If you look over the list of total busts at QB from high picks, there are as many reasons as there are bad picks to explain each one.
So what happened to Matt Leinart in Arizona?
First, I was not a big Leinart fan coming out of USC. While he won the Heisman, I didn’t like the high percentage of checkdown passes he threw. In his defense, he was throwing to the highly talented (and as we found out later well paid) Reggie Bush out of the backfield. Leinart would throw a 5 yard pass that Bush would run for another 60 yards and a TD.
And it was seldom the case that Leinart was forced to throw the check because he was pressured. USC was nearly always the vastly more talented team. The average opponent may have had 1 or 2 players that could have made the USC team. He was able to take all the time he wanted in most games to wait for a receiver to get open.
Leinart was “college accurate not NFL accurate.” In college, his receivers had a 2 or 3 yard cushion to the nearest defender. Leinart was able to get the ball in that size window. That is college accuracy. However, in the NFL, the usual window is half a body or half a step. Even the great WRs are not able to get much more than that in the NFL. He struggled to fit the ball in such a small window. That led to interceptions and his 70.8 passer rating.
A third problem was that Leinart was never able to anticipate a WR getting NFL open. He was used to seeing his targets romping through the backfield of the opponent and had his choice of opportunities. In the NFL, a QB has to anticipate a WR breaking open and throw the ball BEFORE he sees it. Because of the speed and talent of the NFL DBs, by the time a QB sees a guy open, it is too late to get the ball there before the passing window slams shut.
In Arizona, the great strength is the WR position. The Cardinal O has never been consistent enough to only get 3 or 4 yards a play. The Cards need to get yards in chunks. Leinart was throwing to RBs rather than WRs Fitzgerald, Breaston and until this preseason Bolden.
But the ultimate reason that he was released is his attitude. In interviews, he indicated he was entitled to the starting job. Matt, that isn’t the way things work in the NFL. He had been handed the job twice before and was unable to win. Even the mentoring of future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner didn’t improve the ability to read D coverage or fix the list of things above. Leinart lost the locker room. They didn’t believe in him. Worse yet, they didn’t trust him. I have not heard a single Cardinal player speak up and say Leinart should have been the starter. My experience coaching has been once a player or coach loses the confidence of the locker room, it is almost impossible to win it back.
A wise man once said “if you think you’re a leader but no one is following you, you are just out for a long lonely walk.” We will see if his former HC at USC Carroll picks him up. When the Cards called to offer Leinart in a trade, Carroll refused to even consider it. Leinart can play for the NFL minimum because he has gotten his guaranteed money in the contract from the Cards. If the Seahawks don’t pick up off the trash heap, it will tell us all we need to know about the player.
Leinart was signed by the Texans as their 3rd QB Sunday.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on
and edits .