Monday, March 1st, 2021

The Quarterback Conundrum

Simon Clancy

Lead Feature Writer

The Quarterback Conundrum

Simon Clancy NFL

This article originally appeared in Issue LIII of Gridiron magazine, back in 2020 – for individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE

“He’s probably the best quarterback I’ve ever scouted in the flesh. I loved the kid; gave him a massive grade.”

Considering the many players evaluated and drafted – and decisions made as a Green Bay Packers scout, Seattle Seahawks senior personnel executive, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins general manager and Cleveland Browns senior advisor to John Dorsey – you’d expect Scot McCloughan to be talking about Peyton Manning or Dan Marino. After all, conservative estimates would tell you he has selected at least six Hall-of-Famers in his career as one of the most important decision-makers of the past two decades. “Yeah, Ryan Leaf got me good,” he adds. “And it wasn’t until I sat down with some veteran scouts a few years afterwards that I really discovered why.”

The Leaf question lies at the very heart of one of the biggest issues in football: what makes one signal-caller more likely to succeed than another, and why is the NFL’s evaluation process so inconsistent? Is it scheme-related or mental; coaching or personality? Through Manning vs Leaf, Alex Smith vs Aaron Rodgers, the dismissing of Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen over 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson, along with hundreds of other hits and misses, you’re left wondering if the league will ever understand how to scout the position, or if hundreds of mitigating factors make it impossible.

Famously, New England Patriots executive Scott Pioli would laugh at choosing Tom Brady with the 199th pick in 2000. “If we were any good, we wouldn’t have passed over him five times,” Pioli says. What’s less well known is he and Bill Belichick went back and forth between Brady and Louisiana Tech’s Tim Rattay during the process. “We were pretty far down the Rattay trail,” Belichick admitted. “They ran a spread offense, and he had a lot of big numbers. Then we got on Brady, so it was kind of Tom versus Tim in that (sixth) round. As luck would have it, we took Brady. I guess we drafted the right one.” Rattay, who passed for almost 13,000 yards and 115 touchdowns in college, managed only 31 scoring throws during a nomadic pro career. Brady recorded just over a third of Rattay’s Louisiana Tech numbers at Michigan and 85 less touchdowns, but currently has six Super Bowl rings and 511 more touchdowns across 19 years in the NFL.

It leaves so many questions. Why do thousands of scouts spend thousands of nights in hotels for decisions nobody will want to claim three years later? Is the entire process at fault? Do teams focus on the wrong things? Are the most important traits simply unmeasurable? “It will always be the hardest area to evaluate because there’s no measuring stick for the things that we deem vital,” adds McCloughan. “If the mental aptitude and personality isn’t right then you’re in big trouble. And there’s no way of telling that beyond your best guess. We can take these kids to the combine, do all the drills; all the pushing, pulling and evaluating, but there’s no test for leadership; where you can look a guy in the eye in the huddle in the fourth quarter and have 10 men look back and believe in him so much they’ll do anything to win. And that’s why it’s so hard to truly evaluate quarterbacks.”

McCloughan pauses for breath before starting again. “When we’re in Indianapolis, the coaches get these kids on the whiteboard and that’s very important. But they all meet with quarterback coaches around the country who tell them what we’re going to ask. They’re ready for us. And they’re smart, hence they play the position in the first place. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really help. It’s an inexact science; is it any wonder we’re not very good at it?”

So why did Jeff Garcia, Warren Moon, Tony Romo, Jake Delhomme and Dave Krieg go undrafted and succeed? Why were Jamarcus Russell, Heath Shuler, Todd Marinovich, Andre Ware and David Carr high first-rounders who flamed out? Mentality? Bad scouting? Or is it simply beyond the control of the 32 teams?

“When I came into the NFL, three things were very important to me: money, power and prestige. I was powerful because I was a famous athlete. I had prestige because I was doing what everybody wanted to do. And I had a lot of money.”

Leaf sits across the table in jeans and a hoody. The poster boy for draft busts looks tanned and fit. It’s 21 years since the Indianapolis Colts had to choose between him and Manning.

Manning entered the NFL boasting a rich family name following father Archie’s pro career and four strong years at Tennessee; Leaf was the cannon-armed West Coast glamour kid coming off a junior season in which he led Washington State to their first Pac-10 Championship with more than 330 yards passing per game. If Manning was polish, Leaf was dynamism. In the end, Manning finished his career as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer with two Super Bowl rings, while Leaf was out of the league in four years after a combination of poor play and worse behaviour. “I had it all,” he tells Gridiron. “And I blew it.”

“When I came into the NFL,” he adds, “three things were very important to me: money, power and prestige. I was powerful because I was a famous athlete. I had prestige because I was doing what everybody wanted to do. And I had a lot of money. I didn’t fail until I got to the highest level, so a lot of my bad behaviour was covered up by how I performed. Once my career started to go downhill, those behaviours were given a national spotlight.”

McCloughan laughs as we read that quote. Not at Leaf’s downfall, but how the words underline one of his most important factors for evaluating a quarterback. “There’s a joke I heard a few years ago that went around campus at Washington State, ‘What’s the difference between God and Ryan Leaf?’. The punchline was, ‘God doesn’t think he’s Ryan Leaf’. It reminded me of sitting down with those veteran scouts I mentioned. They told me to never underestimate where a kid grew up, the size of town, of the high school and the college town. Because lots of guys from small towns have never been challenged. They’re the big dog; the alpha. And that’s what Ryan was: a small-town, all-everything kid who went to Pullman – which is a really small university town. And we’re surprised he can’t handle the NFL? He’d never been challenged. That’s nobody’s fault. It’s just circumstance.”

Leaf, who spent more than two years in jail and was addicted to prescription drugs, is now a councillor, coach and college football analyst for ESPN. “I’m the only Montanan to be drafted in the first round,” he adds.” There are more first-round picks in the Manning family than from the state of Montana. There was no trailblazer for me, so this was the only way I knew. Throw in millions of dollars, scrutiny of the national media and, if your temperament’s not ready or right, it can be combustive. It all blew up in my face and rightfully so with the way I behaved. I blamed a lot of people. But I wasn’t capable of living life on life’s terms when it came to being an NFL quarterback.”

The San Diego Chargers weren’t the only ones fooled. Most of the league fell in love with Leaf and were unaware of the issues bubbling beneath the surface. Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian held the first pick in 1998. Despite his own scouts favouring Leaf, the Hall of Fame executive knew Manning was the guy three-quarters through the evaluation process.

“We looked at all the film,” he tells Gridiron, “and had started to pretty dramatically change the level of background work done in terms of investigating players, their personality and character. Once that was complete, it was clear Peyton was the guy. It wasn’t a hard decision. We knew it probably wasn’t going to be very popular. But, you know, his statue’s there today. He walks on water in Indianapolis. The stadium is the ‘House That Peyton Built.’ But in the ‘papers at that time, it wasn’t a popular pick. Ryan Leaf was the choice of the media.”

Tony Dungy – who would coach Manning to his first title but was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1998 – doesn’t feel Leaf’s popularity was solely a media creation. “Don’t let people tell you differently. Manning vs Leaf was really split,” he tells Gridiron. “We weren’t looking for a quarterback with the Bucs, but I remember it well, and it was really split.”

Despite his conviction, Polian enlisted the help of former 49ers coach Bill Walsh. Although Walsh ultimately sided with Manning, he was adamant Leaf would be a significant NFL talent. “He is gifted, with a natural throwing motion that is so quick,” Walsh said in his evaluation. “With a flick of his wrist, he can get the ball just about anywhere he wants. He is a good competitor, amazingly agile, smooth and graceful in his movement as a big man can be. He handled the Washington State offense beautifully. In a sense, it was an aerial circus.”

Scouts were divided on who should be number one. Sports Illustrated quoted one as saying, ‘Although he’d done an excellent job of getting the most out his abilities, Manning wasn’t as natural a player as Leaf’. Another argued whether Peyton would get better in the NFL and that, while he lacked ‘Hall of Fame skills’, he would have a ‘solid and productive career’. Interestingly, while Leaf’s scouting reports eulogised over arm talent, few featured much on traits that would signal his downfall.

Was Manning vs Leaf poor scouting, a lack information or just one of those things? After all, NFL teams spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year investigating prospects using in-house security personnel, often with law enforcement backgrounds. At the Scouting Combine, players meet the league’s security representatives and all 300-plus participants fill out a standard background check that aims to find information other teams may not have, creating a level playing field. Several days prior to the draft, each team’s security director compares the NFL’s findings to their own. The double-checking limits major mistakes.

Or at least it’s supposed to.

“Guys can be jerks, but I’ve never seen a player that worked harder at alienating his teammates through bad character decisions,” says the man who drafted Leaf, Hall-of-Famer Bobby Beathard. “Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, they came to me and said, ‘Bobby, this guy is killing me’.” And Leaf agrees. “I dealt with my teammates so poorly. I had plenty of opportunities to get guidance but, when they were critical, I pushed them away. I was making $5million a year and miserable doing something I’d wanted to do since I was four. The third game of my career, we played Kansas City and I played as poorly as I’ve ever played. I completed one-of-15 with two interceptions. I yelled at a reporter, and can almost narrow it down to a feeling where that was where my career ended. Three games in, a 22-year-old kid.”

If Leaf is everything a team needs to avoid off the field, what is it general managers look for on it? Most deem arm strength and accuracy critical, judging whether X can throw short, intermediate and deep to essentially answer the question you hear often: ‘Can he make NFL throws?’. But there are many other enquiries crucial to the puzzle: What are his footwork and mechanics like? Can he move the pocket and throw off different platforms? Is he elusive enough to avoid the rush and athletic enough to make plays with his feet? Is he receptive to coaching? Is he poised? Tough? Thick-skinned enough to deal with the media?

Even if you tick all those boxes, are you guaranteed to get the man? McCloughan says those things are important, but that it still comes back to the unmeasurables. Which is why he chose Smith over Rodgers in 2005.

“He was safe, cerebral and non-confrontational. On the flip side was a California kid who graduated from Jeff Tedford’s passer-friendly Cal system with a strong arm and will.”

Seven years on from Manning vs Leaf, the NFL found itself in a similar predicament with two quarterbacks dominating the pre-draft analysis. Smith was a 6ft 4in, 217lb passer who ran a spread offense under Urban Meyer at Utah, won the Mountain West Player of the Year, finished fourth in Heisman voting and led the Utes to Fiesta Bowl glory. He was safe, cerebral and non-confrontational. On the flip side was Rodgers, a California kid who graduated from Jeff Tedford’s passer-friendly Cal system with a strong arm and will. The 49ers, coming off a 2-14 season with a new head coach (Mike Nolan) and VP of personnel (McCloughan), needed a quarterback.

Gridiron speaks to the funny, gregarious, self-deprecating and brutally honest McCloughan a couple of days after Green Bay knock Seattle out of the playoffs, aided by two or three Rodgers dimes on third down. He laughs when we remind him he chose a solid game manager over a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. “Hindsight is 20/20,” says McCloughan. “I was young, just 34, and probably subconsciously had echoes of Manning/Leaf in the back of my mind. I was intrigued by Alex and the physical talent he had; the upside. I knew he’d come from the spread, but I was also sure he’d pick up the pro system we were running. But it wasn’t cut and dried.”

Three hours up I-80, east from the 49ers offices in the small town of Chico, Rodgers was sure it wasn’t. In fact, he was absolutely confident of being taken number one overall. “I just thought it was the perfect situation,” he said. “California kid who’d been a lifelong Niner fan. I thought I was the most NFL-ready quarterback coming out of college because I played in a pro-style system. I just thought I’d go first.”

So why didn’t he?

“Aaron was a damn good quarterback,” says McCloughan reflectively. “He had a better workout than Alex; it blew me away. A lights-out throwing exhibition. On pure talent, Aaron was the guy. But it came down to personality because we thought Alex had the better chance of being more consistent. Aaron was moody, and rubbed some players and coaches up the wrong way – which made us nervous. Look, we were a bad team and I was looking for the whole package. I got it wrong.”

McCloughan took Smith first overall while Rodgers famously fell to Green Bay at 24. The former started straight away, while the latter sat for three years behind Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre. How big a role did where they were picked have their careers? “I think it was huge,” says McCloughan. “Alex had five offensive coordinators in his first five seasons, whereas Aaron has had two head coaches in 14 years. That matters. If I’d known it would be musical chairs for Alex in terms of who was teaching him and the changes in the offense, I wouldn’t have picked him. Hell, I wouldn’t have picked either! Alex wasn’t learning how to be an NFL quarterback. He was just learning new terminology. In Green Bay, Aaron got to see the game and it slowed down for him. That’s part of why he’s so special. He got to live the system without being forced to play it.”

“I want to know how a kid’s wired, whether he’s a leader of men and how he’ll go from good to great. I value that more than the number of college starts you have and how tall you are.”

Over the last five years, the NFL has progressed very quickly, especially systematically. As it embraces younger head coaches like Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan and ushers out some of the older guard, there’s an offensive revolution happening. In the past, where teams tried to fit square pegs into round holes, they’re now embracing collegiate concepts young quarterbacks thrive in. Four wide receiver shotgun sets, with one read and throw, are the no longer just the norm on Saturdays. Passers feel immediately comfortable, rather than being stuck under centre in two-back, two-tight-end offenses alien to the way they’ve always played. More than 70% of the NFL is played out of the shotgun or pistol; in 1996, it was 7% and 13 teams never took a single snap from the ‘gun!

The Super Bowl LIV quarterbacks come from offenses that, 10 years ago, would have been NFL no-no’s: Patrick Mahomes thrived in an Air Raid system at Texas Tech, while Jimmy Garoppolo piloted Dino Babers’ up-tempo spread attack. Now those schemes are omnipresent and the term ‘pro-style quarterback’ is as antiquated as the fullback position. But the scouting community is still a small business. Pick any team across the league and they will have scouts with more than two decades’ experience. Old habits die hard.

There’s a scene in the 2001 film Moneyball, where Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, walks into a scouting meeting with multiple veteran talent evaluators.

“He’s got an ugly girlfriend,” one says.
“What does that matter?” says another.
“Ugly girlfriend means no confidence,” replies a third.

Beane quietens the room and then says: “Guys, you’re talking like this is business as usual. And it’s not. You’re sat around saying the same old nonsense as if we’re selling jeans. We’ve got to think differently. Adapt or die.”

Finally, the NFL is adapting. “The systems issue is fascinating for scouts,” said one AFC evaluator to Gridiron on the condition of anonymity. “Now we ask whether the player’s production or lack thereof is a result of scheme. So how would Player A produce if he was on Player B’s team? That’s one of the fun parts of this: comparing and contrasting players talent-wise and in terms of traits, personality, work ethic, injuries and off-field issues.”

Music to McCloughan’s ears. “This is exactly what we should be doing,” he says. “Within the past decade, organisations have lost many old-school philosophies. That whole, ‘It’s my system and we’re not changing’ schtick. It doesn’t work now. Look at the spread stuff they’re running in college. Hell, I remember 15 years ago when Alex (Smith) had his first day of practice and I went outside to watch because I wanted to see how he’d handle it. Mike McCarthy was our offensive coordinator, and he came over and said Alex just told him he’d never run a huddle in high school or college. Ever. I was like, ‘How is this possible?’. These days that’s the rule, not exception.

“We’ve always expected guys to come in and be good right off the bat. Understand the play call, read it back in the huddle, do it loud enough so the other 10 guys hear you, watch the play clock, deal with the crowd, read the defense at the line, seven, six, five, adjust to the late shifts, change the protection. That’s before the ball even touches their damn hands. And we wonder why kids fail when, on top of that, we’re taking away the offense they’ve thrived in and put them in something they’ve never seen before!” He breathes out heavily. “Look, it goes back to what I said at the very start: there’s no test for looking a guy in the eyes late in the fourth quarter and seeing control. That’s what Brady has. That’s what Russell Wilson has. That’s why they’re different. Russell is right up there with the very best. And I should know; I picked him.”

McCloughan isn’t the only one who can select great players. Bill Parcells knew a thing or two as co-architect of many great drafts with the New York Giants, Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. Parcells instilled very strict criteria for selecting passers, a seven-point checklist which he believed could eliminate risk and immaturity, placing value on experience, accuracy and big-game mentality. Parcells wanted each quarterback be a three-year starter and college senior who graduated and started a minimum of 30 games, winning at least 23. He also wanted a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 60% completion percentage.

Since 1999, only a handful of passers have met that test: Drew Brees, Robert Griffin, Byron Leftwich, Matt Leinart, Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Marcus Mariota, Chad Pennington, Phillip Rivers, Tim Tebow, Baker Mayfield, Brett Rypien and Ryan Finley. Two Hall-of-Famers, two very good franchise passers, one very solid starter, one average starter and four busts, with three too young to yet judge. “I think the game’s moved on from things like that,” says McCloughan. “Especially in the last few years. The evolution has been great for the game as a spectacle, but it’s made veteran evaluators reassess all they’ve ever been taught.”

So how does a man who came into the league as a regional scout 26 years ago countenance the new era of college passers: mobile, undersized by classic NFL standards with more experience running an RPO offense than taking snaps from under centre?

“I’m very flexible,” he says firmly. “I’ll get high-school stats and work through those. I’m not worried about completion percentage, touchdowns and picks. I can give you a list of passers with sub-60 percent completion percentages, like Matt Stafford and Matt Ryan, who’ve been very successful pros. Then I have another list of hyper-accurate kids, like Brian Brohm and RGIII, who haven’t parlayed high completions in college into consistent pro performance. So I just value something greater than that.

“Wins are important, but comeback wins are vital. If you’re down in a game and you’ve shown what it takes to come back and win, I care. If you’ve done it consistently in the fourth quarter, that’s huge. After that, I’m an open book. When I get them in a room, I want eye contact, excitement for the game, assertiveness. I want to know how a kid’s wired, whether he’s a leader of men and how he’ll go from good to great. I value that more than the number of college starts you have and how tall you are. Look at Zach Thomas, Frank Gore or Russell Wilson. You can’t ever measure what they have inside, yet they’ve always been told they’re too small or too light, that they don’t fit how the NFL thinks they should be.”

“And don’t forget,” he added with a light jab at Parcells, “the Jets scouts begged Bill to draft Tom Brady and he took a corner instead.”

Jokes aside, McCloughan’s right. How many undersized passers has the NFL snubbed because they didn’t fit what was deemed the norm while ignoring the obvious and drafting 6ft 5in or bigger oaks like Dan McGwire, Brock Osweiler and Blake Bortles? Would 6ft Timmy Chang, holder of numerous collegiate passing records, be more valued today? Or 6ft 1in Graham Harrell, the first player to post consecutive 5,000-yard seasons in NCAA history? Or 5ft 10in Doug Flutie? “I watch the style of the offenses and think, ‘Boy, I could thrive in these offenses,” he tells Gridiron. “It’s the style I played in Canada: wide open, zone reads. And we actually ran RPO stuff there too. By the end of my career, it was getting more acceptable to move around. But earlier it was so frustrating; it was tight formations, seven-man protections, and having to stay in the pocket.”

All of which begs the question: how far would 5ft 10in Wilson have fallen were it not for McCloughan?

“Teams that pick first are also some of the worst in football, often due to bad talent evaluation and development. In the end, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

We’re all guilty of being prisoners of the moment but, for Gridiron, there’s rarely been much doubt over the quality of Seattle’s superstar passer. If we were launching a franchise tomorrow, he’d be the unanimous pick at quarterback.

At NC State, Wilson was the best passer in college football and, a year later as a graduate transfer with Wisconsin, put together a season for the ages, outplaying every quarterback in the nation – including the five taken before him in the 2012 draft: Andrew Luck, Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Osweiler. By every possible metric bar one, he should have been a top-three pick who pushed Luck hard to be taken first overall. His college career and skill-set demanded it. Because he was undersized – his official combine measurement was 5ft 10ins and 5/8ths – Wilson fell to the 75th pick.

Two months before selection weekend, former Carolina Panthers quarterback and director of the IMG Madden Football Academy, Chris Weinke, said of Wilson: “If he was 6ft 5ins, he’d probably go number one.” Current Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, then an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, concurred: “The only issue with Russell is his height. That’ll be the reason he’s not picked in the first round.”

So, what did the man who eventually chose Wilson think and why was there so much fear about undersized passers? “The year before, we had a chance to take Andy Dalton,” says McCloughan who, alongside John Schneider, was responsible for building a Seattle team that went to two Super Bowls behind draft picks like Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. “But he didn’t really fit our system even though we really didn’t have a quarterback who could win. We signed Matt Flynn as a free-agent who I knew from my Green Bay days, but we really liked Russell from a long way out. I did a lot of work on him pre-draft and everything checked out. I loved him and John did too.

“But Pete [Carroll] was a little reticent and kept saying, ‘He’s short, he’s short’. We’d fire back about Drew Brees and then Pete would say that Brees was different because he ‘was special’. John and I kept assuring him that Russell could be special too. I’ve had the luxury of having the number one pick overall and he ended up being a good player – but not as good as he could have been. Then I took one in the round three and he’ll be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. They’re different cats, but it’s the ‘It’ factor. Alex was 21 when he came out and had all the intangibles. But, with Russell, he transferred to Wisconsin, a place known for toughness and work ethic and, within five weeks, was named a captain. That never happens. Never!

“For him to go to a school where he wasn’t known and, all of a sudden, have his peers vote him a captain? That was huge; a ‘wow’. I watched his junior and senior years, especially his fourth-quarter play. And remember, this is a big school, playing against Michigan and Ohio State every season. So how was he when the score was within 14 points? Tick. What about on third-and-five and longer? Another tick. We looked at a lot of avenues. Every time it was a tick, apart from the height.”

McCloughan and Schneider stuck to their guns and persuaded Carroll that Wilson would be really good. They almost drafted him in round two but took Wagner instead, then sweated through the third as, first, Andy Reid and then McCarthy called to say they were picking him in Philadelphia at 59 and Green Bay at 62.

Finally, Seattle got their man at 75 and haven’t looked back. He’s a two-time Super Bowl quarterback and seven-time Pro Bowler who, at age 31, is getting better. You could also make a solid argument that no passer has changed the modern game in the way Wilson has. His stature opened doors for Baker Mayfield (6ft) and Kyler Murray (5ft 10ins) to go first overall in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Ten years ago, you’d have been laughed out of the NFL for suggesting two quarterbacks measuring 6ft or under would go number one in successive years. But Wilson’s accuracy, leadership and durability – he’s never missed a game in eight seasons – made it possible. “At the top of the draft, there’s a big focus on the physical,” says Dan Orlovsky, who played quarterback in the NFL for 12 seasons with four teams and is now a highly regarded analyst for ESPN, “For the other positions, the physical qualities matter. But they’re the least important thing for quarterbacks. They can minimise a height problem by becoming obsessed with their craft, understanding how to find open throwing lanes and creating space and sightlines to throw. It’s always been that way; it’s just that the NFL has created these invisible barriers.”

There are so many factors that go into why the league continues to miss on quarterbacks. Scouts and GMs fall in love with false idols, and miss or ignore warning signs because they’re reticent to change. Teams that pick first are also some of the worst in football, often due to bad talent evaluation and development. In the end, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The nature of the sport, combined with how the human mind and body develop, means busts will always happen, just as Hall-of-Famers fall through cracks. Mistakes have to be lived with: from the personnel director who said Rodgers “is very rigid mechanically”, or the Super Bowl-winning coach who called JaMarcus Russell “a can’t-miss prospect”. Or the 13 scouts polled by a newspaper who claimed Cam Newton would be, at best, a ‘sub-standard starter’.

Dan Marino fell below Todd Blackledge and Tony Eason. Ozzie Newsome traded up for Kyle Boller. Even the great Walsh stumbled upon Joe Montana accidentally. The evolution of the position in terms of parameters around size and movement may make things easier for progressive teams, but more difficult for those stuck in the past: the reason Green Bay, San Francisco and Baltimore are winners on the field is because they’re winners off it. You don’t go from Favre to Rodgers, Montana to Steve Young to Garcia, Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson because of luck.

Or do you?

“Part of it is luck,” says a laughing McCloughan. “When you go back and look, the ones that didn’t make it lacked the ‘It’ factor. But make no mistake, we got lucky with Russell – just like the Patriots got lucky with Brady. But what do I know? I’m the guy who took Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers.”

This article originally appeared in Issue LIII of Gridiron magazine, back in 2020 – for individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE

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