Dave's Sports Views

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Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Monday, January 30, 2006

Why Ben Fell

(Note that I've also posted a CORRECTION to this article.)

As Ben Roethlisberger enters the Super Bowl with a 26-4 career record and playing the best football of his career, it’s worth noting how lucky the Steelers were to get him with the 11th pick of the 2004 NFL Draft.

This is not a case of Tom Brady drifting under the radar to the 6th round of the draft, because he had been forced to battle for his starting job in college. Big Ben was a known commodity coming out of “the other” Miami, the one in Ohio. He possessed all the gifts – size, arm strength, mobility – necessary to be a great NFL quarterback.

He fell to the Steelers because of two reasons: 1) He came out as a junior, so he didn’t get to participate in the Senior Bowl events, which, among quarterbacks, helped catapult Philip Rivers above him and cemented Eli Manning as the top pick in the draft; 2) Teams picking before the Steelers for the most part had committed to a quarterback and weren’t going to use a top pick on the position when other needs were more apparent. Some of them might look back now and wish they'd done it differently.

Let’s take a quick look at how teams above him came to their decisions:

San Diego

QB Situation Then: Drew Brees was struggling and the team felt it needed a franchise quarterback, so it looked to Manning. Trouble was, Manning refused to play in San Diego, so the Chargers had to gamble that they could make a trade to get the maximum value for him. Fortunately, the New York Giants were willing.

The Pick: Manning, QB, Mississippi

QB Situation Now: After Manning went to New York, essentially for Rivers, Brees has improved tremendously. Maybe he needed more competition, but in any case, it’s now Rivers that is on the trading block.

Oakland

QB Situation Then: Kerry Collins was signed before the draft after revitalizing his career in New York. At 31, he was still young enough to be productive, and his arm fit Al Davis’ obsession with the long pass.

The Pick: Robert Gallery, OT, Iowa, who has started 31 of 32 games on the offensive line in two seasons. The Raiders gave up 45 sacks this year and struggled on offense despite adding Randy Moss and Lamont Jordan in the offseason.

QB Situation Now: Collins was benched for Marques Tuiasosopo at one point this season and the Raiders appear to be starting over at quarterback.

Arizona

QB Situation Then: Josh McCown appeared to be the quarterback of the future after showing some promise in 2003, and new coach Denny Green wasn’t going to pass up the chance to draft Larry Fitzgerald, his former ball boy in Minnesota.

The Pick: Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh, who combined with Anquan Boldin to give the Cardinals a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, even if they weren’t sure who would throw them the ball.

QB Situation Now: Injuries have limited McCown’s performance. Kurt Warner was signed in the 2005 off-season to stabilize the position but was injured during the season. McCown and John Navarre split time the rest of the year. Another situation in flux.

New York

QB Situation Then: Collins was out, and his long-term successor was yet to be identified. Warner was signed before the 2004 season to keep the position warm.

The Pick: Rivers, QB, NC State, who has appeared in mop-up duty only since the trade to San Diego.

QB Situation Now: Rivers went to San Diego for Manning, who stepped in and took his lumps late in his rookie year. He improved this year but showed the ability to get rattled under pressure. Still, it’s likely the Giants have found their starter for the long-term.

Washington

QB Situation Then: With new coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins signed veteran Mark Brunell to go with youngster Patrick Ramsey.

The Pick: Sean Taylor, S, Miami, who is one of the fiercest hitters in the game with his body and his saliva.

QB Situation Now: Ramsey fell out of favor with Gibbs, who seemed more comfortable with the veteran lefty Brunell. A game competitor, Brunell led his team to a five-game winning streak to finish the season and a victory over Tampa Bay in the playoffs, but the offense was hardly imposing. How much more does Brunell have in him? Will Ramsey recover?

Cleveland

QB Situation Then: Signed veteran Jeff Garcia before the draft to a long-term contract.

The Pick: Kellen Winslow, TE, Miami, who broke his leg in the second game last year and then destroyed his knee in a motorcycle accident in the 2005 offseason. He has tremendous potential and a great pedigree, but he faces an uphill battle to live up to them.

QB Situation Now: Garcia was nearly killed behind a bad offensive line last year. Trent Dilfer came in for this season but by the end of the year, new coach Romeo Crennel had handed the offense to promising rookie Charlie Frye.

Detroit

QB Situation Then: Joey Harrington, the third overall pick in the 2002 draft, had struggled but the Lions were still counting on him to succeed, especially with guru Steve Mariucci as the new coach.

The Pick: Roy Williams, WR, Texas, who has looked spectacular at times but is left to carry a sputtering offense full of promising careers gone astray.

QB Situation Now: Garcia was brought in for the 2005 season as the starter under his former coach Mariucci but broke his leg in the preseason, making Harrington the starter. Garcia and Harrington split time during the year and Harrington showed enough signs of life that he’ll probably get one more chance. He certainly has enough receivers.

Atlanta

QB Situation Then: Michael Vick had led the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 but was recovering from a broken leg that had limited him to five games in 2003. Still, a singular talent and a former No. 1 overall pick who was sure to nail down the position for years to come.

The Pick: DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech, who has blossomed into one of the better young corners in the NFC. He had six interceptions in 2005 and is headed to the Pro Bowl.

QB Situation Now: Vick’s numbers over the past two years: 29 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, 56 percent completions. The Falcons got to the NFC Championship Game in 2004, but Vick’s are hardly stellar numbers for a quarterback who has struggled to overcome his natural inclination to run. Matt Schaub, drafted in the third round in 2004, figures to get at least a look, to provide the Falcons with trade bait if nothing else.

Jacksonville

QB Situation Then: Byron Leftwich was entrenched in only his second year.

The Pick: Reggie Williams, WR, Washington, who has 62 catches in two years but only one touchdown for an offense that prefers to grind it out with the run.

QB Situation Now: Leftwich had solid numbers in each of the past two years and showed the ability to make big plays in clutch situations. Worth watching, though, is the broken leg that cost him the final five games of the 2005 regular season and led to a bad performance as the Jags lost to New England in the wild-card round.

Houston

QB Situation Then: David Carr, the first pick of the 2002 draft, would be given every chance to succeed. Given the Texans' offensive line, he’d need it.

The Pick: Dunta Robinson, CB, South Carolina, who has 175 tackles in two seasons, an alarming number for a cornerback. It means he’s getting picked on, the front seven can’t make plays, or, in this case, both.

QB Situation Now: Carr is likely to remain the Texans quarterback despite the temptation for them to draft hometown son Vince Young with the first pick in the 2006 draft. Give Carr a backfield with Reggie Bush and Domanick Davis, plus Andre Johnson at wideout, and he’ll have some weapons. But how can the Texans leave a player of Carr’s talent such a sitting duck (68 sacks last year) behind the worst offensive line in football?

Pittsburgh

QB Situation Then: Tommy Maddox had led the Steelers to the playoffs in 2002 and was penciled in as the 2004 starter despite a below-average season the previous year.

The Pick: Roethlisberger, QB, Miami (Ohio), who was forced into the starting role when Maddox went down in the second game of the 2004 season. He won 15 games in a row before succumbing to playoff pressure and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last year. Now he'll be the youngest quarterback besides Dan Marino to start a Super Bowl.

QB Situation Now: Quarterbacks are paid to win games, and Roethlisberger has a better winning percentage than any quarterback over the past two years, including Brady and Peyton Manning.

The point here is that teams face an age-old drafting problem: Do you take the best player available or do you take the best player that fits your need? Many of the players taken before Roethlisberger have already shown signs of becoming NFL stars, particularly Fitzgerald, Taylor, Roy Williams and Hall. But several of the teams who picked before the Steelers, particularly Oakland, Arizona, Cleveland and Detroit, have seen their quarterback situations get worse over time.

Bottom line: A handful of NFL teams can say they know who their quarterback will be five years from now (assuming no injury or contract dispute). None of the teams who picked before them can say so with as much certainty as the Steelers.


14 Comments:

Anonymous Mike B said...

Not to take anything away from Big Ben but he has one of the better O-lines in the NFL and an above average rushing attack which keeps the defense honest when playing him. If he was in Oakland or Cleveland we probably aren't as amazed by him, and his record most likely isn't 26-4. However, he has made the most of his situation.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Dave Jackson said...

Mike,

Good point, but I would also add that teams have been daring Roethlisberger to beat them during the playoffs by loading up for the run. And he has done it.

It will be interesting to see how Seattle lines up defensively. The Seahawks have a lot of speed on defense, and they might play it straight-up given Ben's success.

DJ

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Jason said...

great blog dave.

People are very quick to point out the supporting cast when hesitating praise for Big Ben.

But I think its important to note that the supporting cast points to him for their success. Its true Ben might not be in the Super Bowl if he was drafted by the Giants, however his leadership qualities and poise far exceed all his peers at the quarterback position.

He deserves whatever praise comes his way for going 26-4. Regardless of his support, no other quarterback has done this by the age of 23.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Ryan M said...

It seems that everyone wants to throw away the mandatory waiting period after he retires and just throw Roethlisberger into the HOF right now. He is a mediocre quarterback at best. The stats don’t lie. In 2005 (including the postseason) Roethlisberger averaged 14.5 completions, 204 yards passing and 1.6 touchdowns per game. The fact is that the Steelers win games by playing good defense and running the football. And as far as records go, Kyle Orton won eight games in a row. During that stretch, the Bears won four games in a row in which the longest offensive drive for a touchdown was eight yards. Does that mean the Bears pointed to Orton for their success?

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His leadership qualities and poise far exceed all his peers at the quarterback position."

Are you joking? "Far exceed." Do you just mean all QBs in the NFL now? Why not include all the QBs who've ever played, and throw in Alexander the Great and Abe Lincoln too?

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Mike B said...

"But I think its important to note that the supporting cast points to him for their success."

In response to the above statement doesn't the failure or success of a team almost always get attributed to the QB? When things go well, the QB is doing a hero and a great leader (Like Abe Lincoln or Alexander the Great). If things go bad then he takes the blame. Whether it is his fault or not.

His 26-4 record is more a result of a great defense and dominating running game than his performance. Until the playoff games this year he has been the equivalent of Trent Dilfer in 2000 with the Ravens. (or Kyle Orton this year) Just don't make a mistake, and let our defense put us in a position to win the game.

Also put Ben on the Texans and see how much poise he has when its hut, hut, hike, ugh sacked again! Don't tell me a supporting cast doesn't make that much of a difference.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Mike B said...

I need an editor. Doing should be deleted from that sentence. Maybe send that into Leno's Headlines.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roethlisberger is a example of the system working. Average QB, good system=Super Bowl.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Memories of O'Donnell said...

The reason the Steelers are in the Super Bowl has a lot to do with Roethlisberger being a lot better than average - and it doesn't come through in the numbers. He has that ineffable something to hit critical passes.

He's been doing it since he played in that hurricane-delayed game against Miami last year, where he threw a TD to Hines Ward that only Ward had a shot at getting. Routhlisberger still screws up (less and less, it seems), but he makes the money passes that only a handful of guys in the league can hit. I guess the best recent example of this was the 3rd down conversions against Denver...

4:35 PM  
Anonymous The Diceman said...

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The Steelers were lucky that Big Ben fell to No. 11, but they were smart enough to take him when many people considered their QB situation solid.

Many great players didn't go early in the draft. For example, Joe Montana was taken in the third round at No. 82 overall.

I think if you look at the teams that are successful over the long haul, you'll see that they make smart personnel decisions in the draft, trades and free agency. The Steelers have been know for doing that through the years and it has worked for them.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Dutch said...

isn't a good to great o line (at least in pass protection) absolutly necessary for a quarterback to be proficiant and have a chance to be great?

Granted Big Ben has a stronger running game than alot of other big name QBs,he also has the highest yard per compleation in the regular season and the highest TD percentage. (though his INT % was high for a top ten QB this year) His running game and the Steelers game plan of getting ahead and shutting it down limited Ben's chances to put up big numbers, but it also limited his chances to hurt the team w/ INTs and allowed him a second year of easing in to becoming a big time QB.

In short he does what is asked of him to help his TEAM win, no QB does it alone, football is quinesentialy a team sport. I would rather have a winner of a team player than a self absorbed stat chaser.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ryan M said "He is a mediocre quarterback at best. The stats don’t lie." How about his top 5 QB rating for both years he has been in the NFL. His more than 13 yards per completion aren't too shabby either.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Dave Jackson said...

Clarification

In my article on Ben Roethlisberger yesterday, there was a poorly worded sentence in the third paragraph regarding the 2004 Senior Bowl. Eli Manning did not participate in the Senior Bowl, but yet it was after the game that he emerged as the top pick, because of the Rivers/Roethlisberger shift.

Philip Rivers' performance during that week vaulted him above Roethlisberger, who was not eligible to participate as an underclassmen. From that point forward, Manning was judged against Rivers, not Roethlisberger. And Manning's more conventional delivery and quarterbacking pedigree made him the consensus top pick.

My apologies for the misleading information.

DJ

10:15 AM  
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6:04 AM  

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