And with the 7th Overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select, Quarterback, Byron Leftwich, Marshall
With a career that began with so much promise, how is it that Byron is now on the unemployment line?
The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Byron Leftwich with the intention of slowly easing him into the NFL, letting him watch and learn behind Mark Brunell - a Jacksonville favourite - for his first year, and then would allow him to compete for the job in his second year, or maybe later in the season if there was nothing to play for.
However, when Brunell was injured in Game 3 of the 2003 NFL regular season, it was Byrons time to shine. The cannon armed QB wasnt amazing, but he was solid and showed the promise and ability the Jags knew he had when they drafted him. Byron went 5-8 as a starter in his rookie year, throwing 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
In his 2nd season, Byron started 14 games (missed two with injury) and went 8-6 looking much more solid in his second season, throwing 4 more TDs than INTs.
Then injuries hit him.
Over the next two seasons, he played just 17 games. However he still showed he was a winner and a very talented quarterback, winning 11 of those 17 games, throwing for 22 touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions. His problem was, Jacksonville still won in his absence, with a guy called David Garrard, who was more of a careful quarteback who could also run for yardage, compared to the slinging but not as mobile Leftwich, and was far less injury prone. Jacksonville had a tough decision on its hands.
Jack Del Rio, the Jacksonville coach, named Leftwich his projected starter before the 2007 preseason began, yet a very inneffective preseason by Leftwich, coupled with a very strong preseason for Garrard, prompted Del Rio to change his mind right before Week 1 of the regular season, and Leftwich was cut.
Not only was he cut, but due to the delay in decision making by Del Rio, Leftwich was virtually robbed of any decent chance to compete for a starting job in 2007.
Byron was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons just before the 3rd week of the regular season, who had lost quarterback Michael Vick to criminal arrest, and were less than confident about their chances with Joey Harrington.
With very little preparation to learn a new playbook and get familiar with his teammates, Leftwich was given the start against the New Orlean Saints in Week 7, and for the most part Leftwich played really well, throwing for 145 yards on 65% of his passes, with one TD and no INTs. A late ankle sprain meant he left the game, but he didnt look too bad. He had two weeks off from his ankle sprain, and returned in a game against Tampa Bay, who were boasting one of the better pass defences in the league, and to no surprise, Leftwich struggled mightily, barely throwing 100 yards, and also threw a pick. It would be his last game action as a Falcon.
No one bit on Free Agency, in fact no one even nibbled until the preseason, when Pittsburgh Steelers backup QB Charlie Batch went down with a season ending injury. Leftwich had no chance of winning the job in Pittsburgh, seeing as Big Ben Roethlisberger, who already had one Superbowl ring, was behind center. Still Byron worked out hard, practised his mechanics and throwing with the team, and was a supportive guy on the sidelines. He went about his business with absolute maturity, something his critics from Jacksonville, say he was lacking.
Byron got his chance though. Against Cincinatti in garbage time, yet still against the Bengals starting defence, Byron went 3-3 for 34 yards and a touchdown to Hines Ward. He looked sharp, poised and accurate. 2 weeks after that, Big Ben who was struggling against Washington, went down at the end of the half and was out for the game. Byron had another big chance, and he didnt disappoint. Determined not to let the 'Skins back into the game, Byron came on and went 7-10 for 129 yards and a touchdown to Holmes, not to mention he threw a 50yd bomb to Nate on his first passing attempt. He looked way too good to be a backup.
Which now brings me to my point. How is this guy not generating any interest in Free Agency. He has the size, he has the arm strength, he proved whilst playing for the Steelers that he still has great poise and accuracy. Hes not old and washed up, hes 29 and has starting experience as well as a winning record as a starter.
Byron voices his opinion on ESPN Radio (Cheers Blitz!) and his frustrations and confusions with why no one has given him an oppurtunity yet. I think he has proved himself enough that he can still be a starting calibre quarterback in this league.
Below are three teams who I think should take a serious look at him:
1. Minnesota Vikings:
Everyone loves to pick these guys as their Superbowl/Playoff prediction but i dont see it! Sure they have Adrian "All-Day" Peterson and a hell of a defence, but whos playing QB? Frerotte? Jackson? Booty? These guys havent got what it takes to lead the Vikings all the way. You've got a speed demon in Bernard Berrian lining up at Wide Receiver yet two of those quarterbacks cant throw the ball deep enough and the one who can doesnt have good enough touch or accuracy to get the job done neother. The way I see it is if you combine Leftwich's cannon of an arm, with Berrians speed, you're going to make opponents respect your vertical game. Thus, not as much 8 in the box stuff will be there, meaning AP has more room to run. I think these guys are the best fit yet they wont bite because Chilldress seems to think that Jackson will be the real deal. Im not as sold.
2. San Francisco 49ers:
It makes me laugh that these guys had interest in Kurt Warner who is spoilt with Boldin, Fitzgerald and Breaston yet wont take a guy who proved himself solid in J'Ville with no one except a 36 year old Jimmy Smith. Warners proven time and time again taht he is a system QB. When he had Bruce and Holt he was great, he left for New York Giants, they werent there, he struggled. Then to Arizona, Boldin and Fitz, suddenly hes good again. Leftwich would have been a better option for the 49ers in my opinion, at the least he should have gotten a workout with them. Unfortunately it seems like Mike Singletary wants a Game Manager type QB, strange for a guy who was such an aggressive defender.
3. New York Jets
Favre gone, left the Jets with 3 unproven QBs in Clemens, Ainge and Ratliff. I see no reason why you shouldnt chuck the veteran Leftwich into the mix. His strong arm would combine well with the likes of Cotchery, Keller and Stuckey, and would also stretch the field, so that teams wouldnt stack the line against the resurgent Thomas Jones (behind ex-Steeler Alan Faneca of course). This is a team that hasnt been linked to needing a QB, but i really thought Leftwich would be a good fit here.
Other teams such as the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also come to mind when thinking about teams with uncertain Quarterback situations. Schaub cant play a full season, Delhomme had the worst playoff game ever by a QB, the Bears shouldnt be sold on Orton, the Lions need help everywhere and the Bucs only have McCown.
I blame it on NFL front offices falling in love with rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, because of how they helped turn their mediocre teams into playoff teams. Which is fair enough, but i guarantee the minute that Stafford or Sanchez or even someone like Brady Quinn or Jamarcus Russell start being labelled a BUST, everyone will be talking about the risks of throwing a young QB in there and everyone will be in love with the veteran stopgap QB solution.
As for Byron, I really wish you all the best of luck in finding a job, and i pray someone will wise up and ask for your services. You can be a Steeler anyday and I'd love to see you back here if things dont work out in Free Agency
Bleeding Black and Gold since 1989