FNQB: What Kind of Trouble is Jimmy Clausen Worth?
One of the decisions that the Carolina Panthers will have to make in deciding whether to select a quarterback is whether or not 2010 second round pick Jimmy Clausen is worth playing for another year. Clausen just wasn’t good at all as a rookie in 2010, but as a rookie playing with many other rookies in a horribly understaffed offense, his performance hardly qualified as a crime against humanity. Clausen did not offer a great Lewin Career Forecast projection coming out of Notre Dame, but would have conceivably rated highly in this upcoming draft had he been a 4 year starter with, say, a 63% completion percentage.
Suffice it to say, Clausen may have been better off playing in a new system at Notre Dame to show his versatility than leaving for the NFL draft when he did. The team he plays for now has the first overall pick and is at least considering drafting a quarterback who they believe in more than Clausen. I wanted to investigate the wisdom of such a decision. To spend the first overall pick on a quarterback — even one that the Panthers believe in — you would first want to accurately conclude that nothing can be had from Clausen in 2011.
I was able to quickly generate a list of Jimmy Clausen comparable quarterbacks using only Clausen’s stats from his rookie year. Turns out it was a pretty unique season. Only rookies and second year players (compared to third and fourth year players) have ever achieved the kind of poor season that Clausen had in 2010 while also limiting an interception rate to a reasonable league average. The way to describe the careers of the Clausen comparables is that they all went to improve their careers and enjoy some success with the exception of Akili Smith. Smith had the kind of year that Clausen did as a second year starter, so he can be thrown out. McNabb, Cunningham, and particularly Carr all make for more sensible comparisions.
Of all comparisons, Jack Trudeau is by far the best for Clausen. The 1986 second round pick out of Illinois struggled to the tune of an 0-11 record as a rookie on a terrible team. The next year, the Colts were able to add Eric Dickerson, Trudeau settled in as an above average NFL quarterback for the next four seasons, leading the Colts to the playoffs in just his second year of 1987. Trudeau did not last in the NFL as a long term starting quarterback like McNabb or Cunningham did, nor did he get the opportunities that David Carr did to succeed. But Trudeau proves that it would not be unprecedented for the Panthers to get to 9 wins under Clausen next year by adding an offensive difference maker to pair with Steve Smith.
David Carr never did get the Texans to the playoffs, but as recently as 2006, it was thought that the Texans at least had the quarterback position filled. Carr never materialized as the Texans franchise quarterback for the same reason that Clausen couldn’t win in 2010: indecision with the ball led to too many sacks. Carr had a solidly above average season as a third year player in 2004, and improved greatly as a player in 2003. Truth is, if Jimmy Clausen ends up being either Jack Trudeau or David Carr, it would be hard to fault the Panthers for drafting Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton in this draft.
However, a cursory look at the careers of Donovan McNabb and Randall Cunningham shows exactly why its too early to give up on Jimmy Clausen as a pro player. In each player’s first season as a starter, they lost more games than they won while posting rate stats near the bottom of the NFL. Each of the next two seasons, both McNabb and Cunningham threw 20 TDs for the Eagles as 24 and 25 year old players. If the belief is that Clausen can approach the 20 TD mark in 2011, the Panthers can win a bunch of games with him and there’s absolutely no reason to draft Gabbert or Newton. The pick, instead, would be best spent on an offensive talent that can help Clausen reach those goals.
Perhaps the best sign that the Panthers are planning on giving up on Clausen is that they aren’t considering drafting either A.J. Green or Julio Jones in that no. 1 slot. A defensive player at no. 1 wouldn’t make a lot of sense in the context of developing Clausen. Clausen would still likely fail to lead the Panthers to the playoffs throwing to just an aging Steve Smith. A defensive player makes sense for the Panthers if Clausen is just holding the QB spot warm while the team rebuilds, but in that case, I would support drafting a quarterback now instead of waiting. History shows that Clausen should be good enough to lead the Panthers to the playoffs, but that not all of Clausen’s closest comparables were able to do that, and those who didn’t lead teams to the playoffs in their first three seasons didn’t do it later on.
The Panthers should either give Clausen some help and develop him as a pro prospect or replace him now with Blaine Gabbert. While there isn’t strong evidence that Gabbert will develop into a better player than Clausen, getting Gabbert now buys more time for the coaching staff, and if the Panthers like him enough, I think that looking at Clausen’s closest comps shows that it makes sense for the Panthers to go in a different direction, if they feel Clausen is the next coming of Jack Trudeau or David Carr.