Arizona Cardinals Beware: Late Blooming QBs Are Rare

By Scott Kacsmar
August 17, 2011 5:23 pm
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Kevin Kolb spent four years with the Philadelphia Eagles as a backup and was always considered to have the potential to be the future of the team. Well, after one of the off-season's big trades Kolb is now with the Arizona Cardinals, hoping to make his impact as a franchise quarterback starting with his fifth season in the league.

Kolb has been one of the biggest names in the free agency period the last few years. There are always rumors of a trade or team trying to acquire his services. It’s not surprising, given he plays the all-important quarterback position, and has shown some flashes of greatness.
 
The problem is those flashes of greatness have been limited in quantity (let’s say three games), and have come against pass defenses of little to no quality. Overall, Kolb has thrown more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11), and lost five fumbles in limited action. Andy Reid’s offense has often been built on a quarterback that does not turn the ball over in great quantity.
 
I would also be leery of a quarterback that has done the following in four comeback opportunities in the fourth quarter:
 
5/19 for 37 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 0.0 passer rating, 2 sacks, 10.7 yards/drive, 0.50 points/drive
 
And Philly fans thought McNabb was a choker? Regardless, Kolb has been rewarded with a handsome contract that could pay him $63M over the next five years; about the going minimum rate for a franchise quarterback. What are the chances he actually lives up to it?
 
Kolb’s situation is somewhat unique for a quarterback entering the NFL. He was picked high in the second round (36th overall) in 2007 by a Philadelphia team that already had their starter in Donovan McNabb, though he was coming off another injury and heading into a season where he would turn 31 years old. It seemed like head coach Andy Reid saw Kolb as the future of the Eagles. That has never panned out, and the reemergence of Michael Vick played a significant part in Kolb being on the bench last year and put on the trade block once again.
 
Let’s play a quick game of “Guess That QB”.
 
I will post the career stats from the first four playing seasons of three different players. You tell me which one is Kevin Kolb, and which are Cleo Lemon and Jim Miller.
 
Player GP GS Attempts Comp. % Yards YPA TD INT Rating
Quarterback A 13 6 337 202 59.9 2144 6.36 10 12 73.6
Quarterback B 19 7 319 194 60.8 2082 6.53 11 14 73.2
Quarterback C 16 8 379 211 55.7 2185 5.77 8 7 71.8
 
Stumped? How about this answer:
 
It doesn’t matter, because Kolb being most statistically similar to guys like Cleo Lemon and Jim Miller is a major red flag.
 
Perhaps it is. Though, how often do we see a quarterback play four seasons that are essentially insignificant, then become a legit starter in year five or later?
 
I came up with a list of 75 quarterbacks that includes most of the greatest to ever play the game, and then some decent starters. No scrubs here. Then I used a few achievements to judge them by, with the goal to see how many seasons it took them to hit that mark.
 
The achievements are:
  • 10+ Starts – Start at least 10 games in one season (regular season only)
  • Playoff Start – Starting a playoff game of course means you have made it to the postseason
  • Pro Bowl – Selected to the Pro Bowl (also counted All Pro team)
  • Top 10 Rating (PR) – When did the player rank top 10 in the league in passer rating in a season?
  • Top 10 Pass Yds (PY) – When did the player rank top 10 in the league in passing yards in a season?
  • Top 10 TD Passes (TDP) – When did the player rank top 10 in the league in passing touchdowns in a season?
Older quarterbacks have an advantage for top 10 rankings and the Pro Bowl, while being disadvantaged at reaching the playoffs and starting 10+ games. Still, this should be a good barometer of finding out when any one of these quarterbacks “arrived”.
 
Kevin Kolb has of course done none of these things in four years. So with that in mind, onto the list (sorted by ascending rookie season).
 
QB Rookie Yr 10+ Starts Playoff Start Pro Bowl Top 10 PR Top 10 PY Top 10 TDP
Sammy Baugh 1937 4 1 2 1 1 1
Sid Luckman 1939 3 2 2 2 1 1
Bob Waterfield 1945 5 1 1 1 1 1
Charlie Conerly 1948 2 3 3 1 1 1
Bobby Layne 1948 2 5 4 2 2 2
Norm Van Brocklin 1949 5 2 2 2 2 1
George Blanda 1949 5 8 12 5 5 5
Otto Graham 1950 1 1 1 1 1 1
Y.A. Tittle 1950 4 8 4 1 1 1
Johnny Unitas 1956 2 1 2 1 1 1
Bart Starr 1956 2 5 5 2 2 2
Jack Kemp 1957 2 2 2 2 2 2
Sonny Jurgensen 1957 5 Never 5 5 5 5
Len Dawson 1957 6 6 6 6 6 6
John Brodie 1957 5 14 9 2 5 5
Frank Ryan 1958 6 7 7 4 6 6
Fran Tarkenton 1961 1 13 4 1 1 1
John Hadl 1962 1 4 3 1 1 1
Roman Gabriel 1962 5 6 6 3 5 5
Daryle Lamonica 1963 5 5 3 5 5 5
Joe Namath 1965 2 4 1 1 1 1
Jim Hart 1966 2 9 9 2 2 2
Bob Griese 1967 1 4 1 1 1 1
Roger Staubach 1969 3 3 3 3 5 3
Terry Bradshaw 1970 2 3 6 6 2 2
Ken Stabler 1970 4 4 4 4 4 4
Jim Plunkett 1971 1 10 Never 1 1 1
Ken Anderson 1971 2 3 5 2 3 3
Archie Manning 1971 1 Never 7 6 2 2
Joe Ferguson 1973 1 2 Never 3 3 2
Bert Jones 1973 3 3 4 3 3 3
Dan Fouts 1973 2 7 7 6 4 4
Ron Jaworski 1974 4 2 7 6 4 4
Joe Theismann 1974 5 9 9 6 8 6
Steve Grogan 1975 2 2 Never 5 3 2
Steve Bartkowski 1975 1 4 6 6 6 6
Joe Montana 1979 3 3 3 2 3 4
Phil Simms 1979 1 5 6 8 5 5
Dave Krieg 1980 5 4 5 4 5 5
Dan Marino 1983 2 1 1 1 2 2
Ken O'Brien 1983 3 3 3 3 3 3
John Elway 1983 1 2 4 11 3 3
Boomer Esiason 1984 2 5 3 2 2 2
Warren Moon 1984 1 4 5 5 1 4
Bernie Kosar 1985 1 1 3 2 2 3
Randall Cunningham 1985 3 4 4 6 3 3
Steve Young 1985 2 8 8 7 8 7
Jim Kelly 1986 1 3 2 1 1 1
Jim Everett 1986 2 1 5 3 3 3
Rich Gannon 1987 4 13 12 12 12 12
Troy Aikman 1989 1 4 3 3 4 4
Brett Favre 1991 2 3 2 2 2 2
Drew Bledsoe 1993 1 2 2 4 2 1
Mark Brunell 1993 3 4 4 4 4 4
Steve McNair 1995 3 5 6 7 4 7
Jake Plummer 1997 2 2 9 7 2 8
Peyton Manning 1998 1 2 2 2 1 1
Kurt Warner 1998 2 2 2 2 2 2
Matt Hasselbeck 1998 4 6 6 5 6 6
Daunte Culpepper 1999 2 2 2 2 2 2
Jeff Garcia 1999 1 3 2 2 2 2
Donovan McNabb 1999 2 2 2 3 6 2
Tom Brady 2000 2 2 2 2 3 3
Chad Pennington 2000 3 3 Never 3 7 3
Drew Brees 2001 2 4 4 4 5 4
Michael Vick 2001 2 2 2 8 Never 6
CarsonPalmer 2003 2 3 3 3 3 3
Tony Romo 2003 4 4 4 4 5 5
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 1 1 4 1 3 4
Eli Manning 2004 2 2 5 Never 2 2
Philip Rivers 2004 3 3 3 3 3 3
Matt Schaub 2004 4 Never 6 5 6 6
Aaron Rodgers 2005 4 5 5 4 4 4
Joe Flacco 2008 1 1 Never 3 Never 3
Matt Ryan 2008 1 1 3 Never 3 3
 
The results:
  • 29/75 (38.7%) quarterbacks completed all achievements within their first four seasons
  • Otto Graham is the only player to do everything year one, but that’s because he already had experience from the AAFC and I did not count those seasons
  • Average time to start 10+ games: 2.6 seasons
  • Average time to start a playoff game: 4.0 seasons (3 players never did)
  • Average time to reach a Pro Bowl: 4.3 seasons (5 players never did)
  • Average time to rank top 10 in passer rating: 3.5 seasons (2 players never did)
  • Average time to rank top 10 in passing yards: 3.3 seasons (2 players never did)
  • Average time to rank top 10 in passing touchdowns: 3.3 seasons
  • Average time for every achievement: 3.48 seasons (not counting 12 times player never reached it)
  • 15/75 (20.0%) quarterbacks averaged 5.0 seasons or greater for all achievements
  • Only 4/75 (5.3%) quarterbacks completed each achievement in season five or later

The last point is what I am going to look at, because that is what Kolb is trying to do along his quest to become a franchise quarterback in the NFL. The only four quarterbacks to fully bloom this late were Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson, George Blanda and Joe Theismann. All of those players started their careers before 1975.
 
Sonny Jurgensen – Perhaps the best-case scenario for Kolb, Jurgensen was also drafted by the Eagles in 1957 in the fourth round (43rd overall). He backed up Bobby Thomason and Norm Van Brocklin for four years, and started only five games in that time. Finally, Jurgensen got his chance to start in 1961 and the gunslinger was born. Jurgensen led the league in completions, yards, and touchdowns as the Eagles went 10-4. Jurgensen was traded in 1964 to the Washington Redskins, where he continued to pile up big numbers, but for a lot of sub-.500 teams, as he threw his way into the Hall of Fame. He may have never started a playoff game, but Jurgensen was one of the finest passers of his era.
 
Len Dawson – The Pittsburgh Steelers used the fifth overall pick in the 1957 draft to select Dawson, a small quarterback out of Purdue. He never caught on (just one start), and was traded to Cleveland, where he again only started one game. After five years in the NFL, Dawson shifted gears to the AFL and immediately found success. In 1962 he led the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs) to the AFL championship, while leading the league in completion percentage, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and passer rating. Dawson would go on to become the best quarterback in the AFL, a Hall of Fame selection, and played until 1975 with the Chiefs. Kolb will not be able to join another league to jumpstart his career.
 
George Blanda – Perhaps better known as a kicker than a quarterback, Blanda played a NFL record 26 seasons from 1949 to 1975. He was just a 12th round pick in the 1949 draft by the Chicago Bears, and his career got off to a slow start thanks to his duties at kicker and linebacker. Blanda wouldn’t get a big opportunity at quarterback until his fifth season in 1953 when he led the league with 169 completions and 362 attempts. However, an injury in 1954 slowed down Blanda’s starting quarterback career, and he would not regain it until he also left for the AFL and joined the Houston Oilers, where he had great success initially. Once again, Kolb is not changing leagues and no one has asked him to do anything but be a quarterback.
 
Joe Theismann – Think you already know how this story goes? Thiesmann had a strong college career at Notre Dame, which led to him being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Theismann was selected in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 1971 draft by the Miami Dolphins. Finding contract negotiations easier up north, Theismann joined the Canadian Football League and had a successful stint with the Toronto Argonauts before returning to the NFL in 1974 with the Redskins. He started his NFL career as a punt returner, and had to wait until his fifth season in the NFL in 1978 to take over as a full-time starter. Theismann’s career really took off when Washington brought in Joe Gibbs to be the head coach. Lawrence Taylor brought things to an end for Theismann with a nasty hit in 1985. It’s another case of a quarterback that spent time in another league, and was asked to play another position.
 
I am very skeptical of Kevin Kolb’s prospects as a franchise quarterback. Andy Reid has proven he knows how to coach the position, as he has helped Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia, A.J. Feeley and Michael Vick look as good as they have in Philadelphia. He also was the quarterback coach to Brett Favre in Green Bay during his MVP seasons. Reid knows the benefits of the modern passing game, which is why he throws it so much.
 
In 2007 JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn were drafted ahead of Kolb. Russell is out of football and probably sitting on the couch right now watching the Friday trilogy with his sizzurp. I don’t even want to speculate what Brady Quinn has been up to. There is no magic rule that says a draft class has to have a good quarterback in it (see 1996).
 
Running back is the position best know for early success, but I think you have to look at quarterback becoming a position where you either show yourself early or it’s just not going to happen. Rich Gannon? That’s a great story, not a reasonable expectation of a career path.
 
The number of games may be small, but so far Kolb has shown to be reckless with the ball in not controlling his turnovers, and he has struggled to move the offense more often than not. That “Andy Reid factor”, it has not benefitted Kolb. If he should get worse without Reid, then Arizona, who is hoping for another Kurt Warner, is going to be very disappointed with the big contract they handed out. But they probably should have seen it coming.

After all, they’ve had four years.

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By Scott Kacsmar
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