The NFL has a problem with quarterbacks, and it isn’t concussions or other injuries, it is that there simply aren’t enough quality quarterbacks being developed compared to other position players. More than ever, the quarterback is by far the most important position in football, yet there are fewer young men playing the positon of quarterback on a weekly basis than any other position. Ryan Lindley and Cardale Jones, who have both been in the news recently, albeit for vastly different reasons, perfectly illustrate the problem with the development of quarterbacks.
Ryan Lindley is an NFL quarterback who had the opportunity to not only play for a division winning team, but also start a playoff game. In his career during the regular season, he has 2 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In his first year in the league, he had 0 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In his second year in the league, he didn’t throw a single pass. When I say he didn’t throw a single pass, I don’t just mean the NFL. He didn’t throw a single pass in any actual game that year. The following year, he was asked to start a playoff game.
After selecting Ryan Lindley with a late round pick, and realizing after a couple of starts in his first year that he wasn’t quite ready to lead an offense in the NFL, the logical thing would have been to send him down to the NFL’s minor league to give him the chance to develop for a few years to see if he could at least become a credible backup quarterback. Unfortunately, the NFL has doesn’t have a minor league. If you aren’t good enough to start in the NFL, you sit on the bench and pray that the starting quarterback suffers a terrible injury after the trading deadline. If the NFL had the kind of robust minor league system as Major League Baseball, Ryan Lindley might have just completed a promising season at the AA affiliate and could have been looking forward to a starting for the AAA team next year. Unfortunately for him, he is unlikely to ever throw another pass in the NFL again.
Some might point out that NCAA football is the de facto minor leagues, but the case of Cardale Jones shows how hollow that argument is. Cardale Jones is as big, as strong, and can throw the ball as far as any quarterback in the NFL. He lead Ohio State to a 59-0 blowout over Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game, he lead his team to a come from behind victory over top ranked Alabama in the first every NCAA playoff, and then he helped his team beat Oregon in the National Championship game, outplaying the potential number one pick in the draft, Marcus Mariota. Clearly, Cardale Jones has the kind of raw talent that gives him a chance to be solid quarterback in the NFL. Yet in three years at Ohio State he has only played three games. As of the end of the past November, he had not played a single game in his college football career.
How is it that someone gifted with such immense talent could spend almost three years without playing in a single competitive game of football? As good as he appears to be, imagine how good he could be if he had been playing every week for the last three seasons. It also raises the question of how many other college backups are out there that have the talent but will never get the chance to show it. Were it not for injuries to both the first and second string quarterbacks, nobody outside of Ohio would ever have heard of Cardale Jones right now.
It is inconceivable to think that that at pitcher who could throw a 103 mile per hour fastball would spend his first three years out of high school sitting on a bench. He would be pitching and developing in the minors. Even if the guy were to play in the NCAA, there are at least 9 pitchers on every team so he would still be playing on a regular basis.
In the NFL, since there is no developmental league, and plenty of talented college quarterbacks either sit on the bench at big time schools or play in second rate divisions, teams are drafting quarterbacks from a needlessly small pool. Football is the most popular sport in the country, but teams frequently burn first round picks, and even first overall picks, on quarterbacks who are thoroughly unable to identify and/or accurately throw the ball to an open receiver. Teams who take a quarterback in the first round often set their teams back several years because they feel they have no choice but to start the guy for a few years. In baseball there are still plenty of first round busts, but you generally find that out when the guy is starting in the minors. If baseball were like football, Todd Van Poppel would have been Oakland’s number one starter for 4 years.
It is to the point where it isn’t just that there aren’t decent backups in the league; there aren’t even enough starting quarterbacks to go around. Every Sunday, starting quarterbacks who were taken in the first round repeatedly miss wide open receivers by about 10 feet. I recall watching Sam Bradford, a former number one overall pick, playing on either a Sunday or Monday night a few years ago and there were multiple occasions when he had a receiver wide open and just need to throw a straight line pass with no linebackers anywhere between him and his receivers, and he somehow managed to throw completely uncatchable balls. Both of those examples probably involved a throw of between 25 and 30 yards. As a comparison, short stops and third basemen in baseball routinely have to run to their left or right, catch a ball, grip it in a split second and make a full velocity 45 yard throw to first base. Think about how rare it is for a baseball player to miss the first baseman by 10 feet. It is so rare that it makes the highlights whenever someone throws the ball into a dugout or in the stands.
Even in the minor leagues, the baseball players all resemble major leaguers to the untrained eye. You don’t many more terrible throws or fielding errors than you do in the majors; you just don’t see as many fantastic plays. In the NFL, on any given Sunday there are a handful of quarterbacks that look like they’ve never played the game before. The reason this is happening is that so many quarterbacks simply have not spent enough time playing the game of football since they left high school. With football offenses becoming increasingly pass oriented, the NFL may need to seriously consider coming up with some type of minor league system to maintain the quality of its product.