Unlike its sister division the NFC North's, Drew Brees is a clear cut
winner to the question of; who is the top QB in the NFC South? Entering his
seventh NFL season and second with the Saints, this undersized former Purdue
Boilermaker and San Diego Charger, is not only in the prime of his career, but
also appears poised to take the defending NFC South champions to that one event
that has so far eluded them and their loyal fans for the entire 40 years of
their existence -- the Super Bowl.
Now as much as anyone, I understand a great many things must go right for a
club to reach the big game, with talent level, team chemistry, coaching, the
injury factor, and Lady Luck among the most important. This year's Saints teams
appears to have all of those components, but again a key injury to No. 9 would
end any thought of them potentially advancing in the postseason.
He doesn't have ideal height and isn't a serious threat to beat you with his
feet, but Brees is as accurate a thrower as there is in the game today. His sets
were quick and efficient, he consistently made good throwing decisions, has
excellent touch and anticipation and surprisingly has been very durable (missed
just a half dozen games) during his professional career. Add to the equation the
quality of his character, and one can readily see that the Saints today have in
Brees their very best quarterback since a fellow by the name of Archie Manning
was at the helm from 1971 through the 1982 season.
I'm going to give you a little truism today. The next time you hear a coach
say at the start of training camp that he has two serious contenders for the
team's quarterback job, know in the back of his mind that in actuality, he has
none. And such is the case with this year's edition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(are you listening in Kansas City and Cleveland?).
Counting the seemingly now retired Jake Plummer and free agent Eugene Bruce
(injured in NFL Europe), the Bucs had 6 quarterbacks on their roster at the
start of training camp!!!
I haven't attended one practice session, but in my mind the quarterback
competition is not even close. Thirty-seven year-old Jeff Garcia is truly
a remarkable individual, who after a stint in the CFL went on to star for six
seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and later played for a season each with the
Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Just how much Garcia has left in the tank and how effectively he will perform
in 2007 is anyone's guess, but keep in mind that since leaving the 49ers after
the 2003 season all of his successes have come in a backup or short-term starter
role. I admire Garcia tremendously, and have to say he played exceptionally well
in 2006 after replacing the injured Donavon McNabb. But I also have to
question if at his advanced football age whether he still has the skills to
perform at a championship level over the long haul (16-plus games).
The skinny on Garcia is that he obviously has a great deal of starting
experience having thrown for over 20,000 yards in his NFL career, has good
quickness, body balance, can throw on the move and from awkward positions, was
an accurate short passer, can make time with his feet, and shows good running
sense. My big questions are whether he can throw the deep out from the far hash
and can he hold up physically over a long NFL season?
2006 starter, Chris Simms (1 TD and 7 Interceptions in 2006) has shown little
in his four previous seasons with the Bucs to get me very excited. And Bruce Gradkowski was flat-out overmatched as a rookie in 2006.
The Carolina Panthers are in somewhat of a similar situation to Tampa Bay,
but have intentionally avoided making the competition between nine-year
professional and incumbent starter Jake Delhomme and recently acquired
David Carr, a five-year regular with the Houston Texans, a focal point for their
Delhomme, a former Saints free agent and third quarterback made a quantum
leap after signing with the Panthers after the 2002 season. In four seasons he
has thrown for nearly 14,000 yards, but it is the opinion of many football
people within the league that in spite of his numbers, he slipped noticeably in
2006 and very well may have already peaked as a player. It did appear that he
struggled before getting injured in the latter stages of 2006.
David Carr was the first player selected in the 2002 college draft, but
unfortunately had the misfortune of getting his baptism under fire for an
expansion club that had few offensive weapons and could be described quite
candidly as offensively bankrupt. His numbers have always been more then
respectable, but in an era when offenses are content to advance the ball
downfield with slip screens, swallow crosses, read screens, and arrow and circle
routes, those numbers are also somewhat deceiving.
Carr may one day fulfill his promise that many top scouts and coaches
predicted of him after concluding his star-studded career at Fresno. But
to do so, he is going to have to prove he can consistently make plays down the
field, become more efficient in the red zone, and protect the ball better in the
pocket. And regardless of the talent level around him, he must avoid sacks (249
over five seasons with a high of 76 as a rookie is totally unacceptable).
When I decided to undertake this project a few weeks back, I never dreamed I
would be considering the relative worth of Joey Harrington as opposed to
that of Michael Vick. But as we all know, a great many things have transpired
over the last three to four weeks in Atlanta.
Harrington was the third overall selection by the Detroit Lions in the 2002
college football draft behind the aforementioned David Carr and Julius Peppers.
After four uneventful seasons performing for a poor Lions squad, he was traded
by the new staff to the quarterback-starved Miami Dolphins for a late-round 2007
In 2006, Harrington replaced the injured Daunte Culpepper in the fourth game
of the season, but as was the case with the Lions, he really struggled to find
any degree of consistency and was released at the conclusion of the season
Harrington is a classy individual with ideal size, intelligence, and good
athletic skills. But I just never warmed up to him as a player, feeling
that he lacks the necessary throwing skills (didn't like his stroke nor did I
think his ball had enough life) and most importantly the ability to consistently
make a play at a critical time in a ballgame.
Few people in the history of the game have been given as much God-given
natural ability then Michael Vick. In all my years in professional ball I have
never seen a person with the foot speed, acceleration and escape skills of this
human highlight machine. I also personally saw him in pregame warmups versus East Carolina in 2000, and he effortlessly threw a football 80 yards flat-footed!
That being said, after six professional seasons, I still have my doubts if he
can ever develop his quarterback skills enough to bring a team to the
big dance. In baseball today there are many 22 to 29 year-old pitchers toiling
in A and AA ball who possess 92 to 97 MPH fastballs, while player like Greg Maddux (41 years of age) and Jamie Moyer (45 years old) are still pitching effectively in the big leagues with
fastballs that might top out the at 84 to 86 MPH range!!!
The key word in the above paragraph was obviously "pitching" and
not "throwing." In the game of football the word we refer to constantly when
talking about the the quarterback position is "passing" -- not
After six professional seasons, Michael Vick -- in spite of the daily schooling
he has received by hopefully competent coaches -- is still very much a thrower
rather then a passer. During this period, he has averaged just over 2,000 yards
per season in passing yards, while completing a modest 53.8% of his passes.
To take his game to the next level, he is going to have to develop much
better throwing consistency, awareness, and improve his accuracy and pass timing
on all of his intermediate and deep throws. The most
important quality that a quarterback can possess is accuracy. Without it he has little
chance to succeed at the professional level.
I'm not going interject my personal views regarding the Vick dog-fighting
controversy at this time other then to state that regardless of the outcome of
the trial, this young man needs a great deal of work on developing life skills
and finding himself spiritually.
NFC South Quarterback Rankings
1) Drew Brees
2) Jake Delhomme / David Carr
3) Jeff Garcia / Chris Simms
4) Joey Harrington / Michael Vick