The Tale of the Tape: Matt Leinart vs. Tarvaris Jackson

On draft night back in 2006, former USC quarterback Matt Leinart was being considered for the top spot among signal callers.  The discussion about overall top pick centered squarely on North Carolina State’s standout defensive end Mario Williams and Leinart’s teammate Reggie Bush.  The Texans selected a perennial Pro Bowler in Mario Williams and the Saints captured a Super Bowl title this season with Bush in the fold.  Leinart, as general managers would have it, was not the first quarterback selected…and he sat longer than many pundits imagined.

Top of the Draft

Vince Young was the first passer taken in the 2006 draft.  Given his post-season team and individual success, as well as last season’s 7-game winning streak, Young has been the most productive quarterback in a class that also includes Chicago’s Jay Cutler.  Taken with the 11th overall pick out of Vanderbilt, Cutler passed for over 4500 yards (18th all-time), but managed only 25 touchdowns against 18 interceptions in his best season with the Denver Broncos.  In his debut season in Chicago, sans Brandon Marshall and Mike Shanahan’s running game, Cutler disintegrated into a guy in need of a pep talk from the most assailed man in Philadelphia.

“If You Want to Crown Them…”

Matt Leinart was selected 10th by the Arizona Cardinals and passing game guru Dennis Green.  Green’s reputation as a sure fire genius in the art of quarterbacking was cemented long before he drafter Leinart and before he restored Kurt Warner to a semblance of his former self.  Dennis Green was Daunte Culpepper’s first coach, and he was Randall Cunningham’s best coach.   Amid all these story book seasons, there are two losses that have defined Green’s career: a heart-breaking loss to the Falcons in the 1998 NFC championship game; and Leinart’s desert debacle against the Chicago Bears in 2006.  “The Bears are who we thought they were…that’s why we took the field!”

Green’s former team, the Vikings, selected Tarvaris Jackson in the 2nd round of the draft.  Jackson has had an uneven career and has appeared in only 33 games.  In and around Minnesota, he is largely considered to be a bust who is incapable of reading defenses or of making big plays.  After watching him play several games on tape (including vs. the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals in 2009), I’ve come to different conclusions.  And so have a few others.

Sage Advice

Prior to the Vikings pursuit of Brett Favre, Jackson was eyeing a competition with former Texans QB Sage Rosenfels to lead a team that featured Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shincoe.  Jackson didn’t get to compete with Rosenfels; instead, he took a back seat to a savvy veteran with enough skill to beat the Bengals just by changing the snap count.  Favre has never been a gracious teacher of understudies (Exhibit A: Aaron Rodgers), but he does provide a body of work to review.

Entering the 2010 season, Leinart is poised to take over for the retired Kurt Warner (but this is subject to change) and Jackson is slated to remain as the #2 man in Minnesota behind Brett Favre, who just underwent surgery to repair an ankle crumpled by Saints in the NFC Championship game.

I wanted to look at Leinart and Jackson because their respective careers, short and uneven, offer many interesting opportunities for comparison.

Let’s go to the tape.

Career Totals.

PC — PA — Comp Pct. — Yards — TDs  — INTs — Rating — Yards Per Attempt — Adj. YPA — Rushes — RYDS — Yards Per Carry — Rushing TDs

Matt Leinart:  340    595    57.1%    3893    14    20    70.8    6.54    5.50    46    90    1.96    2

Tarvaris Jackson: 320    545    58.7%    3643    21    18    77.9    6.68    5.97    113    474    4.19    4

A few quick and dirty highlights.  Leinart passed for over 400 vs. the Vikings in a 31-26 loss back in 2006.  He’s never thrown more than 2 touchdowns in a game, and has a 7-10 record as a starter.  Leinart’s highest rated game (against the Detroit Lions in ’06) was an unspectacular effort in which he threw for 233 yards and a touchdown.  Leinart started a game this season, at the Titans, in the place of Kurt Warner (concussion).  The game was punctuated by a 99-yard game winning touchdown drive by Vince Young.

Jackson has a higher completion percentage, passer rating, yards per pass, yards per attempt, rushes and rushes per attempt.   He also has a signature game against the Arizona Cardinals.  In 2008, when the Cardinals were en route to representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, Jackson led the Vikings to a surprising victory.  Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the win was Jackson’s sterling four passing touchdown performance on the road.  That game has proven to be quite an anomaly.  Jackson’s career high in passing yardage is 249 yards.  On the down side, in 2007, he had a four interception nightmare against the Lions.

What Does It All Mean?

Not much.

The Cardinals are not thrilled with Leinart.  The Vikings are waiting for Favre.  2011: Lock out, retirement or bust.


  1. If we are now making comparisons of Matt to Tavaris then it’s looking like this will be Matt’s last year in Arizonza. They are not gonna want to pay him 10 million next year if he is not performing.


  2. If Leinart had Jackson’s arm strength or his wheels, I’d be more convinced. They both need to work on game management. Leinart has had the benefit of a high octane offense led by professional receivers, but he spent too much time partying. Jackson, at the end of the day, probably spent too much time brooding. The guy who learns the lesson fastest will probably emerge. Since Childress seems to like Jackson more than Whisenhunt likes Leinart, I think the writing is also on the wall.

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