Remember the 2006 NFL Draft of QBs? Tennessee took Young with the 3rd pick, Arizona took Leinart around 10th, and Denver took Cutler 11th. After the first year, the general consensus was that Tennessee, gambling on an unpolished passer like Young might have caught lightning in a bottle, Leinart just needed time, and that canny old sage, Mike Shanahan, found the real jewel in the bunch in Jay Cutler. Vince made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but was still very rough as a passer. Cutler looked like the best QB out of the box. Since QB is the NFL’s most important position, and each of these players ended their rookie years as starters, this trio were destined to be matched and compared for as long as they played.
After 2007, and little improvement passing, Vince Young skeptics started speaking out. He had a nice December, and the Titans made the playoffs, but he was still nothing like a conventional top NFL QB. When the Titans lost, it was usually easy to find a play or two where he made a sub-par play, an inexplicable throw. Leinart lost his job to resurgent former MVP Kurt Warner. Jay Cutler continued to impress, even as the Broncos once again failed to make the playoffs.
In 2008, Vince Young had a very public meltdown during a game against the Jaguars the first week of the season. He lost his starting job to Kerry Collins, who led the Titans on a long winning streak to the conference’s best record. Collins didn’t play exceptionally well, but he was more of the "game manager" that Fisher preferred at the position, and so was rewarded with a new contract. Speculation began over where Young would play next, if he were given another chance.
In 2008, Leinart hardly played at all, becoming an afterthought. Cutler made the Pro Bowl, but once again the Broncos had a losing record, costing Shanahan his job. The Broncos hired Pats OC Josh McDaniel as the new head coach, and the spread QB guru got off on the wrong foot with Cutler. Cutler demanded a trade, and was sent to the Bears, where he was expected to be the final piece of a championship team. Leinart figured to stay in a holding pattern, waiting for another chance to play when either Warner slips or the Cardinals trade him.
2009 could hardly be better for Young or worse for Cutler. It turns out that Chicago QBs struggled so much, not because they sucked, but because the Bears offense sucked. Cutler has really struggled, and probably wishes he had stayed in Denver to work with the guy who made a star out of Matt Cassell. Meanwhile, Young was given another chance after the Titans started the season 0 – 6 (at the owner’s insistence- Fisher still didn’t trust him). He has played lights out, and the Titans had an amazing turn-around. Over the first 6 games, the average Titans score was 14 – 33. Since Young became the starter, the Titans have gone 7 – 1, and averaged a score of 29 – 16. Young is making plays and protecting the ball.
Check out the following stats. They are career passing, running and sack stats. You see that over their careers, Cutler is a better passer, with a lesser likelihood of taking a sack. Young takes a sack about every 17 times he goes back to pass. For his career, Cutler takes almost 22 pass play attempts for every sack. Counting rushing yards, and yards lost to sacks, Cutler averages 6.3 yards/play, better than Young’s 5.85 yards/play and Leinart’s 5.69. Those stats all support what everybody thought at season’s beginning.
Now see the same stats for the past 16 regular season starts of each QB. Young has been significantly better than before, as a passer, and as a protector of the ball. Cutler has done notably worse. Now, the QBs have switched positions. Young appears to be the rising young star, mastering this most difficult of positions. Cutler appears to be the guy who is a little overwhelmed by everything.
The final metric is winning. So far, Young is 25 – 13 (counting that playoff loss), 12 – 4 over his last 16 He has saved his coach’s job once, and may be doing so again this year. Cutler is 22 – 29, 5 – 11 over his last 16, and has seen his first coach fired and may be working on his second. Leinart is 7 – 10, and saw the coach who drafted him fired. Fun stuff. Thoughts?
Be sure to check the chart HERE.