Monday, June 21, 2010

Webb Gem?

"You're a goddamn quarterback! You know what that means? It's the top spot, kid. It's the guy who takes the fall. It's the guy everybody's looking at first - the leader of a team - who will support you when they understand you. Who will break their ribs and their noses and their necks for you, because they believe. 'Cause you make them believe. That's a quarterback." - Al Pacino (as Tony D'Amato), Any Given Sunday

OK, so maybe the conversation between Brad Childress and rookie 6th rounder Joe Webb wasn't quite that colorful. However, the 199th pick in April's draft was so impressive throwing the ball at last month's rookie minicamp that Childress was prompted to award him the third red quarterback jersey. This effectively ended Webb's brief career as a converted NFL wide receiver, returning him to his natural position where he starred at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Meanwhile, Sage Rosenfels, who just sixteen moths ago was acquired to become the Vikings' starter, has been unofficially demoted to fourth string. His exit from the team now looks inevitable. In related news, somebody kicked his dog and stole his lunch money. Webb, on the other hand, appears poised to assume the real-life Steamin' Willie Beamen role, as a raw, ultra-athletic 3rd string quarterback waiting in the shadows of an aging legend.

Webb is a bit of a mystery. He's probably better known for his viral YouTube jumping spectacle than he is for his prolific career at UAB, where he became the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in back to back seasons. UAB coach Neil Callaway, who also coached Bo Jackson at Auburn, said that Webb is "in the same league" as Jackson from a physical standpoint. However, despite his freakish athleticism and strong arm, Webb's below average accuracy, shaky mechanics, and questionable decision making had scouts projecting him as a marginal pro quarterback prospect. So Webb split out to play receiver at the Senior Bowl, where he figured to best capitalize on said athleticism. A man without a position, the 6'4", 220 pound Conference USA Player of the Year was one of the more notable Draft Combine snubs.

Undeterred, Webb attacked his UAB Pro Day, and further cemented his status as one of the premier athletes in the entire draft. His 42.5" vertical jump, 11'5" broad jump, 3.91 second 20-yard shuttle, and 21 bench reps all would have ranked first among combine receivers. His 4.43 40 time would have put him fifth among receivers and first among quarterbacks. What makes these numbers even more remarkable is that Webb carried a larger frame, wingspan, and hand size than all Combine receivers. While he clearly lacked polish as a receiving prospect, his raw size-speed measurables compared favorably to the likes of Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall, and even rivaled Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. His ridiculous broad jump score, which is a measure of explosion, was nearly a foot longer than Adrian Peterson's. Had he been invited to the Combine, he surely would have garnered similar hype to Maryland's Offensive Tackle and workout warrior Bruce Campbell.

Trying to project the uniquely talented Webb's future in the league is impossible at this point. The consensus seems to be that, if used creatively, he could be a lethal Wildcat weapon, but not an every down signal caller. In the coming months you'll see names like Kordell Stewart, Josh Cribbs, Brad Smith, and Tim Tebow. For now, Vikings fans can only dream about a future backfield featuring Webb, Adrian Peterson, and Percy Harvin causing nightmares for defensive coordinators. Most likely, that dream will never come to fruition. I'm not buying Sid Hartman's "Quarterback of the Future" speculation. Webb simply lacks the quarterback-specific traits needed to succeed at the next level. But he is another tool for Darrell Bevell to utilize, and for a 6th round draft pick, this is shaping up to be something special. There is no doubt that Webb is a lottery athlete, and for the first time in years, preseason games will be worth watching well into the second half. Whether he can make a meaningful contribution in the regular season will be widely debated, but keep in mind that on any given Sunday, the #199 pick could make a difference. Just ask Tom Brady.

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