It appears likely that the top two selections in the 2021 NFL Draft will be quarterbacks who will be relied on to help new coaching staffs turn struggling teams into winners.
The consensus is that Jacksonville head coach Urban Meyer will be tied to Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (likely the No. 1 pick), while New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh will be tied to BYU’s Zach Wilson.
So what does a quarterback face when joining an organization that is changing its identity?
ESPN college football analyst and NFL Live’s Dan Orlovsky said on a conference call on Tuesday that there is a lot that goes into that situation.
“It matters as much with who you are off the field as it does with who you are on the field,” Orlovsky said. “It’s important who you are in the locker room, who you are to the people within your building, who you are on the practice field and how you carry yourself, the kind of the focus that you have. You are like the CEO of a billion-dollar company. I think Russell Wilson is probably a great example of it. The expectations and being the standard-setter is going to be such a big deal for Zach.”
Orlovsky — who had a 12-year NFL career as a QB before becoming an analyst — explained that if Wilson goes to the Jets, he can’t come in proclaiming himself to be the team’s savior. He has to develop a presence.
“I was around Matthew Stafford and around Peyton Manning and those special guys have this very rare ability to they know they’re THE guy,” Orlovsky said. “Those guys know that they are the guy every single room that they walk in. But they also had the great skill of knowing that they are just a guy as well. They just want to be a guy sitting there next to the defensive backs or the defensive coaches. That’s a process to get there. That’s going to be the big challenge for Zach off the field.”
He believes that the position of quarterback in the NFL is unique because guys have to earn respect beyond what they do during games.
“I’d say that for every position outside of quarterback, respect is earned on Sundays,” Orlovsky said. “More often than not, do you show up and play? If so, guys will overlook a little bit of what happens on a Monday through Friday with you. Quarterbacking isn’t like that. You earn your respect and admiration from your teammates by what you do 24-7, 365 days a year. It’s like being the president.
“I think that’s going to be a big thing for him. He has to go there and totally prove to everybody that he’s as invested in fixing it as anyone. Then he can go let the play kind of standard for itself. But I think all of those things are as important as the play on the field.”
In talking about Lawrence’s likely situation in Jacksonville, Orlovsky said it can be tough for an organization to stay dedicated to a quarterback’s development.
“The hardest part is you can’t ask that from the player while also burdening him with winning football games,” Orlovsky said. “That’s where a lot of teams in my opinion that take young quarterbacks fail. They say, ‘I want you to develop, but you’ve got to win us games on Sundays.’ You can’t because because we all hate losing. When winning by any means necessary enters my brain, I revert back to old habits and bad habits because I’m just doing whatever it takes to win. That’s when the development gets halted.”
Every quarterback goes to the NFL with weaknesses that they have to work on and Orlovsky said Wilson is no exception.
“I have concerns about Zach Wilson,” Orlovsky said. “I think his job of playing quarterback was the easiest out of the Big Five (quarterbacks) last year. I think his team was dominant the most when it comes to their competition. I think that he wasn’t tasked with the burden of playing quarterback and the difficulty that comes with it last year, as much as the other quarterbacks or as much as what the reality of the NFL will be.”
Orlovsky affirmed, however, that if he was the decision-maker for the Jets, he would still be picking Wilson.
“I would take Zach Wilson because I think Zach, No. 1, had the most throws on tape this year that made me go, ‘Holy cow!’” Orlovsky said. “He’s got some throws where you’re like, ‘Man, you just can’t teach that.” He’s got un-coachable traits.
“He’s got that FOMO, that fear of missing out style that Patrick (Mahomes) has, that Russell (Wilson) has, where like they feel they can make any throw on the field. They’re always kind of looking for the play where they might be able to launch the ball 400 yards downfield. I think there’s a lot of intrigue in that aspect of his game and his talent.”