Can Tennessee Titans young quarterback Jake Locker be a franchise QB?
This piece is written less as a defense of Jake Locker, but more as a comparison of the other recently drafted quarterbacks. Jake Locker was the hands down future of the franchise after performing well in his rookie season during relief duty. He then went on to win the starting gig over veteran Matt Hasselbeck during training camp of this last year. With Locker’s inarguable decline in play over the tail end of this last season, he has become a hot topic on whether or not he can be the future of the franchise.
*Disclaimer*: I had to draw the line somewhere on the following quarterbacks. This is an overall view of quarterback “success” through out the league, and not a QB to QB comparison for every team or every first round draft pick over the last 10 years. I know Rivers, Stafford, Bradford and others are missing, but comparable players were used.
Here’s the question: WHAT DO YOU WANT OUT OF YOUR QUARTERBACK?
Obviously you want a quarterback that can get you to and win you a Superbowl. Right? But let’s not act like if a quarterback hasn’t won a Superbowl then he’s a bust. The argument is ridiculous and myopic. Fouts, Moon, and Marino never won the big one. And you can’t tell me that in 2005 after winning league MVP twice and without a ring yet, Peyton Manning was no good and that you would have rather had Trent Dilfer at the helm.
Is getting to the playoffs enough? Getting hot at the right time is such a big deal in today’s NFL. It’s how the Giants, Steelers and Packers all won their rings. Once you get to the playoffs, it’s a short season, and anything can happen in 3 games.
So let’s take a deeper look at the comparisons around the league of other young and successful QBs and examine the validity behind the “quick success” stories that everyone is throwing around out there. As you will see, it seems that many are talking out of both sides of their mouth when making these comparisons.
The year after the lockout was a big year for quarterbacks. Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christain Ponder, and Andy Dalton were all taken in the first round with the exception of Dalton being taken in the top of the second. Of these 5, only Locker sat his first year, but only Locker had a veteran as capable as Matt Hasselbeck on the team as well.
Cam Newton: Newton broke on to the scene like wildfire shattering rookie QB records and fantasy football leagues. He threw for over 4,000 yards and had a solid 60% completion record. Even with his play the team went 6-10. His second year, Newton came back to earth as his completion percentage dropped to 57.7% and the team won 7 games, bringing his two year career to a 13-19 record.
Jake Locker: Looked very promising and exiting during relief duty in his rookie year. He beat out veteran Matt Hasselbeck during training camp and was awarded the starting job for 2012. He only started 11 games, however, while missing a month and a half to a shoulder injury. While he looked solid in his first three starts and had a miraculous win over the Lions in game 3, his completion percentage and overall game crumbled at the end of the year. He also lost all but 1 member of the starting offensive line and had a change in coordinator along the way.
Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert looked less than stellar in his rookie campaign and became the poster boy for people that argue against starting a rookie on a bad team right out of the gates. It was sink or swim for Gabbert on a poor Jaguars team, and he sank. The Jaguars are once again picking at the top of the draft.
Christain Ponder: Ponder’s rookie campaign was a bit shaky, starting 11 games with a 54.3% completion perentage. However he bounced back in his second year and took his team to the playoffs. Ponder’s turn aroound may be the best example of why you should be patient with young quarterbacks.
Andy Dalton: Dalton has taken his team to the playoffs for two years straight now. His completion percentage climbed form 58.1 to 62.3 from his first to second year. The most successful QB of his class in regards to games won or loss and playoff appearances.
Of these QB’s Cam Newton has the best stats, but the second to least wins behind Gabbert. Dalton has the most playoff appearances, but also arguably the best team around him. Ponder at the moment looks like he could be the best long term quarterback of the group. So which one would you rather have? Which is a franchise QB?
Some of the Best
Peyton Manning: One of, if not the best quarterback of all time. Peyton only had 3 wins in his first season with a completion percentage of 56.7%. What if the Colts had given up on him after his 4th year when the team went 6-10? It took 6 years for Peyton and the Colts to become a repetitive contender for the playoffs.
Drew Brees: Drew Brees was so good that the Chargers dumped him for the future in Philip Rivers. (Sarcasm) Drew Brees continued to improve and took his new, once abysmal team, and won a Super Bowl.
Aaron Rodgers: His story is well known as he didn’t even see the field behind Brett Favre for 3 years. In his inagural campaign, the Packers only won 6 of their first 16 games as Rodgers couldn’t seem to win the close games during 2008. Sound familiar? The Packers signed him to a new contract regardless and look where they are now.
Tom Brady: Brady just has sunshine on his entire life. He took over the starting gig after being a back up for Drew Bledsoe on a very good Patriots team on their way to the playoffs. (Kind of like Smith/Kaepernick). He and Belichik have been to the playoffs in all but 2 years since 2001. There are no comparisons to be made here on any level.
One Year Wonders
I’m not suggesting that their success will not continue. RGIII, Andrew Luck, and Russel Wilson have definitely broken the mold on quick success for a quarterback. These three may very well make perennial playoff appearances for the next ten years. But I’m looking at this group more as an anomaly than a glimpse of the future norm, or as a group that you have to hold your standards to. The talent in these three is off the charts.
Top Picks over the past 10 years.
For this section I have eliminated players that were outright busts or no longer playing in the league. As well as the quarterbacks that may be hanging around, but in no way would constitute a success story. These QBs have a little more meat on the bone as far as games played, and are a good look at whether the short term success constitutes long term ability or not.
Vince Young: Couldn’t write the article without good ol’ Vince. Young divided the Titan’s fan base more than any player in franchise history. Vince is the ultimate example of whether it’s the QB or the team that is winning the games. In his 5 years as a Titan, Young started 49 games, with a win loss record of 26-13. His completion percentage was only 57.9 and he threw for 42 TDs as well as 42INT. It was eventually determined that the team was winning in spite of as opposed to because of Young and he was eventually released. Some look to Kerry Collins 13-3 season as proof of this.
Mark Sanchez: The Sanchize is another example of how misleading quick “success” can be. Sanchez not only got his team to the playoffs in both his rookie and sophomore campaigns, but took them all the way to the AFC title game in both of those years. The Jets have failed, however, in returning to the playoffs in the last two years. Sanchez has a career completion percentage of 55.1%. With all his early success, Sanchez may very well be riding the pine next year.
Matt Ryan: Matt Ryan was one of the few rookie quarterbacks at the time to take his team to the playoffs as a rookie. His regular season stats are wonderful with a career completion percentage of 62% and throwing for over 4,000 yards in all but one of his five seasons. But for all his ability and as good as the team is, he had yet to win a playoff game until this year.
Jay Cutler: The last remaining starter of the 2006 draft class of Young, Leinart and Cutler. The jury is still out on Cutler as he has shown amazing ability and can throw the ball on a rope into tight windows. His “gunslinger” mentality has gotten him in trouble at times, but part of his style stems from being mauled on every other play behind a porous line. Cutler has all the skills, tools, and brains but has yet to have better than a 10 win season at the same time.
Alex Smith: Alex Smith went through 5 offensive coordinators in 5 year and went from starter to back up back to starter again. No one has been jerked around more than him and now he has recently been benched for the younger more explosive QB of the future, Colin Kaepernick. This happened after self reporting a concussion and guiding his team to the playoffs for the second straight year. Smith will be the poster boy for “what could have been” and is a perfect example of how stability is needed.
Joe Flacco: Flacco was the first rookie to ever win two playoff games back when he did it in 2008. The Ravens have been to the playoffs and won at least one game for the past five years straight. Flacco has a cannon for an arm and a career completion percentage of over 60%. But for some reason he is not often in the conversation of young successful quarterbacks. Having a well built solid team with an amazing defense has helped as well. Flacco is now going to the Super Bowl having knocked out Manning and Brady along the way. The amount of criticism he has taken in the last few years seems a little much now, doesn’t it? **Update: He has now won a Super Bowl.
Eli Manning: Is he one of the best? Constantly on the edge of the discussion, Eli’s playoff performances and clutch late drives have him in the conversation and 2 Super Bowl rings. Eli started out his first year with an abysmal 48.2% completion rate and followed it up with 52.8%in his sophomore year. His play was volatile at best for his first few years, but the Giants stuck with him and it payed off huge dividends. Yet another QB that did NOT have the “quick success” out of the gates, but matured over time, taking heat along the way.
Football is still the ultimate team sport. While it has become more and more a passing league over the years, and yes your quarterback play is crucial, it’s also not the only piece. You can have an ELITE quarterback not even win a playoff game. Good play calling, schemes, adjustments, offensive line, and a time built repertoire with receivers are all key elements on an offense that can make or break a quarterback. And a defense that doesn’t get slaughtered helps as well (just ask Peyton Manning).
Just because a quarterback CAN be successful right out of the gate, doesn’t mean he HAS to be for them to become a franchise quarterback. On the flip side, just because a quarterback that has the potential is given the time, doesn’t mean he will pan out. The best you can do though, is provide stability and build a good team around him. Yes you can have a young quarterback show up and win in this league. But how much of that can be attributed to the parity in the NFL? There are plenty of good quarterbacks on bad teams and plenty of good teams with average to poor quarterbacks.
The bottom line is that there is not enough to go on yet with Locker. Those that have already written him off are just as irrational as those that act like teenage girls at a boy band concert when he is mentioned. He’s obviously not the quick success story that a lot of these quarterbacks have been, but some of the best quarterbacks out there weren’t either. Thankfully Locker will have next year to continue to improve. Remember how Steve McNair started out and how long it took him to not only win, but to grow into MVP form. If you look at the comparison’s above I think I’ll leave the quick success stories to others and I’ll take the longer path to long term success.
So let’s hear it. Is Locker going to make it?