When it comes to quarterbacks in this year’s draft, there’s a little something for everyone. When it comes to finding the right fit, that’s where the hard part begins. Take it from Chad Pennington.
“I think this group is really interesting and intriguing because they bring something different to the table,” Pennington said from his home in Lexington, Kentucky. “When you look at the top prospects, they’re all a little different, and each one has different strengths than the other.”
The former Jets and Dolphins quarterback has a unique perspective on the quarterbacks, two of whom could very well wind up with the Giants and Jets in the first round. As part of the NFL’s recently established mentoring program that pairs former players with incoming rookies in the weeks leading up to the draft, Pennington has met with all the top prospects.
While he’s not privy to the plans of either team, Pennington can vouch for this year’s quarterback class as one that offers plenty of talent to fill the needs of several teams looking for help at the position.
But Pennington also warns that how teams deal with their quarterbacks will go a long way toward whether those passers succeed or flop at the next level.
“I truly believe that our league can do a better job of developing quarterbacks as a whole,” said Pennington, a first-round pick of the Jets in 2000.
He was released after the Jets signed Brett Favre in 2008 and went on to lead the Dolphins to the AFC East title that year. “There is too much physical talent to not get more productivity. And that’s from top to bottom — starters, backups, young players, old players. We’re just very quick to throw somebody to the curb.”
The biggest priority?
“Organizations looking at quarterbacks really have to narrow down who they think best fits,” said Pennington, who was recently hired to become head coach at Lexington’s Sayre High School. “It’s not a cookie-cutter approach. It’s a personalized approach to who fits us, so that’s where you have to make the right decision. We think these guys are robots, but they’re not. [Former Dolphins coach] Tony Sparano used to say, ‘We’re not going to find the best 53, we’re going to find the right 53. You have to find the right guy at quarterback.”
That’s especially true in this year’s class, which offers a wide range of talent and skillsets. Pennington runs down the list:
• “Josh Allen [of Wyoming], you’re looking at a big, strong physical talent who has proven he can play in bad weather. Comes from a mid-major [program]. If you’re patient with him, he has a chance to be successful.”
• “Look at Sam Darnold [of USC]. He’s a guy that you love what you see on film, you love what he’s done, and you also know that he’s 20 years old. You’re completely fooling yourself if you think dumping an organization on a 20-year-old kid will work. Look at the career of [former No. 1 overall pick] Alex Smith. They tried to dump the organization on him when he was 20 years old, and that didn’t work. You put talent around him, and he can blossom.”
• “Josh Rosen [of UCLA], from a footwork and fundamentals standpoint, he has the whole package. What everyone’s trying to figure out is who he is off the field. Listening to the rhetoric around him, that’s what evaluators are trying to figure out — who he is other than his physical ability, because at the quarterback position, physical ability is only one aspect.”
• “Then you look at Baker Mayfield [of Oklahoma]. The film tells you, regardless of the physical stature, that he’s just a ballplayer. But if you draft him, you have to be specific from a scheme standpoint, because he’s 6-feet tall. You can’t ask him to do the same things in the pocket at Josh Allen, because there’s five inches difference.”
• “Lamar Jackson [of Louisville], I met him as a 10th grader in south Florida, when he attended the leadership camp that I worked in when he was at Boynton Beach High School. It’s come full circle. Lamar is another guy who you can’t argue with the physical abilities and capability that he has, and now it’s a matter of an organization being able to put those things together. Now, it’s a matter of improving his mental abilities to handle large amounts of information and then apply that and become a better passer.” One word of caution: “This league has shown that if you completely rely on your running ability, you can’t last very long. It’s just very difficult.”
There’s one other issue that comes into play when the Giants and Jets evaluate quarterback prospects: the New York factor.
“It certainly is different, and I know, because I experienced two different markets,” Pennington said of playing in the country’s biggest media market and dealing with all the attention that comes with it. “What’s important is that you have to have the proper infrastructure in the organization to help the players deal with it. You can’t just expect that once they cross the New York state line that they know how to handle those things.”
And one final piece of advice from Pennington to the incoming quarterbacks, something each passer ought to take to heart as they embark on their NFL careers.
“To me, the key to true leadership is being a guy that can bring men together,” he said. “Is he a servant leader? You have to understand how to serve your teammates, because that provides that trust and accountability to each other. As a quarterback, you have to produce and you have to serve. This isn’t all about you. It’s about the 10 other guys in the huddle, the other 52 on your team. That’s where it’s at in the world of individuality and selfishness.”