It seems unbelievable that Daunte Culpepper could be entering his ninth season of professional ball. My first look at Daunte came nearly 15 years ago at Vanguard High School in Ocala, FL just prior to the 1993 NFL draft! I was down in Florida working out a very talented receiver named Steve Rhem who had played one season at the University of Minnesota. While measuring the field, I couldn't take my eyes off this impressive looking 17-year old in his Ocala baseball uniform, readying his first cousin for his professional workout. Even then, could he ever spin the football!
He told me before heading off to the baseball field that none of the big three in-state universities were recruiting him to play quarterback, a statement I found to be truly unbelievable. Upon returning home I tried to convince two ACC schools to recruit him, telling both schools that in my opinion this youngster had a pro arm and body. And that he would likely start for them as a redshirt freshman. As it turned out, we were all wrong -- the schools for not actively recruiting Culpepper and myself for not realizing that he would actually start for a Division-I squad (Central Florida University) as a true freshman!
For the record, five years later I rated him at the top of my 1999 quarterback rankings while working for the New Orleans Saints. I had him ahead of Donovan McNabb, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Mike Ditka's personal favorite, Cade McNown, Shaun King, Joe Germaine, or Damon Huard's brother Brock. I had a lot of time to analyze that particular draft since Mike traded all of our draft selections for a guy by the name of Ricky Williams.
But that was a long time ago. Today, Daunte is truly fighting for his football life after two injury plagued, unproductive seasons with the Vikings and Dolphins.
After wearing a visor and holding a clipboard along the sidelines during his first season, Culpepper burst onto the scene putting up some incredible throwing numbers, peaking in 2004 when he completed 379 of 548 passes for 4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns and only 11 picks. His 110.9 QB rating is to my way of thinking just crazy! But then came the ill-fated 2005 season where in seven games he threw just 6 touchdowns while being intercepted 12 times.
What scares me today is the fact that on the eve of the 2007 regular season, Daunte has still not clearly separated himself from what I believe to be a rather unremarkable group of Raider quarterbacks hopefuls -- Josh McCown and Andrew Walter.
The rumblings from Raiders camp are that Daunte has not adapted to the new offensive system nor is he processing things in the huddle quickly enough to the staff's way of thinking. Most of this is understandable, considering the fact that he did not participate in the winter program, minicamps and is still not yet 100% physically. Unfortunately, none of these factors will be considered when the bullets start to fly for real this week.
I loved the way he stood tall in the pocket, scanned the field, and delivered the football to its intended target. Although not a runner in the purest sense, he showed presence in the pocket. And due to his size and body strength, he was a difficult person to trap or pull down.
The next four months should tell a lot about the future fortunes of Daunte Culpepper. Is he still among the elite at the most critical position on the field, a caretaker for No. 1 selection in this past year's player draft -- JaMarcus Russell -- a journeyman starter, a backup, or a major medical risk? His surgically repaired knee and hopefully the new look Oakland Raiders football club (don't count on it), will have a lot to say in regard to where he is in his comeback attempt.
I wish him well. You know, things sure were a lot simpler on a lazy afternoon in 1993 back in Ocala.
Let's see, prior to the Chief's recent roster cuts they had Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle and Casey Printers competing in training camp at the quarterback position. Wow, I've got to tell you gang, I would be absolutely terrified if I were looking at starting an Arena League season with any of the aforementioned signal callers let alone hoping to compete successfully in a division with the likes of San Diego and Denver!
The 34-year-old Huard, who will begin the season as the Chiefs' starter, was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent back in 1996 and has spent virtually his entire football career (Bengals, Dolphins, Patriots, and Chiefs) in a supporting role.
In 2006, due to a head injury to starter Trent Green, Huard appeared in ten games (eight starts) and clearly had his most successful stint in the professional ranks.
Damon is smart, aware, and experienced, but quite frankly does not possess any physical qualities that I would consider to be better then adequate for the professional level. I would also seriously question his ability to consistently make the toughest of all throws a professional will be called upon to make at this level; the intermediate throw (deep out from the far hash, the "6 route" or dig, and or comeback).
Questions to be considered and that were certainly not answered in the preseason were:
1. Can Damon consistently push the football down the field and put points on
2. Does he have the ability to consistently put the ball where the defense is vulnerable?
3. Can he hold up physically over a 16-game season?
4) Does he have big playmaking ability?
5) Is he capable of overcoming adversity and making a play with the game on the line?
For those of you out there who do not concur with my rather harsh but candid opinions regarding the Chiefs' quarterback dilemma, I have just one simple question to ask of you at this time. Did Damon Huard win the 2007 quarterback job or did the overrated, injury prone, and inconsistent Brodie Croyle just flat-out lose it?
Like all young quarterbacks, he's got a great many things to learn. But I truly believe he has all the tools necessary to take his game to top level in the professional ranks.
He quite obviously has a big-time arm (one of the very best in the league today) and has shown the ability to put the ball in some tight windows, but he still must learn that you can't score on every down or series and will have to learn when to fold a play. Jay is smart, mobile, and tough-minded, but appeared at times to be a little too excitable to me. But playing four seasons at Vanderbilt -- and getting his NFL baptism under fire in the playoff stretch drive -- tends to bring out that quality in people.
I really liked his pass sets, feet, movement and the way he got the ball out. And although Jay's accuracy was sporadic in 2006, I don't see that as a major concern. He keeps the ball up and cocked to throw and -- like all quarterbacks coached by Mike Shanahan -- he will be well-schooled and prepared for the rigors of the professional games.
I really like his chances and believe he will eventually, barring injury, separate himself from the other two first-round selections in the 2006 draft as a professional.
Neither Auburn University nor the University of Alabama so much as considered offering in-state (Decatur High School) prep star Philip Rivers a scholarship, so he took his game 593 miles east to the campus of North Carolina State to continue his football career.
And what a career it turned out to be! He started 51 games during his star-studded career (a national record) and shattered virtually every school and conference passing record. In all, he participated in five postseason games and was MVP in each of those contests!
After viewing this prospect in one of his first collegiate practices, I wouldn't have given him a snowball's chance in hell of taking his game to the professional level, much less being poised to becoming one of the top signal-callers in the game today.
He had an unorthodox, funky throwing delivery and a gangly, Ichabod
Crane-type of look physically. He did not appear either athletic or strong and
wasn't a threat to run with the football.
That being said, when he buttoned his chinstrap and they blew the whistle, oh how Philip Rivers could play the game. A total gym rat and the ultimate team guy, he made tremendous progress preparing himself physically in the offseason, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him just prior to his final postseason collegiate workout.
Off the field, he has every quality you look for in a player and person. He comes from great stock (his dad was his high school coach) and is bright, poised, instinctive, tough, resilient, and makes outstanding playing decisions. And doesn't lose his composure, playing as though he has ice water in his veins.
Physically, Philip is big, strong and has a more then adequate throwing arm. He's also an extremely accurate passer on all of his throws, distributing the football particularly well. He still has that awkward, shoulder-high throwing delivery (appears to push the ball), but seven years later I -- nor any other scout or coach that has seen him perform -- consider it a negative factor.
Don't underestimate this second-year starter and happily married father of three. Barring injury, he stands poised to become one of the top players in the game and just might pick up another bowl game MVP in the process.
AFC West Quarterback Rankings
1. Philip Rivers
2. Daunte Culpepper
3. Jay Cutler
4. Damon Huard