Most Dolphins fans by now have a pretty good idea of which quarterback they want Miami to pursue next April, as 2012 is already being projected as the "year of the quarterback. And now that the Tony Sparano era is officially history, it's safe to assume that Miami's next head coach is going to want to use a first-round pick to shoot for the moon and get the best signal caller possible. No real news here. If anything, it's just a matter of which quarterback prospect will best fit the offensive scheme in place next spring.
If USC's Matt Barkley, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Baylor's Robert Griffin III all declare for the NFL Draft, there will likely be five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Everyone knows about Andrew Luck's pedigree, and it seems almost certain that he will end up in Indianapolis next season (as for where Peyton Manning ends up, I have no clue. Washington and Kansas City seem like possible destinations). Matt Barkley went on a two-month-long tear after losing to Stanford last October, and has a very good chance of the being a top five pick next April (do-everything, west-coast-style quarterbacks have a way of working draft analysts into a hype-addled frenzy, don't they?). Robert Griffin III, who won the Heisman Trophy last Saturday, is proving to be a formidable, trend-setting talent at the quarterback position, despite not having much experience under center or in a pro-style offense (Griffin's sudden rise as a quarterback demigod has been more impressive than Cam Newton's dream season last year, in my opinion). And Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, once thought to be a long-term project at quarterback, has certainly been impressive enough this season to catapult his way into the second half of round one in 2012.
Unlike the prospects above, things haven't been so great for Landry Jones this season. The Sooner signal caller, viewed as a top 10 pick last summer, has been far from impressive the last six weeks. Since losing his No.1 receiver, Ryan Broyles, to a torn ACL on Nov. 5, Jones has looked straight-up lost against a lot of inferior competition, struggling with accuracy and failing to even throw a touchdown in his last three games. Worse yet, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for Jones to return to Norman for his senior season, since Oklahoma has a Tim Tebow clone in Blake Bell, who will essentially murder Jones' red zone numbers if he returns in 2012.
So why should anyone bother with a QB who has so many question marks, especially in the "year of the quarterback?" Consider this little piece of Dolphins history as an answer to that question.
Let's pretend it's April 1983. You have a mullett in training (which won't fully develop until 1984, of course) and you think breakdancing and Michael Jackson's red leather jacket are the coolest thing on the planet You're three months removed from watching the offense-inept Dolphins get run over by John Riggins and the Washington Redskins in Super XVII. Now, most fans and experts would disagree that the Dolphins need to draft a quarterback, but current starter David Woodley isn't exactly Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw or even that Joe Montana kid, is he? And since 1983 is being called the "year of the quarterback," it kind of makes sense for Miami to partake in the festivities. Everyone knows that Indianapolis, the team with the first pick, wants the mobile, strong-armed kid out of Stanford. Then there's that quarterback out of the U--the guy who is supposedly a warm-weather passer and has experience in what's essentially a pro-style scheme. Then there's the real accurate kid out of UC Davis, as well as those two slightly overrated quarterbacks out of Illinois and Penn State, respectively. Hmmm. Yes, any of these guys would look great in a Dolphins uniform. You know who wouldn't, though? That rifle-armed quarterback with the big head of hair out of Pitt University. That guy sucked throughout the 1982 season. 23 interceptions and 17 touchdowns? A quarterback who never had a completion percentage above 59.5 while in college? A supposed drug user? No, thanks. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am off to see that new Francis Ford Coppola film about greasers living in Tulsa, Okla. Grody!
Well, the Dolphins did take that kid out of Pitt, and he proceeded to go on a serial-killer-like passing spree through the NFL for the better part of 17 seasons. In fact, you could make the case that the rest of the NFL never caught up to Dan Marino's sheer overall ability. I can remember watching the Dolphins play the Colts in the RCA Dome in October 1999 (Marino's last season), and Dan threw a game-winning fade to the corner of the end zone on fourth down; while walking off the field, Dan had a look on his face that said, "Did you seriously think I wasn't going to win this game?"
That was classic Marino: fiery, methodical and poised to slit your throat if you even thought about cheating up your safeties in coverage. Still, if The Phinsider had existed during the original "year of the quarterback" in 1983 it's unlikely that people here would've been necessarily hepped about taking Dan Marino with the 27th overall pick.
Now, contrast Marino's draft situation to what Landry Jones is currently going through. After a stellar sophomore campaign, Jones this season was expected to challenge Andrew Luck for both the Heisman Trophy and No.1 overall pick in the NFL. Jones' play through the first two months of the college season wasn't particularly Heisman or No.1-pick worthy, but entering Oklahoma's game at home against Texas A&M, Jones had thrown 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions and possessed a completion percentage of 66.9 percent. Not too shabby when you consider the fact that Jones had six less completions than Andrew Luck had attempts entering Saturday, Nov. 5.
Of course, Jones' problems really started when Broyles went down for the season that day. After finishing with two touchdowns and no picks against Texas A&M, Jones didn't find the end zone the rest of the season and tossed five picks over a three-game stretch against Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Losing his No.1 wideout certainly affected Jones, as Broyles was absolutely his safety valve in the passing game. The major school of thought here, however, is that a pro-worthy quarterback should be able to find another option and continue to lead the offense. Maybe so, but remember that Luck's production dipped a bit after big-time Stanford wideout Chris Owusu went down against Oregon State (on Nov. 5, curiously enough), contributing to Stanford's loss to Oregon one week later. What if Matt Barkley had lost Marqise Lee or Robert Woods this season? What if Robert Griffin III had lost the uber-ridiculous Kendall Wright halfway through this season? Would he still have won the Heisman? Tough to say.
There's more to Jones' season-end slide than him simply losing his best receiver, though. As mentioned above, a huge reason for Jones' lopsided numbers in November and December was Blake Bell, who is Oklahoma's Tim Tebow clone. Anytime Oklahoma finds the red zone, Bell is almost certain to come out and line up under center. This murdered Jones' production the last three weeks of the season, and made his situation look a lot worse than it really is. Bell's numbers over the last month of the season? How about nine rushing touchdowns in four games? How many of those rushing touchdowns would've come off of Jones' hand otherwise?
There's little point in denying that Jones' accuracy dipped a bit towards the end of the season, but so did Marino's in 1982 (hard to imagine, since Dan put the ball wherever he pleased while in Miami). Before his struggles late in the season, Jones was hands down the most accurate quarterback potentially available in the 2012 draft ... even more so than Andrew Luck. And while Jones' footwork was atrocious late in the year, that flaw can rectified by thorough coaching. Jones is a quarterback in a spread offense, but if people here are going to embrace Robert Griffin III, they're absolutely wrong to write off Jones simply because of his lack of experience in a pro-style offense.
Look, this guy has arguably the purest arm of any quarterback in the draft, and in an offense that wants to push the ball downfield early and often, Landry Jones is a worthy prospect ... but he'll need some time to develop. Marino only needed six games to step up and set the NFL world on its ear; Jones will need more, no doubt. God help all of us, though, if Jones figures out how to put it all together. And if so, I hope we don't look at him the way everyone looked at Marino after he made his first start for the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 9, 1983. That would be a shame.