Tyler Thigpen: QBOTF? Or Flash In the Pan?

Thigpen had a great game Sunday:

25/36 280 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 fumbles (despite the O-line allowing 4 quick sacks), and added 20 yards on 4 carries.

Here are the reasons Tyler Thigpen could be for real:

1) He was drafted on potential due to measurables and size; however, he was the first QB to ever play for Coastal Carolina as they iniatiated a football program.  Clearly, he doesn’t have big-time college experience.

2) He showed enough that despite already having 3 experience QBs who still had “solid starter” potential, Minnesota felt he was worth keeping.  Unfortunately (for them), they hadn’t decided which of the QBs should start and which should be the #2, so as the QB with the least potential to play at all in 2007 (Thigpen’s rookie year), the Vikings tried to minimize his playing time and tried to sneak him onto the practice squad.  The Chiefs snatched him onto the active 53-man roster.

3) In his very first series in the NFL, he drove the Chiefs to the opponents’ goal line.  He then threw an INT, which, although obviously not what you want, was as well- and intelligently-thrown as many other INTs thrown by HoF and/or Super Bowl-winning QBs.   What I mean is, it wasn’t badly- or stupidly-thrown, it was just a great play by a very good CB.

4) Despite only 2 starts and extensive playing time in only one other game (against the Raiders), Thigpen has more than double the TDs (4) than all other Chiefs QBs combined (2).  Sure, that’s not saying much, but clearly he can move the ball with the Chiefs.

5) He started extremely slow against the Raiders, missing on 90% of his first 12 or so passes.  He then played decently from that point on…unfortunately, his bad play early contributed to being so far behind that his good play was immaterial.

6) He then started extremely slow against the Falcons, missing on 90% of his first 12 or so passes.  He then played decently from that point on…unfortunately, his bad play early contributed to being so far behind that his good play was immaterial.

7) Against the Jets, however, he apparently learned how to settle down.  Instead of starting slow, he started hot.  He completed 100% of his first 11 passes or so.  He ended up connecting on 69% of his passes.  With such a strong outing, he is now at exactly 50% completions, and is even in his TD:INT ratio.  That is very good for a 2nd year player as raw as he was coming out of college.  If there is a problem it’s that he is still just over 5 yds/completion.  That’s extremely poor for an NFL QB.  He needs to get it above 6 yds/completion, and above 7 is pro-bowl level.

8) He made some great throws against the Jets.  He showed power and zip, and yet no balls were thrown so hard as to carom off of WR’s hands.  He showed touch a few times, led WRs perfectly a few times, put the ball where only the WR could get it several times.  He showed great accuracy…none of his misses were extremely wild, if I recall correctly.  If he has a problem, it was that quite a few of his early passes seemed to be a little bit high…but then, none were so high that the WR had to lay out and take a huge hit for the completion.  And Thigpen did a better job of consistently helping his WRs have yards-after-catch than I’ve seen from a Chiefs QB in a long time.

9) It is common to see this sort of performance from a backup who comes in early in a game.  Why?  Because the opposing team game-planned for the starter, and when someone with different skills, abilities, and tendencies comes in, it throws defenses off.  Many teams have wasted years trying to get repeat performances out of a backup who had a spectacular game in relief of an injured starter.  But the backups usually come back to earth when it is known they will start, when an opposing team can gameplan for their inexperience.  The Jets coach, Mangini, is a defensive coach.  They should have been ready for Thigpen, and they should have tried to confuse him with blitzes and different looks.  You know what?  I think they did.  That alone says more good things about Thigpen’s potential ability to be solid starter than anything else I could have said here, and did say here.

He may regress, of course.  Another team may look at film and find new ways to discombobulate him.  This may be the only good game of his entire career, a perfect storm of good playcalling and performance.  I don’t think so, however, because he had already shown these flashes several times, but had been unable to do it for more than a quarter or two, or for more than a few series in a row.

He’ll have bad games.  John Elway, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Dan Marino all had bad games.  Not that Thigpen currently shows any signs of approaching future HoF ability.  But if the greats can have bad games, then so can the average, and so can the inexperienced.  Heck, for as good as Thigpen played, he still had a handful of 3-and-out series.

I think he’s earned the right to play out the rest of the season, barring injury.  If he keeps playing well, if he gets his completion percentage up near 60%, his yds/completion up above 6.0, and his TD:INT ratio ends up remaining better than 1:1, I think he’s earned the right to be the starter next year and beyond. 

He looks quite a bit like a young (and stronger-armed) Rich Gannon out there, just better than Gannon was when he was that young.  I can’t think of another mobile and/or running QB that Thigpen reminds me of.  If you can think of one, point him out…maybe Thigpen is going to establish his own style?  If not Gannon, then maybe…Elway?

If our O-line improves, if our WRs gel, if our running game improves, if our defense solidifies, if we get better LBs and our D-line improves with experience: the performance Thigpen gave on the 26th is indicative of a QB who can win the Super Bowl.

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