Quarterback in the NFL is the position that drives the franchise, sometimes into a sinkhole that swallows reasonable chances of success for years on end.
No wonder teams spend so much pre-draft time prodding, probing and analyzing quarterbacks. The decision is so costly and important that the term "pre-draft" as it pertains to the evaluation and measuring of QB prospects has been expanded to include college career, choice of high school prom date, kindergarten teamwork skills and, this year, conception.
An NFL coach doing his homework (and more) in advance of tonight's prime-time NFL draft hinted in last week's Sports Illustrated at a concern about whether TCU quarterback Andy Dalton can lead a team, seeing as how he's got red hair and not many great red-headed quarterbacks came instantly to the coach's overtaxed mind.
"Has there ever been a red-headed quarterback in the NFL who's really done well?" the coach asked. "It sounds idiotic, but is there any way that could be a factor? We've wondered."
It does sound ridiculous.
The Brady 6
Quarterbacks are almost always the story of every draft, even when they aren't the story of the draft. Just wait a few years and they will be.
ESPN just aired a documentary on "The Brady 6," the six (mostly) failed quarterbacks who were chosen ahead of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in the 2000 draft. Chad Pennington was the only first-rounder of the group, and he did manage to make a name for himself with the New York Jets. Marc Bulger acquitted himself well enough, too.
Pennington, Bulger, Tee Martin, Chris Redman, Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn came off the board before the New England Patriots made Brady the 199th player chosen.
That would seem to add to the genius reputation of New England head coach Bill Belichick...once he explains why he took Adrian Klemm, J.R. Redmon, Greg Robinson-Randall, Dave Stachelski, Jeff Marriott and Antawn Harris before he got around to Brady.
The moral is quarterbacks are the greatest risk-reward position in the draft. And Andy Dalton's chromosomes aren't the only thing under the microscope this year.
Cam Newton's Fake Smile
A Pro Football Weekly evaluation of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was hardly kind.
"Very disingenuous," writer Nolan Nawrocki wrote of Newton. "Has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them."
"Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law - does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room..."
"Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness - is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable."
Auburn quarterbacks coach Fred Whitfield ripped Nawrocki when he found out about the assessment.
"Nawrocki spent 10 (minutes) with Cam? Drunks can say that."
The critique of Newton could be called "damning" if the Carolina Panthers weren't expected to take Newton with the first overall pick tonight. It's difficult to go higher than first.
One NFL team threw Newton a curveball in the NFL Scouting combine interview period. Newton was asked why he changed a play from the sideline during Auburn's national championship win. The play worked. Newton supposedly got defensive about the question.
Teams test players that way. In fact, they test players so many ways they get away with inane questions because players figure there must be a deeper meaning, even when there isn't.
Washington quarterback Jake Locker told a Seattle radio show about the strangest question he was asked during the process leading to Thursday's draft.
"I was asked if I had a 16-year-old daughter whether I'd let her be on birth control or not," Locker related. "That one kind of threw me for a loop. It caught me off guard. I didn't know what to say at first."
Locker said he wouldn't.
Teams apparently give it their all when trying to come up with questions for quarterbacks. They don't waste just any questions on the men who will direct their teams for seasons to come.
It's standard to ask players if they'd rather go to five Pro Bowls or win one Super Bowl in an attempt to find out how me-oriented they are. Most players see that one coming a football field away.
Ohio State offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley, who would go on to Pro Bowl status in New Orleans, was asked if he could swim for some reason. Other players have been asked if they can sing.
Some years ago, one team official asked Ohio State offensive lineman Kirk Barton if he'd rather be a dog or a cat.
"You wonder if it's a house cat or a tiger," Barton said at the time. "If it's a tiger, then you're solid. But a dog can beat a regular cat. I always pick the dog."
And -- coincidentally -- more than one team will pick a dog in the 2011 Quarterback Class.
The Obligatory Ryan Leaf Mention
For every Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning, there's a bust like Ryan Leaf.
The Indianapolis Colts picked Manning No. 1 in the 1998 draft. The San Diego Chargers picked Leaf No. 2.
"You can go five to ten years without getting a chance to draft a quarterback like this," former San Diego GM Bobby Beathard said of Leaf that day.
As it turned out, only if you're lucky.
The Quarterback Ghosts of Past Drafts Gone Bad
As NFL teams ponder Newton at No. 1, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert in the Top 10 and other possible first-and second-rounders like Dalton, Locker, Ryan Mallett and Christian Ponder -- other names must be rattling around in the heads of personnel men along with all that information about size, mechanics, leadership and hair color.
Consider this list:
Chuck Long, Detroit (No. 12, 1986), Rick Mirer, Seattle (No. 2, 1993), Heath Shuler, Washington (No. 3, 1994), Tim Couch, Cleveland, (No. 1, 1999), Cade McNown, Chicago, (No. 12, 1999), Akili Smith, Cincinnati (No. 3, 1999), David Klingler, Cincinnati (No. 6, 1992), Andre Ware, Detroit (No. 7, 1990), Kelly Stouffer, St. Louis (No. 6, 1987), Joey Harrington, Detroit (No. 3, 2002), David Carr, Houston (No. 1, 2002), Jack Thompson, Cincinnati, No. 3, 1979, Todd Blackledge, Kansas City, No. 7, 1983 and Art Schlichter, Baltimore (No. 4, 1982).
Oh, and Todd Marinovich, Raiders (No. 24, 1991)
Come to think of it, didn't Marinovich did have red hair?
[Cam Newton image: © Gene Lower/ZUMA Press/Corbis]
Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.