In terms of quarterbacks in Denver, the bar that Cutler has to (meet)
should not be Hall of Famer John Elway, but rather the two guys who
started in Denver since Elway or the two quarterbacks drafted this year
before him. Brian Griese's second season as a starter, he led the league
in passing efficiency with a rating of 102, won 11 games, and led the
team to the playoffs. In three seasons in Denver, Jake Plummer has led
the team to three playoff appearances and an AFC Championship Game and
had seasons of 10-6, 10-6, and 13-3. Griese won a national title, and
Plummer led Arizona State to within two minutes of a national title.
Vince Young and Matt Leinart contended for or won the Heisman, won
national championships, and are both struggling this year. Consider that
in four years in college, Cutler never led his team to a single winning
season and he played at a very mediocre program where there were no
expectations. Vandy does not prepare a quarterback for expectations in
the NFL, especially Denver.
What is it that makes Jay Cutler a better quarterback than either of the
last two in Denver (Griese, Plummer) or the two drafted in front of him
this year (Young, Leinart) -- all four of whom have played in Rose
Bowls, finished top three in the Heisman voting, and either won or came
within a play of winning a national title? Is Cutler's talent so great
that he overcomes the lack of expectations and big-game experience in
college and outperforms these players who came from winning programs
where they stood out?
Interesting thought on it all. In terms of Cutler as a prospect,
having lived in Nashville for two of his seasons as a Vanderbilt starter
and having seen most of his games either in person or on video, I think
what he did at Vandy was something that weighed in his favor when
compared to the others on the board.
He consistently performed, with few, if any some years, pro prospects
around him in the Commodores offense, and he did it in what most scouts
believe is the elite conference in the nation, especially when you're
talking about pass rushers across the board year after year.
One general manager told me before the draft, "The question is not how
Cutler would do at USC, the question is how Matt Leinart would do at
Vandy?'' Cutler was the Southeastern Conference's consensus Offensive
Player of the Year at Vanderbilt, it simply is one of the most difficult
things anyone has done in college football in recent years.
Leinart was surrounded by NFL draft picks, including another Heisman
winner and a second-round pick in the backfield alone. The tight end was
a draft pick, several linemen were draft picks over his career.
Scouts weigh all of those things, too. Cutler also never missed a game
despite the punishment he took throwing the ball. He even ran the option
the first two years and in his final two years was blitzed plenty
because the Commodores didn't often slow down opposing pass rushers with
a consistent running game.
So certainly he got credit for all of that. That said, plenty of scouts
also questioned the fact he didn't have a winning record, though I don't
know how he could have. Elway didn't win as many games at Stanford as
other guys won other places, but he's still in the Hall of Fame.
As far as comparing a rookie to a Hall of Famer, I'm certainly not in
favor of it.
One of the more fascinating things about the NFL is that folks often
think Hall of Fame passers come in bunches and are somehow a given.