It has been a crazy week in the NFL and there are enough stories in Seattle alone to fill my entire column. To quote Ross Tucker, “Seahawks cut arguably 2nd best WR ever, traded incumbent QB, & named 5’10” 3rd Rd pick starting QB yesterday. Heck of a Day.” I’ve said Pete Carroll is bold, but wow, just wow.
Each move makes perfectly good sense, but when you put them all together it’s enough to really give you pause. I want to take a second to talk about how incredible Russell Wilson’s feat is. First off, this will be the first time in NFL history that 5 rookie QBs will start Week 1. The others are Luck, RG3, Tannehill, and Weeden. With the way he played in the preseason, you have to wonder if Nick Foles could have earned a gig as well if he were on a different team. He has looked better than whatever the Jets and Cardinals have at QB, if you want to call what was taking snaps from the center a QB. That is certainly up for debate.
I had to dig around a lot to find the answer to this question: When is the last time a QB taken in the 3rd round or later started in week 1? Plenty of guys have been taken in the mid-late rounds and started at some point during the season. Colt McCoy did it. Trent Edwards did it. The answer is of course Kyle Orton. I will add the caveat that Rex Grossman was the starter and Orton didn’t really earn the gig because Rex got hurt, unless being better than Chad Hutchinson, the guy who was supposed to be the backup, is earning something.
Now, if you can find me the last 3rd round or later rookie QB who EARNED his job and started Week 1, I’ll be impressed. I’ll post the answer at the bottom of the column in Quick Hits. I’ll give you a hint. He has a path to the NFL similar to Brandon Weeden. But back to Wilson. What really makes this an incredible feat is that the contest was rigged in Matt Flynn’s favor. Matt Flynn was widely considered the favorite at QB. The Seahawks gave him a 3 year, $19.5 million contract with $10M guaranteed that screams “you’re the starting QB.” Wilson was a 3rd round rookie who is now the shortest starting QB in the NFL (I believe this is the case, but he’ll have to stand side by side with Drew Brees to be sure).
This is a simple case of a player walking into camp and stealing the job. It happens all the time in the NFL. Some player comes out of nowhere and unexpectedly earns a starting job. The thing is, it’s never a mid round rookie QB who does it. We may never see this again in the NFL. I mentioned 2 weeks ago that Wilson would have been a much higher pick if he were 6’3 or so. He had 3 very good years as a starter at NC St. and an incredible one his senior year at Wisconsin. As a Pitt fan, I’m really, really hoping a lot of his success is due to former Wisconsin OC and current Pitt HC Paul Chryst. To say Pitt needs help at QB is like saying the Middle East needs help with becoming peaceful.
Wilson earned this gig by simply being better. I watched his preseason games and while you can’t get the whole picture from preseason games, what I saw was impressive. Wilson stood tall in the pocket, he took hits, he used his feet to escape pressure while keeping his eyes downfield, he was decisive, accurate, and didn’t make many mistakes. The easiest way to say it is that he looked like a starting QB.
Matt Flynn hasn’t looked terrible either. This isn’t a case where the expected starter stunk up the joint and opened the door. Wilson simply walked onto the field and showed everyone that he’s better. I really hope his height isn’t the disadvantage detractors want it to be. The two generic criticisms of a short QB are 1) He can’t see over the line to complete passes and 2) He’ll have a lot of passes batted down at the line. I’d say Wilson’s play has at least offered a solid counterargument to criticism 1. As to the second criticism? During his senior year at Wisconsin, Wilson attempted 309 passes. He had 2 of them batted down. That’s .6% of his throws. Last season in the NFL, 1.9% of passes were batted down. 6’4” Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill had 4 passes batted down in one preseason game already. He had 17 his last year in college. (Thanks to ProFootballFocus for those stats. I see Peter King said Wilson had 4 attempts batted down at Wisconsin, but I’m going to trust PFF with anything stat related.)
I can’t wait to see what Wilson can do in Seattle.
-I’m starting to wonder how often the mental edge of NFL players fades before their bodies. Take the now unemployed T.O. for example. He allegedly had a great 40 time during his tryout with the Seahawks. He got open in preseason games. The passes just didn’t connect. He had worse than normal issues with drops. I just didn’t see the intensity and focus we’re used to from T.O. I’ve heard guys walk away from training camp when they said they just couldn’t push through it all again.
The NFL requires a level of intensity that most people could never handle. I think more often than not, the reason high draft picks fail is an inability to match the intensity and focus of the other guys out there. It’s not skill or athletic ability. You aren’t drafted in the top 50 picks if an NFL team is worried you lack the athleticism to play in the NFL. It’s just a matter of do you want it. Despite a ton of reasons to keep going, I think T.O. just didn’t have it in him mentally anymore.
-While on the topic of guys who don’t have the mental edge to continue, Vince Young will probably be joining T.O. in the “never playing again” club. The Bills sent a late round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for their third string QB, Tavaris Jackson. This led Young to get the axe. Vince, you just lost your job to Tavaris Jackson. I really hope you saved your money properly or else you’ll be wandering around Austin, Texas hoping someone will want to relive your glory days by giving you a free meal in exchange for an autograph.
-In case there’s anyone still out there who isn’t certain, yes, the Houston Texans made the right pick when they took Mario Williams over Vince Young and Reggie Bush. Mario may be in Buffalo now, but not because he isn’t a great player.
-To all the NFL players who met the turk the past few days, best of luck. The NFL is full of guys who got cut, worked hard, came back, and earned a job. There are stars like James Harrison who were cut numerous times and ended up getting 8 figure guarantees. While of course that can’t happen to all of you, even one year on an NFL roster can set you up financially for a long time.
-If you need constant supervision like Dez Bryant, you’re a ticking timebomb. It’s incredible that simply not being a criminal and showing up to practice on time is too difficult for someone to handle.
-Congratulations to Aaron Hernandez on his contract extension. Hernandez had some off-field concerns coming into the NFL and I have yet to see anything that says he’s been a problem on or off the field. The NFL is very forgiving of past indiscretions if you work hard and stay clean off the field and Hernandez is a great example of that. I’d say keep it up, but that would require hoping Tom Brady does well, so…drop a lot of passes in key situations.
-I wasn’t surprised to see the Dolphins trade Vontae Davis to the Colts. Davis had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and probably wasn’t even going to start. The Colts had a gigantic hole at CB. The Dolphins are clearly in rebuilding mode because they aren’t even trying to win this year. The good news is that they now have extra 2nd and 3rd round picks in the 2013 draft thanks to this trade and the Brandon Marshall trade. They’ll need it to find someone at WR, in case they don’t take one with their inevitable top 5 selection.
-College football starts this week. Anyone got a scouting report on the powerhouse that is Youngstown State? This is of course a preemptive statement to cover myself from shame and attacks when Pitt inevitably doesn’t look too hot against an FCS opponent. I hope I don’t go to this game and ask aloud why Pitt QB Tino Sunseri is in the fetal position for the 3rd time in 4 plays.
-The answer to the trivia question (with some help from my editor, I swear I’ll stop…well lessen my drinking on the job) is former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke. Chris was the 4th round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and won his first start for them in Week 1. It’s safe to say Chris’ NFL career peaked that game. The Panthers went on to lose their next 15 games that season.