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Just The Sports: Brad Childress Is Wrong; The Minnesota Vikings Are Not Better Off

Just The Sports

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brad Childress Is Wrong; The Minnesota Vikings Are Not Better Off

One can only hope that former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress did not truly believe himself when he said he is leaving the Vikings in better shape than the franchise was when he arrived in 2006. If he really does believe such a farcical notion, then he is suffering from serious and troubling delusions. Actually, the Vikings are in the exact same position as they were when Childress became the head coach in 2006. The team did not have a viable quarterback option for the long-term future then and they do not have one now.

Why the Vikings, after almost five seasons under Childress's tenure, have failed to identify and develop a quarterback who can be an above average player speaks directly to Childress's poor understanding of what makes a good NFL quarterback prospect. Childress is on record as saying that he drafted Tarvaris Jackson because he wanted a "developmental guy" and a quarterback who was a "diamond in the rough." Childress probably drafted former University of Alabama-Birmingham quarterback Joe Webb for the same ludicrous reasons since Webb possesses the same attribute as Jackson (i.e., athleticism) and also the same deficiency (i.e., inaccurate passing).

The problem with feeling the need to draft such a quarterback is there is really no need to do so. All college quarterbacks are going to spend at least three years at their respective universities with most quarterbacks NFL teams consider worthy of a roster spot spending at least two seasons as a starter. That provides all franchises with plenty of data on which to base conclusions about how good a college quarterback will be as a pro. There is no need to try to outsmart the system; a team just needs to know what to look for.

More than anything else, be it arm strength, vertical leap, 40-yard dash time, or emotional make-up, the rate at which a quarterback completes his passes is the most important tool in determining just how good a player he will be. Give a team a college quarterback's career completion percentage, the number of games he started, and provide the proper context in which to understand those statistics, and any NFL team should be able to predict with a high degree of certainty the amount of success he will have on the pro level. Childress failed to do so and the Vikings are left with a quarterback who will be a below-average passer for his entire career being backed up by a quarterback who will also be a below-average passer for his career.

Looking at Tarvaris Jackson's statistics while at Alabama State, it becomes obvious fairly quickly he was never cut out to be an NFL starting quarterback. Jackson's college career bears more than a passing resemblance to Tyler Thigpen's. Like Thigpen, Jackson played in the Football Championship Subdivision, only completed 55.0 percent of his pass attempts, and had a statistical outlier of a season his senior year.

For Jackson, his senior season was one in which he completed 61.1% of his passes and gained 9.0 yards per pass attempt. In his other two seasons combined, Jackson only completed 52.0 percent of his passes and gained 7.4 yards per pass attempt, production that should not scream to any team that here lies a future second-round draft pick, especially since he was playing in a lower quality division. Is it any wonder then that in games, including the playoffs, where he has attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards for the Vikings, he has only completed 57.6% of his pass attempts and does anyone really expect him to complete passes at a much better clip if he is allowed to be a full-time starting quarterback? Jackson had been a below-average quarterback in terms of accuracy his whole footballing life; it only makes sense that he will continue to be one.

Jackson's greatest strength during his tenure at Alabama State was in his touchdown to interception ratio and he has not been able to carry that ability with him to the NFL. In college, Jackson threw 63 touchdowns and just 23 interceptions, a 2.7:1 ratio. However, so far in his NFL career, in games fitting the aforementioned criteria, his 22 touchdowns have been matched by 22 interceptions.

Jackson's lack of passing ability precludes him from being a quarterback the Vikings can depend on to win a sizable majority of games. As does Joe Webb's if he is ever given a chance to start.

Not even Joe Webb thought he was worthy of being an NFL quarterback as evidenced by the fact he worked out as a wide receiver on UAB's pro day. Webb was right to have such a low opinion of his future as a signal caller. Over his career, he completed 59.8% of his passes and had 7.5 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers are not terrible and he is actually a better collegiate passer than Tarvaris Jackson was, but neither are they incredibly impressive. In his 2008 and 2009 seasons when he was UAB's only starting quarterback, his completion percentage was right around the median for all qualifying FBS quarterbacks. Average college quarterbacks do not magically become franchise quarterbacks.

What makes Brad Childress's decision to keep Webb on the roster as a quarterback even more foolish is that it eliminates Webb from playing in roles where he could actually provide real value to the team. Webb might not be a great passer, but he is great at running the ball. His 5.4 yards per rush in college and 2,612 rushing yards look even more amazing after one takes into account that sacks count against a quarterback's rushing numbers in college football. The Vikings' already potent running attack could only be helped by giving Webb a couple of carries a game.

Webb could also help the team as a wide receiver. In his eight games in 2007 where he played the position, he caught 30 balls for 459 yards, good for 15.3 yards per reception. His 46.2 percent catch rate on those receptions looks horrendous at first glance, but that had more to do with the quarterback throwing him the ball than a lack of receiving talent on Webb's part. The quarterback in question, Sam Hunt, completed only 46.5 percent of the throws he threw to his other receivers so Joe Webb did the best he could with what he had to work with. Webb definitely has more potential to evolve into a wide receiving threat than a passing threat.

Without an above-average quarterback on the roster, no NFL team is going to win a great percentage of games and the Vikings have one below-average passer in Tarvaris Jackson and one quarterback who would have more value if he played other positions. So no, Brad Childress, you have not left the Vikings better off.

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