If the 2012 NFL Draft brought us the greatest crop of rookie quarterbacks since the legendary Class of ’83, the 2013 NFL Draft has brought us . . . well, something else.
Of course, nobody expected this group of rookie QBs — one that had just one selected in the first round — to rival the Andrew Luck-RG3-Russell Wilson group. But nine weeks into the season, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised with the output from this year’s class.
Sandwiched between an all-time QB class that included Luck (Colts), Griffin (Redskins), Wilson (Seahawks), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Nick Foles (Eagles), Case Keenum (Texans) and even Brandon Weeden (Browns), and a 2014 one that could have names like Mariota, Bridgewater, Hundley, Boyd, and Manziel all going in the first round, the 2013 crew is like the middle sibling who wears the big brother’s hand-me-downs, but isn’t asked to pass on anything to the youngest. Stuck in the middle with you.
And you know what? I kind of like them.
Actually, I like them a lot.
Perhaps my favorite of the rookie quarterbacks is the guy no one’s talking about. Down in Tampa Bay, in a post-MRSA (we hope), post-Josh Freeman world, Mike Glennon is actually putting together quite an impressive rookie season. You probably haven’t noticed — and I don’t blame you — but Glennon leads all rookies in TD-to-interception ratio (8:3), completion percentage (60.3) and passer rating (83.1). He hasn’t thrown an interception in three games.
Glennon needs to put some muscle on that frame this offseason, but he’s sneakily mobile — more than you’d expect. Against Seattle last weekend, he threw away a few passes that other rookies would have forced, and he showed a Peyton Manning-esque ability to avoid the sack. He’s not fast, no, but he’s crafty.
I wasn’t one in April, but four weeks into his time as the Bucs’ starter, I’m becoming more and more a fan of Glennon. Those expecting Tampa to use its expected top-five draft pick on a QB in 2014 may want to see how the season plays out first. The Bucs aren’t losing because of their QB play and Glennon’s gotten better with every passing week. He’s playing far better now than Freeman did in Weeks 1, 2 or 3. Mind you, he’s doing this with limited offensive weapons. No Doug Martin. No Mike Williams.
Watching that Seahawks-Buccaneers film, a lot of things popped off the screen. One is that Glennon is, indeed, an NFL quarterback.
Then there’s EJ Manuel, the No. 16 overall pick and starter in Buffalo. Ask anyone who’s been in a room with Manuel, and they’ll tell you the guy carries himself like a leader of men. Manuel took Tom Brady to the limit in Week 1, beat Cam Newton in Week 2 and got the best of the defending Super Bowl champions in Week 4. Manuel is 2-2 as a starter, but from all my sources in Buffalo, he’s so much more than that. He’s the franchise guy. A good indication of the type of leader Manuel is comes from a kid still in college.
In the days leading up to the Miami-Florida State showdown last weekend, Heisman favorite Jameis Winston used his time with the national media to praise his mentor in Tallahassee.
“It was great to have EJ there just for me to be available to observe him,” Winston said last week. “Just being able to watch him and how he’s able to process things, I can kind of put that to my game because we have similar games.”
You’d think Winston was talking about Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Nope, EJ Manuel — the Bills’ rookie QB. I expect Manuel, who’s been nursing an ACL injury since Oct. 4, to get the start against Pittsburgh Sunday. Had he been healthy last week, the Buffalo-Kansas City game played in Orchard Park very well could have had a different ending.
The most successful of the rookie gunslingers thus far is the New York Jets’ Geno Smith, a second-round pick out of West Virginia who faced more scrutiny coming out of college than perhaps any quarterback since Newton.
You remember what we heard: He couldn’t win on the road. He couldn’t play in cold weather. His game was an awful fit for an NFL offense. And, oh yeah, he was lazy on top of all that.
He fired his agents right after the draft, which, of course, meant that he was a bad kid. And once he signed with Jay Z’s firm for representation? Well, what could possibly be worse?
Sure enough, Smith outplayed Mark Sanchez in the preseason (he did, sorry), has beaten Brady and Drew Brees in head-to-head matchups, and has the Jets at 5-4 and in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt. He’s been better than good in cold weather, on the road and in the clutch.
Most amazingly of all, Jets fans are talking about a playoff run at the start of November. Before the season, they were talking about the 2014 draft.
With maturity and a steely, unshakeable demeanor, Smith has gained the trust of his teammates, and almost more impressively, the affection of a fan base that seemed less than thrilled when he was selected in April. Is Geno Smith the quarterback of the future in New York? Nine weeks into the 2013 season, it’s hard to argue that he’s not.
I know this rookie quarterback class doesn’t belong in the same conversation as last year’s. And I know the 2014 crew is going to get a lot more love this offseason. But there are three starting quarterbacks in this crop. Three guys I’d have no problem going to battle with for the foreseeable future.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Which NFL running back leads the league in rushing since Week 5?
Now, on to the picks . . .
Last Week: 5-8
Overall: 75-57 (.568)
Washington (3-5) at Minnesota (1-7): The Vikings are giving up an average of 31.5 points and have yet to hold an opponent below 23. The team’s current four-game losing streak is its longest since a six-game slide at the end of the 2011 season. Washington was 3-6 last year after nine games and still won the division. Maybe the Redskins just need to be written off in October to start playing well in November and December. I do wonder whether Robert Griffin III will make it through the season, though. He got absolutely crushed last week vs. San Diego.
The Pick: Redskins 34, Vikings 23
MetLife Update: Vikings 34, Redskins 27
Seattle (8-1) at Atlanta (2-6): Before the season started, I circled this game as one of the top five of the 2013 campaign. The lesson as always: Do not circle games in April that you think will matter in November. Seattle’s going to want to avenge that divisional round loss in Atlanta last January — one those players still believe they should have had. Against an injury-ridden Falcons team, they’ll do just that.
The Pick: Seahawks 30, Falcons 17
Detroit (5-3) at Chicago (5-3): Josh McCown has one of Hollywood’s best movie storylines this league has seen in years. After being a journeyman backup, he was out of the NFL two seasons ago, unable to latch on with a team. He stared at a phone that never rang. Multiple NFL teams reached out to see if he’d be willing to serve as an assistant coach, but he said no because he thought he still had it. He stayed busy by being an assistant coach at the local high school, instead.
Well, fast forward to the end of last season, and Lovie Smith brings him in as a backup. Skip to training camp of this year, and he not only makes the Bears roster, but he also locks up the gig to back up Jay Cutler. Monday night, he not only starts, but beats the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in front of a national TV audience.
C’mon! How cool is that story? Can he keep it going one more week? Against Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson? Well, no, no he can’t.
The Pick: Lions 34, Bears 24
Philadelphia (4-5) at Green Bay (5-3): Nick Foles looked downright awesome last Sunday, and the same Chip Kelly offense I’ve spent plenty of ink passive-aggressively bashing for a lack of ingenuity and/or spark? It shut me up pretty good last week. Michael Vick has the “franchise QB” stamp and salary in Philadelphia, but Foles sure looked the part at Oakland. It’s not often the Packers lose two straight in Lambeau Field, but I like Philly in this one.
The Pick: Eagles 31, Packers 21
Jacksonville (0-8) at Tennessee (4-4): Lost in all the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito madness last week was some pretty significant news on the Justin Blackmon front. Last year’s first-round pick was having a very productive season, but now is done for the year for off-the-field reasons. It’s a busy week in the NFL when that kind of news just kind of goes unnoticed, isn’t it?
The Pick: Titans 30, Jaguars 23
St. Louis (3-6) at Indianapolis (6-2): The NFL’s most consistently frustrating unit could be the Rams defense. Some weeks — vs. the Seahawks in Week 8, for one — it looks like absolute world beaters. Others — last week against the Titans, for example — it looks dowright inept. Tennessee gashed the Rams for 198 yards on the ground, averaging 5.7 yards on 35 carries. The St. Louis offense isn’t good enough for the defense not to be excellent. The Rams will give the Colts a game, but Andrew Luck will be too much in the end.
The Pick: Colts 24, Rams 20
Oakland (3-5) at New York Giants (2-6): Watch out for the Giants. They’ve got the Raiders traveling across the country and playing at 10 a.m. Oakland time on Sunday, have the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers coming to town in Week 11 and then get the Cowboys in MetLife. Three straight home games, a potential five-game winning streak and some momentum heading into December all sound very possible. So does an NFC East title.
The Pick: Giants 31, Raiders 26
Buffalo (3-6) at Pittsburgh (2-6): I got on Stevie Johnson’s case over Twitter on Sunday for his reaction after Jeff Tuel’s intercepted pass at the goal line vs. Kansas City. After a second viewing, I’ve got to apologize to No. 13. Johnson beat Sean Smith off the line, was wide open and Tuel threw one of the worst passes you’ll see in an NFL game. It resulted in a 14-point swing, ultimately cost Buffalo the game, and Johnson’s reaction — an exasperated shaking of the head — was probably a lot less toxic of a reaction than most receivers would have in such a situation.
Expect a much improved situation at QB with EJ Manuel this week and for the Bills to give the Steelers a game, but I don’t see them going into Heinz Field and beating Pittsburgh.
The Pick: Steelers 23, Bills 16
Cincinnati (6-3) at Baltimore (3-5): The Ravens are in win-or-done mode. In front of that home crowd, with the season on the line, I just don’t see Joe Flacco and Co. losing to Andy Dalton and the Bengals. Losing DT Geno Atkins last week in Miami was as bad for the Bengals — if not worse — than losing the game.
The Pick: Ravens 24, Bengals 21
Carolina (5-3) at San Francisco (6-2): Cam Newton’s quietly inserted himself into the NFL’s MVP conversation with a string of impressive performances and a four-game winning streak. That talk will get a lot louder after this week. I think the Panthers pull the upset and get the best of an equally hot 49ers team. This Carolina squad’s for real. Seriously.
The Pick: Panthers 27, 49ers 23
Houston (2-6) at Arizona (4-4): Case Keenum’s got the Texans playing inspired football, and who knows how that game turns out last Sunday night if those extreme circumstances don’t occur right before halftime? But as well as Keenum’s playing, I don’t see the Cardinals defense giving up 21 poins in the first half, let alone 21 in the game. Arizona’s in the mix for a wild-card spot in the NFC.
The Pick: Cardinals 20, Texans 13
Denver (7-1) at San Diego (4-4): Everyone’s pointing to the Chargers’ inability to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line last Sunday vs. Washington, but the defense could have done its part, too. The Chargers allowed the Redskins to convert 12 of 17 third-down attempts. San Diego gave up more than 500 yards of offense. Oh, and now Peyton Manning is coming to town off a bye week. Not good.
The Pick: Broncos 42, Chargers 27
Dallas (5-4) at New Orleans (6-2): Rob Ryan was told that he was being relieved of his duties as Cowboys defensive coordinator over the telephone last winter. Not in person. Over the phone. I don’t care what line of work you’re in, that stings. But Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said there’s no animosity between the two men this week, telling reporters, "I love Rob Ryan. He is a fantastic person. He is a fantastic coach. And has been for a long time."
Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis responded to that with, "Any time a guy gets fired from a spot he’s at and he has an opportunity to play them, he wants to prove a point. They know that. We know that."
Point proven. Give me the Saints.
The Pick: Saints 34, Cowboys 30
Miami (4-4) at Tampa Bay (0-8): I’d pay a pretty penny to hear the pregame conversation between Joe Philbin and Greg Schiano on Monday night. “So, how are things?” The Bucs are welcoming Warren Sapp back, retiring his jersey and the whole deal. There’s a chance the Dolphins rally together in an “Us Against the World” effort, but I think the lack of two starting offensive linemen will take too great a toll. I like Tampa Bay to get its first win.
The Pick: Tampa Bay 31, Dolphins 20
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: Green Bay Packers rookie Eddie Lacy, with 510 rushing yards, leads the NFL in rushing since Week 5.