USC quarterback Matt Leinart went to his interviews at the Combine in Indianapolis with a lot of confidence. Of course winning the Heisman Trophy, the National Championship and being projected as a top 3 draft pick might help anyone's self-esteem. Leinart prepared for the onslaught of media coverage by adopting his calm, confident approach that many say is one of his stronger attributes. Some may construe his interview comments as a bit overconfident when he likened himself to the three-time Super bowl victor in New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
"I've been a winner my whole career," Leinart said. "That's the most important thing is I just win, kind of like a Tom Brady type."
Being drafted at the top of the first round, or even in the first day doesn't qualify you to be in the same category as Tom Brady. Neither does winning the Heisman Trophy or being a two-time National Champion in college, because Brady was none of those things.
Leinart deserves to be recognized as one of the best coming out of college because of the things he's done in school. He is considered by most draft experts to be a top 3, or top 5 pick. Yet being successful in college and a high draft pick does not translate directly into success on the field in the NFL; just ask top draftees Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Ryan Leaf to name a few.
Even with a 37-2 record as a starter at USC, Leinart still has some questions to answer. He feels assured of his ability to settle those questions.
"Teams have been questioning my arm strength for three years," Leinart said. "I'm more mobile than people think." He went on defending his ability, "I know I can throw and run better than people think."
Leinart and some of his teammates (Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Dominique Byrd) chose not to work out at the Combine, preferring to showcase their talent at the USC pro day on April 2. Some scouts and team executives have voiced their displeasure of not having Leinart and his USC teammates go through their drills. Had he worked out in Indianapolis, he could have answered those questions right away. Now, the critics and the doubters have another month to pick apart his game.
The former Trojan quarterback has pedigree, success and a lot of hype surrounding him as he heads into the NFL Draft. Curiously, little has been mentioned of his former backup, Matt Cassel. Cassel, who was drafted in the seventh-round of the 2005 NFL Draft, draws more comparisons to Brady than his more publicized former USC teammate. Yet the humble Patriots backup has declined all comparisons to the man in front of him on the depth chart. Many people are not aware that Cassel put up a solid challenge to Matt Leinart at USC for the starting QB job just like Brady did with Drew Hensen at Michigan.
As the Draft edges ever closer, maybe, Cassel can share a few pointers with his old college teammate about what being Tom Brady-esque really means. There's another former USC quarterback, Carson Palmer, who may have more in common with Leinart, being drafted first in the 2003 Draft. Leinart says Palmer has been giving him advice through the whole process. Maybe both former Trojans should remind Leinart that when you're at the top, there's no place to go but down. And that a little bit of humility might serve him better as he heads toward that multi-million dollar pay day.
Then again, confidence is what makes Leinart one of the best quarterbacks available in this year's Draft, even if he was a bit premature in drawing comparisons to a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He has the talent, he has the desire, we will see if that is enough to find success.