This year, there is an abundance of young QBs getting a lot of playing time for NFL teams. This week’s starters could include:
- Brandon Allen
- Josh Allen
- Kyle Allen
- Jacoby Brisset – – maybe
- Sam Darnold
- Jared Goff
- Dwayne Haskins – – Skins are on BYE Week
- Lamar Jackson
- Daniel Jones
- Patrick Mahomes – – maybe
- Baker Mayfield
- Gardner Minshew – – maybe
- Kyler Murray
- Dak Prescott
- Mason Rudolph
- Mitchell Trubisky
- Deshaun Watson
- Carson Wentz – – Eagles are on BYE Week
That means more than half of the NFL teams will be starting a QB who is under 26 years old and 10 of these young QBs entered the league in either 2018 or 2019. The four “old hands” on the list above – Brisset, Goff, Prescott and Wentz – have shown me enough to say that they should provide their teams with lots of serviceable years down the road. As for the others, I’ll anoint Jackson, Mahomes and Watson as three more NFL lifers barring injuries despite a smallish sample from which to make such a judgment. As for the others…?
When I think about what distinguishes a “franchise QB” from a “flash in the pan”, there are more dimensions to consider beyond physical skills. Of course, a successful NFL QB must have physical talents in sufficient measure to make the athletic moves needed in the job. Those are the things that one can measure; those are the things that I look at when I see college QBs who aspire to “move up”. However, those skills are insufficient to make a “QB” into a “franchise QB”. There is a mental, an emotional, a prudent and a dedicated axis on which a young QB must reach a minimum score to make that jump.
A successful NFL QB has to be intelligent enough to know the playbook and know the game plan; if that level of mental gymnastics is too difficult, it does not matter if the guy can throw the ball 75 yards in the air and drop it into a rain barrel. Moreover, a successful NFL QB must be analytical to the point that he can see one thing happening in front of him and recognize what is the most likely thing to happen next. That analytical thinking is referred to as
- Being on the same page as his receiver – – or – –
- Reading the defense – – or – –
- Having the game slow down for him.
Predicting a young QBs “score” on that dimension is not much more than guesswork; I need to see live action on a field to begin to sense the capability – or the limitation – here. I believe that if you gave truth serum to coaches, they would say the same thing.
A successful NFL QB must have his emotions in check. Everyone deals with emotions in a personal way and some folks allow their emotions to dictate their behaviors in ways that are not constructive. An NFL QB will experience emotional highs and lows during the progress of a game and a season. He has to be able to prevent the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low. When a receiver drops a pass that hits him in both hands when the receiver is in the end zone with no defender closer than 10 yards, the QB cannot sink into depression or get so angry that the anger becomes destructive.
It is perfectly OK for a QB to “wear his emotions on his sleeve” if that is part of his persona all the time. The key element there is that he has a governor on those emotions to assure that the swings do not wander off into areas of dysfunction. Often I hear analysts talk about the leadership skills of franchise QBs; I believe that one of the important elements of those intangible leadership skills is the emotional control that the QB has on himself such that he can project a constructive level of emotion onto those around him.
The “prudence dimension” involves things that do not happen on the field. Sixty years ago, a very successful NFL QB named Bobby Layne reportedly showed up at game time hung over from the night before on a semi-regular basis. The game was different then; that sort of behavior will not work for an NFL QB in 2019. Joe Namath cultivated a playboy persona 50 years ago; it worked for him, but it is not likely to work for many other young QBs.
Notwithstanding the potential negativity involved in such off-field behaviors – – things that breed those dreadful distractions, don’t you know – – young QBs have free time, plenty of money and are recognizable. Call it “common sense” or call it “maturation” or call it whatever you want; a young QB who aspires to be a franchise QB has to be able to deal with that sort of tempting environment in a way that does not become destructive.
The “dedicated dimension” is another one that has changed over the years. Sixty years ago, a less than physically fit QB named Sonny Jurgensen played well enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. When Vince Lombardi arrived in Washington as his coach, Jurgensen said it was the only time he played without his gut spilling over his uniform. Those days are long gone; successful NFL QBs today need not be bodybuilders or fitness fanatics, but they must stay in condition 12 months of the year and prepare their bodies for the rigors of a 16-game regular season all during the off-season.
I said above that there are 7 of the young QBs on this week’s “starters list” I am confident will make the grade as franchise QBs over the long term. All of them have shown basic physical skills on the field and all of them appear to score well on the four dimensions discussed here. Their actions and behaviors cause their teams to win games as opposed to a situation where the team wins games with the QB merely along for the ride.
As for the other 11 young starters on this week’s list, I would make no judgment regarding 8 of them simply because they have not been in enough situations to allow for any sort of rational judgment. I will say, however, that 3 of this week’s young starters have some visible red flags.
- Sam Darnold: He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year. It does not seem as if the “game is slowing down for him”. He is showing his emotional down cycles during the games. This is a new offensive system for him in his second year in the NFL with new coaches. Are those changes significant factors in his regression?
- Baker Mayfield: He is not nearly as good this year as he was at the end of last year. His ‘analytical” skills seem not to have advanced; and in terms of dedication, he appears to be as dedicated to developing his brand and appearing in commercials as he is to developing as a QB. As a cautionary note here, that is a similar behavioral path to the one taken by the young RG3…
- Mitchell Trubisky: He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year. It appears as if the game is “speeding up for him” instead of slowing down and even his coach has criticized his “body language” during the game – a potential detriment to his leadership skill.
Finally, in keeping with today’s theme of young QBs who may or may not ripen into franchise QBs, I want to be sure that this news item does not pass you by. It did not make banner headlines; you may have missed it; it is relevant to the topic of the day:
- Brock Osweiler retired from the NFL after a 7-year career.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………