Stifle your laughter for a second and bear with me. Kyle Orton and Drew Brees share quite a few common characteristics, including their alma mater, coincidentally.
If you asked 100 people who the best quarterback in the NFL today is, many of them would probably say Drew Brees. But just a few short years ago, Brees was considered a solid, but not spectacular player. So how does Orton compare, and could his future be as bright?
In 2001, the San Diego Chargers drafted Drew Brees with the 33rd pick in the draft, in the 2nd round. While Brees put up outstanding collegiate numbers, most considered his 6’0” frame to prohibit him from being a very successful NFL quarterback.
In his second season, Brees took the starting reigns for the Chargers and lead them to mixed success over the next four years. Still, questions lingered about his ability to take the next step. In 2004, the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers as the incumbent starter. Yet Brees performed at a Pro Bowl level. He became a restricted free agent, and the Chargers slapped the Franchise Tag on him to keep him around for one more season of mentoring Phillip Rivers.
At the end of the 2005 season, Brees suffered a severe shoulder injury and San Diego ushered in the era of Rivers. Brees shopped around for a new home with only two potential takers: the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints. Four years later, Brees is Super Bowl MVP and a household name. His journey wasn’t the smoothest, but he overcame adversity and criticisms and learned to win with accuracy, smarts and toughness.
In 2005, the Chicago Bears drafted Kyle Orton with the 106th pick of the draft, in the 4th round. Orton put up outstanding collegiate numbers (breaking many of Brees’ records), possessed prototypical size (6’4”, 225 lbs.), but lacked elite arm strength. Despite performing okay in Chicago (he went 10-5 as a rookie starter when thrust into the role due to injury, though posted subpar numbers), Orton failed to lock down the starting job from incumbent Rex Grossman, even being demoted to third string in 2006.
In 2007, he started three games, the Bears went 2-1 and his numbers showed improvement. In 2008 he took the reigns as starter, and his numbers improved across the board again (completion percentage, touchdowns, quarterback rating, etc.). Yet the Bears weren’t satisfied with his improvement. They traded him away for strong-armed Jay Cutler. Orton landed in Denver in a system that perfectly fit his game, which is more suited to accuracy and smarts. In 2009, his first season in Denver, Orton posted career highs in every category. Now in early 2010, once again, Orton continues to improve upon his numbers, taking his game to a new level, now second in the NFL in passing yards.
It’s impossible to make a direct comparison between two players regarding their careers, due to the ever-changing nature of the business. But, in the case of Orton and Brees, a case could be made that both are continuing on a similar path.
Despite their efforts, neither guy was appreciated by their first franchise. Both showed steady improvement through each year of their careers. Both lack the elite “tools” scouts look for and gush over in quarterback play (JaMarcus Russell had all of these, by the way).
Both win with accuracy and smarts. Will Kyle Orton’s career end up as successfully as Drew Brees’ has? I’m not sure. But if in four years from now, everyone is talking about Kyle Orton as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, I, for one, won’t be surprised.