Quarterbacks and Development

29 Aug

Spending most of my time evaluating and analyzing the Cincinnati Bengals brings me to the routine question about Andy Dalton and his development as a Quarterback. That’s another topic that I think is still playing out, but it also brings other NFL Quarterbacks into the discussion and raises questions about how long it takes for today’s signal callers to develop into their prime.

I tend to believe it’s very early in their careers. Rookie and second-year Quarterbacks are winning playoff games and playing in Super Bowls. Most fans and analysts want to see a QB do it over an extended period of time and by then, their analysis seems outdated. Is it crazy to think Big Ben was in his prime from years two through five and now isn’t an elite QB anymore? It’s rare that a QB develops like Eli Manning; slow at first, then a big leap. But even his play hasn’t been consistent since (and during) that first Super Bowl winning year. Is he still an elite QB? I don’t think so. Same story with Joe Flacco. He was as inconsistent as they came before a stretch of 6-games to close out 2012 where he looked like an elite QB. Is he going to continue to be that guy? Does it matter since he got his ring? Why did those two have such big leaps in ability during the Playoffs?

There seems to be a mythological “third year is the year” to know what you have in a player. Like, all of a sudden, they’ll become an entirely new player. Will their arm suddenly become stronger or will they now be able to elude the rush?
I find this theory to be even harder to believe for a Quarterback with physical limitations. That player has probably made a career out of “intangible” attributes like “Smarts”, “Guts”, “Winner”, “Leader” or “Experienced”. So where can they get better later in their careers? Aren’t those usually the assets you gain as you grow in the NFL? Alex Smith is probably the best example if this. He was holding onto his NFL career by the tips of his fingers until Harbaugh was hired. The new coaching and offensive system got Smith’s head back above water.

On the flip side, a QB with all of the physical talents and a “high ceiling” for his potential, probably has been successful just off of pure talent-dominance. Those are the players where I’m most likely to see a leap in progression. A guy like Cam Newton is, at any moment, on the cusp of becoming an elite player in this league. Or he could dance with inconsistencies his entire career like Jay Cutler.

The Quarterbacks that marry the two are the all-time greats and instant success stories. Aaron Rodgers – once he rounded out his abilities and won the starting job – was an instant success. That’s why I don’t need to see much more from Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson or RG3 to anoint them as “Super Bowl Caliber QBs”. Am I calling them “All-Time Greats” already? No, because I believe that is where longevity comes into the picture. That’s why Curtis Martin is in the Hall of Fame and Terrell Davis isn’t. But who was better in their prime?

How can you write-off or proclaim a player so quickly?”

Because we’re often asked to evaluate on the spot. If you want me to predict the future, we’re wasting time, but I can tell you what I have evaluated to this point. Most of these players have years of college film to add to their recent NFL tape. If you see it in the NFL and confirm your collegiate evaluations, you don’t need multiple seasons to for conclusive evidence. I’m not talking production or stats, I’m talking about physical abilities and innate attributes that very often translate to the NFL level.

Here’s how I see the young quarterbacks in the NFL.

Ben Roethlisberger Group
These QBs are ready very early in their careers. I don’t know how long their peak will last, but they can win a Super Bowl now.

* Andrew Luck
* Robert Griffin
* Colin Keapernick
* Russell Wilson
* Matt Ryan

Eli Manning Group
High draft pick with the talent, but the light hasn’t come on consistently enough. It could turn on at any point and they become an elite QB.

* Jake Locker
* Matthew Stafford
* Joe Flacco
* Josh Freeman
* Cam Newton

Alex Smith Group
You have seen their peak and while it can be good enough to enjoy success, it’s also bad enough to get out-dueled consistently in the Playoffs by better QBs. You better build a GREAT team around them if you want to get further than the Wild Card round.

* Andy Dalton
* Christian Ponder
* Mark Sanchez
* Matt Schaub
* Sam Bradford

We need more tape
* Ryan Tannehill
* Brandon Weeden
* EJ Manuel
* Geno Smith
* Tyrell Pyror

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