli on how to lead in an understated fashion.
So, what about Kyler Murray? Well, in the next section of this notebook, you'll see Shurmur discussing -- and certainly not dismissing -- the Oklahoma product. But typically, the Giants are a height/weight/speed team. They draft prototypes at most positions, including quarterback, so Murray wouldn't appear to be a good match, given his diminutive stature. This has been the franchise's philosophy since George Young's days as general manager, and I can't see this changing despite Murray's special qualities.
Generally speaking, though, if Gettleman really wants to follow the Kansas City model to develop a young quarterback, he has the pieces in place to make it happen. He just needs his veteran quarterback to sign off on being a key part of the process.
KYLER'S SIZE: QB checks measurement boxes in Indy, so now what?
The biggest storyline heading into the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine centered on Kyler Murray's stature. Scouts worried the Heisman Trophy winner would fall short of the physical dimensions listed in the Oklahoma media guide (5-foot-10, 195 pounds), leading to questions about his ability to thrive at the NFL level.
On Thursday, Murray officially checked in at 5-foot-10 1/8, 207 pounds -- with 9 1/2-inch hands, as well, putting that fleeting concern to rest.
These measurements will allow many draft rooms to breathe easier. Murray's size was a widely discussed topic during Wednesday's media scrums.
"I will say this, having played the position: When you're shorter and you're in shotgun, it doesn't have nearly the effect because you see much better out of shotgun," Broncos GM (and Hall of Fame quarterback) John Elway said Wednesday. "So, if you're in shotgun and starting in shotgun and that's the only place you've ever been, you can see the field much better from shotgun. So, really, the height from shotgun doesn't matter nearly as much as it does if you're coming out from underneath center all the time because, by the time you get back there, the pocket a lot of times is caving in on you. That's where height does matter a little bit more."
Elway's sentiment certainly isn't foreign in a league that most typically features prototypes at the position, but the changing nature of the game has prompted some coaches to view stature at the position in a different light.
"Times have changed -- quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes," Giants coach Pat Shurmur told reporters. "Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl. You have to look at the total player, look at his productivity and look at whether he fits. They need to be productive, make good decisions, throw the ball accurately and on time, lead their team to victories. We, as coaches, have to use their skill sets to the best of their ability to try to get the most out of them."
That said, evaluators still must look at the tape and determine whether the size is a factor when it comes to a diminutive quarterback's play.
"I don't know what's too small," Shurmur said. "When you watch [Murray] on tape, he is an outstanding player. For a sub-6-foot player, he only had five balls batted down. You've got to really look at the player, how he competed, how he helped his team win games. You've got to look at all of it, factor it in and decide if that player is for you."
After closely studying Murray's 2018 campaign -- his one full season as OU's starting quarterback -- I don't believe his height was a significant factor in his play. Teams should focus more on what he brings to the table as an electric playmaker. He is always a threat to create an explosive play, and his unique skill set should make him a dangerous weapon in an offense directed by an imaginative play caller.
"I really value a guy that can move around," Shurmur said. "It doesn't mean he's a runner. It just means he has a way to clean his feet in the pocket and scramble if necessary. That mobility is important. I think it's essential, really, for a quarterback to have great success."
The teams that really love Murray and his playmaking potential won't be concerned with his slighter-than-normal frame, especially with Thursday's official measurements on record. They will focus on the strengths of his game and build an offense around what he does well, particularly his pocket-passing ability and electric scrambling skills.
TWO-POINT CONVERSION: Quick takes on developments across the NFL
1) Is Dak Prescott the next Kirk Cousins? That's the question the Dallas Cowboys could wrestle with over the next few months, as they attempt to work out a lengthy contract extension for their franchise quarterback. The 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year is due a sizeable raise after significantly outplaying the four-year, $2.72 million deal that accompanied his arrival as a fourth-round pick.
While some Cowboys fans cringe at the notion of No. 4 joining the 20 Million Dollar Club, honestly, they had better hope Prescott agrees to a team-friendly deal this offseason -- or he could become the league's next $30 million quarterback.
Don't believe me? Think of it this way. Prescott could play out his contract in 2019 and force the Cowboys to put the franchise tag on him in 2020 -- at a projected value of $26 million. The ensuing tag figures in 2021 and '22 would pay roughly $31 million and $45 million, respectively. That'd amount to a three-year, $102 million windfall for the Cowboys' QB1, an average of $34 million per season. Cousins played under the tag for two seasons in Washington (earning a total of $44 million) before signing a three-year -- fully guaranteed -- $84 million deal. This will net him a grand total of $128 million over five seasons.
Prescott, who has played on base salaries of $450,000 and $650,000 during his two Pro Bowl seasons, isn't about to give the Cowboys a Tom Brady discount or accept a deal that's significantly below market value. At the moment, 16 quarterbacks average at least $20 million annually (per Over The Cap), with Aaron Rodgers setting the standard at $33.5 million per. Although Prescott won't challenge Rodgers' deal, he may not be too far off that number, based on recent deals signed by Derek Carr (five years, $125 million -- $25M per), Matthew Stafford (five years, $135 million -- $27M per) and Jimmy Garoppolo (five years, $137.5 million -- $27.5M per). Love him or hate him, Prescott is a more accomplished player than at least two of those quarterbacks, and he shouldn't accept a below-market deal. Remember, since he stepped into the league in 2016, No. 4 has more regular-season wins than any other quarterback not named Tom Brady. In addition, Prescott's 15 game-winning drives are the most in NFL history during a quarterback's first three seasons.
2) Draft highlighted by deep TE talent pool. The 2019 draft class has been pegged as a "meat and potatoes" group, based on the plethora of front-seven defenders dotting the top of the board, but I believe the tight end class could be the deepest and most talented TE group that we've seen in years. With T.J. Hockenson, Irv Smith Jr. and Noah Fant, there are three legitimate first-round talents in the bunch with the potential to earn early Pro Bowl accolades.
Hockenson, in particular, is a Day 1 starter with a polished all-around game that's uncommon in new-school tight ends. He is a classic "Y" (in-line tight end) with A+ blocking skills in the running game and rock-solid receiving ability. Although run-blocking is rarely discussed in this modern NFL as an impactful trait for tight ends, Hockenson's ability to pulverize edge blockers at the point of attack makes him a valuable piece of the offensive puzzle. As a rare tight end prospect with three-down ability, he can impact the game as a Rob Gronkowski-style blocker and as a Jason Witten-like chain-mover. Hockenson's polished overall game has prompted some scouts to tell me he's the "safest" prospect in the draft, a testament to his plug-and-play abilities.
Fant and Smith are ideal H-back or "move" tight end candidates, with their combination of athleticism and playmaking ability. Each pass catcher can align in the slot or out wide as a flex tight end to create mismatches against linebackers or safeties in space. Considering how the NFL game is evolving with teams using more two- and three-TE sets, the value of a dynamic tight end with wide receiver-like movement skills is a considered a game changer in some meeting rooms.
Looking at some of the Day 2 prospects, I believe there are plenty of playmakers with blue-chip skills. Jace Sternberger and Kaden Smith are underrated playmakers at the position. Sternberger averaged 17.3 yards per catch and tallied 10 touchdowns during his lone season at Texas A&M, exhibiting outstanding hands and route-running ability working the seams. Additionally, he flashes excellent running skills after the catch, particularly on crossing routes at short and intermediate depth. Sternberger reminds me of Tyler Eifert as a playmaker, which speaks to his effectiveness over the middle of the field and in the red zone. Smith, who caught 47 balls for 635 yards last year at Stanford, is the latest "Y" to come from The Farm. The sticky-handed pass catcher can handle the dirty work in the running game or attack the middle of the field as a seam runner in the passing game. Smith's effectiveness on in-breaking routes between the hashes makes him a perfect fit in any offense, but particularly one that uses multiple tight ends to exploit mismatches over the middle of the field.
As teams look for different ways to create advantages on the field, the tight end has become a hot commodity on draft day. With the 2019 class offering a number of prospects with big-play skills and positional flexibility, we could see plenty of big-bodied pass catchers come off the board in the early rounds this April.