Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Byron Leftwich?

In looking over the Vikings' QB options for 2009 (while not completely ruling out Tarvaris Jackson, there definitely needs to be a Plan B that doesn't go by "Gus") there are all sorts of options being thrust out there -- and I don't really like any of them.

Matt Cassel? Too expensive. Matt Hasselbeck? Too broken. Derek Anderson? Too lousy. Jeff Garcia? Too old. Brett Favre? Too Brett Favre.

So what I'd ideally like is a guy who isn't very expensive, reasonably healthy, not a bad player, fairly young, and isn't Brett Favre. And Byron Leftwich passes nearly all those tests.

I admit that when his name first came up, I thought, "Ew." As a former top-10 draft pick, much, much more was expected of Leftwich than the so-so numbers he put up in Jacksonville. After more careful consideration of his numbers, though, I'm warming to the notion of Leftwich as overrated as a top-notch draft pick, but underrated as a useful NFL quarterback.

First of all, I firmly believe that the next Vikings QB should be one who is excellent at avoiding interceptions. Given Minnesota's running game and defense, the priority should be on keeping possession of the ball and not making bad mistakes; I'd rather have a QB who throws 15 TDs and 10 interceptions than one who throws 30 TDs and 20 interceptions.

Byron Leftwich has a career 2.6% interception rate, ranking him seventh among active QBs. The top two names on that list -- Jason Campbell and David Garrard -- are living off single fluky low-interception seasons, likely not indicative of their actual ability to avoid picks, so you could reasonably say Leftwich is a top-five QB when it comes to avoiding picks.

With the Steelers having to choose between Charlie Batch (who was injured in the preseason but was a capable backup to Ben Roethlisberger) and Leftwich, he could be released and be looking for work, meaning he'll come cheap. He just turned 29 in January. And he's not Brett Favre.

And his overall numbers -- including a career 80.3 passer rating, which isn't great, but is good enough if you keep your picks low and have a strong supporting cast (like this guy and his career 81.6 rating did) -- is serviceable enough. I had thought he took too many sacks, but his career 5.6% sack rate is lower than the league average (around 6%), and that's after playing the last two years behind subpar offensive lines.

But then there's the injury issue. Leftwich has never played a full 16-game slate, starting 13, 14, 11, and 6 games in his career as a starter for the Jaguars. That's an average of 11 games a year. Maybe the last two years of relatively light use have allowed him to heal and he'll be more durable, but even if he hasn't, is it the end of the world if he only starts 11 games for the team? Tarvaris Jackson (and maybe John David Booty) could be adequate for a month's worth of starts. If we don't commit a ton of money to Leftwich, then the team isn't carrying much dead money if he doesn't play a full season.

Finally, there's one last detail regarding Leftwich. In 2003, the Vikings had the #7 overall pick. In one of the most famous "WTF?" moments in Vikings history, the team was late in getting their pick up to the commissioner, and the Jaguars -- who picked 8th -- rushed up to select Byron Leftwich at #7. Next, the Panthers rushed up to pick Jordan Gross at #8. The Vikings finally recovered -- nicely, I might add -- taking Kevin Williams at #9, though there was talk they'd draft Jimmy Kennedy, who went to the Rams at #12. It would be karmically humorous for Leftwich to land in a Vikings uniform after all, especially with Kennedy joining the team last year and possibly figuring into the Vikings' plans.

Well, it's funny to me, at least.


pacifist viking said...

I like Leftwich, but I'm not sure he's suited for this Viking team. Leftwich isn't very mobile at all, and quite frankly, the Viking offensive line has struggled in pass protection. A QB doesn't have to be incredibly mobile to avoid sacks, but Leftwich also has that long windup. I could see problems in the form of sacks, fumbles, and hurried incompletions if Leftwich were lining up for the Vikings.

I wouldn't rule it out and I'm mildly intrigued by Leftwich, but I think the Vikes have to get a QB capable of moving around.

Jason said...

His sack% is still the lowest among QBs on his team with 50+ pass attempts in 3 of his 4 years at Jacksonville, but you're probably right about the "bad incompletions." I hadn't noticed that his career completion % is only barely better than T-Jacks (58.6 to 58.4).

Darren Campbell said...

Which is why Jeff Garcia (if available) would be a sane signing by the Vikings. He's old but he's still as elusive in the pocket (the Vikings found that out) as any QB I've seen in the NFL. He still has a couple of quality years left in him.

I think.