If the Jaguars draft Geno Smith at #2 overall, I would be excited about his future with the team. However, I was also excited about Gabbert at #10. Smith certainly has the potential to be a quality quarterback at the professional level, but he is not a "complete" prospect like Andrew Luck or RGIII. With such a unique draft class, the second overall pick is a crapshoot either way, but I don't believe drafting Smith is Jacksonville's best option.
Let's start with this: Geno Smith is uncontested as the top QB in the 2013 NFL Draft. Without a franchise quarterback, a team has virtually no chance of success in the league. The Jaguars do not have a franchise quarterback. After the Alex Smith to Kansas City trade, there's a very good chance Geno will be available when the Jaguars are on the clock (assuming a team like Oakland or Philadelphia doesn't trade up to #1). By that logic, they should absolutely take Smith.
Unfortunately, the Jaguars are not a team that's just a QB away from being competitive, and I think it's vital they address those needs first in order to give their quarterback(s) the best opportunity to excel. When the rest of the team is good, it's also easier to judge the quarterback's ceiling -- the past couple years, it was easy to blame Gabbert's performance on the offensive line and receiving corps, instead of his own (lack of) ability. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but it's a very broad middle.
Matt Cassel, for example, took a dynasty to the verge of the playoffs after Tom Brady went down for a season, yet in 2012 he led the Chiefs to 2-14. This past year, Drew Brees broke incredible records (54 consecutive games with a TD, back to back 5,000 yard seasons) while his team finished with a losing record. Yes, a team can't win without a QB, but a QB doesn't automatically make a team win. Squares and rectangles.
According to most draft boards Smith is a reach at #2, and General Manager David Caldwell appears to be a savvy talent evaluator with a well thought out strategy. It's been suggested that the Jaguars should date a QB, not marry one, in 2013. I've read a lot recently that because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, drafting a QB at #2 isn't the commitment it once was. Financially, that argument may be true. But in the eyes of the fans, when a brand new GM guts half the team and uses his first ever pick with the franchise on a controversial QB who's been mocked well below #2, that's marriage -- especially when the 10th overall pick from two years ago still has half his contract to go.
In the 1010XL interview, when asked about this year's QB class, Caldwell replied, "I wouldn't be surprised if you see maybe one go early and then maybe one go mid-later first round," later adding that the Jaguars were not a team "desperate" for a signal-caller. The new front office has pursued free agents in the exact manner they publicly announced -- stop-gap players who fit the new schemes and won't break the bank -- so there's no reason to believe they're lying about their draft strategy.
SCENARIO: WE DRAFT GENO AT #2
Let's say Smith does go to the Jaguars. There is no guarantee he lands the starting role -- he is considered a project quarterback, much like Gabbert was, and though Smith's ceiling may be higher, they both suffer similar afflictions. They threw mostly out of the shotgun/spread offense in college, they both have questionable footwork out of center, and they both have a tendency to step back from pressure. They're only a year apart in age, and Gabbert already has two years playing at NFL speed and developing chemistry with the offense.
SCENARIO: GENO IS THE REAL DEAL
Best case scenario, Geno Smith wins the starting role immediately and plays well, or at least well enough for a rookie. He is locked in as the quarterback, and Caldwell sinks or swims depending on if Smith's play continues to improve throughout his rookie contract. Continuing with the best case, Geno is the QB of the future and in two or three years, the rest of the team is competitive enough to make the playoffs. He breathes life into a dying franchise and finally replaces Mark Brunell.
SCENARIO: GENO IS GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH
But it's entirely plausible that Blaine Gabbert, with the right coaching and pieces around him finally in place, wins back the starting role. He may not have proven he can be the guy, but he had some solid moments and impressive drives - "franchise flashes," if you will - and he was also once projected to be the first QB drafted in 2011. Through 10 games in 2012, Gabbert completed 58.3% of his passes, right between Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill. As a team, the Jaguars dropped 41 passes last year, tied for second in the league. Gabbert played 62.5% of the year; 62.5% of 41 dropped passes is just over 25. So if those 25 passes were all caught, Gabbert would have completed over 67% of his passes. If even half of those dropped balls had never hit the ground, he'd be at nearly 63%, roughly where Andy Dalton and Drew Brees finished. I don't think it's unreasonable to assume Gabbert improves at least slightly going into his third season, and if that does happen, I don't see Geno winning the job in 2013.
One of Blaine's most telling stats is, of course, yards per attempt. He ranked dead last (of starters) at 6.0 ypa. His vertical passing game is nonexistent, but it's hard to say if that's all him, or a result of the offenses he played in. Chad Henne finished at 6.8 ypa; better, but only slightly, and Henne got much better play from the receivers, who improved every game.
I think this season, however, Gabbert plays scared -- not of opposing defenses, but of losing his job altogether. He won't be afraid to stretch the field, make risky throws, and find out for himself if he's really NFL caliber. Last year, he had the comfort of a coaching staff hired specifically for him. However, the franchise is completely different than it was during the 2011 draft - from owner, to GM, to Head Coach, to nearly every last staff member. Most of the Roar have been with the Jaguars longer than the front office has. This year, the Mizzou product has no choice.
SCENARIO: GENO IS NOT THE GUY, GABBERT ISN'T EITHER
So in this next situation, we drafted Geno, and either this year or next year he wins the starting job but proves he's ultimately not the guy either. We'd go from Byron Leftwich, to David Garrard, to Blaine Gabbert, to Geno Smith over the course of a decade. If Smith fails, it could be a breaking point for many fans, and we'd have another five years of "moving to London" rumors on our hands. The fanbase would lose faith in the GM and possibly the coaches; the team would have to spend its first rounder on a QB for the third time in five drafts. Season ticket holders would be exhausted from years of first round busts, and Shad Khan will have grown impatient without results and may begin to make moves out of desperation.
SCENARIO: WE DON'T DRAFT GENO
If we don't draft him, there are too many possibilities to even consider. In my perfect draft fantasy, a team like Philadelphia or Oakland trades us their first and third round picks in order to grab Geno (or any player, really). Even better would be a team like Buffalo or Arizona, who really are just one draft away from being a contender, trading their first and second round picks to us. I don't know how much of a market there is for the second overall pick, but I would be much more comfortable with someone like Dion Jordan, Ziggy Ansah, Chance Warmack, or Dee Milliner in the 4-12 range while racking up an extra selection or two. Then the Jags could use that additonal pick on a QB, a low-risk compromise.
OK, WRAP UP THE SCENARIOS ALREADY
Yes, this is mostly speculation and opinion, but so is the bulk of sports journalism. The NFL is supposed to be all about the franchise quarterback. The last few Super Bowl winners have been backed by Flacco, both Mannings, Rodgers, and Brees. Those names aren't just "Franchise" QBs; they are "Elite" QBs, and there absolutely is a difference. (Yes, Flacco is elite - you can't argue with 11 TDs against 0 interceptions unless you're Joe Montana). The only non-elite QBs to even make it to the Super Bowl recently are Ben Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick, and Rex Grossman, and some would argue Big Ben belongs in the elite category.
Players like Russel Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III were drafted by good teams, allowing them to excel immediately in the league -- and we're yet to see if they suffer sophomore slumps like Cam Newton. I don't buy for one second that Kaepernick, on a team like the Jaguars, would be nearly as productive as he was for San Francisco last year. More than ever over the past five years, people put on the blinders when it comes to any position other than QB. But it still takes a complete team, plus an elite QB, to win the Super Bowl. It's not one or the other; it's both, and it's important not to sacrifice one for the other, because then you'll have neither.
In my opinion, even if Geno can be the franchise quarterback for the Jaguars, I don't see him ever being elite or taking us to the Super Bowl. I don't see it happening with Gabbert, either, but we already have him, and for a good price. If we're going to end up with another project passer either way, I'd rather see Caldwell pull the trigger on a mid-round man. Honestly, I'd prefer to bite the bullet with Gabbert next year and skip the QB altogether in this draft (sorry, I just don't see anyone in this class ever starting a Super Bowl), and pick somebody early in 2014. I'm afraid that drafting Smith in the first round next month would prevent us from drafting a QB with higher potential in the following draft (hard to justify three first round QBs in four years).
A GM in today's league can't get away with that, however, and it's nearly impossible to land an elite QB without drafting him in the first round of any given draft.
So, take this as a legitimate argument, or playing devil's advocate, or just some guy who isn't a GM or sports writer for good reasons. But do you honestly see Geno Smith ever winning a Super Bowl? If you do, he makes sense at #2. But if you don't, then he shouldn't even be on the list. I don't.
But I'd love to read your opinions.