Young QBs strong-arm way into limelight

Eagles' McNabb becomes the standard-bearer for new generation of passers

NFL Week 4 in review

October 01, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Donovan McNabb arrived just as the great ones were leaving. He was the second pick in the 1999 NFL draft, the same year John Elway retired after winning his second straight Super Bowl.

One year later, Dan Marino and Steve Young crossed over into their retirement sunsets, leaving the NFL bereft of marquee quarterbacks. The NFL still had Brett Favre in Green Bay and soon would add the phenomenon of Kurt Warner in St. Louis. Peyton Manning, meanwhile, had just thrown 28 interceptions in Indianapolis in his rookie season.

But successful young quarterbacks you build a team around were scarce. And that's why the quarterback class of 1999 was so important to the NFL. McNabb, who entered the league to a chorus of Philadelphia boos, would become the key figure in that draft.

Four years later, McNabb carries the banner for the next generation of quarterbacks. He led the Eagles to the NFC championship game last season and on Friday, he set the gold standard with his 12-year, $115 million contract. The highest-paid player in the NFL isn't alone, though.

Young quarterbacks are suddenly blooming all over the place. Manning, at the still-tender quarterbacking age of 26, has ascended to the elite group with the Colts. Tom Brady, 25, took the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl championship last season. Aaron Brooks, 26, a fourth-round afterthought in the 1999 draft, has the New Orleans Saints off to a 3-1 start.

Tim Couch, 25, and Daunte Culpepper, 25, have had their moments with the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, although Couch has not lived up to his first-pick status.

Still raw but very promising are Michael Vick, 22, of the Atlanta Falcons, and Drew Brees, 23, of the San Diego Chargers. Rookies David Carr, 23, of the Houston Texans and Joey Harrington, 23, of the Detroit Lions already have shown why they were the first and third picks this year.

That quickly, the NFL filled in its ranks with young hopefuls at quarterback. In fact, the proficiency of these 20-something quarterbacks is part of the reason for the increased scoring and passing in the league this season.

Getting a contract extension for McNabb last week was critical to the Eagles' long-range planning.

"Donovan is the premier player on our team and the leader of the team," Eagles president Joe Banner said at Friday's news conference. "To have him committed to being part of the franchise, for all intents and purposes, for the rest of his career is a very important moment in the history of the franchise."

At a time when mobile quarterbacks are in vogue, McNabb's elusive style has become the standard by which others are measured. Just last week, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his young, second-year quarterback, Quincy Carter, had not met the McNabb profile.

McNabb has thrown for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns in four games. He also is second on the team in rushing with 141 yards and a 6.7 average gain.

Vick may be the young quarterback most capable of reaching - or exceeding - the McNabb profile. In his first full season as the team's starter, Vick leads the NFC in passer rating (101.1) and has yet to throw an interception in 77 attempts. He leads the Falcons in rushing with 184 yards and a 7.7 average to match McNabb's threat as a runner.

Brady, meanwhile, is the most prolific passer in the league after four weeks. His leads the NFL in attempts (185) and completions (129) and ranks second to his former mentor, Drew Bledsoe of Buffalo, in passing yards with 1,326.

Brady proves you don't have to be a first-round pick, though, to be successful in the NFL. He was an obscure sixth-round selection in 2000 until taking over for the injured Bledsoe last season. Now he's in that elite group, too.

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