Why you should care
Because we may be on the verge of a pro-QB drought.
Last Sunday, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton fractured his thumb, forcing the team to turn to its No. 2, which means that two days from now, backup A.J. McCarron will lead the playoff-bound offense onto the field. Normally, for a college star of McCarron’s caliber — he won two straight national championships, from 2011 to 2012, while setting multiple school passing records — expectations would be heavy. Except McCarron hails from the University of Alabama.
Not a single ex-Alabama signal caller has won an NFL game as a starter since 1987.
The irony is that Tuscaloosa, which once birthed legends like Bart Starr and Joe Namath, might be considered the reigning Division I football program of that same time frame — it’s won four national championships and seven SEC titles and is headed to the college football playoffs again this month. The Crimson Tide’s almost three-decade drought can at least partly be attributed to opportunity: Beside McCarron, only four QBs have been drafted during those years. But that too raises the question of why the best team in college ball isn’t churning out professional-quality captains.
Part of it is because Alabama’s passers have gotten short shrift in favor of the ground-and-pound attack (Alabama did not respond to request for comment). Indeed, five Big Al running backs have been drafted since 2009, and the school’s had two Heisman Trophy winners at the position. But the Crimson Tide aren’t the only ones failing to develop marquee quarterbacks. Even powerhouse aerial schools, like Oregon and Ohio State, still rely on the spread offense, which doesn’t prepare players for the complex pocket passing in the NFL either, says Super Bowl–winning coach Brian Billick. In the end, it might all come down to one central failing: College football, in general, is experiencing a drought of tall, strong-armed throwers — your prototype career QB.
The NFL just hasn’t felt it yet because there are so many tenured veterans still manning the helm, says Scout.com managing editor Scott Kennedy. From what Kennedy sees, the best prospects are passing on the pigskin for baseball. “I’ve made a decent living covering football,” he says, “but I put a baseball in my kid’s hands as soon as he could walk.” The reason? There are more starting pitcher jobs, the pay is often better and the health risks are much smaller. “If I have to worry about my son either throwing out his arm and having Tommy John surgery or getting multiple concussions and a brain injury,” Kennedy says, “I’m picking baseball.”
Then again, two of the league’s most talked about QBs, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, a contender for MVP this season, were drafted within the last five years from spread offensive squads. So maybe it’s just something in the bayou water.