Keep in mind that this is from the magazine, so he actually wrote it before Leinart imploded against the Raiders. But I bring it up to say this: If you read the things he's saying about Leinart and QBs in general, try thinking how Gradkowski applies to what he's saying.http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/061025
In the past four years alone, the Pistons passed on Melo, Chris Bosh and D-Wade for Darko; the Texans antagonized their fan base by taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush; and the Hawks passed on the best young point guard of the decade (Chris Paul) to take a forward they didn't even need who hadn't played much in college (Marvin Williams). In this year's NBA and NFL drafts, two guys who are mortal locks to matter right away (Brandon Roy and Matt Leinart, respectively) went sixth and 10th. And crap like that happens all the time. This is the era of Tremendous Upside Potential. Raw talent means more than real substance. Game films, statistics and win-loss records don't carry as much weight as 40-yard dashes and vertical leaps. Better to drain 30 of 40 uncontested 3-pointers in a private workout than to nail seven of eight in a Final Four game.
And yes, I've written about this before, but I'll keep **CENSORED**ing until somebody gives me a more plausible answer than "Just about everybody is stupid, let it go." The NFL's latest scouting oversight was the one that missed Leinart, whose immediate success in Arizona indisputably proves -- once and for all, without a shadow of a doubt -- that the NFL should overhaul its evaluation process for quarterback prospects. How could a franchise QB slip past three straight teams (Oakland, Buffalo, Detroit) that desperately needed a quarterback simply because they weren't crazy about his arm strength? How could they forget that was the same reason Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck slipped to the sixth round and Jake Delhomme went undrafted and Brad Johnson and his .605 winning percentage keeps bouncing around the league, from winning team to winning team? How many times do we need to go through this?
In the past two decades, only one highly regarded QB failed because he couldn't get zip on a football: Steve Walsh, whose right arm was made of fusilli. Every other one stank because he wasn't smart enough or leader enough or couldn't read Ds or choked in big spots or got injured too much or allowed the fans to get into his head or, in Ryan Leaf's case, all of the above. Those qualities can't be measured or predicted in a scouting combine, except maybe with the Wonderlic Test. But we keep trying. And failing.
Let's say, for example, that Johnson and Chad Pennington snuck into next winter's combine wearing shaggy wigs, pretending they were D-II sleepers. What would happen once they went through the various drills? They'd be projected as 27th-round picks. Yeah, it's nice to find a QB with a cannon arm or insane athletic ability, but those natural gifts take you only so far.
You cannot make it in the National Football League (I just channeled my inner Collinsworth) without intangibles that, for whatever reason, teams routinely discount. You need to think on your feet, inspire teammates, develop a thick skin, thrive under pressure and be ready for any possible situation at any possible time. It's the single toughest position to master in any team sport. And only a handful of people can do it well.
Which brings us back to Leinart. If you've come through again and again at the highest college level, if you are smart as hell, are unflappable under pressure and are always the coolest guy on the field, and someone to whom teammates respond, well, there's a better-than-good chance you'll succeed in the NFL. Leinart spearheaded a dominant USC team that transcended college to some degree, emerging as a local celebrity on par with Nick Lachey, Jake Gyllenhaal and various other recognizable young males. Thanks to that constant exposure, he learned how to handle himself in news conferences and on talk shows, how to deal with nosy reporters and feature writers searching for juicy angles, how to avoid trouble at the wrong club or the wrong party. He learned how to live with dozens of people staring at him and badgering him wherever he went. In a roundabout way, his life became a real-life scouting combine. By spending his days and nights evolving into the coolest guy in the room, he also prepared himself to be the coolest guy on an NFL field.
So when Leinart was picking apart a heavily hyped Bears defense on a recent Monday night, I -- unlike the announcers -- wasn't even remotely surprised. In the past 25 years, what rookie quarterback was better prepared for that situation? Consider the variables that went into performing on that particularly thankless stage: It's his second NFL start. He's playing for the Clippers of football -- actually, that's an insult to the Clips at this point -- for a tortured fan base that sits around waiting for something to go wrong. He's got an overmatched offensive coordinator who will be canned within 24 hours. His $30 million running back is already griping about touches (even though he's leading the league in that category). He's missing his No. 1 receiver. He's going against a superb defense that's being compared to the all-time greats. And if that's not enough, he's playing in front of a huge TV audience. Um, where does arm strength come into play here? If you came up with a list of traits a player needs to succeed in this particular situation, arm strength doesn't crack the top 10. The NFL is a mental game more than anything else.
I just don't get it. The Bills passed on Leinart because they already had J.P. Losman, which is like passing on a brand-new BMW because you're all set with your Hyundai. The Raiders passed because they love to throw deep and didn't believe Leinart could reach Randy Moss, so they drafted a safety and signed Aaron Brooks. (Hold on, we have to wait for the Raiders fans who are reading this to stop punching themselves in the head.) The Lions passed because Matt Millen is determined to pass Isiah Thomas as the worst executive in sports history. We all remember Leinart's stunned reaction as he was falling on draft day, but maybe he wasn't thinking, Shoot, I should have come out last year, as much as, What are these teams thinking?
Now he's making everyone pay. Just another horror story from the Oughties. See you in two months when I'm killing the Raptors, Bobcats, Bulls and Hawks for passing on Brandon Roy.