Case Keenum is the best thing that could happen to quarterbacking in the NFL. On its surface, this seems like an idiotic statement, since Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers (when healthy), Russell Wilson and others are playing the position at a higher level. But let me explain why Minnesota’s signal-caller is actually more important in some ways than those superstars.
This season has once again hammered home an undebatable point: The quickest way to go from mediocre to great is with a dynamic young quarterback. The Rams, Eagles and Texans all looked like completely different franchises this season as Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson soared. Before Wentz and Watson were eventually lost to injuries, it was evident how different each made his franchise. The Eagles were the favorites in the NFC. The Texans zoomed into a new stratosphere. The Rams and Goff could have home field advantage in the playoffs.
All three of those players were drafted in the first round, each franchise spending significant collateral to move into place to select them. Those front offices have been validated in their aggression. A highly-drafted quarterback is a prerequisite for the rest of the playoffs picture right now. Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Alex Smith, Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees were all selected in the first 32 picks of the draft. Aside from those guys, Brady is the greatest steal in draft history, and the Bills are led by Tyrod Taylor, who absolutely no one believes can win games in January.
The case has been made. If you want to be a contender, you better identify your franchise quarterback early, and grab him as soon as you can in the draft… or luck into a future legend falling into your lap in the 6th round. Smith is a slight variation off this tree, since the Chiefs did not draft him, but he was selected first overall by the Niners. Once youngsters are drafted early, they’re thrown to the wolves immediately. And if they fail, they’re chewed up and spit out by the NFL machine, those teams ready to draft another quarterback high again. The vicious cycle leaves a trail of broken QBs littered across the league, wasted seasons of using and discarding young signal-callers, a never-ending merry-go-round for franchises like the Browns, Bills, Cardinals, Jets, Dolphins and Bears. This means us fans have to endure regularly scheduled ugly football, since the league has morphed into a quarterback-necessary shark tank.
This leaves us with Keenum, the only quarterback of the playoff bunch who wasn’t drafted highly but can absolutely win a Super Bowl. If you don’t believe it, you haven’t been watching enough Vikings games. Undoubtedly, he has been supported by a superb defense with three Vikes voted as starters in the Pro Bowl on that side. But Keenum has also been a reason for winning, not just an innocent bystander. Anyone who believes he is Trent Dilfer 2.0 is fooling themselves. Keenum will end up throwing for more than 3,500 yards this season despite not playing in Week 1. He has thrown a touchdown pass in every game since Halloween weekend, and is 10-3 this season.
He has gotten progressively better as the year has unfolded, with the coaching staff opening more of the playbook up for him. He has developed a tremendous rapport with Adam Thielen (another Pro Bowler), and shown a moxie the rest of the team has been inspired by. Keenum has made huge throws in big spots, spread the ball around to all of his receivers, and has one of the highest completion percentages in the league.
And he was undrafted.
Not only was Keenum not selected in the draft, but he’s also on his fifth stop, since the Rams and Texans both gave up on him twice. Keenum’s success is vital for the NFL because it would break the narrative that the only way to find a winning quarterback is drafting one high. Minnesota ironically tried that with Teddy Bridgewater and then traded for former top pick Sam Bradford. The Vikes spent two first-rounders on two quarterbacks who are not as good as Keenum.
Keenum needs a strong team and coach around him, but is proving great quarterbacks can take time to develop. They aren’t always instant oatmeal. Russell Wilson was also a diamond in the rough who went onto win a Super Bowl, drafted in the third round, but he was starting his rookie year. Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott were value picks, but they have a combined zero playoff wins. Case could top them by the divisional round.
This is not to say every undrafted free agent or 7th-round quarterback should be given the keys to a franchise. Most simply won’t have the talent to last very long in the league. But if Keenum wins playoff games, and perhaps even a Super Bowl, the script gets flipped away from the highly-touted, crown princes of the NFL Draft. Forget the college headline makers, the guys Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper drool over. This would be a story for the other guys. This would be evidence you can cultivate winners from the depths of the talent pool. This would be the best thing to happen to the NFL quarterback chase in a long time.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.