Perhaps the hardest thing to do in sports is play quarterback in the NFL, and several young quarterbacks are attempting to do the unthinkable and lead their teams to winning seasons.
Quarterbacks spend countless hours each week watching film in order to prepare for their upcoming opponent. They have to be able to lead the offense and constantly put up with the selfish attitudes of receivers like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. When his team wins, the quarterback is showered with too much of the praise. When they lose he receives too much of the blame. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have brilliantly displayed their talents, projecting bright futures for themselves and their respective teams.
Matt Ryan was facing a tough situation when the Atlanta Falcons drafted him; he was charged with the task of replacing Michael Vick. Vick’s now-infamous involvement in dogfighting placed a black eye on the entire Falcons franchise, and Ryan was looked at to erase it. Drafted third overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, Ryan was expected to become the face of the Falcons.
Ryan earned the starting quarterback job as a rookie, and his very first pass to open the 2008 season was a 62-yard touchdown. Evidently, someone forgot to tell him it shouldn’t be this easy for a rookie. The pass was a sign of things to come, as Ryan led the Falcons to a playoff berth and seven more wins than the previous year. He has effectively made Falcons fans exchange their No. 7 jerseys for No. 2 jerseys.
Meanwhile, just a few states north of Georgia, Joe Flacco was placed as quarterback for a team that rarely throws the ball. After transferring from the University of Pittsburgh, Flacco played two years at the University of Delaware before he declared for the NFL draft.
Impressive pre-draft workouts allowed Flacco to vault up the draft board, but many wondered whether it was merited. Could a quarterback who had not played major college football be successful in the NFL? Would he be overwhelmed by the speed of the game? The Baltimore Ravens thought so and gambled on Flacco, taking him in the first round.
Defense has always been a staple of the Ravens, but their offensive inefficiency caused them to go 5-11 in 2007. Flacco won the starting quarterback job in training camp. He was told to avoid turnovers, manage the game and allow his defense to force opponents into mistakes. The game plan worked, as the Ravens went 13-3 and were one win away from reaching the Super Bowl. With a year under his belt, the Ravens have asked Flacco to do more in 2009. He has responded by throwing five touchdowns and leading the team to a 2-0 record.
Could we talk about quarterbacks without mentioning a USC man? Mark Sanchez has been the talk of this season as he is in a big media market, leading a struggling team.
Despite his upside, he did anger USC Coach Pete Carroll when he declared for last year’s draft. Carroll thought his team had a great shot at a national championship with the quarterback, but Sanchez decided to take his talents to the NFL. He was highly coveted by both the New York Jets and Washington Redskins, but the Jets were able to swing a deal with the Cleveland Browns to move up to the No. 5 pick and select him.
Sanchez has taken New York by storm, drawing comparsions to the legendary Joe Namath. He has led the Jets to two wins and one over their biggest rival, the New England Patriots. He sent the Meadowlands crowd into a frenzy by delivering the first home win over New England since the turn of the century. His vibrant personality and enthusiasm has made him a perfect fit for New York. After just two games, Jets fans are already thinking home-field advantage in the playoffs. While that may be a stretch, it looks like the Jets have finally found their quarterback after years of searching.
It is remarkable how well these three quarterbacks have performed early in their careers. Flacco and Ryan are twenty-four years old, while Sanchez is only 22-years-old. All three possess the “it” factor — that indefinable something that makes a player special. All three will develop into the next great class of quarterbacks.