His pithy words came to mind as I thought about the Jacksonville Jaguars selection of Trevor Lawrence with the first pick of the 2021 NFL draft. Lawrence, we’ve been told ad nauseum, is a can’t-miss pick. A generational talent. As certain as death and taxes.
Heck, if we believe some of the gushing coming from various draft bloviators, the folks in Canton, Ohio, might as well start sculpting a Pro Football Hall of Fame bust of the Clemson quarterback who knows how to go long — with his shoulder-length golden locks and his spirals.
That’s not to say I don’t believe Lawrence is a mighty fine prospect. I do. He was, after all, 34-2 in his three seasons as a starter for the Tigers, with 90 touchdown passes and just 17 interceptions. He’s 6-foot-6, has a rocket arm and a high-speed internet brain that can diagnose defenses and process progressions in a nano-second. He also is extremely athletic, a guy who can buy time, throw on the move or take off on runs that conclude with touchdowns, which is something that happened 18 times the past three seasons. He’s a natural-born leader. Teammates gravitate to him and follow him.
But as sublime as his skills are, Lawrence is not flawless. Yes, he picked apart a very good Alabama team in the national championship game as a true freshman, but he’s also endured his share of big-game woes.
To paraphrase Mr. Franklin — who knew not a whit about pigskins but did have a football stadium in Philadelphia named after him — the only thing certain about No. 1 overall NFL draft picks is their uncertainty. Especially quarterbacks. History is not on Lawrence’s side.
It’s way, way too early to judge the careers of recent No. 1 selections Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. But of the previous 30 signal-callers selected with the top overall pick, just four — Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman — are enshrined in Canton. Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Jim Plunkett and Drew Bledsoe might get there someday, along with Matthew Stafford, who needs to enhance his credentials with several playoff seasons with his new team, the Los Angeles Rams.
A study of the NFL’s 85 drafts reveal many misses, few hits. One is the loneliest number. And if you don’t believe me or Three Dog Night, consider these previous top QB picks: Jameis Winston (2015); Sam Bradford (2010); JaMarcus Russell (2007); David Carr (2002); Tim Couch (1999); Jeff George (1990); Terry Baker (1963); Randy Duncan (1959); and Harry Gilmore (1948). There are several more. But you get the picture. Crap shoot.
Interestingly, the trend toward selecting quarterbacks first overall is a recent one, a reflection of the position’s increasing importance over time. A signal-caller wasn’t chosen in the top spot until the ninth NFL draft, with Notre Dame’s Angelo Bertelli going to the Boston Yanks in 1944. Jay Berwanger was recognized as the NFL’s first official draft pick in 1936, just months after becoming the first player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate player. A standout running back for the University of Chicago, Berwanger was chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles, but they didn’t believe they would be able to meet his salary demands of $1,000 per game, so they dealt his rights to the Chicago Bears.
Berwanger wanted to maintain his amateur status so he could compete in the decathlon in the Olympics in Berlin. After failing to make the U.S. team, he began negotiations with Bears owner George Halas, but the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, and Berwanger took a job with a plastics company. So, the first player chosen in the first official draft never played a down in the NFL — a decision he later regretted.
The Jags need not worry about Lawrence making a similar decision. He’ll become the fourth straight quarterback selected first overall, and the 10th top-pick signal-caller in the last 13 years. It appears like the right pick, but you never know. For every John Elway there are three Tim Couches. Plenty of uncertainty.
The good news is that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow seating capacity to increase to 33 percent at ballparks in the middle May. The bad news is that with six-foot spacing requirements, the true capacity for Rochester Red Wings games at Frontier Field will be closer to 23 percent, or roughly 3,000 fans.
I saw where one big-league club recently set up vaccinated-only sections. Sounded like a good idea to me, and one that could work for the Wings. Unfortunately, there is less space at minor-league parks like Frontier, which create more logistical challenges in order to comply with COVID protocols. Certainly, safety is priority No. 1. But common sense needs to prevail, too. Hopefully, the Governor’s medical people will take a closer look at how it’s worked in other places, and show some flexibility.
I’m all for coaching stability — if you have the right coach in place. After a nearly two-decade-long revolving door, the Buffalo Bills have found stability with Sean McDermott, who has guided them to three playoffs in four years. And with the right guy at quarterback (Josh Allen) and general manager (Brandon Beane), this could be a long, beautiful run.
Of course, nobody does stability like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who’ve had just three head coaches since 1969. And that stretch could reach 55 years with Mike Tomlin’s recent contract extension through 2024. Tomlin and predecessors Bill Cowher (15 years) and Chuck Noll (23 years) have combined for 31 playoff appearances and six Super Bowls victories in eight tries. In case you were wondering, the Bills have gone through 18 head coaches the past 52 years, while the Cleveland Browns have employed 21.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.