Comparing Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 07: Patrick Mahomes II
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 07: Patrick Mahomes II /
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Donovan McNabb

Prior to Reid and McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles had been humming along in mediocrity for quite some time. Their last Super Bowl appearance was in 1980, which they lost to the Oakland Raiders, and they had not made it past the divisional round of the playoffs since. Specifically, the last two years of 1997 and 1998 had seen the team reach a new low, posting an 8-24 record. This resulted in the firing of Ray Rhodes with a final record of 30-36-1, and the hiring of first time NFL head coach Andy Reid. With Reid’s first pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, he selected quarterback for the Syracuse Orange, Donovan McNabb.

This was a risky choice given the circumstances. The 1999 NFL draft featured five quarterback selections in the first 12 picks. Each of them, from Cade McCown to Akili Smith, was highly touted and believed to be the next great NFL quarterback. In fact, every team in the first four picks selected a quarterback. Given the Eagles took McNabb at selection two, there was the risk they missed out on three other quarterbacks. History shows us this was not the case.

At Syracuse, McNabb started four seasons finishing with 35 wins to only 14 losses. During his time there, McNabb ran a sprint out, option style offense with some pro-style options worked in. In terms of schematics, it was a relatively simple scheme in which the quarterback chooses one side of the field to ‘sprint out’ to and through reading that side either picks a receiver or runs the football. Given the nature of this scheme, most opponents he faced played man coverage, limiting the defensive looks McNabb saw in college.

McNabb was very successful statistically in college. He was the Big East Conference Player of the Year three times, throwing for 8,389 yards and 77 touchdowns. He was also fifth in the 1998 Heisman voting. But, given the simplistic style of offense the Orange ran, a common question was whether he could duplicate this success in the NFL.

Luckily for McNabb, he was drafted by a coach who would be one of the most successful over the following decade. Reid is known to have a tremendously technical and difficult offensive scheme. Given McNabb’s college scheme, most would have seen this as a challenging transition. But, through Reid’s tutelage, McNabb blossomed into one of the most consistently great quarterbacks of his generation. He finished his career with the Eagles owning most of their passing records, throwing for 32,873 yards and 216 touchdowns.

McNabb was a great college athlete, with a big arm, who made good decisions. He was extremely successful in the NFL and was recently nominated for the NFL Hall of Fame. Interestingly though, the five other quarterbacks in the draft were all highly touted, athletic, good decisions makers and yet none of them sustained the same level of success. In fact, Cade McCown and Tim Couch each finished higher in the 1998 Heisman voting than McNabb. The major difference between these players’ and McNabb’s career is Andy Reid. Let’s take a look at Alex Smith’s career and see how the “Reid Effect” has impacted him.