A few months back, a Dolphins fan responded to an article I wrote about Chad Henne and whether or not he’s truly to blame for the team’s problems over the past few years. He disagreed with my assertion that Henne’s not as bad as the Dolphins faithful believe—I say that he’s in a system that doesn’t play to his strengths and he’s hamstrung by bad management, a coach with one foot out the door, and a lack of reliable targets.
Unfortunately, his particular comment is no longer there, but the jist of it was this: He wondered if it were too much to ask for a quarterback who can step up in the pocket, evade pressure and make the throw, who is also mobile, can throw the quick pass or the deep bomb with unparalleled accuracy, and engender feelings of loyalty from all players in his locker room. In short, he wondered why Miami doesn’t have a quarterback that combines all the strengths of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick into one Super-Dolphin.
The short answer is, obviously, that no quarterback in that mold even exists in the NFL right now. Furthermore, ten, perhaps twelve quarterbacks in the entire league can be considered anywhere close to elite. The league is full of Chad Hennes, and that’s not a bad thing.
Chad Henne is not a bad quarterback, no matter what Miami’s win-loss stats look like with him at the helm. Quarterbacks are important, no doubt, and they get the credit and the blame whether things go well or poorly; but that doesn’t discount the impact of every other player on the team, nor the coaching staff and management, nor the overall morale of the organization on a team’s success.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Henne is among the same class of quarterbacks, in terms of statistical performance, as Rex Grossman and Mark Sanchez. Of the other starting quarterbacks from the 2008 draft class, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, Henne doesn’t differ much either. The only thing that separates them is public perception.
Henne has completed 60.6 percent of his passes, and has played just 35 games since 2008, starting 30 of them. In comparison, the Atlanta’s Ryan (who has started 49 games) has a 60.8 completion percentage; Ravens quarterback Flacco (starting 51 games), has a 61.4 completion percentage. Henne and Flacco have the same number of interceptions, at 36, though Henne has played significantly fewer games.
Where the three differ are in touchdowns and average completion length; Henne’s thrown just 31 touchdowns, while Ryan has thrown 71 and Flacco, 67, and Henne averages just five yards per completion, to Ryan’s 6.7 and Flacco’s seven.
These numbers are far more indicative of problems in the overall Dolphins’ passing game, and aren’t solely attributed to Henne. He’s suffered from lack of targets; while receiver Brandon Marshall is easily one of the best in the league, he’s constantly covered. And with no one else for Henne to throw to, he’s tossing interceptions, short passes and throwing the ball away far more often than draft-mates Flacco and Ryan.
Looking at Sanchez and Grossman’s numbers, and a similar pattern emerges. Granted, the two have different lengths of league experience than Henne (with Sanchez having a year less on the field than Henne, and Grossman five more), but, again, it’s public perception that is the main difference.
Sanchez is the weak link on an otherwise dominant New York Jets team, but the Jets have responded to Sanchez’s shortcomings by designing an offense that doesn’t rely on the big pass to win games. Sure, he has two good targets for the deep ball (Santonio Holmes and now Plaxico Burress), which has helped him along to 37 touchdowns in two seasons, better than Henne’s 31 over three. It’s nothing stellar, mind you, but the Jets’ win-loss record seems to mitigate any widespread talk of how Sanchez is, for lack of a better word, crap, even though his average yards per completion are just five, same as Henne’s.
Grossman has a 54.7 percent completion rate over his eight (now nine) seasons, and has averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt—lower than Henne. Throughout his career, he’s been plagued by similar accusations of being worthless, but now that he’s the Washington Redskins’ starter, he’s fallen back into favor with fans and analysts, through little more than the team starting 2-1 with him under center.
If the NFL were full of Tom Bradys, it would be a boring league—honestly. Shootouts between elite quarterbacks are surely entertaining, at first, but just as one cannot appreciate light without the dark, one cannot appreciate a truly great quarterback without a glut of mediocre and bad players below him. If it really were that easy for every NFL quarterback to put up otherworldly, record-breaking performances, would the quarterback position even be that important?
The league is full of Hennes, and that’s not a bad thing. Grossman is a Henne. Sanchez, Ryan, Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck, Eli Manning, Jason Campbell, and Kevin Kolb are all Hennes; there is High Henne (just above the Chad Henne baseline—think Matt Ryan), Low Henne (just below—Eli Manning), and Chad Henne himself in the very middle. Hell, Drew Brees was even once a Henne (scroll down).
Hennes are mediocre-to-good quarterbacks who play workmanlike football; depending on who surrounds them and who coaches them depends on how successful their respective football teams are, overall.
Bad quarterbacks are a whole different breed than Henne. Bad quarterbacks lose games for their teams; bad quarterbacks are terrible no matter the team and no matter the system; bad quarterbacks don’t have jobs after three years. The Chiefs’ Matt Cassel is slowly sinking from High Henne to Low Henne to bad. Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson is a bad quarterback. Kerry Collins, successful in the past, is terrible in 2011 because his targets and his system don’t suit his style of play. Brady Quinn, a bad-to-low-Henne backup to Henne, Kyle Orton, can’t start in this league. Alex Smith has Henne potential, but after seven years is both bad and, as an overall No. 1 pick, a bust.
A quarterback like Henne does not spell doom for his team. While everyone wants a Tom Brady throwing the ball for their particular rooting interest, and it’s not too much to ask for a quarterback like that, in the NFL they are few and far between. Demand is way above supply. I’m not a bleeding heart for Henne, but I am realistic - the Bradys and the (Peyton) Mannings, and the Rodgers and the Rivers and even the Roethlisbergers, are who they are because there aren’t others like them.
It’s a league full of Hennes waiting to fulfill their potential.