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ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.: Mike Shanahan ‘Can’t Miss Four Times’ On QBs

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. conducted another pre-draft teleconference Thursday afternoon and touched on several needs for the Washington Redskins, including the cloudy quarterback situation and other potential needs elsewhere on the team.

Obtaining Robert Griffin III, the Baylor quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in December as college football’s best player, is something Kiper thinks is worth it for any team considering doing so. When it comes to the Redskins, the need at the position is pressing.

“When you’re in a division with Eli [Manning] and [Michael] Vick and [Tony] Romo, I don’t care what else you have – you’re going to be in the cellar unless you have that quarterback,” Kiper said.

Kiper believes the Redskins, given their past inclinations to give up a plethora of draft picks to obtain the players they want, could afford to give up quite a bit for Griffin. Head coach Mike Shanahan has shown more restraint over the past two seasons, but he knows owner Dan Snyder would love to make a splash.

“Shanahan can’t miss now,” Kiper said. “He missed three times on quarterbacks [Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck] and he can’t miss four times. RG3 is the option.”

Kiper also makes several references to the Redskins not being able to sign Peyton Manning, who was released by Indianapolis on Wednesday. The futures of five quarterbacks – Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Arizona’s Nick Foles, Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins were also addressed.

A selection of relevant questions and quotes from the nearly two-hour conference call follows:

Can you break down the possibility of how the Browns can weigh Griffin vs. one of the other quarterbacks, and also a scenario where the Browns wouldn’t have to trade up for a pick?

“I think they would have to for this reason – if you look at Washington, and Peyton Manning doesn’t want to play in the same division with his brother, then Miami is obviously the top candidate. And then obviously, you think about Manning not open to Washington anymore – that certainly impacts St. Louis. I think if Washington had the ability to get Manning, I think it would have hurt St. Louis with their leverage, in their ability to get into a bidding war with two teams – which is what could happen now. If Washington doesn’t get Manning and all of a sudden it’s Cleveland and Washington vying for RG3, Dan Snyder doesn’t usually lose in the offseason. He usually wins the offseason Super Bowl a lot of years. He likes to make that big splash, and certainly RG3 for Mike Shanahan, who’s 0-for-3 now in evaluation of quarterbacks with McNabb and Beck and Grossman – he can’t miss. He can’t miss on this decision. RG3 for Washington or Cleveland means it’s going to be pretty expensive to move up to No. 2 just because of that intense competition with two teams.”

What is this year’s group of safeties like, and is it true a good safety is hard to find?

“Well, they’re a key component. I think everybody wants the next Ed Reed or the next Troy Polamalu. I feel like a common denominator of some of these teams, and a key entity, is the safety position. I think this year, it’s turned out to be a couple guys that I think have a chance to be very good. Maybe not elite, but very good. You talk about Mark Barron at Alabama – of course, it’s a hernia injury now, but he was special [with] two national championships. A spectacular player for Nick Saban. You’ve got Harrison Smith at Notre Dame. I didn’t know if he was a linebacker and safety early on. He had a big junior year with a lot of interceptions. This year, his huge game against Michigan State early, he couldn’t intercept a pass but was very active. People view him as a late one to early-to-mid two; Barron is more of a mid-first. Then it’s the battle for that third safety spot between Brandon Taylor from LSU, who is one of those unsung Bayou Bengal defensive backs who played steady football. He’s now catapulted into that second-round mix. Antonio Allen from South Carolina – a good football player, probably more of a third-round pick. Phillip Thomas, the cornerback/safety from Syracuse probably more of a third. There’s only, really, in the first two rounds three safeties that will come off the board – one in the first, two in the second. But Barron is the guy, but he’s not a top-five, top-10 guy. He’s not elite, but he’s very solid. He’ll probably end up being a mid-first round pick.”

What did you see out of the second group of quarterbacks in Indianapolis – Tannehill, Osweiler, Weeden, even Cousins – and maybe what are their ceilings?

“Well, I think right now, Tannehill is probably locked in to the mid-first round. I have him to Seattle at 12. I think there’s some question about Tannehill as far as how quickly he’ll be able to play. [Jacksonville quarterback] Blaine Gabbert, we said last year when you listen to this conference call, I said he wasn’t going to be ready to play at a high level coming out of that Missouri offense. But Tannehill – it’s a lack of experience and the fact that against Oklahoma, 50 percent completion percentage. Kansas State, 58.7. Texas, 40.8 with three picks. Three picks against Oklahoma. Three picks against Oklahoma State, 59.6. Against those four teams, those better teams, he struggled. Versus ranked teams, only 59.8 with nine picks. Great in the red zone, though. It wasn’t about Tannehill. Spectacular in the red zone: 63.5 percent and 18 touchdowns with one interception. You like the potential, you like the talent. A former wide receiver – I don’t know many quarterbacks, since I’ve been doing it since ’79, I’ll go back and check every book – I don’t think there’s been anybody that’s been from another position, going to quarterback, that’s been a first-round pick. Jim Kelly was a linebacker when Penn State was recruiting him back in the late-70s, and he was of course drafted in 1983 in the first round and is a Hall of Fame quarterback, but Tannehill – you don’t see that that often, if ever. I think he’ll go high.

Brandon Weeden, to me, would have been a guaranteed top-10 to top-15 pick if he was 22 or 23, but he’s 28 or 29 as a rookie. Turns 29 in October, and that’s why he’ll be late-first to mid-second. His number across the boards – ranked teams, 70.7 percent. Red zone, 60.9 percent. Third-down he was tremendous. Third-and-long he was really good. I mean, overall, he’s across the board – everything you look at with Brandon Weeden – his arm, his release, his accuracy, his intelligence, his leadership – Brandon Weeden is a heck of a football player and a heck of a quarterback. I’d say – he said when I interviewed him on the radio, ‘Hey, I’m not going to have a 15-year career, but I can have a real good seven-, eight-year career.’ He’ll be expected to play right away.

Foles, a little inconsistent more so with decision-making, not accuracy. From Arizona, he’ll probably be in that second round next. Brock Osweiler, he struggled in the red zone. He didn’t have – he was 49.5. He had that pick in the end zone against Boise State that was returned 102 yards for Boise State, making it a 35-10 game instead of 28-17. But he’s got talent and he’s got the arm and he’s got imposing size and he was a former basketball player. He’s a real good athlete. Kirk Cousins struggled in the red zone with some picks and made some mistakes. It wasn’t all his fault, but a good, solid quarterback. Is he ever going to be any better than that? Maybe not, but he’s in the second-round position as well. You know, after Tannehill, you probably have Weeden, Foles, Osweiler and Cousins all trying to be day-two picks, second or third round, and at worst, I think, third round for all these guys. I think Weeden is going to go early- to mid-second. Foles is probably going to go mid-second. Osweiler in the second and Cousins maybe the third. That’s the way I’d break down the quarterbacks.”

In the context of the Redskins pursuing Griffin, what factors do you think most influence the price St. Louis is going to ask for that second pick? It is only moving up four spots, but it also is having this guy on the team versus not having this guy.

“Well, I think the main thing is, first of all, having Washington in the mix. The chart I talked about last week – there’s the chart and there’s above and beyond the chart if you get competiton. You have a quarterback-driven league, a team in Washington that beat the Giants twice, beat Green Bay two years ago and they had nothing to show for it because they don’t have the quarterback. When you’re in a division with Eli and Vick and Romo, I don’t care what else you have – you’re going to be in the cellar unless you have that quarterback. They tried, they thought they had guys, they made some bad evaluations and they thought some of those guys were better, those quarterbacks they had last year. That turned out to be a bad evaluation. That happens with quarterbacks. Shanahan can’t miss now. He missed three times on quarterbacks and he can’t miss four times. RG3 is the option. Manning’s not coming there. It’s either RG3 or Matt Flynn, and Matt Flynn has had two games. Are you going to go that route or go with RG3? I think with Washington, it’s above and beyond the chart. Obviously, it’s going to take a lot. Cleveland has that 22nd pick, which is critical for St. Louis to get that 22nd pick. That was the Julio Jones trade. Cleveland – how much are they going to be willing to give up and be willing to match what Dan Snyder’s looking to part with? It’s going to be fun to watch. The team with the benefits is St. Louis, and as I said before, St. Louis had Washington in play, and Washington didn’t get Peyton Manning, that price for that second pick went way up. If Washington signed Peyton Manning, and if they do sign Peyton Manning – who knows how that’s going to go, but probably not – if they did, then all of a sudden it’s St. Louis and Cleveland vying. Cleveland’s not going away. They’re always going to be there. For Washington, it would have to outbid Cleveland. I don’t care about the spots to move up. It’s the quarterback. It’s a quarterback-driven league. Griffin’s red-hot right now. Being 6-2 and 3/8 really helped him. That point made a few weeks ago where if you’re under 6-2, maybe you have to beat the odds to be an effective starting quarterback in this league. The bottom line is it’s going to be expensive to go from six to two if the Redskins want to do it – and that’s the option they have right now.”

In the context of the Browns, what do you think they should trade to St. Louis for Griffin?

“I think let’s address all the needs. I mean, they go seven or six deep at needs. The quarterback position, wide receiver, defensive end, cornerback, outside linebacker, running back. It goes on and on and on. I agree with you that the premise of having draft picks and giving them away – you’re not giving them away. You’re getting a quarterback that has star power, an if you believe that you’re looking at a quarterback who could be outstanding – maybe not Andrew Luck, but maybe really, really good, you think about when [Pittsburgh quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger, [San Diego quarterback Phillip] Rivers and [Eli] Manning came out, you thought, ‘Well, is he going to be as good at this guy?’ All three of them are really good. You’ve got a couple potential Hall of Famers there in that group. Sometimes all of them can be really good. I think for Griffin, if you think RG3 is going to be a spectacular quarterback in this league, it’s so quarterback-driven now, that would make me reassess the quarterbacks because back in the day, you let them develop. Now you have to also assess, ‘Is he ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL in terms of dealing with good and bad?’ We talked about that with [Carolina quarterback Cam] Newton. He’s not winning as much. And then the perception is, did you hit with this guy or you didn’t? Then you have to deal with that from how he’s evaluated as a rookie. I think there’s a lot that goes into it but for Cleveland, if you have to battle with Washington potentially, that’s going to make it very costly, because as I said before, Dan Snyder knows what they need – and they’ve got to get a quarterback. They beat the Giants twice and they beat Green Bay two years ago. He knows the missing link in Washington is quarterback. It’s not in Cleveland. It’s not a missing link right now. This team needs a lot of help, so I think does Cleveland want to go and outbid Washington? They’ve done it before. They value draft picks recently, but they haven’t in the past, and I can see them just going and giving up whatever it takes. If they don’t go get Peyton Manning, I think Washington will give up whatever it takes with RG3, and does Cleveland want to go the extra mile? I don’t know. That’s only a question that can be answered by them.”

Say the Redskins move up to No. 2 and they get Griffin, they obviously still have needs at wide receiver and right tackle. What do you think they could address with those picks later in the draft?

“I think at right tackle and wide receiver – there’s a lot of wide receivers that would be in the discussion. I think Rueben Randle of LSU, Brian Quick [of] Appalachian State – I think a lot of guys would fall into that mix at that particular point in the draft. I think that would be a position, mid-third or fourth round, you could go Nick Toon out of Washington. If you want a slot guy in the third round, fourth round. There’s T.Y. Hilton out of Florida International. A second- or third-round big receiver, Marvin McNutt out of Iowa would be a guy. If you want some mid-round guys, Danny Coale out of Virginia Tech would be a good wide receiver. If you want a couple sleeper guys, you know, Chris Summers maybe out of Liberty would be a guy to look at possibly. A guy like Dale Moss out of South Dakota State would be another guy to look at late. There’s going to be a lot of those types of receivers.

As far as right tackles are concerned, some of these guys you can find down the line. Levy Adcock is a kid out of Oklahoma State who you may say is not that athletic, not a knee-bender, and he’s going to struggle, but he played a lot of good football at Oklahoma State at left tackle and at right tackle. He’s got quickness. To me, for a kid his size [6-foot-6, 320 pounds], he’s a huge bookend. I understand [former Redskins tackle] Jason Fabini – he didn’t run well and people questioned him but he had a long [11-year] career in the NFL. He had a lot of good years in the NFL. If Adcock is there in the sixth, seventh round, he could be a right tackle for you. He could slide all the way into the late rounds. Again, Tom Compton out of South Dakota is another kid you could possibly look at there that could help a football team at that particular spot. There is going to be some options there, but I think a ton of options at wide receiver throughout the draft.”

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