Nice Day For A Duck

January 7, 2002
Nice Day For A Duck
by Keith Weiland

No one player better improved his draft status during bowl season than Oregon’s Joey Harrington. The senior quarterback took advantage of the national spotlight to showcase his best performance of the season, propelling his Ducks to a Fiesta Bowl win. The victory also substantiated Oregon’s claim that they belonged in the National Championship game, and it likely made some Heisman voters think twice about why they chose another quarterback over Harrington last month.

Harrington compiled a stat sheet that day which read 28/42 and 350 yards passing, four touchdowns and just one interception. In the game’s aftermath, many gurus quickly put him atop the list of available quarterbacks in April’s draft. They cited his clutch play in such a big game and supported that claim with the history of his previous fourth quarter comebacks. ESPN’s Mel Kiper moved him up to number three overall on his “big board,” as he and others claimed that Harrington may even garner consideration as the draft’s top pick, much less top quarterback.

So what of college football’s September darling, David Carr? He did nothing to damage his stock in the Silicon Valley Classic. Carr put up some great numbers too, as he was 35/56 for 531 yards and four touchdowns to two interceptions. The yardage was a career high for Carr. His Bulldogs, however, failed to complete a rally as they fell to Michigan State, but just as it was in Fresno State’s two previous losses, Carr was hardly to blame for the defeat.

Bottom line is this: Just as the scouts and writers overreacted to David Carr’s impressive play in his first three games of the season, they are doing it all over again following Harrington’s complete performance in the Fiesta Bowl. After getting past all the media hype, this leaves draft fans with the question of who really is the best NFL prospect, Harrington or Carr?

Overall, Harrington reminds many, including myself, of Denver’s Brian Griese. Harrington has displayed classic quarterbacking skills combined with leadership qualities. He is equally proficient in making the crisp short passes as he is with his touch on the long post routes. The Colorado corners played nine yards off the Oregon receivers last week, and Harrington responded with quick drops and hard throws. His footwork was polished, and he possessed some unexpected velocity. Harrington, hardly a sitting duck since he’s rarely sacked, showed some maturity by not forcing any passes into double coverage, even throwing the ball away on third down. Those game management skills helped him lead his team to so many of those fourth quarter comebacks in the past.

A knock on Harrington was that his mechanics were inconsistent at times, but he is coachable, and Houston offensive coordinator Chris Palmer might do wonders with him if given the chance. Harrington has also been known to be a little goofy off the field, calling himself a dork in his team’s media guide. It is this part of his personality though that may be what allows him to handle stress the best. Harrington’s “Joey Heisman” billboard in New York City could have over-burdened him with high expectations this season. Instead, he found himself seated next to the other candidates on the day the Heisman Trophy was awarded.

Carr belonged at that Heisman Trophy presentation as well. He made extraordinary stats seem pedestrian this season, passing for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns before even reaching the postseason. The first thing people usually notice about Carr is his size: 6’3″ and over 225 pounds – which is really not any bigger or that much heavier than Harrington. After that, they likely see his unconventional release.

Carr’s arm does not come over the top; rather, he throws from about three-quarters. This negates his height to some extent. Though he had two passes batted down against Michigan State, this aspect of Carr’s game has not been completely exposed on the college level like it might be in the NFL. He also pinches the ball with his fingers, creating an odd rotation that sometimes seems to produce sinkerballs when combined with his lower release point.

These peculiar mechanics haven’t affected his arm strength though, as Carr can make a variety of throws, each of them with good accuracy. And while there’s not a single arm motion that is necessary for success at the next level, Carr’s sidearm delivery does throw up a red flag. Carr compares to Cincinnati’s Jon Kitna (albeit on one of Kitna’s more accurate passing days), though Fox Sports Net analyst James Lofton likened Carr to Oakland’s Pro Bowl quarterback, Rich Gannon.

Houston General Manager Charley Casserly sounded unfazed by this concern, as Fox Sports Net aired a sound bite from him describing Carr by saying, “He’s got a great arm. He can make all the throws.” He also added that Carr is “a mature young man who’s been a leader, and he’s carried that football team.” Casserly also told the Houston Chronicle that he feels Carr still has room to improve.

Fresno State’s offense called for Carr to roll out of the pocket on several occasions, but the Bulldogs do not run a complicated offense. Oregon’s is more sophisticated, as it requires Harrington to make multiple reads. Not a fault of Carr’s, but Harrington does come off as the more NFL-ready quarterback in that regard.

Neither quarterback is worthy of consideration with the top pick in the draft. In fact, a team that chooses either player with a pick in the top half of the first round would be reaching with that selection. Though Harrington has the edge on Carr as an NFL-ready prospect, the team that selects either one in April will find that both bring all the intangibles that scouts can’t evaluate with a tape measure or a stopwatch.

Keith Weiland literally killed his 20th century VCR taping bowl games last week. He is anxious for the day his back-ordered TiVo arrives.