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Just The Sports: Learning To Love Matt Leinart

Just The Sports

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Learning To Love Matt Leinart

Being the best matters. It matters in educational pursuits, the quality of life one leads, and it especially matters in professional sports that continuously chew up and spit out athletes who cannot perform competently at the highest levels. Each year professional franchises attempt to identify the truly elite, predicting that it is those players who will have the greatest positive impact on their team's future.

Matt Leinart is such a player who can actually be looked at as the best based on his incredible performances at the University of Southern California. That is why it is so hard to understand the backlash Leinart has experienced since winning the Heisman trophy after his junior season. By coming back for his senior season, Leinart seemingly opened himself up to exaggerated criticism where everyone wanted to focus on his minor deficiencies like a perceived lack of arm strength instead of celebrating his numerous strengths. It was those numerous strengths that were on display his senior season where he completed 65.7% of his passes with 8.9 yards per pass attempt, making that season Leinart's best collegiate one. Overall, for his career, Leinart completed 64.9% of his passes on 8.6 yards per pass attempt after throwing 1,245 passes for the Trojans, making him the best USC quarterback to play in recent memory.

As I have previously shown with Aaron Rodgers, added credit should be given to quarterbacks who show they are better than their counterparts in similar college offensive systems. Accomplishing such a feat is usually indicative that their college success will translate to the NFL, which bodes well for Matt Leinart.

Carson Palmer was the first USC quarterback to really have so many accolades heaped upon him, being the first USC quarterback to win the Heisman and the first overall pick of the 2003 NFL draft, and really started the current trend of vaulting the starting quarterback of USC into national prominence. Palmer did this despite only completing 59.9% of his 1,298 passes thrown in games where he either attempted the most passes or throw for the most yards; his passes also netted 7.5 yards per pass attempt. Both of those numbers fall short of his successor Leinart's accomplishments.

On a side note, although Palmer has improved his accuracy numbers in the NFL, completing 63.0% of the passes he threw while playing a significant amount of the game, his completion percentage is still not statistically significantly better than what he did at USC. His lack of a dramatic increase in accuracy gives further credence to the idea that a player's college completion percentage provides a very strong predictive baseline for what one will do in the NFL.

Leinart's successor after he dominated the college football landscape for three seasons was John David Booty. Booty started twenty-three games for the Trojans, threw 782 passes, completed 62.7% of his passes, and had 7.4 yards per pass attempt. All of those numbers are inferior to Leinart's, although they are all above average numbers for a college quarterback. The fact they are decimated by Leinart's demonstrate how great of a quarterback he was.

After John David Booty came Mark Sanchez, who came the closest to matching Matt Leinart. Sanchez completed 64.5% of his passes and threw for 8.1 yards per pass attempt, but he only started sixteen games in college. In contrast, Leinart started thirty-nine games for USC, more than twice as much as Sanchez. There is no evidence to suggest Sanchez would have been able to maintain those numbers for a whole season as Leinart was. There have been plenty of college quarterbacks who have had one great season before falling back to the pack in other ones so Sanchez's statistics cannot be trusted like Leinart's. Leinart will always have the edge over Sanchez because although they have similar numbers, Leinart's performances encompass a larger sample size.

Although these quarterbacks did not play for the same offensive coordinators, they did play in similar pro-style offenses so the comparisons among the quarterbacks are still apt and prove Matt Leinart is perfectly equipped to have a successful NFL career. He may have struggled in his games so far, but it must be remembered that he has only started seventeen games. If every quarterback's career path was to be determined after seventeen games, very few would be given a chance to continue to start. The same patience must be shown Leinart so that he can realize his quarterbacking potential.



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