Leinart QB Comparison--Heisman Woes

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief: Matt Leinart, the Heisman-winning, nationally revered future of the Arizona Cardinals has finally seen a NFL game, even been on the field, even thrown the ball! Is it time to start believing, or does he come with a curse?

While details of the contract still remain unclear, Leinart will pull down $50.8 million over six years. And though much was made of the holdout, they are simply an ugly, often unavoidable occurrence. What is more important now is the future—namely what it holds for Leinart and the Cardinals. Will he live up to the hype and fearlessly guide the Cards to fame and success? Will he spin a yarn to enchant the minds, and ensnare the hearts, of the jaded Valley of the Sun?

We don't know yet, of course, though the history of Heisman Trophy quarterbacks bespeaks a much darker fate: the Curse. That is, the curse upon mega-successful college quarterbacks once they reach the NFL.

Don't believe me? "Can't be true," you say? Well, you might not think that the prize given annually to the greatest single season college player could be a curse. But take a look at this list of Heisman-winning quarterbacks and remember how they fared in the NFL:

v     Jason White: Undrafted and unloved by anybody.

v     Eric Crouch: Miserably failed conversion to wide receiver.

v     Chris Weinke: Backup to Jake Delhomme in Carolina.

v     Danny Wuerffel: Seven lackluster years of throwing ducks led him to retire at the golden age of 28.

v     Charlie Ward: Chose basketball over football—though to be fair, he was an excellent cross-court passer.

v     Gino Toretta: Played one game in his entire NFL career, and now works in marketing in South Florida.

v     Ty Detmer: Drafted by the Packers and relegated to a backup roll.

v     Andre Ware: Poor stints in the NFL, CFL, and NFL Europe; he's trying his hand at acting. And now it's the studios that are passing…on him.

Notice that I left one recent recipient out: Carson Palmer, the single shining star in an otherwise dull universe of burnouts and has-beens. Palmer has shown that he has the chops and more to make it in the NFL, leading the league in passing TDs in 2005 and returning a perennially bungling Bengal franchise to the status of legitimate Super Bowl contender.

So I ask the question: will Matt Leinart become a golden boy savior like Palmer in Cincinnati? Or will he turn out to be just another Ty, Gino, or Andre?

While there is no exact science for revealing if a rookie quarterback will be a success or bust, certain attributes show themselves in QBs who excel in NFL play. Here's how Matty stacks up on the yardsticks that count, against the best and worst:

v     Arm Strength: No matter how many times you hear it the importance never diminishes: "Strong Arm." During his career Danny "Awful" and his noodle arm averaged 17 interceptions versus only 8 TDs per season. Palmer however, shows the ability to deliver the ball with high velocity; in '05 he threw only 12 interceptions with his 32 touchdowns. Leinart's arm strength is questionable, though he is well aware of his abilities and limitations.

v     Size: It's simple: if you're not tall enough, you can't see over the line. If your not big enough, you can't take a hit and you'll wind up injured faster than you can say Chad Pennington, or Drew Brees, or… well, you get the idea. Palmer possesses both height (6'5) and mass (220 lbs.), enabling him to both see and survive. Little guys like Wuerffel don't stand a chance against big league linemen. Leinart scores big points here. Like Palmer, he comes in at 6'5, with just a bit less poundage.

v     Game knowledge: Some quarterbacks have it, others don't. Palmer definitely has it. While at USC, Palmer and Leinart both faced complex defenses in practice devised by coach Pete Carrol. With help from current Titans QB coach Norm Chow, Palmer and Leinart excelled in a NFL- caliber offense at the college level. Unfortunately for Wuerffel, while at Florida he trained under Steve Spurrier, a genius with college level offenses that hold little sway in the NFL. Leinart is light years ahead of other young QBs in this department. His ability to read defenses was even so evident to Dennis Green that he has talked of Leinart calling his own audibles during training camp, an assignment traditionally granted to more experienced QBs.

The only major knock against Leinart, given these criteria: arm strength. To that, I say "Joe Montana." Great QBs have thrived by with just a gun, rather than a cannon, as long as they know their limitations and play within them. Though having Jerry Rice doesn't hurt, either. Show us what you got Larry Fitzgerald.

For all of you who feel bad for the Heisman flops mentioned above, don't worry—they're doing just fine. Take Andre Ware for example: he just wrapped on a major motion picture, coming to a video rental store near you. As the voice of Nick Fury, in the animated film Ultimate Avengers.

On second thought, pity away.


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