Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Who's the best NFL Rookie QB?

Maybe it's just my bad memory, but it seems to me like there have been more rookie QBs making appearances this season than normal. There is Vince Young, the #3 pick in the draft who had led the Titans back into the playoff race. There's Matt Leinart, who's shown some flashes for the lowly Cardinals. There's Jay Cutler, who took over the Broncos and has them playing well again and in the playoff race. Then there's even Bruce Gradkowski, who started for Tampa Bay after Chris Simms went down, and Tarvaris Jackson, who's gotten some time in Minnesota. But who's been the best? Let's look at each one.

First just a quick look at Tarvaris Jackson. As you may know, I love the guy. But obviously, he's not really in the Young/Leinart/Cutler category yet, as he's only started 1 game. But I'll talk about him a little anyway. He's mobile, he's got a strong arm, quick release, and for the most part has made pretty good decisions. He hasn't had much experience at all at very high level of football (he played at D2 Alabama St. in college. No offense to D2 football, because everyone there is still much, much better than I ever was at football). So the fact that he's played some and not embarrassed himself is encouraging in and of itself.

But moving on to Bruce Gradkowski. I include him only because he is a rookie. However, before he was replaced he really wasn't that good. He completed 54% of his passes and had a 1:1 TD:INT ratio, which isn't good, but not awful. But he had only 5.06 YPA, which is really bad. Of QBs that have taken the most snaps for their team, it was by far the worst in the NFL. Second worst was 5.76 YPA by Joey Harrington. So Gradkowski doesn't really deserve to be with Leinart/Young/Cutler either.

So next is Jay Cutler, the lowest picked of the three first-round QBs. He's only made 4 starts, but he has impressed. His first game was subpar as he did throw 2 INT, but he has thrown 2 TD in each of his 4 games, which is excellent. He's been accurate (57% completion in 105 passes), he's obviously getting the ball in the endzone (8:4 TD:INT), and he's getting the ball downfield. He has a 7.34 YPA, which would be 7th in the NFL if he qualified. After the offense struggled a little bit with Plummer at the helm, they are hitting their stride with Cutler and becoming more explosive. The Broncos have averaged over 25 PPG in his 4 games. As I have mentioned before on here, I think Shanahan made a very good move here and the Broncos will be served better by having a guy like Cutler who gets the ball downfield more as their starting QB.

Then there's Matt Leinart, who was taken one spot ahead of Jay Cutler in the draft. He's been starting since week 5, so there's a solid sample size there. There have been a lot of up and downs for Leinart (which is almost a given considering he plays in Arizona). The highs have been Chicago, where he played a very solid game and drove the Cards down for what looked like would be the winning FG, and Minnesota, where he threw for over 400 yards. There's also been lows, such as the 3-game stretch against Oakland, Green Bay, and Dallas where he threw 1 TD and 5 INT. But overall he's been pretty accurate (56.8%) and has about an even TD:INT ratio. About what you'd expect from a QB playing behind the Arizona O-Line, which has been spotty.

Last is Vince Young. If you listen to Merril Hoge, VY is an awful QB who will never amount to anything. Fortunately, most people don't listen to Merril Hoge. I don't like to say a QB just "wins games" because football is the ultimate team game and no one player "just wins games", but that said I don't think anyone in Tennessee is complaining about taking Young over Leinart. His passing abilities haven't quite caused anyone to confuse him with Dan Marino, but his running ability combined with the passing have been superb. He's been ok throwing it... about 53% completions, 12 TD, 11 INT, 6.14 YPA... not great numbers by any means, but not impossibly bad numbers. But then throw in that he's run for over 500 yards and 6 TD, and he becomes a pretty darn good QB. Of course, it's pretty freakin' hard to ignore that the Titans have won 6 straight games and are suddenly back in the playoff race. That's a point in his favor.

So what does it all mean? Well, basically it just means that the three first-rounders all look really good and should have bright futures. I truly would have no real qualms ranking them 1-2-3 in whatever order you like. If I had to rank them (and I don't, but what's the point of this if I don't?!), I'd probably stick with my pre-draft ranking of them:

(1) Jay Cutler
(2) Matt Leinart
(3) Vince Young

Agree? Disagree?