“He’s on his way. I’m not gonna jinx him and say he’s arrived, but he can play effectively at this level,” Gonzalez said after Thigpen staked the Chiefs to a 24-3 lead before falling 30-27 in overtime Sunday to Tampa Bay.
“He’s surprising everybody. He keeps playing like that, who knows?” Gonzalez said. “If he’s doing this well in just his third start, let’s see how he does down the road when he’s had even more experience and gets really comfortable. We’ll see how far he takes it.”
Can it eventually work out for Thigpen and give him a long-term future with the Chiefs? The odds are against it, especially if Kansas City takes the opportunity to draft the kind of impact quarterback likely to be available with an early pick in the spring.
“The more he plays, the more we’re going to find out,” coach Herm Edwards said last week. “But let’s not anoint him yet. Let’s not put so much pressure on this poor guy.
There’s more, so read the whole thing.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and say: yes, Thigpen is Kansas City’s starting QB for the next decade, as long as he stays healthy.
Here’s my reasoning:
1) He is amazingly accurate. On one toss to Gonzalez, he put the ball right between two defenders, right into Tony’s hands. It was truly a perfect toss. It had enough velocity to prevent either defender from getting an INT, but not so hard that Gonzalez had any problems holding it. He doesn’t always throw with perfect accuracy — no one can — but he throws with good enough accuracy enough times, and occasionally hits these perfect moments. Coaching and experience are only going to increase those.
2) He already knows how to lead his receivers well enough to give them a chance to run after the catch. We have more yards after catches than I can remember in recent memory. It seemed like going back maybe as far as Bono, our WRs were often taking big hits, rarely getting the runs after the catch. Green and Grbac were especially bad about setting up their receiver to take a big hit. Huard was better, but his best skill was just putting the ball high so that only Bowe or Gonzalez could sky up and come down with it. But that still made receivers occasionally take a big shot. Thigpen hasn’t done that, from what I can tell. Heck, for as much as I liked Brodie Croyle, his quick sideline toss to the Bowe at the line of scrimmage was often high, which meant Bowe had to jump/stretch up, grasp the ball, come down with it, and then finally start running…the delay for having to reach up often took away at least 3-4 yards, if not more. I’ve only seen that once from Thigpen that I remember.
3) I already mentioned the velocity in conjunction with accuracy in #1, but I want to mention it separately. When needed, Thigpen can throw the ball on a frozen rope. He throws it with distance/speed/flatness as well as any QB I’ve seen, including Cutler, Elway, Favre, or Marino. When the ball needs to get there, it does. He’s shown it on two passes to Bradley already, the long pass this past game, and the TD pass to Bradley against the Jets. And on the pass to the endzone that TonyG dropped against the Bucs: Thigpen was scrambling, about to get hit by the defender, falling backwards, of his back foot, and just sort of flipped it out there…and it still traveled about 25 yards, right to Gonzalez, impossible to be intercepted, and TonyG just dropped it after it hit him in the hands. And yet: Thigpen has never thrown so hard it caromed off of a receivers shoulder pads. He doesn’t make it difficult for the WR to catch it like Elway and Favre sometimes did. He throws an extremely catchable ball, from what I can tell.
4) He’s durable. He’s taken some big hits in the pocket, and only once got up slowly…then shrugged it off and kept doing fine.
5) He’s mobile enough to avoid sacks and buy time to get a big completion, or run it for a first down.
6) He’s making good decisions with the ball, and that will only improve with experience.
He’s already good enough to take a team with a suspect/inexperience O-line, lacking his pro-bowl RB, and an inconsistent, cobbled-together WR corps and led us to 14 1st quarter points, and 24 first half points against one of the NFL’s top defenses. He still has weaknesses, but none in his physical gifts, and all in areas that will improve with coaching and/or experience.
I don’t know what his peak is. He may never be a Pro-Bowl QB. He may not have the ability to engineer a 4th-quarter comeback. He may not be able to control nerves in playoffs…or if he can win in the playoffs, he may not be able to do so in a Super Bowl (not saying that we’ll make it there, I’m just saying that we can’t know if he will someday encounter a limit that means he should be replaced). But he’s already good enough to be considered a good starter.
Please name me another QB we could draft that would be guaranteed to perform as good or better in his 2nd and 3rd start as Thigpen did against the Jets and the Bucs? Heck, it’s hard to find even a great QB who progressed this rapidly. (Again: I’m not saying Thigpen will be great; he might have just rapidly maxed out his abilities at just mediocre with 2 good games).
There’s just no reason to use a 1st-3rd round pick on a QB coming out of college this year, because there is no one that we know can outperform what Thigpen is already doing, and that pick would be far better spent on improving our O-line, our LB corps, bolstering our CB squad, and maybe even looking for help on the D-line, or RBs, or WR…