As the weeks of throwing footballs against a defense made up of Lennay Kekua and 10 of her family members yields to throwing footballs with a red no-touchy jersey against a bunch of other rookies and assorted slappies to throwing footballs with a red no-touchy jersey against veterans, rookies, and assorted slappies, we’re no closer to knowing whether any of the rookie quarterbacks can play effectively at the NFL level.
That point was reinforced last night upon tripping over the excellent NFL Films documentary regarding “The Brady 6” — the six quarterbacks drafted in 2000 before the Pats scrawled Tom Brady’s name onto the 199th card submitted.
The chip that blossomed on Brady’s shoulder was nurtured in part by underwhelming performances at Michigan, which opened the door for Drew Henson to take reps during Brady’s senior season, and pre-draft workouts from a slow, ungainly athlete who did nothing to stand out. But when it was time to play against live NFL competition, as the calm eye in a storm of bodies and movement and drawn-up plays that disintegrate when exposed to a full-speed defense, Brady didn’t simply survive but thrived.
Others couldn’t. The much-hyped Giovanni Carmazzi, taken by the favorite team of Brady’s boyhood, flamed out for the 49ers. Former coach Steve Mariucci attributed the failure to Carmazzi’s first NFL appearance, coincidentally against the Patriots in the Hall of Fame game, as planting the doubt that resulted in Carmazzi never playing in a regular-season game.
Ditto for Tee Martin, the Peyton Manning successor who never was able to do enough with his limited opportunity to catch the eye of the coaches in Pittsburgh. In the end, Brady became the latest Hall of Fame quarterback the Steelers could have snatched, but didn’t. (They once cut John Unitas and passed over hometown hero Dan Marino.)
But it’s hard to blame any of the teams that passed on Brady. There was scant evidence that he’d perform at a high level at the highest level of the sport.
And that makes this year’s — and each year’s — class of quarterbacks inherently intriguing. While it’s easy to lament the absence of can’t-miss prospects like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III from the 2013 collection of signal-callers, there could be one of more Russell Wilsons lurking among the likes of EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson, Landry Jones, Zac Dysert, or any of the undrafted players.
We simply won’t know what they can do until they do it. Which will make things interesting not in May or June but in late July, August, September, and beyond.
There’s definitely a Carmazzi and Martin among that group. But there also could be a Brady or a Wilson.