Chargers should consider trading down for N.C. State QB
Posted: Monday April 12, 2004 10:03AM; Updated: Monday April 12, 2004 3:49PM
* Philip Rivers holds the NCAA record with 51 starts, but two of those starts were in bowl games in 2000 and 2001. At that time, the NCAA did not include bowl games in a player's season and career statistics.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- I know what San Diego GM A.J. Smith must be thinking right now.
How can I not take Eli Manning with the first pick in the draft?
It's easy for me to sit back here on the other side of the country, with no vested interest, and advise Smith to deal down with the Giants, who hold the fourth overall pick in the April 24 draft, and then try to trade down again -- probably with Cleveland (seventh), Atlanta (eighth) or Jacksonville (ninth) -- and pick North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers. I know. It's not my neck on the line. This is the organization that six years ago missed out on Peyton Manning by one pick and took the bust of all time, Ryan Leaf, second. This is the franchise that dealt away the chance to pick Michael Vick three years ago ... and the team that 21 years ago didn't trade with Baltimore for John Elway because Chargers officials thought the price for Elway was too high.
So there is tremendous pressure in the community for the Chargers to make the right choice at quarterback when the draft kicks off on April 24. But I am here to say the easy choice is Eli Manning. The right choice is Philip Rivers.
Unlike a few recent drafts, there's a market for the top pick. The Giants want to come out of this lottery with one of the two top-rated players in the draft -- Manning or Iowa tackle Robert Gallery. They'll trade up if they think they have to in order to get one of these gems. Cleveland and Jacksonville want Gallery. It's feasible to think the Chargers can trade down from first to fourth with New York, then deal down a few spots more to ensure getting Rivers. They likely have to deal down no lower than Houston at No. 10, because Pittsburgh, at 11, likes Rivers.
I know that Smith has to be concerned about the wishes of his ticket-buying public, which knows Manning much better than Rivers. Manning's got the pedigree, and I'd never argue that he won't be a good pro. He will be. He might be a great one like his brother. And no matter what the Chargers say if they take Rivers, my guess is a majority of the town will throw tomatoes at the side of Qualcomm Stadium on draft day if they come away with Rivers and not Manning.
The public would be wrong. Rivers is not only in Manning's league, he might be better. And the value gained by dealing down and picking up extra picks could be a boost for this moribund franchise -- a much bigger boost than the Chargers would get by just sitting there and taking the big college star.
Last Thursday, sitting with Rivers in the quarterback meeting room of the pristine N.C. State football facility, I watched a couple of 2003 games on tape -- overtime losses at Ohio State and at Florida State. And I came away thinking: This guy's going to be a really good pro. Great? Who knows, because so much of that depends on what surrounds a quarterback. But he played great in two of football's most hostile venues when it mattered most. He brought the Wolfpack back from a 24-7 deficit at Columbus. He's supposed to have just an average arm, but he threw a perfect laser 30 yards downfield through three OSU defenders into a tiny hole for a touchdown; you can count on one hand the NFL quarterbacks who could have made that throw at that moment. He's supposed to have plodding mobility, but he continually evaded the quick Florida State rush, stepping up in the pocket and in and around trouble, throwing for 422 yards. This is no dink-and-dunker. Whereas Tim Couch made his living at Kentucky throwing six and eight yards downfield, completing 70 percent of his passes by always making the safe throw, Rivers makes all the throws. In those two games, against two very good college football teams, he threw for 737 yards and completed 71.1 percent of his passes.
"In the NFL,'' Rivers told me when the tape session was finished, "that's what it's going to be like a lot of times. You're behind, and you've got to come back late. You find out a little bit about yourself in times like that.''
Rivers started 51 college games, which is an NCAA record. He completed 67.1 percent of his career throws. This is the number I really like: In four seasons as a starter, Rivers averaged 7.89 yards per attempt. BrettFavre's NFL career yards-per-attempt number is 7.06.
In the end, I understand the pressure to take Manning. But A.J. Smith is a football man. He has to realize his team is miles -- and certainly more than one player -- from being really good. If either Manning or Rivers takes the San Diego snaps in the future with LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield, the Chargers will certainly be a better team. But if he decided to go with Rivers, Smith can probably get a No. 2 pick from the Giants, minimum, and then maybe another second-rounder from a team four or five spots lower. That's two more starting players. That's maybe a good defensive tackle like Florida State's slippery Darnell Dockett, plus a first-round-quality wideout like LSU's Devery Henderson -- as bonuses while still getting the quarterback he and his staff really like anyway. He's told me how high he is on Rivers.
It's times like this when the right decision might be the unpopular decision. But if I'm a Chargers fan, I like my scenario better than sitting there and taking Manning.
... With new Arizona head coach Dennis Green.
MMQB: How do you evaluate the players you've inherited?
Green: I made a realistic evaluation last year of all NFL players last year on my know-it-all box -- DirecTV. I saw there definitely was talent on the Cardinals. Now my job is to find out if each one of these guys can play hard, play smart and play physical. If he can't do those three things, he's going to have a hard time playing for us. I do know we've got some guys with very good talent. Leonard Davis has the potential to be the best offensive guard in football.'
MMQB: How do you change the Cardinals' mentality?
Green: By convincing our guys that we're not far away. In the last four years, 26 different teams have been to the playoffs. We want to go to the playoffs our first year. That's our goal.'
MMQB: Does the lack of fan support concern you?
Green: I'm not going to worry about that. I've got to worry about getting the football team ready to win games. Phoenix is as great a city as any city in America. My attitude is people should come out and watch the team play.'
I do believe I have uncovered the strangest starting time in all of sports. Stranger even than the annual Red Sox home game on Patriots Day (April 19, 11:05 a.m.), which starts that early so the fans can pour out of Fenway to see the end of the Boston Marathon in nearby Copley Square.
On Wednesday, the Class AA Eastern League game between the Portland Sea Dogs and the New Britain Rock Cats, at the latter's home litter box, will begin at 10:35 a.m. It is one of six such gametimes for the Rock Cats in April and May. I assume it's some school field-trip attraction, but boy, is it weird.
Imagine a game at which beer sales are cut off at noon.
Wow. Did I touch a nerve. Nerves, really. Got more than 100 e-mails about my Hall of Fame predictions. Here goes with your thoughts:
EVEN MY EMPLOYERS THINK I'M DAFFY. From Brian Hyland [who, by the way, is the producer of HBO's Inside the NFL, and thus a boss of mine] of New York City: "What about Orlando Pace, Shannon Sharpe, Priest Holmes, Morten Andersen, William Roaf, Donovan McNabb?''
Well, boss, it's like this. Sharpe is retired (even if he hasn't announced it yet), and this was about active players. Pace hasn't done enough, or played long enough, to be a near-lock. Tackles are difficult anyway, as the candidacy of Gary Zimmerman shows; he was a two-time all-decade player and has been stalled trying to get into Canton. Holmes is a great back, but he has to stand the test of time for probably four more years. Andersen's interesting, very interesting. The reason I didn't put him up there is because I think he and Gary Anderson are going to cancel each other out for a while. Maybe one or both will get in eventually, but I've been in the room with the HOF selection committee, and I know how the voters think of kickers and punters. Roaf? Borderline. I will consider him. I just know how hard it is for offensive linemen. For instance, why can't Joe Jacoby or Russ Grimm get in? I mean, the Hogs should have a pig in there before Roaf. McNabb will have to do an awful lot more -- like get his completion percentage north of 57 percent. Far, far north.
YOU FORGOT THE RAMS. From Will of Salem, Mass.: "I have no idea how you could leave off Aeneas Williams, Isaac Bruce and Orlando Pace.''
Good points. I personally will support Williams vehemently, because I think he's in RodWoodson's league in terms of long-term impact, and he's been a big-play player. But my list consisted of the way I thought the membership would vote. And I think Williams will be a tough sell -- not to me, but to the body of voters, in part because he was a Cardinal and never won anything until he got to St. Louis. Bruce is going to be in a swamp of really good receivers.
WHAT ABOUT MR. CLUTCH? From Adam of Newton, Mass.: "What about Adam Vinatieri, with his two Super Bowl game-winning field goals?''
Good question. I'm going to have to think about that one. I'd say if he makes a few more huge kicks over the next five or six years he would be a fascinating candidate.
THIS ISN'T ROCKET SCIENCE. From Dave Hurt of Sarasota, Fla. : "If the NFL owners don't want to draft underclassmen, why don't they just agree that they won't draft them?''
One word: collusion. And do you think if some stud freshman comes out and he's made eligible for the draft and he's sitting there that Al Davis wouldn't take him when the courts say he's takeable?
NOW FOR A COUPLE OF OFFICIATING POINTS. From Bret Yielding of San Francisco: "I don't know that anyone will ever be able to get all officials to officiate uniformly. I am a high school coach and one of the first things we talk about after a game starts is adjusting to the officiating. I'd like to see the ticky-tack interference cleaned up. Pass interference used to be when you tackled a guy. Now it's a brush.''
Good observation. When I spoke to Mike Pereira for my column about officiating last week, the point I was glad to hear him make is that the league would put its best efforts into making each official conceptually look at every call the same. You can't ask every human being in the heat of a game to judge a foul the same. But going into a game, you can work to be sure every official has the same idea of what, for instance, illegal contact is.
THE DUKE-UCONN GAME COMES INTO PLAY. From Gil of Aiken, S.C.: "I believe for the most part the average fan blames the officials way too much, but at the same time I think the media defends the referees way too much. This is not just an NFL problem. Did you see the Final Four game between Duke and UConn?''
I saw the game. I thought it was one of the worst-officiated games I've ever seen. Particularly when, in the Monday night title game, the refs let the Huskies and Georgia Tech play like it was a no-harm, no-foul playground game. Regarding the media's role in this: I think there's little to be gained from writing or talking about the officials, except in extreme circumstances. What's the point? Fans don't watch NFL games to hear commentators talk about Larry Nemmers or Ed Hochuli.
I had the best April hooky day in a long time Friday, in section 10 down the right-field line at the Red Sox-Blue Jays home opener. The Red Sox and Patriots combined for one of the greatest first-pitch ceremonies I've ever seen. Right after the anthem, about 25 Patriots players appeared from behind a huge flag that covered the Green Monster, and they got a thunderous ovation as they walked toward the mound. U2's Beautiful Day' serenaded them as they waved to the standing crowd. The Red Sox, meanwhile, aligned in a semicircle behind home plate, with manager Terry Francona crouching for the first pitch. Pats owner Bob Kraft toed the slap and threw the pitch. Then the two teams met between the mound and home, hugging and high-fiving. The crowd was nutso. Nomah and Tom Brady spent a couple of minutes together. Tedy Bruschi was so excited he ripped off his Pats' jersey and threw it into the crowd. Cool sight.
1. I think it's hardly a secret by now, but I feel pretty good about this draft factoid: The Giants want either Manning or Robert Gallery, and they'll move up from fourth to first or second or third to make it happen.
2. I think this might be the upset of the draft, but I believe Tom Coughlin will not make the pony-tailed Gallery cut his hair to play for the G-Men.
3. I think this is going to be the most interesting top of the draft in a long time, maybe since the rich quarterback lottery of 1999. There are so many varying opinions about who wants what at the top, and the only thing you can take pretty seriously so far is that Dennis Green wants his former Vikings camp bellboy, Larry Fitzgerald, at No. 3. I think we'll see lots of trading going on among the teams with the top picks.
4. I think the Washington-Oakland swap rumor is just a rumor for now. The buzz is Washington will move disgruntled left tackle Chris Samuels to Oakland, and Oakland will drop down to fifth and Washington up to No. 2 to take Gallery. Now, it is true that Gallery was in Virginia last week, and it is accurate that the Redskins have fallen in deep like with him. And they are ticked off at Samuels for refusing to re-do his contract and for saddling them with an $8.7 million cap number this year. But as of late in the week, the Redskins hadn't called the Raiders. Yet if they do, I'd make the deal in a second if I'm Oakland.
5. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. This is the best Sopranos season in a while, but I find it hard to believe the high school counselor cut off the affair with Carmela so quickly and so brutally. That's not the way men behave, particularly lusting men.
b. Montclair High School Softball Note of the Week: I thought I'd seen it all, watching 12 years of kids' softball. I've seen an unassisted triple play, and a 13-inning game without relief pitchers, and other weird things. But Saturday in Linden, N.J., with Jersey oil tanks way beyond the center-field fence providing a Sopranosesque touch to the morning, Mary Beth King might have pitched her strangest game ever for the rebuilding Mounties. Only two players are starting in the same spots as last year's state-tournament team, which was ravaged by graduation, and so the girls are growing game by game. Against the homestanding Linden Tigers, we got three runs in the top of the first and Mary Beth gave up two runs without the benefit of a hit in the bottom of the first. Then she retired 16 straight batters. So with two out in the bottom of the sixth, we were up 3-2. Linden grounded one through the box, a base hit to center. Mary Beth walked the next kid. She threw a wild pitch. Second and third, two out. Right-handed batter up. Fastball on the outside corner. Ping! The kid bloops a duck three feet beyond our first baseman, a couple of feet fair. Kids running all the way. Two runs scored. Ballgame. And all you can say after something like that is: Walks will kill. That's softball.
c. Coffeenerdness: Memo to Seattle: The Upper Montclair (N.J.) Starbucks, a narrow store that is my home field, is busting at the seams. You've got to expand, Mr. Schultz. How about a second floor?
d. I know nothing about golf, and I just recently shot a 116, but I must say the Phil Mickelson story is one of the best we've had in sports in a long time.
e. There's no denying it now. Tiger Woods is a very good golfer now, not a transcendent one.
6. I think no team in the NFL will be as improved from the last game in 2003 to the first game in 2004 as Tampa Bay will be.
7. I think a bunch of Patriots players are stunned that the Red Sox let Pedro Martinez get away with his diva stuff, like leaving the stadium before the end of a game. That is apropos of nothing, but I just thought you'd like to know.
8. I think, as usual, that Mel Kiper has done his usual Biblical job on the Draft Report this year. (It's my favorite draft guide, by a mile.) But I have to take issue with him giving the Jets wideout Mike Williams with the 12th overall pick. They have bigger, and more, fish to fry on Long Island, Mel. The Jets have to go with the best available corner, unless DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson are gone. You can win with Santana Moss and Justin McCareins. You can't win with that back seven on defense.
9. I think, as Kiper does, that the Patriots might have their pick of any running back on the board when they make the 21st overall selection.
10. I think if an NFL team used the football facility and locker rooms at North Carolina State, it'd be considered one of the three nicest facilities in the NFL. Incredible place.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.