AN AMUSING thing to do in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft is to go back and review what people were saying about it 1 year ago. The website WalterFootball.com is an invaluable resource for this endeavor thanks to its copious note-taking during the NFL's smoke-blowing season.
What follows are a selection of reports from national media outlets during the run-up to the 2014 draft. We recommend reading them out loud, followed by the words, "And, this year, Chip Kelly will do anything to land Marcus Mariota."
* "Word's spreading among the media here that Manziel is going to Jacksonville at No. 3."
* "Manziel is in play anywhere from No. 3 to Jacksonville to the Rams' second first-round pick at No. 13."
* "The Browns have performed an analytical study that says Teddy Bridgewater will have the highest success rate in this draft."
* "Cleveland's guy is Derek Carr and they're going to take a different player with the fourth pick and they want to take Derek Carr with their second one."
* "The Jaguars are going to play it safe at No. 3, meaning a tackle, Sammy Watkins, or Khalil Mack."
* "Taylor Lewan will be a Top 6 pick."
* "The Bucs' interest in Manziel is real."
* "Everybody in the league says Marqise Lee won't get past the Packers."
* "I'm told the top two receiver targets for the Panthers are Brandin Cooks of Oregon State and Marqise Lee of USC."
In order: Manziel went No. 22 to the Browns with Carr and Bridgewater still on the board; the Jaguars drafted quarterback Blake Bortles; Taylor Lewan went No. 11; the Bucs selected Manziel's college teammate; Lee got past the Packers and every other NFL team before he was drafted in the second round, by which time the Panthers already had selected receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
Hey, we're talking about reporting news, not building clocks. Nobody ever said you should set your watch to this stuff. Still, anecdotal evidence suggests that, when it comes to the NFL draft, where there's smoke, there's whatever is the opposite of fire. And given that Chip Kelly and the Eagles allowed speculation about their inevitable pursuit of Mariota to rage unchecked for the first month of the offseason, it's fair to say that either Kelly is much better at game-planning than gamesmanship, or he never really viewed trading up for the 2014 Heisman winner as a legitimate possibility.
For many of the folks who have spent the offseason beating the Mariota drum, that second scenario doesn't make much sense. And there is some logic to the reasoning. The Mariota Truthers will tell you Kelly once compared his former pupil to Peyton Manning. They'll point to his unequivocal statement that Mariota is the best quarterback in the draft. What price would have been too high to pay for the ability to draft Manning? If Kelly really believes that Mariota is that kind of talent, then how can he rule out trading for him?
Well, here's one explanation: Maybe he doesn't think he needs that kind of talent. Maybe Mariota isn't the guy Kelly needs because Kelly doesn't need a guy, or at least he doesn't think that he needs a guy. That's what all of this speculation is predicated upon, isn't it? Its foundation is an assumption that Kelly, like all coaches, is in search of a quarterback to build his franchise around. Yet everything that we have seen out of Kelly suggests that he does not place that kind of value on any one position, on any one talent. He has cut DeSean Jackson, traded LeSean McCoy, allowed Jeremy Maclin to walk away. He seems prepared to enter a season with Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Riley Cooper as his top wideouts.
And what about the quarterback position itself? In transitioning from Michael Vick to Nick Foles to Mark Sanchez to Sam Bradford, has he ever given an indication that he views the position as much more than 1/11th of a scheme? That's not to suggest that he would be opposed to finding a Tom Brady. Just that he might not think a team needs a Tom Brady to win a Super Bowl. Or, at least, a team doesn't need one bad enough to surrender a first-round, second-round and two fourth-round picks, which is the price the Falcons paid to move from No. 27 to No. 6 back in 2011. Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Brady himself, all were drafted later than the Eagles' current first-round position.
The conventional wisdom is that a coach needs his quarterback. But this time of year, conventional wisdom usually turns out to be anything but.