May 8, 2006
"Food For Thought" by Vikes Geek

As with any football season, Fall brings with it the wisdom of coaches across the land ready, willing, and able to bestow upon virtually every starter on their team the moniker of “great player.� That coaches tend to repeat such praise at the end of the season when prompted to do so should then come as no surprise.

No matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the circumstances, one thing is certain—coaches love their own players. They love them because they have become indebted to them. They love them because they have time invested in them. And they love them because it behooves them to love the players that they helped mold.

For the casual fan and the astute observer, alike, what this means is that anything that comes from the mouth of a coach regarding a player who played under that coach must be taken with a grain of salt. And that makes assessing a player’s value on the basis of a conversation with that player’s coach, suspect, at best.

Yet, after every NFL draft, the first people that football analysts contact—after the players themselves—are the coaches of the players drafted. And while conversations with draftees’ coaches can provide some insight into how a draftee’s coach views his own football universe, it offers little real value to anyone listening. That is, unless those listening simply want to be told what they want to hear.

Despite this fact, after the April 2006 NFL entry draft had ended, national sports reporters contacted head coaches around the country in a stated effort to gather insight into the ability of the various players drafted. Below are partial, paraphrased responses to questions posed by members of the media to the coaches of five quarterbacks drafted this year:

1: “He’s got a strong arm, great instincts. He’s a leader on the field and in the lockerroom.�

2: “Strong arm. All the guys on the team respect him. Tremendous ball player.�

3: “Great feel for the game. Natural leader. He’s got a strong arm. Tremendous all-around athlete.�

4: “Great arm. Loves to learn. A great leader. Well-respected by his teammates. Loads of upside.�

5: “Sees the field well. Great leader. Strong arm. Great presence.�

So, who would you prefer? The player with a strong arm and great instincts or the player with a great arm who is a great leader? Or perhaps you prefer the player who is a leader on and off the field and who has a strong arm. So many choices—all so different.

Of course, without having a name to put by the player, it is a bit difficult to decide, isn’t it? Maybe some numbers will help:

Player ....Yards ....Percentage .....TDs ....Ints ....Rating

1: .........3,815 .........65.7 ..........28 .........8 ......157.7

2: .........3,036 .........65.2 ..........26 .........10 ......168.6

3: .........3,073 .........59.1 ..........21 .........9 ......126.1

4: .........2,941 .........60.9 ..........29 .........5 ......164.9

5: .........2,530 .........59.3 ..........19 .........9 ......145.87

Does that help? Hmmm. Perhaps a bit more information would be useful—like the strength of schedule for each player’s respective team:

1: 27

2: 15

3: 62

4: 215

5: 26

That should suffice to permit a general impression of the circumstances under which each of our five quarterbacks achieved their statistics in 2005. And that—along with what each player’s coach said about their respective player—should help you decide your preference of quarterbacks.

Still not sure who to go with? Maybe this will help. Of the thirty-two quarterbacks named starters at the beginning of the 2005 NFL season, twenty were first-round picks. Yes, there’s some self-fulfillment going on, but the numbers are fairly bold. Of the remaining twelve starters, three were selected in the second round, three in the sixth, and one each in the fourth, seventh, and eighth rounds—two starters were undrafted out of college.

The implication is that first-round picks have a head start on the rest of the draft class—both in terms of talent and in terms of the drafting team’s desire to see the pick succeed. The latter makes sense only in myopic terms. The former, however, is what it is all about. And, as the above statistics suggest, there is some reason to look upon so-called diamonds-in-the-rough with skepticism—not only because fewer diamonds-in-the-rough tend to become starters than do generally agreed upon diamonds, but also because diamonds-in-the-rough generally come from the rough themselves, in a manner of speaking.

All of which takes us back to the original question. Which of these quarterbacks would you prefer to lead your team? Before you answer, however, I confess that quarterback five is a bit of a ruse. Although his numbers are respectable and his coach has nothing but good things to say about him, he was not drafted this year. And when you read his name, you might be a bit surprised given how his numbers compare to those of the others on the board. For player number five is none other than Minnesota’s Bryan Cupito.

Since Cup’ wasn’t in the draft this year, let’s take him out of the decision making process for now. That leaves us with four quarterbacks from which to make a decision. And remember, you don’t have to take anyone if you don’t want to.

The remaining four quarterbacks were drafted by NFL teams in 2006 but not in the order in which I’ve listed them. Each has pretty decent numbers and the requisite glowing comments from their college coach. Where the players differ most, however, is in strength of schedule. And that suggests that where numbers are comparable, SOS might help differentiate these quarterbacks a bit.

The player whose team had the strongest SOS among our five quarterbacks was Texas QB Vince Young (quarterback number 2). Next, in order, were Matt Lienart (1), Cupito (5), Jay Cutler (3), and Tavaris Jackson (4). Jackson’s Alabama State squad finished 215th out of 239 Division I teams. That’s not to say that Jackson did not earn his states, but merely to suggest that Jackson, and to a much lesser degree, Cutler, cut his college teeth on far more suspect competition than did this year’s first-round picks and even than did 2005’s 2nd round starters—Jake Plummer, Drew Brees, and Brett Favre.

That doesn’t mean that Jackson won’t succeed in the NFL. But it does mean that he probably has a great deal to learn in the NFL—like how to play against real competition. Fortunately for the Vikings, Jackson’s a sponge and Childress is his water.

Up Next: Quarterback Guru or One-Hit No Wonder? Plus, SWAC and 2007.

Posted by maasx003 at May 8, 2006 7:31 AM