Note: This series
contains excerpts and sample profiles from my 2006 Rookie Scouting
Portfolio, an FFToday.com publication available for purchase here.
The message of this year’s QB impact article differs little
from last year: When it comes to fantasy football, the words rookie
and quarterback rarely equal success. The top 10 single season
performances for a rookie quarterback doesn’t provide a
lot of excitement for fantasy owners:
|Rookie QBs At Their Best
* - Denotes player’s first
year in NFL, not necessarily first year in pro football. Jim Kelly
was drafted in 1983 but played in the USFL until ’86. Warren
Moon originally signed with he CFL.
U - The player was not drafted by an NFL team.
the five rookies to crack the top 12 fantasy QBs in their rookie
season—Moon and Kelly already had a at least a few years
of professional football experience. Jim Zorn played in a different
era of offensive football. Overall, the highest performing rookies
generally posted numbers worthy of a fantasy back up. That’s
worth a late-round bargain in some re-draft leagues, but no experienced
fantasy owner is going to build a re-draft team around a rookie.
For dynasty leagues it’s a completely different story.
Top quarterback prospects are always in high demand. The reason
is high-production over a relatively long period for a position
player. A great fantasy quarterback can have a career that spans
twice as long as most running backs or receivers.
So there you have it. While three of the best rookie performances
in recent memory have come in the past five years, it’s
still not likely anyone in 2006 is going to make the list. Yet,
this quarterback draft class has talent. The top of the class
features three players with distinct styles. One is a great leader
with athletic skills that overshadow the fact he’s a better
passer than given credit (Vince Young). Another is a gunslinger
with an arm that overshadows his underrated athletic skills (Jay
Cutler). And the remaining one is a classic drop back passer expected
to be ready before the first two, but needs to prove he has the
arm strength to match the rest of his game (Matt Leinart).
While the headliners offer NFL teams three distinct, first-round
options, there is a lot more depth to this class than in recent
years. In fact, I believe five years from now there will be no
less than seven starting quarterbacks from this class. At least
four of these starters will come from the mid-round of this draft.
An additional four players have enough raw talent to at least
receive significant playing time as an injury fill-in, or back
up with moderate success on the field. The chart below is from
the 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, and it summarizes the top
quarterbacks in position-specific categories graded on film prior
to the NFL draft.
|The Best Quarterbacks By
of SEC quarterbacks has terrific arm strength. They
can throw the deep ball with little arc and high velocity,
and once they learn the necessary timing, they'll be
able to deliver the last-second throws the NFL requires
on many routes.
may have an unusual delivery but he can zip the ball
into tight spaces on intermediate throws with the best
of them. Gradkowski's two seasons with a 70% completion
percentage speaks for itself.
these top prospects are mechanically sound with their
set up and delivery, but they can also throw and accurate
ball from different release points when under pressure.
will take what the defense gives them, but also show
the ability to make good decisions under pressure or
go for the jugular when the defense is over-aggressive.
QBs are the best at selling fakes in the play action
game and demonstrate good ball security as runners when
breaking the pocket. They demonstrate a level of sophistication
to their game the others lack.
both QBs need to learn to get rid of the ball, they
have a decent gauge of the pass rush and move effectively
in the pocket while scanning the field.
Young have the quickness and peripheral vision to elude
pressure at the last moment and the strength to break
tackles, but most importantly they keep their eyes down
field and bodies set to throw.
Cutler, Broncos: Based on his play last season, I think
Jay Cutler is the best quarterback prospect in this rookie class.
While Vince Young has what Leinart lacks, and vice versa, Cutler
possesses the entire package of skills. The only thing Cutler
doesn’t possess that the other two have is the experience
of playing on a winning college team with superstar talent.
Honestly, I’m not sure I’m thoroughly convinced of
the argument I’m about to make, but I think it’s good
enough to posit: In a way, the fact Cutler had to play on an overmatched
team in arguably the best defensive conference in college football
might make him more NFL-ready than Matt Leinart. Cutler had to
regularly throw against defenses with their ears pinned back on
down and distance situations where most would have to respect
the threat of the run—especially if they were facing a rushing
attack the caliber or USC or Texas. The former Vanderbilt quarterback
had to become accustom to making quicker decisions under pressure.
He also had to learn how to make high velocity throws in tight
spaces at the last moment with his feet set or on the run. His
arm, athleticism, and the quality of the Vanderbilt team are what
have scouts comparing Cutler’s game (good and bad) to Brett
Favre. As an analyst of game film, I agree with the assessment.
Cutler has the physical skills and mental toughness to be an elite,
quarterback in the NFL. He also has some bad habits to overcome
such as staring down receivers and trying too hard to make the
play himself rather than practice situational football.
There are quite a few detractors of Cutler’s game. These
are mostly analysts that feel Cutler rode the wave of impressive
postseason practices to a higher draft value. Still, the game
film doesn’t lie as long as you don’t lie to yourself
about what you see. Mike Shanahan and Jeff Fisher have been around
some excellent quarterbacks: John Elway, Steve McNair, Warren
Moon, Chris Chandler, Joe Montana, and Steve Young. The coaches
are good friends and the two had a phone conversation about Cutler
prior to the event. Here’s an excerpt from coach Shanahan’s
press conference after the first day of the draft as reported
I had a chance to talk to (Titans Head Coach) Jeff Fisher
a number of times, and Jeff was working out all three quarterbacks
and spending a lot of time with all three, and Jeff thought
the world of him (Cutler). Obviously, I liked what I saw on
film. He can make all the throws, and I liked the way he handled
himself and I liked the way he played. Jeff had a chance to
spend a lot with him right there obviously in the same city
and didn’t feel like he had any flaws. Jeff and I have
been close through the years, and I didn’t have to give
something away, so that’s always nice.”
There were reports prior to the draft the Tennessee Titans organization
was split on all three quarterbacks. The front office liked Young,
the coaching staff (former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow)
liked Leinart, and the scouts liked Cutler. While I am just speculating
here from what Shanahan said, I believe part of the Cutler contingent
might have been Jeff Fisher despite his USC ties.
I’m sure Fisher is happy enough with Young as a talent,
regardless of his preference. The coach has the experience of
developing a quarterback of Young’s talents, so it’s
just a matter of whether the Titans organization will give him
the same level of patience with Young as they did with McNair.
Media speculation says it won’t happen, but I believe we’ll
know more by the preseason. If the Titans acquire a veteran quarterback
and make Volek their number two, it’s a good sign that Fisher
will continue his tenure in Tennessee. If not, it might precipitate
the coach’s exit.
In contrast, Jay Cutler has the luxury of developing on a slower
time line. Jake Plummer may not have satisfied the Broncos organization’s
expectations as of yet, but he has performed better with each
passing season. The Broncos were good enough to host the AFC Championship
Game, and still have enough tools to contend for the playoffs.
If Cutler is forced into action, I believe he will actually perform
better than Leinart as a rookie.
Matt Leinart, Cardinals: Surrounded
with all-star talent at RB and WR, Matt Leinart is in a great
situation and the most likely rookie QB to experience early success.
Now I just said I thought Cutler would outperform Leinart as a
rookie if both get a chance to play. What gives? I believe Cutler
isn’t as likely to see the field as a rookie as Leinart.
Denver has a better offensive line, and a more durable quarterback
I have been one of those people critical of Leinart’s arm
strength, but I have always tempered it with the fact he was recovering
from elbow surgery. If he can regain enough strength, and possibly
build on it, Leinart would have graded out higher than any quarterback
in this class. While Drew Brees and Ken Dorsey gained arm strength
through weight training, neither developed top-quality velocity
on their throws. Now take Leinart and his throwing arm that has
already undergone two surgeries. I’m skeptical he’ll
evolve into a player with even Peyton Manning’s arm—which
is considered strong enough, but not top drawer.
The other problem that isn’t discussed nearly as often
is his accuracy. Many people praise Leinart’s accuracy,
but I thought he was more inconsistent than people say. In comparison
to Young, Cutler, and a few others, Leinart had difficulty making
the high velocity throws in tight spaces.
One of the most over hyped plays in college football history
will likely be Leinart’s 4th down pass on the last drive
of the game versus Notre Dame. Don’t get me wrong, it was
a great play, but more so due to Leinart’s gutsy audible
at this point of the game and not the execution. The play was
successful because the defensive back just missed the deflection
of a poorly thrown ball while in a trail technique on the receiver.
If Leinart threw the ball with good accuracy, the receiver would
have been able to take advantage of his separation by continuing
to run at full speed while catching the ball over his shoulder.
The result would have likely been a score. Nine times out of ten,
an NFL defensive back in the same type of technique as the Notre
Dame player on this throw would have deflected the pass, or made
the adjustment to intercept. This is just one of quite a few examples
I saw in multiple games during Leinart’s career.
Despite this criticism, Leinart is a surprisingly mobile quarterback
in the pocket with good ball skills, and unusual savvy for this
stage of his career. He makes good enough decisions to play within
his strengths. The concern will be whether Leinart can get the
job done when forced to play outside of his strengths—something
NFL defenses dictate at several key points in a game.
I believe Leinart will eventually make the adjustment. Before
that time comes, the former Heisman Trophy winner will experience
some ups and downs. Fortunately for Leinart, he landed in the
best situation for his strengths/weaknesses. Fitzgerald is one
of the best receivers in the league at fighting for the ball in
the air. Leinart will not have to be super-accurate on deep routes
or stick throws to have a chance at completing a big play to the
Cardinals third-year stud. Boldin is a player that can take a
short pass and turn it into a big play, which will help Leinart’s
short game pay dividends.
Speaking of short games, Edgerrin James is a great receiver out
of the backfield. James’ short yardage running and grind
it out style places him among the top runners in football. Add
6-7 Leonard Pope to the mix at tight end, and Leinart will have
a higher room for error during his adjustment than most rookie
Leinart is a first round dynasty choice, but in re-drafts he’ll
often get picked despite the fact it doesn’t make a lot
of sense with a healthy Kurt Warner who was a fantasy monster
down the stretch. If he remains healthy, Leinart won’t see
anything but mop up time—if Arizona is that fortunate to
experience it for the first time at the end of a game in decades.
Although Warner didn’t look great as a Giant, he did a nice
enough job as a game manager with Tiki Barber controlling the
football. Now in a town with a comparable runner in quality and
clear upgrades at receiver, Warner should have more room to operate
and maintain his health. Still, the offensive line still needs
improvement. If Leinart gets thrust into action, I think you’ll
see a more frustrating experience than many will lead you to believe.
This is a quarterback that needs better than average protection
to be successful. If you can get Leinart off the waiver wire,
if needed, you’re probably making the best decision on him
for a re-draft league.
Vince Young, Titans: If health
isn’t a factor to get Leinart on the field, then Young should
see the field first among the rookies. The Titans and Steve McNair
have parted company and anyone starting ahead of Young is simply
a stopgap until the rookie is ready to see the field. As ESPN’s
John Clayton has reported, the most interesting development this
season will involved the front office’s desire to see Young
on the field this year versus Jeff Fisher’s desire to gradually
develop the third overall pick in the draft as he did with McNair—coincidentally
the Titans last 3rd overall pick in the draft.
There’s no doubt Young is a great athlete, but there are
a lot of questions as to whether the former Longhorn can be a
great NFL quarterback. Many fantasy owners are comparing Young
to Michael Vick. But this comparison neither does justice to Vick’s
rare skills as a runner, nor Young’s developing talents
as a pocket passer.
Young is more likely the next Steve McNair or Donovan McNabb
than the next Michael Vick. His game film as senior at Texas shows
he can make small adjustments in the pocket and keep his eyes
downfield while under pressure. Michael Vick is a good quarterback,
but he hasn’t demonstrated the presence in the pocket to
consistently make the subtle adjustments to stay alive and deliver
the ball effectively. Vick more often than not forces his own
hand to run when under pressure: he brings the ball down from
a throwing position; makes dramatic evasive moves; and ultimately,
loses sight of his receivers downfield. Young is a powerful runner
with great balance and downfield moves, but he looks to pass first,
McNair and McNabb have been more dangerous in the pocket because
they will gain significant yards if flushed from the pocket, but
have developed the ability to step away from pressure and find
an open receiver for a big play. Vince Young displayed this skill
as a collegiate player. Michael Vick never displayed this skill,
and rarely does in the NFL.
Perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of Young’s game
is his delivery. ESPN’s Ron Jaworski did a great job demonstrating
how Young’s throwing motion makes him release the ball from
a level that’s equivalent of a quarterback under six-feet
tall. The analysts predict Young will have many more balls batted
down at the line of scrimmage and this will make him a less effective
I counter with this point: shorter quarterbacks have more difficulties
with seeing the passing lanes than they do with batted balls.
While Young will be throwing with a trajectory that might compare
with a quarterback under 6 feet tall, unless he’s going
to begin throwing from a catcher’s crouch, he’ll still
be seeing the field with his 6-5 height! The Browns Bernie Kosar
was a successful side arm QB at the same height. Physically speaking,
Young has a huge athletic advantage over Kosar.
If you are a re-draft owner, Young may be the most likely to
play but don’t expect consistent success—if any success
at all. Jeff Fisher will likely insert Young into situations where
the rookie has a good chance for success. He did this early in
McNair’s career. Unless you are extremely desperate and
hope he gets some rushing touchdowns in the game(s), Young won’t
be worth a waiver wire selection. Of course, it’s a completely
different story in dynasty leagues. There should be little argument
that Young is one of the top three rookie quarterbacks in terms
of talent and situation.
The Titan has great poise and demonstrated the ability to learn
from his mistakes earlier in the game to beat you at the end.
A great example of this talent occurred in the Ohio State match
up in Columbus against several first day draft picks on the defensive
side of the ball. Young will progress faster than given credit.
He won’t be the best of the class early on, but he has a
great shot at becoming a fine NFL QB, and sought-after fantasy
The reason Young could fail will more likely originate with the
Titans organization. Jeff Fisher might be on his way out of Tennessee.
If this is the case, there’s a strong possibility the entire
coaching staff goes with him and Young will be forced to learn
a new system as he’s still acclimating to the rigors of
the NFL. This will likely slow Young’s development considerably.
When a young quarterback has to face these kinds of changes early,
it can be detrimental to his career. I think Young has the skills
to be a great quarterback and leader, but will the organization
give him the chance to develop at a pace that will help him fulfill
that potential. The rumors of these possible changes within the
organization, and not skill level, are what drop Young below Leinart
on my list.
Just A Matter of Time
Brodie Croyle, Chiefs: If Croyle
were 6-3 and at least 220 lbs, he’d likely be in the class
of the three quarterbacks ahead of him. At 6-2, 205 lbs, Croyle
has been injury-prone and considered a bit frail for a future,
NFL starter. As a passer, Croyle reminds me a lot of Marc Bulger
but with a stronger arm. In fact, the former Alabama signal caller
as one of the strongest arms in this draft. He throws a beautifully
accurate deep ball and is a heady competitor on the field.
Croyle landed in a nice situation with the Chiefs. Kansas City
is a veteran ball club with a great running game. Trent Green
has at least 2-3 years of high quality production in him but if
Croyle develops at a quick enough rate, Green could be sent packing
at the end of 2007. The Chiefs could still have this level of
talent two years from now, and Croyle would benefit. If Croyle
can gain some muscle to his frame and stay healthy, he has a good
chance to be an excellent fantasy quarterback throughout his career.
Kellen Clemens, Jets: I didn’t
study Clemens this year, yet from all accounts, he’s a guy
to watch down the line. ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback,
Ron Jaworski had Clemens as the highest rated quarterback from
his film study, according to a NY Post article. "All the
intangibles are there," Jaworski said. "I talked to
a number of coaches that worked him out and put him to the chalkboard
and they were blown away by him. Seven or eight NFL head coaches
said, from the neck up, this guy is best guy in the draft."
The concerns are Clemens leg and height. A spiral fracture is
a pretty nasty break and he suffered one down the stretch of 2005.
He’s healing well, but this obviously hurt his draft status.
Clemens is a big guy, but not a tall player. As we have come to
learn, the NFL puts a lot of stock in the height of a quarterback.
There are a lot of questions surrounding Chad Pennington’s
future both as a Jet and an NFL quarterback. Patrick Ramsey has
been a disappointment, but has enough raw talent to develop somewhere—maybe
even as a starter. So Clemens has a pretty good chance to be groomed
for the starting job. I believe he’s a good dynasty prospect
to hang onto.
Bruce Gradkowski, Buccaneers:
I became a huge fan of the Toledo signal caller after studying
him. Apparently, so did Jon Gruden, one of the pre-eminent quarterback
gurus in the NFL. In fact, he brought in former NFL MVP, reclamation
project, Rich Gannon to give tips to Gruden’s quarterback
stable in the spring mini-camp. Why is this significant? Gruden
likens Gradkowski to Gannon. Here’s more of what Gruden
had to say about his rookie QB:
(From the St. Petersburg Times) After drafting Bruce Gradkowski
from Toledo in the sixth round Sunday, Gruden had to nearly
restrain himself at the thought of coaching the NCAA record-setter
and what his addition might do to spice up the team's collection
"I'm trying not to get too excited up here talking about
it," Gruden said. "I really like Bruce. ... He was
kind of overshadowed by a lot of the other quarterbacks"
in the draft.
(From Buccaneers.com)“He fits our scheme and a guy who
we think has some upside,” said Gruden, who was impressed
by Gradkowski’s postseason workouts. “[He is] very
similar to a couple of guys I’ve worked with in the past.
His mobility is an asset. We clocked him as one of the faster
pure quarterbacks in this draft. And his production…he’s
the all-time completion percentage leader in NCAA history. He
knows how to run a huddle. Competition doesn’t bother
him. I believe he’s going to come in here and make this
thing very interesting. He’s going to be a quick study.”
I actually think in a couple of years, Gradkowski will be nipping
at Chris Simms heels for the starting position. Here’s
the checklist and game film profile of the Bucs’ rookie
from the 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.
Omar Jacobs, Steelers: Here
was a MAC quarterback many draft analysts had rated in the elite
class of signal callers at the beginning of the 2005 season. When
you have a season with 4000-yard, 41-td, 4-int as a sophomore
the expectations don’t get much higher. Of course, anything
less will be a letdown. While Jacobs had a decent junior year,
it wasn’t close to the previous season. Not only did Jacobs
draft stock level off, but it also dropped significantly when
he decided to leave early for the NFL.
There are significant flaws in Jacobs’ game. He throws
with a three-quarter delivery, operates mainly out of a spread
offense, and his footwork is sloppy. I really don’t consider
the spread offense a flaw because I saw him do a nice job as a
drop backer passer in a variety of situations this year. The footwork
is also correctable. And at 6-4, the same argument I made in favor
of Vince Young applies to Jacobs. Moreover, Jacobs is one of the
more accurate quarterbacks in this draft, and has excellent anticipation
as a passer. The former Bowling Green Falcon likes to stand in
the pocket and attack down field and he has the arm to do it.
I think the Steelers got a bargain they can develop into a luxury.
Ben Roethlisberger is the franchise quarterback and still hasn’t
reached his ceiling. As long as Big Ben remains healthy, he’ll
be the offensive leader. But Jacobs has the arm strength, accuracy,
poise, and athleticism to be an NFL starter. In a few years, Jacobs
may well be regarded in a similar light as Falcons backup, Matt
Schaub—a player the Falcons turned down a pretty good offer
from the Vikings to keep on their roster.
Upside But Likely A Career Clip-Board
Charlie Whitehurst, Chargers:
Whitehurst looks the part, but hasn’t always played up to
expectations. He had a superb start to his career, struggled in
a new offense, and then rebounded as a senior with a more simplified
approach. He’s a good athlete with a strong arm, and excellent
ball handling skills. Whitehurst’s positives and negatives
remind a bit of Rob Johnson, a player that gets coaches excited
due to his physical skills but ultimately disappoints.
I won’t be at all surprised if Whitehurst gets an opportunity
to start down the line for San Diego. Rivers is going to be prone
to take a lot of shots due to his lack of athletic ability and
if he doesn’t play to expectations, Whitehurst just might
make the most of is chance. Honestly, I don’t see this situation
playing out very well for either quarterback. I do believe if
Whitehurst can be consistent, he has a chance to be a better than
average starter. Right now he’s a late round flier in a
dynasty league rookie draft, at best.
Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings:
There has been a great deal of hype surrounding Jackson since
his unexpected first day selection in the NFL Draft. The Alabama
State quarterback has a great arm and the ability to gain yards
outside the pocket. I think he needs a lot more work and this
is not getting a lot of press. His footwork is bad and his delivery
needs significant adjustment., Jackson will continue to be a streaky,
inaccurate passer until he gets more polish with the fundamentals.
Once again I’m speculating, but this pick strikes me as
a selection by a coach that wants to prove a point. Former Eagles
offensive coordinator, Brad Childress helped run off Daunte Culpepper
and spent an inordinate amount of time criticizing the former
Vikings starter in the press. I think there is nothing wrong with
drafting a player with Jackson’s potential, but to pick
him in the 2nd round appears to be a pride-motivated move by a
coach that feels he can create the next Donovan McNabb.
Maybe several other teams were planning to pick Jackson before
round three, but on the surface it seems unusual for a team to
trade two third-round picks on a player that was generally rated
as a late first day pick, at best. Tony Banks has a good arm and
nice athleticism, as did Akili Smith. I just think like these
two players, Jackson is raw and needs a lot more work to become
a polished player—especially in the west coast offense.
I’m not impressed with the beginning of the Brad Childress
Brad Johnson is entrenched as the starter but if things go downhill
fast in Minnesota, I won’t be surprised if Childress decides
to play his pet project to generate excitement. I’m predicting
unmitigated disaster if this happens within the next two seasons.
D.J. Shockley, Falcons: Here’s
a project I believe has a chance to become a good player. Shockley
lacks experience, but he has a terrific arm and displays good
poise in the pocket. He is a smart football player that works
hard and is a good character athlete. I think Shockley is an example
of a player a team evaluated properly and picked at the right
spot in the draft.
This is a direct contrast to Quincy Carter a quarterback with
similar talent at UGA that Dallas drafted too early and rushed
his development. I would qualify Tarvaris Jackson as a project,
but his second round status takes that label away from him and
places heavier expectations on a shortened time period. Look for
Shockley to win the #3 job in Atlanta—more for his potential
and athletic ability than his actual skills to lead an NFL team
at the moment. Yet don’t be surprised if Shockley becomes
a viable option within the next 2-3 years.