Since Philadelphia Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles is slated to make his first career start this Sunday, and perhaps play the remainder of the 2012 season, I’ve had a few people bring up the David Carr debate as a reason not to let him play yet.
What do I mean by that? In case you didn’t know or need a memory refresher, David Carr was the No. 1 overall pick by the expansion Houston Texans in 2002. At that time, he was graded as the best quarterback in the draft and certainly worthy of the first pick.
The Texans were hoping to have the face of their new franchise. Unfortunately, he became the face of something a little more unpleasant.
Carr is in the NFL record books as being the most-sacked quarterback in a single season. He started all 16 games as a rookie and was sacked 76 times. S-e-v-e-n-t-y-s-i-x times!
That’s an average of just under five sacks per game!
In essence, he was sacked once per every six pass attempts that season. Every sixth time he went back to pass, he was dropped. And we think Vick gets sacked too much?
Needless to say, that was brutal and it’s a record that likely will never be broken. Ultimately, Carr’s career was a failure. He lasted five losing seasons in Houston before moving into journeyman status and barely catching on as a backup elsewhere.
Since then, some people will use him as an example in an argument about whether or not to play a rookie QB behind a porous offensive line. His is certainly an extreme case and well beyond the norm of what you could expect, but nonetheless the argument it spawns is how much those sacks affected him mentally.
There are those who believe that Carr’s career was ruined because he was “traumatized” by all the sacks in his rookie year (and beyond…he was sacked a total of 249 times in his first five years).
Perhaps he couldn’t succeed because his offensive line and the expansion Texans just plain stunk, not because he was mentally scarred.
That brings me to Nick Foles and the Eagles’ current situation along the offensive line. We all know the deal by now…four out of five starters are injured and their replacements aren’t up to par (I’m putting that in an extremely nice way).
The Eagles’ offensive line is horrendous. Somehow, Pro Football Focus has them ranked at 21st in the league right now, which to me, seems very generous. Regardless, this is a bad line right now.
So, would subjecting Foles to constant pressure, hits and sacks be a detriment to his career development?
I say: That’s hogwash!
Basically, if a quarterback is not mentally tough enough to handle it, he’s not going to be the guy you want behind center anyway.
We will never know if David Carr would have done any better if he had a decent offensive line protecting him. Maybe he would have gone on to be mentioned in the same breath as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Or maybe he would have still been along the lines of Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington and Matt Leinart.
The point is, we can’t redo history and give Carr a good offensive line and see how he would have done. Logically, he would have been better, but that still doesn’t mean he would have amounted to much more than he did.
What we can look for are quarterbacks that took a good amount of sacks early in their career but still managed to overcome any possible “mental trauma” and develop into a solid starting NFL quarterback.
Then, in contrast, we can look at quarterbacks who failed and see if they were possibly put behind a bad line and took a physical pounding in their rookie year.
First, we’ll look at some successful QBs and see what their rookie year or first year as a starter looked like. Secondly, we are going to use 32 as an average number of sacks a QB will take in a 16-game season. And finally, we’ll have to only consider QBs who started at least a handful of games as a rookie.
Troy Aikman is the first example that comes to mind when thinking of a young QB who took a beating, mostly because I can remember feelings of joy when watching it. In his first 38 starts, Aikman was sacked 90 times. And that included a game in 1991 where the Eagles’ Gang Green defense dropped him 11 times (ah, memories!).
In his first full season as a starter, Tom Brady was sacked 41 times total, which equated to once every 10 pass attempts. Ben Roethlisberger has had the crap sacked out of him over the course of his entire career, including 30 in 13 games his rookie year.
Hell, even our very own Michael Vick was sacked 54 times in his first 23 games (only 17 of which were starts).
Keep in mind that these numbers are just sacks and don’t include hits and pressures, which certainly will play just as large of a part in the mental aspect of quarterbacking that we’re discussing.
Here’s a look at a some QBs who didn’t fair so well…
Joey Harrington was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft and he was only sacked eight times in his first 14 games and only took 17 sacks in his first 30 games. Therefore, he surely can’t make a case that getting sacked too often had anything to do with his failure.
Tim Couch, the No. 1 pick in the same draft as Donovan McNabb, was sacked 56 times in 15 games his rookie season. That’s not as bad as Carr, but it’s close! In fact, Couch was sacked over 50 times in two of his first three seasons.
However, he persevered through to his fourth season where he finally posted a winning record as a starting QB, so it’s hard to say that the abnormal amount of sacks he took in his rookie year is what ultimately led to career failure.
Heath Shuler was another high first-round pick and was only sacked 25 times in his first 18 games. He was out of the league after four years.
Now, let’s look at somewhat of an odd case in Alex Smith. He was deemed a failure for his first five years in the league. He bounced from being a starter to a backup and back to being a starter again.
He took a large number of sacks in his rookie year, 29 in seven starts, so that’s well above the average. However, did that derail his career? He’s not exactly a great player, but he’s efficient and almost took his team to the Super Bowl last year.
We could go on and on here with examples. Ultimately, there is nothing that we can conclusively point to that says subjecting a rookie QB to a bad offensive line will give them a case of shell-shock of which they’ll never recover.
It’s all about the individual player and how mentally tough he is. If Foles starts these last seven games, gets sacked 30 times and develops an incurable case of “happy feet”, then he’s not the guy we want leading this team in the future.
Good quarterbacks can take the heat and keep on moving forward without letting it get to them. Weak quarterbacks fold under the pressure.
Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t many quarterbacks who will carve out a good career without at least an adequate offensive line. At the same time, a good quarterback will make an offensive line look better than they are.
What I’m trying to say is that, don’t worry about traumatizing Nick Foles by putting him in there behind this line. If he has the right mental fortitude, it will not impact his career.
He’ll succeed or fail based on a combination of factors including his skill level, the skill level around him, his attitude and the system in which he plays. He will not fail solely because he got sacked a lot as a rookie.
That’s just hogwash.