Acquiring a quarterback in the first round of the draft isn’t quite like rolling the dice, but there is still a good chance that a successful college player won’t live up to the hype - and vice versa.
JaMarcus Russell. Ryan Leaf. Matt Leinart. They’re all first round draft busts.
Russell (1st overall in ’07 draft) is now a free agent after being cut by the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders fared better without him in ’10, and now the underachieving QB is better known for his bling than for throwing touchdown passes.
Leaf (2nd overall in ’98) was a Heisman Trophy finalist after his junior year in college, yet he played just four seasons in the NFL before packing his retirement bags in August of 2002.
Leinart (10th overall in ’06) spent his time backing up Kurt Warner in Arizona, but had the chance to prove himself. He’s played in just 29 games in his four year career and is now riding the pine in Houston.
On the flip side of the coin, there have been many quarterbacks who have entered the league under the radar.
Tom Brady (199th overall in 6th round in 2000) is a three-time Super Bowl winning QB. His resume needs no explanation, and yet he was drafted in the same round that most special teams players come from.
Kurt Warner went undrafted in ’94 where he failed to make the final cut for the Green Bay Packers. He became the face of arena league football before signing with the St. Louis Rams in ’98. In his twelve year NFL career he went to the Super Bowl three times (winning once) with two different teams and took home two NFL MVP honors.
Tony Romo was another guy that went undrafted. He was third on the Cowboys’ depth chart in 2003, and was better known for his golf skills than his passing arm, but now he’s the face of arguably the most popular team in sports.
Why then do we get so tripped up in analyzing quarterback skills coming out of college? In the cases that I listed above, heart and hard work have a lot to do with success.
This brings me to Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. They were/are the most scrutinized quarterbacks in their respective drafts. Arms went up when Tebow was selected with the 25th pick last year, and now it’s Newton getting the microscope treatment because many experts believe that like Tebow, he relies on his athleticism and needs to work on his drop back passing game.
It’s true – the NFL game is played at a completely different speed than the college game. During plays when Tebow and Newton could walk into the endzone untouched in college it’s a different story in the pros. Case in point.
Whether or not the talent is there, it’s clear that heart brings players a long way in this league. The best defenders, wideouts, tight ends, and quarterbacks wear their heart on their sleeve and come to play every game.
The ones that bring the talent but not the heart only last for so long.
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