Drew Brees’ eventual retirement has become a hot topic for conversation in the past week, following the 35-year old’s fake retirement to ride a motorcycle in a national advertising campaign. Brees, of course, is not retiring anytime soon, and in fact says he’d like to play into his 40s.
“Do I hope I can play into my 40s? Yes, I do. As long as I’m healthy and playing at a high level, then why not? I certainly don’t take it for granted and know that obviously you’ve got prove yourself every year,” said Brees.
It’s a nice sentiment, and the right thing for Brees to say. And given Brees’ story—tore an ACL in high school, which prevented him from gaining offers to the University of Texas or other high-profile schools, only to go on to become the Big-10 career leader in nearly every passing category, not to mention the way he overcame a career-threatening injury to his throwing shoulder after the 2005 season to become the Saints’ all-time leading passer—it should not be taken lightly.
Point taken: When Drew Brees puts his mind to something, he makes it happen.
Still, Brees himself is not naïve: “I’ve played 13 years and it’s gone by so fast. Each and every year, it’s just like, ‘Wow, I made it through another year.”
Father time will catch up with Brees’ football career at some point. At that time, the Saints must be prepared to move on without him. Which brings us to a fun place: The 2015 NFL Draft.
As much as 2014’s draft was supposed to have a plethora of great quarterbacks, it seems that the 2015 class is just as capable, perhaps even more so.
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are currently considered locks for the top-five (Mariota I do not understand as a lock, but I digress). Brett Hundley has been praised by many a scout for his potential, though the finished product on the field often leaves a lot to be desired (out of 14 quarterbacks I studied, I had Hundley tied for 11th with Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly in terms of current NFL readiness).
Then there’s a handful of other quarterbacks who have earned acclaim for one reason or another. The Saints will not be drafting in the top-10 in 2015, unless the unthinkable—like Brees suffering a season-ending injury—takes place.
But if the Saints were to make a serious run at the Lombardi, or capture it altogether, using a late first-round pick on a player who could one day become the franchise’s guy might not be a bad selection. I have just the player in mind.
Sean Mannion, Senior, Oregon State
One quick note: It is common to think that because Drew Brees has had such great success with Sean Payton, that the Saints are looking for an exact replica of Brees as his replacement. Not true. Though Payton would certainly never say anything negative about number nine, I’m sure his preference for his replacement would be a taller, more prototypical quarterback who doesn’t have to get on his tippy toes and crank his neck to see over the defense.
Mannion is a large man—6-foot-5, 220 pounds with a big arm. He does share similarities with Brees, though.
Like Brees, Mannion has proved to be a great leader in his two seasons as the starter in Corvallis. Like Brees, he plays his best football in pressure situations—leading many a late-game comeback for his Beavers. His 3rd Down/Clutch adjusted accuracy rate in the four games I charted for this project came in at 84.8 percent, which was second out of 14 quarterbacks.
Like Brees, Mannion has a deft command of his own offense and a wonderful understanding of what opposing defenses are trying to do stop him and his offense. Like Brees, he has great touch and a gunslinger’s spirit to fit the ball into tight spaces.
And while his 66.7-percent adjusted accuracy rate against pressure left him eighth out of 14, he has proven to handle pressure well on the whole as he had the best sack rate of the 14 quarterbacks—taking a sack on only four-percent of all pass dropbacks.
One cannot dismiss, as well, that Mannion already has great chemistry with the Saints’ 2014 first-round pick, Brandin Cooks. Teaming them up together in the NFL would make great sense.
And then there’s this thought: By taking Mannion at the end of the first-round, the Saints would maintain the rights to Mannion for five years. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can pick up a fifth-year option on a first-round pick. Think the 49ers or Bengals would like that option with Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton, respectively?
By the end of the 2014 season, Brees will have two seasons left on his astronomical five-year/$100 million deal. He’ll most likely sign a two/three-year deal when it is completed—assuming he is healthy enough and still playing anywhere near the level he has in his first eight seasons in New Orleans.
In other words, the Saints would probably have Mannion and Brees’ deal come up at the same time—the end of the 2019 season. At that point, the team would surely know if Mannion is ready to start. It would also know that Brees is ready to retire.
Assuming Mannion improves from his junior to senior season, it is almost impossible to think that he will not be a first-rounder, despite the fact quarterbacks are starting to slide when for years their draft slots were disproportionate to their talent level.
Mannion is the real deal. He may be the most perfect Brees replacement to come along in the draft in some time. But there are a few other options in next year’s draft to keep an eye on as well.
Chuckie Keeton, Senior, Utah State
Chuckie Keeton promises to be the best quarterback prospect to come out of a Mountain West school since Colin Kaepernick (though Nevada actually played in the WAC during Kaepernick’s time in Reno; also sorry Derek Carr). I gave Kaepernick a late first-round grade when he came out. If Keeton had come out this year, he too would have received a first-round grade from me.
His senior season needs to be a year he stays healthy (missed half of last season due to injury) and improves in a few areas that some scouts would say are subtle. Trajectory of his throws can improve. He likes to rocket the ball into tight spots, when sometimes a lofted throw would better accomplish the goal of completing the pass.
He can be a bit quick to leave the pocket as well, though he does a wonderful job of keeping his eyes downfield when leaving the pocket.
He is a great athlete with excellent leadership and intangibles. Keeton’s overall adjusted accuracy was the highest of any quarterback in this study. His third down/clutch accuracy was 93.1-percent—in other words unconscionable. And his adjusted accuracy against pressure was better than Mannion’s coming in at 70.4-percent.
As with Kaepernick, there are questions about competition level, though Keeton seemed to play his best when his best was needed. In the opening game of the 2013 season, he singlehandedly kept his Aggies in the game against in-state rival Utah.
Truth be told, Keeton has nothing left to prove at the college level. Only his draft stock can improve. The Saints have to hope 31 other teams whiff on him for two whole rounds, assuming they do not take Mannion in the first-round of the 2015 draft.
Braxton Miller, Senior, Ohio State
I generally do not like quarterback prospects who are mostly runners in college. In theory, they should be well behind the learning curve in terms of learning the NFL passing game (the primary reason I gave Cam Newton a fifth-round grade in 2011).
Miller is similar to Newton, though, in that he has a big arm and is actually better in the passing game than advertised. Much like Keeton, he is a smaller quarterback who has a canon for an arm. Surprisingly, Miller also ranked about average in all adjusted accuracy categories—including sixth in total adjusted accuracy.
He especially excelled on the intermediate throws (11 to 15 yards down the field).
Some of his downfalls include sack rate (8.1 percent of all dropbacks), Interception/Attempt rate (1 every 36.4 throws, which ranked 12th of 14), mechanics (he needs some work in that area) and touch (he tries to throw everything 100 MPH).
Still, Miller is a fine athlete who could develop in the five-or-so years he’d have learning under the future HOF QB Drew Brees.
Shane Carden, Senior, East Carolina
If you watched a lot of college football in 2013, you may have noticed the name “Shane Carden” floating on the bottom of your television set quite often with yet another video game-type numbers performance.
At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds Carden doesn’t quite fit the small, athletic quarterback model that he looks like on film. He’s actually quite well built and promises to be able to handle the beating of the NFL game.
Carden was also a very accurate quarterback. His adjusted accuracy was best in this class in these categories: 16 yards and deeper and against pressure. Overall he came in fourth of 14 passers. His sack rate and Interceptions/Attempts were middle-of-the-pack.
Carden also excelled as a runner, and overall, is a very good prospect who can raise his stock this season at East Carolina by showing better command of the offense and what defenses are trying to do to him. As a fourth or fifth-round prospect, he could fit the Saints very well.
A Couple Juniors Who May Wait Till 2016 Draft
Kevin Hogan (Stanford) and Connor Cook (Michigan State) would both be better off waiting until the 2016 draft to put their names in the hat. Hogan had the worst Interception/Attempts ratio of the 14 quarterbacks charted for this study. Cook, on the other hand, currently has less than a full year starting in East Lansing.
Even by the time the 2014 season is completed, Cook will still be well behind many of the passers in this class in terms of experience running a college offense.
Both redshirt juniors-to-be have enough arm for the NFL, and both are smart quarterbacks. Hogan is an underrated athlete for his size—6-foot-4, 228 pounds—while Cook already exudes many of the traits teams looks for in an NFL quarterback.
Of course, if these two wait until the 2016 draft, they’ll both likely be drafted in the top-10. If they do not, 2015 might be a great year to snatch them up, knowing they are top-10 talents still a bit raw.
Rawness is nothing too much for a Drew Brees tutor to overcome, though.