By Barry Janoff
April 20, 2017: Jon Gruden may not be the foremost expert on quarterbacks, but after heading up ESPN’s Gruden’s QB Camp, now in its eighth season, plus working as an analyst on Monday Night Football since 2009 — which followed 11 years as a head coach in the NFL — he certainly has seen a lot of them up-close and personal.
And he had a message for teams as they head toward the NFL Draft next week: Even if you have an established quarterback, take one of these young guys and get ready for the future.
"These guys are very talented. Some of them might be a year away," said Gruden during a media conference call on Wednesday (April 19). "But you have to start the developmental process quickly if you need a quarterback.
"When you look at some of the NFL teams, the New Orleans Saints, for instance, who is the heir apparent to Drew Brees? Who is the heir apparent to Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)? Eli Manning (New York Giants)? You have to look at it from that regard.
"Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get one of these guys you really like and put him in (your) program where they can watch a great player play for a year and then potentially take the keys and run with it," said Gruden.
Gruden talked about the next crew of quarterbacks ready to enter the NFL, breaking off from the majority of draft pundits by claiming that three and as many as four quarterbacks would be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft on April 27 in Philadelphia.
"I’ve had a lot of fun with these quarterbacks, five of them are underclassman. An interesting group. A very under-estimated group. We’ll see four of them go in the first round," said Gruden.
"The four quarterbacks I like in the first round potentially are Deshaun Watson (Clemson, pictured above), he’ll be gone. Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech). Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina). Who’s the fourth? There will be a sleeper somewhere along the road. Could be DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), could be Nathan Peterman (Pittsburgh)," said Gruden.
All five of the players named have appeared or will appear on Gruden’s QB Camp this season, along with Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee) and Brad Kaaya (Miami, Fla.).
Gruden has worked with nearly 60 quarterbacks during the course of the ESPN show, including the likes of Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Tim Tebow.
Gruden said that of the incoming group, he has been most impressed with Watson, the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who led Clemson to the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship after losing to Alabama in 2016.
"Who is the heir apparent to Drew Brees? Who is the heir apparent to Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)? Eli Manning (New York Giants)?"
"Deshaun Watson’s body of work impressed me the most,” Gruden said during the media call. "Back-to-back national championship games. He beat the best teams in college football. I love his poise. He plays his best football when he’s behind and all the chips are one the table. He’s got thick skin. He’s mentally tough. I like his overall game. He’s athletic. He’s got the intangibles everyone craves."
Gruden said that there will be a lot of teams looking at the incoming class of QBs, and not just those in immediate dire need of filling the position.
Gruden, an NFL head coach for 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08), with a career record of 100-85, five division titles and a win with the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, offered some advice to teams who might consider the crop of QBs to be under-developed.
"You have to have the foresight, the confidence and the coach in place to help get this done," he said. "But I’m all for taking some occasional risks in the draft. You don't know which players will turn it around."
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