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Nature and Nurture Both Matter in QB Development

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The quarterback position is the most important on the field. A good quarterback can cover glaring deficiencies on a team and win games in which on his own his club has no business of even being close. The signal caller has incredible control over what happens on the field. This might be why most fans view them as independent entities in their respective developments. In many cases, the environment in which they developed has a lot to do with their success or failure.

There are some distinctions to be sure. Some quarterbacks are so gifted that it does not matter where they end up. Peyton Manning had it all coming out of Tennessee. No matter where he went, he was going to be the savior of a franchise. On the other end, there are players like the man selected just behind Manning in the 1998 Draft, Ryan Leaf. Even though he had elite physical gifts, Leaf would have been a failure with any NFL club. He lacked the drive, maturity, and leadership skills necessary to be a successful quarterback in the league. These are the extremes. There are plenty of examples on both ends. Matt Ryan was so good that he turned around the fortunes of a franchise in one year even though everything seemed to be working against him as a rookie. Every year, a lot of players enter the Draft who may posess the intangibles Leaf lacked but simply do not have the talent. These players are not the focus here. The guys in between these extremes are.

Tom Brady is the posterchild for NFL quarterbacks. He is now in the class with Manning in that he could make any team competitive by himself. It is easy to forget that this was not always the case. Many say teams missed on him, causing him to fall to the sixth round. That might not be the case. Brady was a pretty underwhelming prospect coming out of Michigan, skinny without a great arm or upper body strength. He ended up in the right place, with the best coaching staff in the game. They had him hit the weight room his first year and designed their game plans in a way that put him in a position to succeed once injury forced him into action in 2001, and he was still adjusting to the pro game. In part due to the job of the coaching staff, Brady slowly developed into a future Hall of Famer. Considering how great Brady has turned out, it is easy to dismiss this thinking. However, the Patriots just turned another sixth round pick, one who had not started a game since high school prior to 2008, into a desired commodity. New England has figured out how to optimize its quarterback play. Perhaps neither guy would have had a career better than that of the average sixth rounder had Belichick, Weis, and McDaniels not been their mentors. They would be the first two to credit the coaching staff in Foxborough for maximizing their respective abilities.

There are other examples. Brett Favre flourished under Mike Holmgren, reining in his undisciplined tendencies, albeit not eliminating them completely. It is fair to wonder what would have happened had the Falcons not traded him to Green Bay and Holmgren. The Falcons have been roasted time and again through the years for that deal, but there are no guarantees Favre would have panned out. A taskmaster like Holmgren was exactly what he needed, a coach who would get into Brett's face and demand less careless play. What if Favre had stayed in Atlanta and gone unchecked in the run 'n shoot chucking it to his heart's content? The years he spent with Holmgren were the formative ones in his career. He may have never become a success had he ended up anywhere else.

Take David Carr on the other end. Carr had everything going for him coming out of Frenso State. The Texans made him the face of their franchise, investing the first Draft pick in franchise history on him. Carr should have been a success. However, Houston did not put an adequate offensive line in front of him in part due to Tony Boselli's knee condition. Carr took as much of a pounding as any quarterback in league history while in Houston, possibly developing mechanical flaws as a result of facing such a heavy pass rush on such a consistent basis. Had he been somewhere else with a better line, Carr might have turned out differently.

In 2005, Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith were both contenders to go to the 49ers with the top overall pick. Smith ended up being the selection. Rodgers fell all the way to Green Bay at the end of the first round. Rodgers looks like a keeper at quarterback. Smith is considered a bust. What if the tables were turned? What if Smith got to adjust to the NFL by sitting behind Brett Favre for three years, learning at his own pace, and taking over a 14 win team? What if Rodgers was thrown right into the fire, expected to carry a San Francisco team without a supporting cast? If everything else was equal, one situation was clearly easier to navigate.

This is not to take away from what players like Brady and Favre have done. They both became first ballot Hall of Famers through extreme dedication and performing at high levels in the most difficult of situations. The point is they did not get there by themselves. It was part nature, part nurture. Jay Fielder probably would not have become great with Belichick or Holmgren, but Brady and Favre may not have been as great without them. Many players fall between the extremes. The draw they get contributes to the success level. This is something for the Jets to consider when they look at drafting a quarterback. The surroundings might be as important as the skills of the player.