Cutler v. Jackson: How They Stack Up

The Vikings waited until the end of the second round of the 2006 draft to select their quarterback while other bigger names like Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler went off the board with the first 11 picks. So where does Jackson stand in comparison to those other more highly-touted draft picks after almost two seasons in the NFL? We find out, with insight from players and coaches.

In April 2006, the Vikings drafted a quarterback many fans had never heard of and many NFL analysts figured would go in about the fourth round. Instead, the Vikings traded up to select Tarvaris Jackson with the final pick of the second round.

The Vikings had worked out Jackson at Alabama State, the college where he toiled in relative anonymity, and therefore few people even realized the Vikings were interested in him. After his last two performances – throwing two interceptions in the first half of each of them – some are wondering if the Vikings should have been so willing to move up in the draft to obtain him … or if they should have moved into the first 10 picks of the first round to select a more well-known quarterback.

Ironically, one of the other top candidates, Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt, will be the Vikings' opponent on Sunday when they travel to play the Denver Broncos.

While Jackson is the league's 30th-ranked quarterback with a 68.6 passer rating, Cutler is 13th with an 86.5 rating. Vikings safety Darren Sharper sees a young, talented quarterback in Cutler.

"A strong-armed quarterback," Sharper said. "He's still young. He can make every throw. He's also extremely mobile. In saying that, you have to make sure you stay in your coverage because he has the ability to make plays last longer than they should because he can move around and allow his receivers to get open. And then he can make every throw. If he's on one side of the field going out of bounds, he has the ability to make a Brett Favre, John Elway of throw and go all the way across the field with the ball. You definitely have to be aware when he's in the pocket or outside of the pocket."

Cutler was selected 11th overall by the Broncos, 53 spots higher than Jackson, but with both of them starting on Sunday, the comparisons are inevitable. That, however, doesn't mean Vikings coach Brad Childress is going to get involved in making those comparisons.

"I would probably stay away from the comparisons between the two of them. I see a strong-armed quarterback obviously that was able to play in games last year as well as this year," Childress said of Cutler. "He is learning that system. He is still pretty much in his infancy, but he has got a decent swagger about him and looks like a pretty good leader, but you always go back to the arm strength thing and he does have an overpowering arm."

As with Jackson, Childress see Cutler making progress in his second season as an NFL quarterback and all the tangential tasks that go along with the position.

"Just the familiarity that he has with the system, being able to get in and out of the huddle and be able to orchestrate that thing," Childress said. "I think personnel always changes around people every year. They have had a couple injuries in their offensive line where things haven't been quite as fluid as I'm sure they would have liked to have it be."

While the Broncos are 6-9 this season under Cutler, the Vikings are 8-3 when Jackson is the starter. The matchup between the two 2006 draftees is the final showdown for Cutler against the top five passers taken in last year's draft. To date, Cutler is 3-0 versus the others. He beat Kansas City's Brodie Croyle 41-7, Tennessee's Vince Young 34-20 and Arizona's Matt Leinart 37-20 last season.

So where does Jackson stand in comparison to the other top quarterbacks selected in the 2006 draft? Cutler also leads that draft class in career passer rating at 87.0. Leinart has a 71.2 career rating, Young is 68.1, Jackson is 67.1 and Tampa Bay's Bruce Gradkoski is 65.0.

Based on this season alone, Cutler leads the 2006 Draft Class of quarterbacks taken in the first two rounds with an 86.5 rating. Croyle is next at 70.5, Young is at 69.5, Jackson is at 68.6, Leinart is 61.9, and Kellen Clemens is last at 59.0.

Not surprisingly for a quarterback so early into his NFL career, Cutler says he needs to improve on his consistency.

"I think that is important to be a good quarterback, going game in and game out, eliminating turnovers and winning ball games," he said. "It's a long season. Last year, I had the chance to watch a little bit, and this year, my first full season since college, it's a long season. Mentally and physically, it can get to you."

Jackson has also struggled at times this year, but he has also shown signs of being able to at least manage a game when the running game is going strong. That, however, has been limited at times by the commitment defenses have shown to stopping the team's top-rated rushing attack.

Head coach Brad Childress expects more of the same from the Denver Broncos on Sunday, with safety John Lynch expected to be the extra defender near the line of scrimmage to counteract the run.

"Everybody has little bit different scheme of defense and how they incorporate that extra guy," Childress said. "John Lynch has been a very good box player if you will, around-the-line-of-scrimmage player throughout his whole career so I don't have any illusions. I doubt whether we're going to see him in deep center field all day long."

That should open up opportunities for Jackson and the passing game. His ability to take advantage of those opportunities would go a long way to making him 9-3 as a starter this season, boosting his passer rating and giving Cutler his first loss against a quarterback selected in the first two rounds of the 2006 draft.

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