I'll admit it's getting a little eerie. Six times before NFL drafts, I've taken a stand for quarterbacks doubted by many. For a while, they've all made me look like a genius. Then ...
Things have gone wrong.
In each case I wound up publicly pilloried as a madman, a football fool, a quarterback hack who is daft when it comes to the draft. I still believe I deserve credit for always being so initially right. You decide.
But as we go case by case, you'll see a common cause of eventual failure -- one I can't account for pre-draft. Most of these quarterbacks wound up with franchises whose executives and coaches were dangerously split on them. I was all-in. The team that drafted them was not.
You'll also see a common flaw: Several of "my guys" failed to handle their success and/or failure in unstable and uneasy situations.
You can argue I've been much more long-term accurate on which quarterbacks are being dangerously overrated. I said on air JaMarcus Russell and Sam Bradford were very bad ideas for No.1 overall picks, that Alex Smith would never live up to being taken No. 1 and that Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were not first-round picks. Those weren't popular stances.
Neither were these ...
2006: I said on air the Houston Texans should take Vince Young No. 1 overall, in part because he grew up in Houston and had just led the University of Texas to the national championship with the greatest individual performance in title-game history. I said I did not love his funky mechanics or arm strength but that he was accurate under pressure and under pocket fire and that -- at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds -- he could beat you with his speed and strength and rare playmaking desire.
Texas coach Mack Brown told me Young was "the greatest leader I've had in all my years of coaching."
Houston shockingly opted for defensive end Mario Williams, leaving Reggie Bush for the New Orleans Saints and Young for the Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese and Titans owner Bud Adams, who had lived for many years in Houston and had moved his Oilers to Tennessee. One big problem: coach Jeff Fisher was against drafting Young.
Still, Young often made me look pretty good. He was offensive rookie of the year. He made two Pro Bowls. He went 30-17 as Tennessee's starter.
But predictably, he often clashed with Fisher. It appeared Fisher helped turn some in the local and national media against Young. His skin grew thin. Mack Brown's "greatest leader" fell apart psychologically.
Incredibly, after a season in Philadelphia and a camp with the Buffalo Bills and another with the Green Bay Packers, the league rejected Young at age 30. What if Fisher had wanted to draft Young, had publicly invested his pride in him, had supported him through the growing pains? Young was too good for it to go so wrong.
Another quarterback taken in that 2006 draft made the Pro Bowl in his second full season of starting. When Jay Cutler was a junior at Vanderbilt (my alma mater) I began raving about him on air, predicting he'd be a "franchise quarterback." Of course, that proclamation was met with chuckles. A Vandy quarterback?
Mike Shanahan, then the Denver Broncos coach, traded up four spots to take Cutler 11th overall. In three years for Shanahan, Cutler went 17-20 as starter. In six seasons as the Chicago Bears' franchise quarterback, Cutler is 44-38.
Cutler was the "lucky" one of the six debatable quarterbacks I loved before their drafts. (He's also the most prototypical pocket passer who least relied on his legs.) Shanahan really wanted him. So did the Bears. I certainly wasn't wrong about Cutler's ability. He's no bust. But he is what he was at Vandy: a little more interested in pulling off the occasional "wow" throw than winning.
I'd watched Kansas State's 6-6, 240-pound Freeman play big in his biggest games against Texas and Oklahoma. In his first full season as Tampa Bay's starter, he made me look pretty great by throwing 25 touchdown passes to only six interceptions and leading the Bucs to a 10-6 record. He was a Pro Bowl alternate.
Then ... it all fell apart in 2011. Rumors swirled. Maybe Freeman let success go to his head (or stomach). Maybe Raheem Morris lost control of the team as it went from 3-1 to 4-12. Morris was fired.
Freeman played pretty well in coach Greg Schiano's first season -- 27 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions -- but the team went 7-9. After three starts in 2013, the Bucs tried to trade Freeman, couldn't and released him. After one horrendous Monday night start for the Minnesota Vikings, a 23-7 loss at the New York Giants, Freeman was out of football at age 25.
You still hear speculation Freeman will get another shot. But how could he go from 2010 to this? Again: so right, so wrong.
2010: I said on air I would take Tim Tebow late in the first round. "If you let him run the read option he ran at Florida," I said, "he'll win games in the NFL. He'll never make a Pro Bowl, but he can win games as a starting quarterback."
Josh McDaniels, then Denver's coach, traded up from 43rd to 25th -- late in the first round -- to take Tebow. Unfortunately for Tebow (and me), McDaniels got fired 12 games into Tebow's rookie season, before he had started a game. All bets were off.
Under John Fox, the Broncos began the next season 1-4, and a new Broncos regime (led by John Elway) that clearly didn't believe in Tebow threw him into the fire, at Miami, out of desperation. I was asked on air what I thought Tebow's record would be the rest of the season. I said 7-4. Chuckles.
Tebow went 7-4, led Denver to the AFC West title, led the NFL in QBR in the last five minutes of games and turned the Broncos into the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack. He also beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a home playoff game with an 80-yard overtime touchdown pass.
That offseason the Broncos replaced Tebow with ... Peyton Manning! No shame there. Tebow was traded to the Jets, with whom he was never even given a shot at starting. Tebow began to doubt himself and drifted from one throwing guru to another. Bill Belichick gave him a look in training camp but that was all. Tebow was on the street at age 26.
It's still possible the Philadelphia Eagles' Chip Kelly will sign Tebow, but again, I was so sensationally right ... and ultimately condemned as so dead wrong.
2012: On air long before the draft, I said Robert Griffin III would prove to be an even better pro than Andrew Luck. The Washington Redskins traded three first-rounders and a second to move up from No. 6 to No. 2 to take RG III. Way too much? Not to me.
But unfortunately, owner Dan Snyder was far more excited about landing the Heisman Trophy winner than Shanahan, now coaching Washington, was. Shanahan had to be talked into RG III. Never good.
Still, In RG III's rookie season, at age 22, he went superstar on the NFL. Offensive rookie of the year, 20 touchdown passes to just five interceptions, led the league in yards per pass attempt and per rush, led his team to the NFC East crown, had a better QBR than Luck -- 71.4 to 65.2.
Did I ever have a fun season on "First Take," until ...
RG III sprained his knee late in the season, then tweaked it just before his team jumped out 14-0 on the Seattle Seahawks in a home playoff game, then wrecked it late in that eventual loss. And he has spent the past two seasons looking like a sad shell of a guy who no longer trusts his legs or eyes or arm.
He kept acting like the superstar who had the owner's ear, but he could no longer back it up. He clashed with Shanahan and failed to click with new coach Jay Gruden. Now ESPN's John Clayton is reporting new GM Scot McCloughan will take Mariota if he's there at No. 5.
Now it feels like RG III's best bet is to start over with another team in another town.
2014: I said on air the Texans would forever regret not taking Texas native Johnny Manziel, the Heisman winner from Texas A&M, with the No. 1 overall pick. I was told the Texans were considering Manziel until they asked him to lay low and behave himself in the month leading up to the draft. Manziel attended the Masters, had too much to drink and -- the Texans were told -- made a spectacle of himself. They were out.
Again and again I said before the draft: If alcohol proves to be an ongoing issue for Manziel, I'm out.
As he fell down the board on the draft night, he texted Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains that the Browns should take him so he and Loggains could "wreck the league" together. Loggains showed the text to owner Jimmy Haslam, who encouraged GM Ray Farmer, coach Mike Pettine and coordinator Kyle Shanahan to trade up to take Manziel. The Browns did, from 26 to 22.
But the GM, coach and coordinator were not sold on Manziel. I said on air the next morning this was the wrong place for a quarterback whose coaches and execs must be united in their belief in him and his crazy-competitive playmaking genius. This, I said, will not work.
The Browns organization proved to be an even bigger mess than Manziel was on and off the field. He wound up in rehab.
The Browns lost last year's starter, Brian Hoyer, a Pettine favorite, to free agency but have signed Josh McCown and Thad Lewis and recently (according to an ESPN report) tried to trade for Bradford. Manziel no longer appears to be in the Browns' plans -- and shouldn't have been in the first place.
Manziel needs a second chance with a GM and coach who completely buy in. Maybe he'll prove to be nothing but a bust. The other five did not.
I can't predict injury or addiction or sorry situations. But I must admit, if I were a hotly debated draftee, I wouldn't want me pushing for me.