Matt Leinart: Honorable Mention (NFL)

WOULD YOU WANT THIS GUY AS THE FACE OF YOUR BILLION-DOLLAR FRANCHISE? 

Matt Leinart knew enough not to strain his throwing arm when lifting the beer bong,  but he didn’t have the common sense to ban phones before getting drunk.

Synopsis: Matt Leinart was selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the 10th overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft. Many experts projected that he would have been the #1 pick had he chosen to enter the draft after winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior, but he decided to stay at USC for his final year. Leinart’s senior stats were impressive, but he was overshadowed by the spectacular running of teammate Reggie Bush and ultimately dropped in the draft relative to initial projections. With an 8-10 record as a starter, Leinart threw for over 4,000 yards with 15 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in his NFL career. While his on-field performance wasn’t as bad as you might remember, his well-documented off-field activities probably changed your impression of him. Hey Johnny Football, are you listening?  


MATT LEINART: HONORABLE MENTION

As a junior in 2004, Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy, the Manning Award, and the AP Player of the Year award while leading the USC Trojans to the second of two consecutive National Championships. For whatever reason (whether to continue to develop as a quarterback, to try to become the most decorated college football player in history, or to enjoy one more year as the Big Man on Campus), Leinart decided to delay his professional career and remain in college for another year. USC didn’t three-peat as national champions (losing in the championship game to Texas on a last-minute touchdown by Vince Young) and Leinart didn’t repeat as the Heisman winner (losing out to teammate Reggie Bush) so the storybook ending to his college career didn’t happen. Nevertheless, he still had strong numbers as a senior that warranted him being selected as the 10th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

As the following table summarizes, Leinart was productive throughout his USC career.

MATT LEINART –  COLLEGE STATS

Year

Record* Comp Att Yards TD INT Rating

Recognition

2003

12-1 255 402 3,556 38 9 164.5 6th in Heisman voting
2004 13-1 269 412 3,322 33 6 156.5

Won Heisman Trophy / Won Manning Award / Won AP Player of Year

2005

12-1 283 431 3,815 28 8 157.7

3rd in Heisman voting / Won Unitas Trophy

* Doesn’t reflect vacated wins due to Reggie Bush’s retroactive disqualification in 2011

 

Leinart’s stats were surprisingly consistent, especially considering that the reduction in his touchdown passes was made up for by an increase in rushing touchdowns by Reggie Bush. Specifically, Bush rushed for three TDs in 2006, six TDs in 2004, and sixteen TDs in 2005. In essence, Bush became a focal point of USC’s offense and his increased production offset the need for touchdowns from Leinart. Regardless, Leinart was a proven winner and one of the most accomplished college football players in history.

Despite his college success, Leinart underachieved as a professional, especially when compared to the other high profile quarterbacks drafted in 2005 (when Leinart was expected to go #1) and 2006 (when Leinart was drafted #10).

 

NFL CAREER STATS – MATT LEINART AND OTHER NOTABLE QUARTERBACKS FROM 2005 AND 2006 DRAFTS
Player Draft (Pick) Weighted Avg Value (WAV) Record Yards TD INT

Passer Rating

Matt Leinart

2006 (#10) 12 8-10 4,065 15 21

70.4

Alex Smith

2005 (#1) 47 51-42-1 18,484 111 73 81.6
Aaron Rodgers 2005 (#24) 88 61-31 25,352 200 53

105.4

Jay Cutler

2006 (#11) 68 56-48 24,286 157 114 84.6
Vince Young 2006 (#3) 33 31-19 8,964 46 51

74.4

Rushing stats:  Leinart (89 yards, 2 touchdowns); Smith (1,295 yards, 5 touchdowns); Rodgers (1,598 yards, 18 touchdowns); Cutler (1,234 yards, 6 touchdowns); and Young (1,459 yards, 12 touchdowns).

 

Arizona’s selection of Leinart’s excited Cardinals head coach Dennis Green enough to call the player a “gift from heaven.” Due in large part to expecting more than 10th pick money, Leinart remained the final 1st round holdout so Green quickly lost patience with his heavenly gift. Kurt Warner, Leinart’s main competition for the starting QB spot, even acknowledged, “Everybody knows that the more days you miss, the more games you miss, the farther and farther you fall behind and the harder it is to catch up.”

Given that Warner was five years removed from his last playoff appearance and had a dismal 2-8 record with the Cardinals in 2005, Leinart was poised to be the opening-day starter in 2006. However, due to his holdout, Leinart wasn’t named the starter until the Cardinals’ began the season with a 1-3 record. Even though Leinart had two touchdown passes and 14-0 leads in the opening quarters of his first two starts, the team faltered and lost both games. In the first game, Leinart was 22-35 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and one interception but the Cardinals lost 23-20 to the Chiefs. In the second game, Leinart was 24-42 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions but the Cardinals lost 24-23 to the Bears. Adding to the frustration, Bears’ QB Rex Grossman finished the game 14-37 for 144 yards with zero touchdowns, four interceptions, and two lost fumbles. Needless to say, Dennis Green was very upset in the post-game press conference.  His rant truly was a gift from heaven.

“THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE”
Greenrant

Remember this?

After starting his career with an 0-5 record, Leinart went 4-2 in his next 6 starts before getting injured in the penultimate game of 2006.  Despite the strong finish to the season, the Cardinals fired Dennis Green after the team’s second consecutive 5-11 record. Presumably, Leinart showed enough promise to be named the starter by new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. However, after two lackluster games by Leinart to begin the 2007 season, Whisenhunt changed his mind and began employing a two-quarterback offense with split duties between Leinart and Warner. The experiment was short-lived because Leinart suffered a season-ending collarbone injury during the fifth game of the year.

As a starter in 15 out of a possible 21 games to begin his career, Leinart wasn’t good, but he wasn’t bad either. At the time of the injury, no one probably thought that Leinart only would start another two games throughout the rest of his career. Then again, no one probably thought that Warner would resuscitate his career and lead the Cardinals to a near-victory against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. It’s hard to disagree with Whisenhunt’s decision given Warner’s success, but the team didn’t have a succession plan in place for when Warner retired.

Leinart certainly didn’t help portray the image of a franchise quarterback when photos were released on the internet showing that he still enjoyed being party boy. Once the photos appeared after the 2007-08 season, Whistenhunt claimed that he was disappointed but still had confidence in Leinart as the leader of the Cardinals (the same team that used to have Pat Tillman on it). He also reaffirmed that Leinart would be his starting quarterback for the 2008-09 season. Despite these claims, Leinart didn’t start one game that year, and he wasn’t injured. I can hear Arsenio (the relevant one from the early 90s, not the recent one) saying with a finger to his brow, “Things that make you go Hmm.”

Since Leinart has made decisions which open up his personal life to the public, I would be remiss not to mention that he has a son with a former girlfriend who played basketball for USC. On its own, the story isn’t necessarily newsworthy until you know that Leinart’s baby mama also has a son with Blake Griffin. In both cases, the fathers split with the mother before their children were born. How soon before those genetic lottery winners are recruited and given scholarships to USC?

Matt Leinart – Blake Griffin
Brynn-Cameron-Blake-Griffin-Baby-Mama Matt Leinart

Who’ll provide the better genes – the two on the left or the two on the right?  Based on professional careers, Griffin’s kid will have the edge. Regardless, both kids will be professional athletes someday.

Let’s see if Leinart should qualify as a Top 10 Bust.

  • Was he drafted as a top 10 overall pick? Check.
  • Was he a bona fide superstar coming out of college? Check.
  • Was he unproductive as a professional?  Check.
  • Was he able to avoid one or more injuries that drastically shortened or ended his career? Leinart suffered a season-ending but not career-ending injury. Check.
  • As a final test, was he given a fair shot to compete? While others may disagree, I don’t think so.

With a little over a full season of games, Leinart’s threw for over 4,000 yards and had an efficiency rating of 70.4. In addition, his teams had an 8-10 record with him as a starter. Leinart certainly didn’t live up to expectations, but he arguably could have been successful with another team (and the Raiders don’t count). While deserving of the Rich Campbell Exemption, Leinart’s personal foibles earned him an Honorable Mention.

MATT LEINART: HONORABLE MENTION
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