Rodgers Yes, Boller No
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 29, 2005

DRAFTING A quarterback in the first round of the NFL is a risky proposition, because so many have failed, but there are still reasons to predict that Aaron Rodgers will become a star in the NFL while his predecessor at Cal, Kyle Boller, probably never will be.

First, the main reason quarterbacks fail: They’re judged by the strength of their arms, not by their decision-making, which is the most important factor in a quarterback’s success.

Even a coach like Baltimore’s Brian Billick, who knows quarterbacks, can be overly impressed by a strong arm, which was the reason Billick drafted Boller in the first round two years ago.

Boller deserves high marks for just surviving his Cal career. Playing the first three years under an inept coaching regime, he was battered and confused. A shoulder injury caused him to miss the Big Game as a freshman and a back injury cost him two mid-season games in his junior year.

Jeff Tedford resurrected his career and taught him how to play quarterback – and also made him a lot of money. On his first three years, he probably would have either gone undrafted or been picked very low. After his productive senior year, Boller was drafted in the first round, which meant a substantial contract with a sizeable signing bonus.

The plus for Boller is that he will get good coaching at Baltimore, with Billick, a luxury in the pro game. If you trace the history of failed quarterbacks, there is often one common theme: They didn’t get good coaching.

Still, even in his senior year, Boller was not a highly accurate passer and his decisions were not always good ones. But, he does have that big arm. He can throw the ball 70 yards with ease. Question of the day: When's the last NFL game in which you saw a quarterback complete a pass that went 70 yards in the air? For me, it would be back in the heady days of the Raiders Daryle Lamonica and the Jets’ Joe Namath in the AFL of the late ‘60s.

THERE ARE recent local examples of why a strong arm is not as important as decision-making for NFL quarterbacks.

Once, I was standing on the sidelines before a 49ers game watching Jeff Garcia and Steve Stenstrom warming up. If I had not known the quarterbacks, I would have thought that Stenstrom was clearly the superior one, as he lofted pass after pass right on target. Garcia’s passes were accurate, but not with the pinpoint control that Stenstrom had. But in a game, Stenstrom could not evade the pass rush and, under pressure, often threw passes into a crowd. His NFL career was short. Garcia was a mobile quarterback, able to throw well on the run, and he set club records before he was released before last season. He’s still playing, now in Detroit.

The Raiders have an even better example in the comparison between Jeff George and Rich Gannon.

George mesmerized the scouts when he came out, and he was the very first draft pick in the 1990 draft. He could throw every kind of pass, going deep with great accuracy and throwing short-middle range passes with great touch.

Unfortunately, he was never a good quarterback because he was a poor decision-maker and no leader, by his own admission. When I asked him one time during his Raiders career if he thought he could be an effective leader, he told me point blank that he didn’t want to be one. Every successful quarterback I’ve known has been a leader. Some have been vocal, like Gannon. Some have been quiet, like Joe Montana. But they’re all leaders.

Gannon took a much different route. An excellent athlete, he was viewed more as a prospect for defensive back than quarterback when he was in the draft. He was mostly a reserve with Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City, but Raiders coach Jon Gruden thought he’d be perfect for his offense and persuaded owner Al Davis to dump George and sign Gannon.

With the Raiders, Gannon was the leader they needed, even taking them to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. His passes seldom were classic ones, but he had an unerring sense for the passing lanes and who would be open. He was more like a basketball point guard than a quarterback, dishing the ball to the open man, whether it was with an overhand throw, sidearm or even underhanded. When nobody was open, he was able to run for good yardage, often for first downs.

Last year, Gannon suffered a neck injury which has ended his career, though it hasn’t been made official yet because the Raiders want him to be able to get some money that he wouldn’t be eligible for if he retired at this time. Davis knows how important he was to the Raiders success.

RODGERS IS much more of a classic quarterback than Gannon. He doesn’t have as strong an arm as Boller, but he can throw deep and, more important, he can throw the short and middle range passes with great accuracy, which is vitally important for the version of the Bill Walsh offense that the 49ers want to run this next season. He is mobile enough to evade the rush and throw on the run, or run for yardage if the opening is there.

With Cal, he showed his off-field intelligence with the rapidity with which he picked up Tedford’s offensive scheme, and he showed his “football intelligence” on the field with good decisions.

He’s also a great leader, which the other 49er quarterbacks are not. Tim Rattay has trouble even looking directly at an interviewer, and Ken Dorsey is soft-spoken, gentlemanly. Rodgers looks his interviewers right in the eye and speaks up with great confidence. New 49ers coach Mike Nolan has said he would want a quarterback he drafts to be able to step into the starting lineup in the first game. Rodgers has the confidence and leadership qualities to do that.

So, yes, it is possible to predict success for a quarterback coming into the NFL - but you have to be looking for the right qualities.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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