Byron Leftwich Deserves a Starting Job

Sean O'BrienCorrespondent INovember 4, 2008

Last night on Monday Night Football "Big" Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined at halftime.  He would end the night going 5-of-17 passes with an interception.

Enter backup quarterback Byron Leftwich. 

A first round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003, Leftwich was considered an elite prospect by many.  He displayed a strong arm and fair decision-making.  However, his slow release allowed defenders to anticipate his passes and therefore respond accordingly.

Leftwich's rookie year was just that.  He would end 2003 with a quarterback rating of 73.0, having completed 57.2 percent of his passes, throwing 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

2004 saw the second-year starter improve.  In 14 games Leftwich's rating improved to 82.2, he completed 60.5 percent of his passes, and threw 15 touchdowns while tossing 10 interceptions.

In his final year with 10 or more games, Leftwich amassed a QB rating of 89.3, completed 57.9 percent of his passes, and threw 15 touchdowns with only five interceptions.

I don't know about you, but I see some serious improvement here.  He was developing into a statistically sound starter.

Too bad in 2006 he only played in six games before being traded to Atlanta in 2007.  For Atlanta he played in three games with little effect.

Now, in 2008, we see him as the backup quarterback for Ben Roethlisberger.  He has played in four different games, compiled a 117.2 QB rating, completed 58.3 percent of his passes, and has thrown two touchdowns.

More often, when Big Ben has been sidelined for various injuries, the offense has been stalling.  On multiple occasions, Byron Leftwich has taken over and reignited it.  He has led them down the field and has yet to turn the ball over.

He's done it with the same offensive line that has allowed Big Ben to get battered up and down the field.  He's done it despite the fact he has a "slow release" and his offense calls for him to make quick passes to avoid the sack.

I'm not saying a healthy Roethlisberger should be benched in place of Byron Leftwich.  I'm not even saying that a banged up Roethlisberger should be benched in favor of Leftwich.

I'm saying that such a strong performance and impressive record over the years warrants a starting job somewhere. Let's look at some teams Leftwich could prosper in, shall we?

Who knows just how long Brett Favre plans to play? If he doesn't get a ring and continues playing as inconsistently as he has, this may well be his final year.  This makes the New York Jets a possibility for Leftwich.

An improved offensive line would give him the time he needs to release the ball, and, with receivers like Coles and Cotchery, he could easily become an elite quarterback.

What about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Jeff Garcia is a great quarterback.  We saw it when he took over for Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and we're seeing it as he plays in Tampa. 

However, Jon Gruden doesn't seem content having a veteran quarterback behind center.  With a dominant defense to back him up and a solid running game, Leftwich wouldn't feel as much pressure to perform.  That could lead to him having a breakout season, much like Kyle Orton has this year.

Leftwich might even consider the Oakland Raiders.  Their "Win now, baby!" philosophy won't be fulfilled with JaMarcus Russel taking snaps. Granted, he was thrown under the bus and forced to start on a porous team, but shouldn't we be seeing some improvement by now? 

If we compare quarterbacks, there is only one similarity: They both have cannon arms.  Leftwich has better mobility, better decision-making, and better timing and poise. When Al Davis finally pulls the plug on Russell, Leftwich would be a great upgrade.

Some teams need to wake up and realize that they have a solid chance at contending with this guy throwing passes for them.  They'd do well to look into trading for him or signing him should he become a free agent in the next few seasons.