Why Many College "System" QBs Consistently Fail in the NFL

Vincent JacksonCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2008

We see it all the time. The hype, the magazine covers, the TV specials telling us that this is the next great top-flight NFL quarterback.  We see the passing titles and numerous awards they receive.  We tend to believe that hype, but more often than not, the product falls way short of expectations. 

Everyone remembers the 2008 Sugar Bowl between the Georgia Bulldogs and the then-undefeated Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, quarterbacked by Heisman hopeful Colt Brennan (pictured above). 

Brennan, following in the footsteps of former Hawaii QB Timmy Chang who set the NCAA career passing yardage mark back in 2004, threw for an NCAA Division I-A record 58 touchdown passes in 2006, along with a record passing efficiency of 185.96. His 2007 season was not as spectacular but equally productive, throwing for over 4000 yards and 38 touchdowns as well as leading Hawaii to a 12-0 season, the ONLY undefeated team in the country.

All of those numbers became irrelevant that night in the Superdome as he faced a defense of professional caliber.  Brennan's normally solid offensive line wilted under the pressure and allowed a season high eight sacks, the most given up by Hawaii since 2000.  

The Bulldogs's relentless pressure made it a nightmare for Brennan to find his talented receivers, causing him to throw for a season-low 169 yards and three interceptions.  He was also hit and knocked down multiple times throughout. 

Brennan's failure on the big stage was obviously picked apart and many experts saw it as a possible sign of things to come.  They cited that his conference and overall schedule was too easy and he faced opposing defenses with sub-par secondaries.  He was touted as just another "system quarterback" and that the word "bust" would follow him in the NFL.  Time will tell if that comes to fruition.

Brennan is not the only quarterback to have this label.  David Carr, Tim Couch, Andre Ware, Danny Wuerffel, Akili Smith, Alex Smith and Joey Harrington are just a few of the other "system quarterbacks" to have to come to the NFL and failed miserably.  But we ask, why is that? 

Is it really the system itself that they play in or are there other factors?

The main factor we will zero in on is the main offensive formation these quarterbacks, and many others around the country, have relied upon and that is the shotgun spread (sometimes known as the Run and Shoot). 

The shotgun spread offense has been modified since it was invented by Red Hickey in 1960 and has become a college quarterback's favorite weapon.  Mismatches are easy to exploit which leads to big plays and big numbers and most of that production depends on solid pass protection.  

Others say that a lot of the quarterback's success depends on the talent around them.  At the collegiate level, talent is clear to notice but at the pro level everyone seems to be of equal talent and skill. 

NFL defensive coordinators know college gameplans and expose weaknesses of young quarterbacks quite quickly.  These talented college stars find that the speed of the game in the NFL is quite different than anything they could have imagined and find the learning curve awfully steep.  To prove this theory, let's take a look at some stat comparisons of a few collegiate star quarterbacks that jumped to the NFL; first at their top college passing season and then their top professional passing season.

Andre Ware

University of Houston, 1989 Heisman winner; 7th overall pick in 1990 NFL Draft

1989, UH- 4644 passing yds, 44 touchdown passes

1992, Detroit Lions- 677 passing yds, 3 touchdown passes

Difference: 3967 passing yds, 41 touchdowns


Tim Couch

University of Kentucky; 1st overall pick of 1999 NFL Draft

1998, UK- 4275 passing yds

2001, Cleveland Browns- 3040 passing yds, 17 touchdown passes

Difference: 1235 passing yards


David Carr

Fresno State University; 1st pick of 2002 NFL Draft

2001, FSU- 4308 passing yds, 42 TDs

2004, Houston Texans- 3531 yards, 16 TDs

Difference: 777 yards, 26 touchdowns


Danny Wuerffel

University of Florida, 1996 Heisman winner; 4th round pick in 1997 Draft

1996, UF- 3625 passing yds, 39 TDs

2002, Washington Redskins- 719 passing yds, 3 TDs

Difference: 2906 passing yards, 36 TDs


As you can clearly see, there is a HUGE dropoff in stats from college to the pros.  Of course, this can be attributed to a variety of factors: offensive line play, production of receivers, opposing defenses, or coaches. 

Many quarterbacks in the NFL these days are accused of being "products of the system."  Stars like the Colts' Peyton Manning and Tom Brady of the Patriots, thrive in their particular offenses and are crucial to the success of their respective team. 

The opening statement about the Sugar Bowl still rings true.  A relentless pass rush and solid coverage scheme can make even the most powerful of offenses seem pedestrian.

So the question still begs: Do certain systems create certain types of quarterbacks that work in college but not in the NFL?

In my estimation, I really don't know.  It is really a team-by-team, year-by-year evaluation.  Will we see another prototypical "system quarterback" come out of college and become an NFL superstar? That all depends if all systems are go.



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