Thursday, March 24, 2011
How To Delude Yourself; The Inherent Notion of Fanhood
Over the past couple of months, I've been close to obsessively monitoring updates on the Bills draft strategy. The latest news on that front is that the Bills are going to take a quarterback with the #3 pick, presumably Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. (This article sums it up- http://bit.ly/gYrtx6).
My completely rational, sensible fan side is screaming in agony at this news. The Bills gave up over 160 yards rushing PER GAME last year, along with just a terrible pass defense. A player like Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama), Von Miller (OLB, Texas A&M), Da'Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson) or even Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU, and supposedly the best prospect in the draft overall) would instantly make the defense better and give the Bills a fighting chance in more games. These would be 'instant impact' players. They are among the safest picks in the draft (as safe as picks can be in the NFL draft, I guess).
As for the quarterbacks...well, obviously having a franchise quarterback is important to winning championships. But reaching for a quarterback at #3 if you don't believe he can be 'the guy' is a mistake that can set back a franchise for years, a la JaMarcus Russell. Watching Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, I'm not convinced either one is 'the guy'.
But dear god, let me say that if the Bills do end up...*shudder*...draft a quarterback this year, I hope to god it is not Blaine Gabbert. I don't think there's ever been a prospect who was so mediocre in college who has gained this much attention. Seriously, Blaine Gabbert? I don't care about his physical skills or his apparent ability to fit into the NFL. This guy was nothing special in college. Seriously. Try and remember one weekend this college season where you said, "Man, I have to watch Missouri this week. Blaine Gabbert is KILLING it!" Never. No one besides fervent Missouri fans gave a crap about this guy (and yes, no one knew who Joe Flacco or Josh Freeman were before the draft, but no one talked about them as a possible #1 pick). Just go to youtube and type in 'Blaine Gabbert highlights". There's about two fan made videos, one of them embarrassingly bad (it shows an incomplete pass) and both featuring a ton of footage from the Mizzou-Illinois game. That's it (so yeah, no Missouri fans were hyped up enough to make a good one). And now he's the number one QB prospect in the draft? I don't know if the media needed to hype up another QB to go against Cam Newton in the pre-draft doldrums, but god, this charade has gone on too far. In 2010, Gabbert had 16 passing touchdowns. 16! At Mizzou against a creampuff schedule! Sure, his 63.7% completion percentage is impressive, but also a little inflated because of ridiculously good days against McNeese State and Miami of Ohio. Real tough games there. If you go and look at the aforementioned 'highlight' films of Gabbert, there's a lot of plays where Gabbert makes one read (it is a spread system, after all) and then starts running around like an idiot in the backfield, looping around from side to side before making a throw or scrambling for some yardage. Guess where that doesn't work? The NFL, where 300 pound defensive lineman and blazing fast lineman will catch up to you and destroy you (also, behind the Bills porous offensive line, yeesh). As Merril Hoge said (and I usually find Merril Hoge to be an idiot), Gabbert doesn't 'feel' pressure, he 'sees' pressure and runs from it. He's accurate, sure- but so was Trent Edwards. He has great combine stats, but so what? He doesn't pass the eye test.
Listen, I'm no huge Cam Newton fan. If the Bills have to take a QB, though, he's my guy. Newton's got arm strength, big play ability with his feet, and he's got...moxie, I guess (see the huge comeback against Alabama). He's a human highlight machine, and he played in the best conference in college football, against future NFL defenders (for the most part). Sure, he scrambles like Gabbert at points, but also had more designed runs and seems to react better to pressure. He was also in a one read, spread offense, but, like Gabbert, should be able to spend a year (or a little less) behind Ryan Fitzpatrick learning an NFL offense. I'm not saying this guy is perfect (in fact, there's a fair deal of similarity with him and Gabbert), but he definitely passes the eye test-he's got a flair for the big moment, he's a winner, and he makes plays (on the negative side, he feeds off attention, so Buffalo might not be the right pick). The Bills have been picking safe, accurate QB's in the third round or later as a general QB strategy. If they're going to take one in the first round, why not go for the one who pops off the screen, who could bring some real excitement? A backfield of Newton, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, with Stevie Johnson (and hopefully more...ahem, Lee Evans) at WR could be the foundation for an exciting offense, while the Bills build up defense.
Ok, so if you've been following at all, I hope the Bills will take a defensive stud instead of a QB at three, and if they have to take a quarterback, I hope it's Newton instead of Gabbert. But here's the thing. No matter what the Bills do, I'm going to inevitably end up supporting it until I see it's wrong. Call me naive, call me dumb, what have you. But that's the kind of fan I am. Maybe it's because I'm young, but I've taken my licks, and I'm ready to take more until, someday, improbably, I am rewarded for it. I've heard from plenty of other people who have 'given up' on the Bills, or the Sabres, or the Cubs, removing themselves from even following the team until they reach some arbitrary milestone in that fan's head that allows them to rejoin the faithful. Isn't that just hopping off the bandwagon? How would you feel rewarded once the team gets back to relevance? It would be hollow. Real fanhood is about believing in the future, the hope, however far off it is, that someday you will feel the joy of another win, a playoff appearance, or a championship. It's far off, but you can almost grasp it. If I don't believe, what else is there to do? Wallow in misery at some bleak future? No. I'll be the guy battered down, searching for some hope, finding solace in next year, next year, until it improbably becomes this year.