In the NFL draft of 2006, Vince Young and Matt Leinhart, along with Jay Cutler, were considered the new class to take over at quarterback. All brought something different to the table. Young was a freakish athlete that some felt could potentially change the way we look at the quarterback position. Leinhart was a precise passer and leader that led USC to prominence. And as for Cutler, he was considered the guy who had the best arm talent of any of them. All three were drafted within the first twelve picks. Vince went first to the Tennessee Titans at pick number three, followed by Leinhart to the Cardinals at number eleven and then Cutler to the Broncos at number twelve. All were expected to take over these franchises and propel them to the next level. But unfortunately, things did not work out as planned.
For Vince, it looked like a perfect situation that he fell into. The man he idolized, Steve McNair, was the quarterback of the team that selected him. It was only natural that McNair would tutor Young until he was ready. Well, things did not work out as folks thought it would. McNair was locked out of the facilities and later let go from the team. Not exactly how some thought his tenure with the Titans would end. McNair ended up signing with the Baltimore Ravens and Vince sat on the bench watching behind veteran Kerry Collins until the Titans finally inserted him in almost halfway through his rookie season. But when he went in, the team immediately responded and they ended up falling one win short of making an improbable run to the playoffs. The expectations upon him rose with each performance and many could not wait to see what happened moving forward. But unfortunately, Vince was uneven the rest of his time in Tennessee. He was a winning quarterback in his career with the Titans (30-17). But for all that he won, he still never developed as a quarterback in throwing the football. Combine that with the emotional outbursts and immature moments inside and outside the locker room and that helped bring his career to a screeching halt in Nashville.
Leinhart’s star was just as bright as Young’s heading into the NFL. Playing with stars such as running back Reggie Bush in college, some thought that he was going to be able to take Arizona to a new level. The team ended up making some great things happen, even going to the Super Bowl. But they did this behind the strength of veteran signal-caller Kurt Warner. Leinhart just seemed to never be able to get consistent playing time on the field his first two seasons due to season-ending injuries. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt finally gave him his chance to win the starting job in 2008, but due to bad preseason performances, Warner would again outdo him. Leinhart would go on to be his backup until he retired in 2010. Some thought that it would again be Leinhart’s time. But he was again passed over for the starting quarterback position, this time by free-agent acquisition Derek Anderson. He was eventually released two days after the last preseason game. And there went his career in Arizona. Leinhart was never Ken Whisenhunt’s quarterback and he could never stay healthy nor perform when given the shot. As a result, the potential everyone saw was never realized as a member of the Cardinals.
Cutler was thought to be the best quarterback prospect to come to the Broncos organization since John Elway. He was a gunslinger, similar to the way Brett Farve played in his prime. But the only knock against him was could he pick and choose what keyholes to throw the ball through better. At the beginning of his career, he was the understudy to Jake Plummer until one day in November, then-coach Mike Shanahan decided it was time for Cutler to step in. Cutler started off his career as a starter with a bad streak. He threw an interception in eleven games straight. That came from his gunslinger mentality. But with that, Jay Cutler also had some very good moments. He was the first rookie to have at least two touchdown passes in his first four games. As time went on, some experts looked at Cutler to be the next great quarterback in the NFL. But the thing that plagued him was his lack of consistency. And eventually, the inconsistency he and the Broncos showed led to the firing of Shanahan and the insertion of new head coach Josh McDaniels. It was thought that Josh and Cutler would work well together because of the passing attack he created in New England as their offensive coordinator. But McDaniels, after trying to trade for then Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel, had ruffled the feathers of Cutler and he no longer wanted to be in Denver. Eventually McDaniels traded Cutler to the Chicago Bears. The Mile High enthusiasm was there for Jay, but the play was not always as high as the expectations for him.
All three of these guys were thought to be great for the quarterback position at one time, but all three did not come close to expectations. Vince Young went on to sign with the Eagles and Bills after the Titans, even getting cut by the Bills in the preseason. He just recently got another chance to compete for a job. He just signed a one-year deal to try to be the backup quarterback in Green Bay after a long layoff. Leinhart went on to play for the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders before landing in the free agent market this offseason. And it does not look promising that Leinhart will be making an NFL roster anytime soon. As for Cutler, he is still struggling to find his way in Chicago. He is still as enigmatic as ever as a quarterback. And with the offensive lines he has been behind, I cannot fault Jay as much for how inconsistent he has been. The time is growing near for him to show his worth in Chicago and this will be a big year for him. All three were thought to be stars. But all three are still trying to prove who they are and what they stand for in the NFL. Seems like everything that glitters isn’t gold. Be wary of the expectations heaped upon young players. They could be a good thing. But the expectations can also make a player crumble under the pressure.