There has been a lot of chatter after this week’s loss to the ‘49ers about how Tarvaris Jackson does not have the awareness or ability to be an NFL QB. My gut instinct is that much of the response is reactionary to an emotionally draining loss in 1) a game we should have lost based on everything we knew about the teams before it started, 2) a game we had every chance in the world to win, and 3) a game that we gave away in every dimension; coaching, offense, defense, and special teams all failed to live up to our standards. Nonetheless, the reality is that Jackson also did not do enough to win the game; with just over 2 minutes left, Tarvaris was given the ball and the hopes and dreams of the 12s for the chance at another playoff miracle, and he failed to deliver. Twice.
We all know the two critical mistakes in the final 2 minutes: 1) not protecting the ball adequately on his 3rd and 3 scramble from a collapsing pocket, and 2) a bad throw vs throwaway in the direction of a wide open Zach Miller on 4th down with 13 seconds to go. He was not good enough to make up for unacceptable mistakes that occurred in the rest of the Hawks performance, or in his own performance earlier in the game. In the end though, it was just about the performance you'd expect from a slightly below average QB against the league's best scoring defense (points allowed).
Jackson’s weaknesses (attributed by us) have been covered in quite extensive detail by most of the regular contributors here at Fieldgulls (kudos for supplying me with my legal crack substitute), and many of us 12s have also had our say. I won’t go into detail on these limitations other to list them here, because we all have our own views of the severity of each facet of the game, his improvement/progression or lack thereof over the course of the season, and the potential for a QB to improve upon them with experience: pocket awareness, ball protection in the pocket and especially while scrambling (8 fumbles on the year seems low to me given how that ball just swings in the breeze when he is chased out of the pocket), receiver progression, open receiver identification, throwing from the back foot, and the oft-noted jump pass (which is in my opinion the last thing to worry about).
I’ve also heard bandied about the idea that Tarvaris Jackson has had ample opportunity to prove himself already, and he has failed to show any progression. There are certainly arguments for and against the limitations he has faced this season that may have retarded his progression regarding new teammates, bad OL to start the season, injuries on the OL in midseason, torn pectoralis, and significant inconsistency in health and performance at WR. Maybe at this point in the season, he should have overcome such challenges as his pec continues to improve, WRs have stepped up, and the OL has been improving as evidenced by the run game. As I have been digesting all these thoughts since the loss, I started to wonder "is it time to give up on Tarvaris Jackson as an NFL QB?" and decided to dig a little deeper into his past…Tarvaris Jackson attempted 48 passes at Arkansas over the first two years of his college career before transferring to Alabama State, an FCS school. In three years at Alabama State as the starter, he posted completion percentages of 52%, 52%, and 61%, passing yards of 1984, 2562, and 2655, and a career TD/INT ratio of 63/23. He also rushed for over 200 yards each year and had a minimum of 3 RuTD/year.
Jackson was subsequently drafted with the 64th pick (last pick of the second round) by the Minnesota Vikings, who used two third-round picks to move up and make the selection. Notably, after the draft, Brad Childress said about Jackson’s college experience at Alabama State: "You're talking about a guy that never had a coach there as a quarterback coach." Not the best sentence structure from Coach Childress, but you get the point – Tarvaris Jackson was a very raw prospect.
In 2006, Jackson sat on the bench as a rookie behind Brad Johnson, but actually was chanted for by the home crowd near the end of the season due to Johnson’s poor play. He started the last two games of the season, two losses, to Green Bay and St. Louis (both teams finishing the season at 8-8). He attempted 81 passes as a rookie, completing 47 for 2 TD, but 4 INT.
In 2007, Jackson started 12 games and went 8-4 in Adrian Peterson’s rookie year, but the passing game was limited by a quite bad receiving corps, with Bobby Wade leading the team with 647 yards and Sidney Rice in a decent but limited rookie season, 31 receptions for 396 yards (one might argue that Wade was limited by TJax's play, but it ended up being Wade's most productive season in his short career). Backup QBs Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger started the remaining 4 games and went a combined 0 for 4. On the season, the Vikings were ranked 32nd in the league in pass attempts, with Tarvaris completing 171 of 294 (58.2%, 28.7 att/game). Jackson also had 2 game winning drives on the year.
In 2008, the Vikings added FA WR Bernard Berrian, a viable deep threat, but nearing the end of his high productivity years. Sidney Rice only started 3 games, hampered by injuries, and had a grand total of 15 receptions. Tarvaris lost the first two games of the season to the Packers and Indianapolis (who went on to 6-10 and 12-4 records, respectively), and was benched by Childress. Gus Frerotte was then named the starter for the next 11 games. Jackson came in for the injured Frerotte during game 13, and he led the Vikings to a 20-16 victory (with a TD pass to Shiancoe) over the soon to be 0-16 Detroit apocalypse of 2008.
Jackson would start the last 3 regular season games, going 2-1, before losing to the Eagles in the wild card round of the playoffs (Eagles had a top 5 defense that year and went to the NFC championship game, Tarvaris had a bad game, going 15 of 35 with 1 INT). On the season, Tarvaris had a 59% completion rate (same as Frerotte) with 9 TD and 2 INT (Frerotte had 12 TD, 15 INT). Jackson attempted fewer passes (149 on the season) and had fewer YPG than Gus, but had a much higher ANYA (6.4 vs 4.7). Jackson again had 2 game winning drives.
In 2009, the Vikings brought in long-coveted-by-Childress future HOFer Favre to start over Jackson, and subsequently had a NFC Championship-losing season, which is to say a resounding success. The Vikings added WR Percy Harvin in the draft. Of course, Tarvaris had no chance to compete against Favre to be the starter in 2009; Favre was on fire that year, passing for 4202 yards, a stunning 68.4% completion rate, 33 TD and 7 INT, perhaps the 2nd best season of Favre’s 20 year career. After the 2009 season, there was no chance in hell Favre wasn't going to be the starter again in 2010, unless he retired then un-retired and retired again, and Jackson was signed to be the backup again. The decision to bring in Favre was a win now philosophy, and not necessarily indicative of the Vikings having no faith in Jackson as a QB. In two years backing up Favre, Jackson had a whopping 79 pass attempts, completing 48, with 4 TD and 4 INT.
So it's not like Tarvaris had untold opportunity in Minnesota. Before Seattle, he was given 20 games as "the starter", 12 with Bobby Wade as his best receiver. His career record as a starter before coming to Seattle was 10-10. At this point, Tarvaris now has gone 17-16 in 33 starts in his career, with at least 2/3 of those games playing under far less than ideal circumstances (2 as a rookie with no quarterback coach in college, 12 as a second year player with an incredibly crappy receiving corps, and at least 8 this year where he was hamstrung by either a sieve-like OL or a pectoralis tear).
In his career (33 starts and limited action in 17 other games), Tarvaris has attempted only 1018 passes, completing 609 for a career completion rate of 59.3% (60.2% this season), 37 TD, 34 INT, 5.0 ANYA, and 4 game winning drives (all with the Vikings).
By comparison, in his 26 starts, former #1 draft pick Sam Bradford has amassed 8 wins and 18 losses, attempted 948 passes, completing 545 for a career completion rate of 57.6%, 24TD, 21INT, and 4.6 ANYA, and 1 GWD.
Obviously, statistics are subject to all sorts of biases based on surrounding components of the team, offensive scheme, etc. Yes, watching Tarvaris at the most important position on the team can be incredibly frustrating, especially when we can all see the pocket collapsing around him and the ball is hanging out like Favre’s "Little Smokie". He just doesn’t seem to have "it", whatever each of us thinks "it" might be. And there is no doubt in my mind that the FO will try to improve at QB like they are at every other position. But, Tarvaris Jackson did have 4 game winning drives in 20 starts in Minnesota.
He has performed remarkably similar to a #1 draft pick in different, but possibly equally difficult circumstances. If you think Sam Bradford has upside, if you can argue that similar number of pass attempts equates to similar game experience, and if Bradford played against superior competition and had the benefit of a QB coach in college, then maybe we can expect a little growth, and a little progression, and even a little more success from Tarvaris than just a slightly below average NFL starting QB. This is not an argument that Tarvaris is the QBOTF, but it is an argument that it is not clear that he can’t be…
Sources: Almost everything from www.pro-football-reference.com, a touch from Wikipedia.com.