Coffee Maker, Clipboard, Center: The Ideal Progression for NFL Quarterbacks

Jimmy Grappone@cltsportshubCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2008

Call me old fashioned. Call me conservative. Call me what you will. But when it comes to calling signals in the NFL, rookies should be made to wait.

I understand that millions are being paid to highly-touted rookie signal callers, whether they play or ride the bench. I understand that owners want a fast return on their investment. I also understand that fans want to behold the future today.

But whatever happened to having just a little patience?

Allowing young NFL quarterbacks to play too early is more-often-than-not detrimental to their career development and severely restricts their opportunities for success. 


Say It Ain't So

Just ask Joey Harrington. The journeyman quarterback from Oregon and former Detroit Lions top pick was a four-year starter for the team that drafted him, but after meeting with minimal success in the Motor City, he was forced to leave the team. 

Recently, the former All-American and once mighty Duck has racked up more miles than Steve Prefontaine, as he's been bounced from team to team, but he hasn't been able to stick anywhere for more than a year, and he's currently without a job.

I'm generally of the opinion that it's best to let a quarterback hold the clipboard and learn from a solid and experienced veteran for at least a couple of years before being thrown into the fire.


Rodger Dodger Doesn't Sing The Blues, But There's Always an Exception to The Rule

Aaron Rodgers seems to be doing well so far in his first starting season as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback after serving mop-up duty for Brett Favre for the past three years.

He's won his first two games, and his stats at this point in the season are the best in the league.

In addition to Rodgers, just consider the following successful NFL quarterbacks: Steve Young, Tom Brady, Matt Hassellbeck, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Derek Anderson, and Philip Rivers. 

Each backed up a veteran at the start of his career and waited his turn to play, and each has experienced team and individual success once given the reigns. And the list goes on.

Occasionally, teams just don't have a choice when it comes to playing a young quarterback, and if you have a guy as smart, mature and physically gifted as Peyton Manning on your squad, you can probably get away with starting him early.

But Manning is a once-a-generation type player and the best pure passer since Dan Marino. And even he threw more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26) in his first year out of a Volunteers uniform.


The Pitfalls of Playing Too Young

For every Peyton Manning, there are 20 Vince Youngs and Matt Leinarts. These players are at a stage in their early careers where they should reasonably be expected to play well and contribute to their teams.

However, their early playing experiences and being forced to learn under fire have stunted their growth as NFL quarterbacks and potentially damaged their careers.

It's just better to bring along promising young quarterbacks slowly. Quarterback is the headiest position in a sport that's become the most complicated and popular in American professional sports—it's not like the running back position in which an exceptional athlete can just step right in on day one become a top shelf player from the start of his career.

Perhaps Leinart will be okay if he ever gets his confidence back and focuses on football enough to learn a few things from Kurt Warner.

As for Young, he played too early and now he apparently doesn't know if he wants to play football at all. The Titans' QB is still prodigiously talented, but it's doubtful he'll ever reach his ultimate potential as a pro quarterback without a drastic change of scenery, a commitment to the game, and the humility that he still has a lot to learn to be successful at the highest level.

The QB situation is so bad in Tennessee that Young has been benched for Kerry Collins, who was at Penn State when I was in grade school, and he still hasn't fixed that hitch in his delivery!


There's Bad...and Then There's Bad

If you want to shine the spotlight on royally disappointing quarterback play even more severe than that of Leinart and Young—and who doesn't after reading this article?—you need look no further than the Bay Area for fellow No. 1 draft picks, San Francisco's Alex Smith and Oakland's JaMarcus Russell. 

Smith signed a six-year, $49.5 million contract with the 49ers—$24 million guaranteed—after being selected first overall out of Utah in 2005, where he played for Tim Tebow's current coach at Florida, Urban Meyer. 

"Now it's time for me to go earn this money and prove that I deserve this money," Smith said in 2005. "The primary goal is to get on the field. I don't think this team is paying me this money to sit on the sideline."

19 touchdowns, 31 interceptions, and three sad, sad years later, Smith has failed at everything football related, except disappointing those who'd hoped he'd be the once-proud franchise's savior. 

Instead, Smith is now backing up some bloke named J.T. O'Sullivan, who probably signed w/the 49ers primarily for San Francisco's abundance of Irish pubs. No disrespect. 

Across the Bay, second-year pro JaMarcus Russell made his second start of the season last week against the Kansas City Chiefs and picked up his first career victory, no thanks to the giant QB's performance.

The guy was picked No. 1 overall in 2007 because he's built like Karl Malone and can throw a football 80 yards, but apparently he struggles a bit with accuracy.

Did you see Russell's stat line against the Chiefs last weekend? His numbers were so bad that he doesn't even have them posted on his website,  Believe me. I just checked. They're not there. 

JaMarcus' college stats from LSU are on the site—and his Raiders jersey is for sale—but his NFL stats are strangely amiss. 

Fortunately, I knew where to find them on Let's see, against AFC West rival Kansas City he was...Wait for it, wait for it...6-of-17 for 55 yards! Wow. That's bad, and not the way Michael Jackson meant it.

In the end, the Raiders defeated a tragic Chiefs team, but it was due mainly to the stellar performance of rookie running back Darren McFadden, Herm Edwards' ineptitude, and the efforts of the Raiders' defense against Kansas City's third-string quarterback, Tyler Thigpen, who's just happy to be here. 

Where does the league find these guys? 


Will They Ever Learn? And Can They Learn Quickly Enough?

Finally, there are two teams in the league who are starting rookie quarterbacks and history says their first year will be a struggle, both individually and for the team. 

The Falcons' Matt Ryan is immensely talented and mature for both his age and his lack of playing experience, and he may prove to be the exception to the rule.

However, the jury is still out on his counterpart in Baltimore, Raven's rookie Joe Flacco.

No matter how these quarterbacks fare in their first year, though, the deciding factor concerning their long term success may be how well their confidence remains intact despite numerous inevitable setbacks. 

And if their rookie years become especially painful, they can all reflect on Troy Aikman's initial year out of UCLA, in which the Cowboys lost every game he started.

Yet, despite these early growing pains, No. 8 went on to have a pretty successful career for the Blue & Silver.

I guess that just shows what I know.


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