The Importance of the NFL Quarterback: Overrated and Misunderstood
Every single quarterback in the NFL is overrated. From the face of your franchise to the young guy who backs up your aging veteran — not a single one of them is worth the mountains of attention they receive.
Don't get it confused — this isn't a shallow attempt from a no-name writer to discredit the quality professional athletes. This isn't an indictment of the records Peyton Manning holds, the rings Tom Brady wears, the interceptions Brett Favre throws, or the clipboard your newest rookie clutches on the sideline.
It's a dose of reality. Consider the former a disclaimer.
Your favorite primary signal-caller is nothing but an incredible athlete who found himself in an ideal professional situation. He's a talented player with physical abilities the average man can only dream of, and he's in an offensive system that complements his skills.
Some are clearly more talented than others.
There's a reason why few become long-time starters, why some go to the Pro Bowl, why less ever smell the Hall of Fame, and why so many wash out before you ever remember the number they wore.
It's important for you to understand that the NFL does not belong to them alone.
But It's About Leadership!
They are leaders because their contracts made them so. They are leaders because when the ball is snapped, their actions are the focal point for three-to-seven seconds.
Unfortunately, fans have misinterpreted that observation as a symbol of leadership, and the concept spiralled out of control.
The attention focused on one man is an insult to the 10 others starting on offense.
It's an insult to the receivers who catch the passes and the backs who move the chains — to the men who block would-be tacklers and allow the quarterback to be that leader.
It's an insult to men like Ray Lewis and Barry Sanders whose careers have been and were defined by being successful despite the absence of a legitimate quarterback.
To assume that no other man is capable of leading his team to victory simply because he doesn't receive the snap directly is absolutely asinine.
The Pointless Measure of Statistics
"He has a 90.2 QB rating, and is 9-for-11 on third-down conversions with less than two minutes to go in away games played in bad weather."
And then someone counters the point with, "Yeah, but how many rings does he have?"
Right back to square one.
Yet, the one constant that's consistently ignored is the quality of their teammates. And whenever it is considered, we're all entrenched in a chicken-egg debate.
Would Joe Montana have been as great without Jerry Rice? Or was Jerry Rice made better by Joe Montana's play?
In 1988 — a Super Bowl winning season for the 49ers — Montana threw for 2,981 yards. Jerry Rice is responsible for 1,306 of those. The rest were divided up between Roger Craig, Mike Wilson, Tom Rathman, John Taylor, and more.
What should this tell you?
Neither one of them did it alone. It should tell you the absolute truth: Both players were immensely talented athletes who were placed in ideal situations for their skills. Yes, Montana flourished without Rice, and Rice without Montana, but history remembers them most for the time they spent together.
Through victories and statistical successes, the unsung heroes are the team's scouting department and coaching staff — not the chess pieces they maneuver on the gridiron.
Montana to Rice and Steve Young to Rice were dazzling combinations. But who's the person who identified how strong those combinations could be?
What happens to the quarterback who isn't graced with similar opportunities? Who's scouted by a team that can't match his talents? Does he become Ryan Leaf?
System vs. Skill
Would Dan Marino have thrown for 5,084 yards in a season if the New York Jets plugged him into their system? Could Mickey Shuler supplement Mark Clayton?
Better yet, would Ken O'Brien have thrown for as many yards if he was with the Miami Dolphins?
Better (or worse) yet, how many quarterbacks have been victims of being drafted by the wrong team, and at the wrong time?
The questions are clearly hypothetical, but they're all valid. Certain offensive systems are certified as winners. They're crafted in such a way that someone with the appropriate tools can succeed.
It's why Matt Cassel proved to be worthy of the franchise tag despite where he was drafted. It's why the sixth-round draft pick he supplemented was able to accomplish what the first-overall draft pick — Drew Bledsoe — who preceded him never could.
Chad Pennington was converted from weak-armed QB of the Jets to savior of the Dolphins in four short months because the offensive system supported his strengths.
How many quarterbacks with adequate skills find themselves in the wrong system? Relegated to back-up roles because offensive coordinators can't identify the proper ways to utilize their players?
Clearly, a quarterback must possess a unique set of skills to flourish in specific systems. But his skills can't work anywhere.
It's why Mike Martz' offense hasn't found the same thrill since the Greatest Show on Turf, and why Kurt Warner is at his absolute best when he's teamed with exceptional wide receivers.
And if recent history is satisfactory as evidence, then it's proof-positive that quarterbacks don't win big games on their own, either.
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