Clausen's fall to second round and Panthers gets personal

by | Senior Writer

The surprise of the 2010 draft was not that Tim Tebow went in the first round; it was that Jimmy Clausen went in the second.

Most GMs, head coaches and personnel directors -- OK, almost everyone outside of Denver -- had Clausen rated ahead of Tebow, and the expectation was that he'd be chosen somewhere in the middle of the first round. Instead, he went in the middle of the second, with the Carolina Panthers rescuing him with the 48th pick -- 23 spots after Tebow.

Few question Jimmy Clausen's physical skills. (AP)  
Few question Jimmy Clausen's physical skills. (AP)  
It didn't make sense, so I consulted teams that passed on the guy to discover why a polished Notre Dame quarterback who produced marvelous numbers despite playing through a toe injury lasted as long as he did. What I found is that it had more to do with Clausen's personality than his injury, his mechanics or anything that happened on the field.

That's not exactly a revelation. It was the knock on him before the draft. But it's illuminating to hear people explain now why they had no interest in trading into the first round or up in the second to land a player with first-round ability.

"Most people you talk to think the kid is a jerk," said one scout. "With what I was listening to, I thought I was hearing Ryan Leaf all over again. He has a sense and a degree of entitlement that's off the charts."

That may be extreme, but I heard similar refrains from different parts of the NFL community. Apparently, so did Carolina. When the Panthers went to the telephones on Day 2 of the draft, it wasn't only to dial St. Louis to inquire into a possible trade; it was to check again with people at Notre Dame to ascertain what, if any, liability they were assuming by drafting Clausen.

And what they heard convinced them that Clausen is not the risk others think he is.

"We never thought he would get past the first round," said general manager Marty Hurney. "We made a lot of calls, and I talked to people up there [at South Bend] I knew really well. And what they said about his character and personality were in direct conflict with what we were hearing [from others]."

Almost nobody I contacted had issues with Clausen on the field. In fact, one scout I trust didn't have him rated higher than a low second-round choice ... and not because of anything he witnessed in Clausen's game.

"He's a good player," he said. "He feels the game. He sees the field. He reacts the right way. All the things on the field he does are pretty solid. The instinctive part is there."

So why the low grade?

"I heard horror stories about the guy off the field to the point where I wasn't interested," he said. "If I have the choice, I don't want him in my room."

His team had the choice. And it passed. Just like everyone but Carolina. And that may be a bonus not just for the Panthers, who suddenly are knee deep in young quarterbacks, but for Clausen.

Let's start with Carolina. In Clausen, the Panthers gained the second-best quarterback in the draft, someone who played through a painful injury last year yet was remarkably accurate, completing 68 percent of his passes, with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

That was good.

He also played in Charlie Weis' pro-style system, so he was the quarterback who was most ready to step into an NFL huddle. That was good, too.

Furthermore, he moves on to a team where the offense is almost identical to what Clausen ran in Notre Dame, with coordinator Jeff Davidson working under Weis when the two were at New England, and that might be the best of all.

Now let's look at what's at stake for Clausen. The Panthers don't lean on their quarterbacks as much as employ them as supporting actors. Their running backs and defense are the backbones of the team, with the quarterback called on to make just enough plays to keep the offense moving. It's the perfect setup for someone young like Clausen, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart the heavy lifters and the quarterback the game manager.

Then there's the position itself. It's not as if Clausen has to compete with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. The incumbent is Matt Moore, and he has an NFL resume of eight career starts, including five last season. So the opportunity is there. The rest is up to Clausen, and what everyone but Carolina signaled loud and clear was that they weren't willing to afford him that chance.

"The big word for him is inconsistency," said one head coach, "and a lot of that has to do with the person he is. What I mean by that is that his personality is reflected by how he plays. He's up and down, and the things you hear about him -- his arrogance, cockiness, entitlement, that sort of thing -- are there on the field. Sometimes he's good; sometimes he's not.

"He has the talent, but more and more character is becoming an issue in the NFL, and he made us nervous. We weren't interested."

Character -- or more, accurately, maturity -- played a role in wide receiver Dez Bryant's descent to the 24th spot in this year's draft. Bryant was the most talented receiver on the board, yet was the second one taken. That was what happened a year ago when Michael Crabtree, another guy whose personality scared off suitors, fell to San Francisco.

But Crabtree went with the 10th pick. Bryant was chosen in the first round. Clausen went through a free-fall, with potential suitors passing again and again until he fell out of the first round, into the second and hung around so long that Carolina -- which had no first-round draft choice -- didn't have to budge to take him.

Sometimes the best moves are the ones you never make.

"He'll probably come out of the box fast," said an AFC personnel director, "because he'll have something to prove. You know how this thing goes, everything [during the draft process] gets magnified a bit, and there might have been some piling on. So he's probably looking for a little vindication."

The Panthers are just looking for a quarterback, and maybe they found one, maybe they didn't. All I know is they had no business landing Jimmy Clausen with the 48th pick, yet wound up with him because his "rock-star personality," as one general manager put it, scared off buyers.

Someone is going to look smart here, and it might just be Carolina. But give this one time. It won't be all that long before we find out who did his homework.

"I still can't believe we got him," said Hurney. "He was [at minicamp] last weekend, and he was great, and since we've taken him he's done everything right. We'll see."


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