LAKE FOREST, Ill. — When it comes to quarterbacks, there is no definitive formula for drafting and developing the right one. It’s the hardest position to play in sports and it’s the hardest position to evaluate in sports.
The talent evaluators who get it right end up with Super Bowl rings. The talent evaluators who don’t end up with pink slips and are quickly forgotten.
As for the drafting, for every Peyton Manning there are many more Ryan Leafs.
As for the development, history doesn’t tell us much. There are future Hall-of-Famers like Manning who started Week 1 and there are future Hall-of-Famers like Aaron Rodgers who didn’t start for three years. There are disappointments like David Carr who started Week 1 and there are disappointments like Brady Quinn who had to wait 25 games before getting a start.
Every quarterback is different. Their trajectories are not the same, which is why the answer to the very complicated question of when a quarterback is “ready” is sometimes: “Until (he plays), you don’t really know.”
That was Bears head coach John Fox’s answer to that question a week ago, two days before he called rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and informed him he would be starting against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.
Not surprisingly, some are worried that the disastrous four-game Mike Glennon era is resulting in the Bears rushing Trubisky onto the field. Is he playing too early?
“I don’t know that there are any pitfalls (to playing before you’re ready),” Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Thursday.” There’s two thoughts on this. Do you save him until he’s ‘ready,’ whatever that means? We had Peyton Manning in here and his philosophy is different from Aaron Rodgers’. Everyone has different experiences. Sometimes the best thing is just to get out there and go do it. The best way to learn is to make mistakes and just don’t make the same mistake twice. I don’t know that there’s a secret formula because you see examples of both.”
Personally, I’m of the belief that if you get the scouting part right, the developmental errors are negligible. That’s not to say the development doesn’t matter (you buy time and practice reps if you can), but the best-of-the-best are going to be able to overcome the adversity they face on the field and not let it derail their careers.
“I know this: The so-called quarterback ‘busts,’ I don’t think exist. If you drafted the right guy, made of the right stuff, they battle through,” Loggains said. “Look at Eli Manning’s resume. He struggled, there were times as a rookie when he had a zero quarterback rating. And he’s won two Super Bowls and become one of the great ones.”
The way I’ve put it: If you’re good, you’re good. Perhaps that’s too simple of a conclusion regarding the most complicated position in sports, but I’m referring to the best-of-the-best. Would Aaron Rodgers still be Aaron Rodgers if Brett Favre had left Green Bay three years earlier? Based on his makeup and what we’ve seen in his career, I believe he would. I can’t prove it, but it seems to be a logical conclusion.
Likewise, it can’t really be proven that any first round quarterbacks failed because they played too soon. Is Mark Sanchez currently the Bears’ third-string quarterback because the Jets threw him out there in Week 1 of his rookie season? Or is his decent, but not great career a result of him simply not being everything the Jets thought he was when they drafted him No. 5 overall in 2009?
“I don’t know what’s best. I know what I did. And I had a blast doing it,” Sanchez told WGN Radio. “It’s hard coming out, especially as a high draft pick and not playing. That would have been tough psychologically. But then you run of the risk of potentially getting the guy beat up so much that maybe he starts second-guessing a lot of stuff or maybe he feels like this ain’t for him. I don’t know.”
Of course, that gets back to the importance of correctly identifying the talent. The mental makeup is a huge part of the equation. Teams spend months trying to figure out which players have that “it” factor that is so hard to evaluate.
“I was as ready as I was going to be,” Sanchez said, adding that his system at USC was similar to what the Jets were running and he came in with a great supporting cast (the 2009 Jets had the No. 1 rushing attack and No. 1 total defense in the NFL).
More times than not, first round quarterbacks end up being like Sanchez. He’s had a decent nine-year career, playing with five different teams. And for these first-year starters — the E.J. Manuels, Blaine Gabberts and Matt Leinarts — perhaps they were impacted by how quickly they played. But these quarterbacks all have obvious flaws in their games that make it impossible to know how much “being ready” impacted the results. The scouting errors appear greater than the developmental errors.
So for me, the question isn’t whether or not Trubisky is ready, it’s whether or not the Bears drafted the right guy. When you select a quarterback No. 2 overall, you’re shooting for your Peyton Manning, your Aaron Rodgers. You’re shooting for the guy with the “it” factor — the guy that is going to be good no matter when he plays or what kind of adversity he faces.
“I think it’s the grit, the mental toughness,” Loggains said. “There’s so many characteristics … Everything I’ve been around, being around Mitch, I believe he’s got ‘em.”
If you’re good, you’re good. And the Bears believe Mitchell Trubisky is good.