Watching the NFL this week, I couldn't help but notice the amount of bad football teams playing on Sundays. From the top of the league's standings through teams fighting for the inevitable good drafting spot, there are an incredible amount of bad teams competing against one another in the professional ranks.
Glancing at the NFL standings from top to bottom tells that exact story. Whole divisions of teams are decidedly mediocre except for maybe one team. Indianapolis, without Andrew Luck, is tied with a Houston team that has the world's saddest quarterback carousel for the AFC South lead. Jacksonville is somehow a game behind them in that division. Peyton Manning's arm may actually fall off, but Denver still leads the AFC West with Brock Osweiler as their quarterback. Besides the Patriots, the AFC East is a complete mess.
Playing the majority of their season without Tony Romo, Dallas is 3-7 but still very much in the hunt for the NFC East title. At one point, Atlanta was 5-0, but they're now 6-4, well behind Carolina but mixing it up with a flawed New Orleans squad and a young, raw, not-very-good Tampa Bay team. After Arizona, Seattle is 5-5, and teams like St. Louis are still very much in the playoff hunt.
The mediocrity in the NFL is caused by a severe disconnect with the college game. Teams are scoring points at record paces in the NCAA game, led by the Air Raid assault offenses of teams like Baylor, Texas Christian, and others. But when those quarterbacks get to the professional ranks, they're unprepared for the intricacies of playing at the top level.
Seven of the last 10 Heisman Trophy winners were quarterbacks who played in a spread offense. Of those seven quarterbacks, only two have started and won a playoff game. Granted, that does include the last two Heisman Trophy winners who were drafted this year, but it doesn't look like Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota will lead their respective teams to a playoff berth this year without some help from other mediocre teams.
Quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III all came out of college to immense hype but were swallowed whole by the jump to the NFL. Although some may be to blame on coaches, since this is a players' league after all, there has to be a concern that, once the older crop of QBs retire, the NFL will face a complete overhaul due to the weakened position.
The reason for this is that the college game is much more video game-ish. The best player on the field is capable of doing so much more than the others around him. An athletic quarterback is able to execute so much better than anyone else simply because he is, as baseball would say, a five-tool player. When you have a QB with elite speed, arm strength, arm accuracy, power, and agility, it's easy to have him just stand straight up and either throw the ball or run with it all over the field.
The NFL proves time and time again that elite skillsets need to be refined with elite intelligence and awareness. Tom Brady is one of the slowest quarterbacks in the league, and at 38, he's on the downside of a career where he's struggled to throw the deep ball. But he remains the league's standard bearer for quarterbacks because of his ability to make presnap reads and in-play adjustments.
More offenses can work in college than can work in the NFL. The spread, the pistol option, the triple option - all are viable options at the college game because certain types of players can outplay others based on their ability to fit the system. When the top 1% of those athletes matriculates the NFL, the ability to play in a specialized offense no longer becomes viable. You can't run triple option, after all, at the NFL defenses, which are faster, smarter, and more powerful.
The crisis of the NFL quarterback isn't going to go away any time soon. Here's a look at the list of notable QBs who are either younger or older than 30 years old:
Younger: Jameis Winston (21), Marcus Mariota (21), Teddy Bridgewater (22), Blake Bortles (23), Derek Carr (24), Andrew Luck (25), Tyrod Taylor (26), Cam Newton (26), Nick Foles (26), Russell Wilson (26), Kirk Cousins (27), Ryan Tannehill (27), Matthew Stafford (27), Sam Bradford (27), Colin Kaepernick (27), Andy Dalton (27)
30 or older: Brian Hoyer (30), Matt Ryan (30), Joe Flacco (30), Alex Smith (31), Aaron Rodgers (31), Jay Cutler (32), Ryan Fitzpatrick (32), Ben Roethlisburger (33), Philip Rivers (33), Eli Manning (34), Tony Romo (35), Carson Palmer (35), Josh McCown (36), Drew Brees (36), Tom Brady (38), Peyton Manning (39)
If you go over those lists, think about who you would want starting your team. With the exception of Carr, Luck, Newton, and Andy Dalton, would you keep any of those under 30 quarterbacks for a chance to start anyone from the 30-and-up club? Josh McCown, a career backup, signed with Cleveland at 36 to play alongside/over 22-year old former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
The point is that while we look at the NCAA game and analyze what we think might work, there are more than 1,000 ways to get to a winning record. While there's talk of spreads, options, shotguns, and pistols, there's no perfect formula at the college game. Everyone tends to look at the teams that are already on top and think of things through their lenses or at least by what they see on Sundays with the NFL. But the truth is that there is no perfect science and there is no correlation between being successful in college and doing so in the pros anymore. The college game is much more diverse, and as a result, it's hurting the NFL, even as it's arguably making the NCAA much more exciting.