Monday, March 30, 2009

What Dreams May Come 2009 - Josh Freeman

In order to prepare for the NFL draft (and survive the unbearably long offseason), we've decided to check in on this year's draft class from time to time and discuss some of the potential future characters of the League that stand out for some reason or another. Today, Kansas State QB Josh Freeman

Let It Out - Jim Jones

My first paid writing gig out of college was writing for the WWE (the oiled up guys who put one another in bear hugs for shiny belts). The job allows for even less creative expression than you would imagine. Yet week after week, you were expected to come up with ideas, usually while traveling from small town to smaller town, write them out, then watch them be bastardized by incompetent wrestlers and producers, all the while defensively explaining to people that yes, you did have to be a good writer to get your job in the first place. Take it from someone who knows: Toiling in obscurity sucks.

Reflecting on this personal truth has me warming to Josh Freeman. With teams slowly realizing that Matt Stafford is an illusion, attention has turned to Freeman’s arm, which has led to comparisons to JaMarcus Russell. The similarities are immediately apparent to anyone who watches clips like the one above. The only other quarterback I’ve seen who can make a throw of that distance and accuracy with little to no regard for proper positioning and form is Russell. In fact, it’s almost scarier than Russell ever was, as Freeman looks like he could have a second gear of mobility that Russell lacks. In short, Freeman brings to a league with a shortage of consistent starting quarterbacks physical gifts that could rival almost anyone under center in the NFL. The perfect meeting of ability and opportunity, right?

Except Freeman remains third on the chart, behind both Stafford (yawn.) and Mark Sanchez, who is nowhere near as athletically gifted. The fact of the matter is that for all of his potential, Freeman’s gifts are viewed as perhaps permanently stuck as just that, potential. Freeman and his incredible arm never put together a winning season during his tenure as a starter for Kansas State. Never mind that he never had any elite talent around him, a fact made worse by playing in what may be college football’s new powerhouse conference; having never been a winner by any stretch of the imagination in college, scouts are obviously wary of Freeman’s ability to be a winner on a larger stage.

But what does that phrase even mean, “be a winner”? True, there are some players that do achieve victory against the odds, but this is because they tap into strengths that we never realized they had in the first place, strengths we may not have even realized were strengths. To say that they win because they are winners and winners win is an annoying syllogism that misses the point entirely. The sport becomes utterly uninteresting if we can’t gain some insight as to why these players win. That is not to say that we need it all on a platter. Yes, players can be winners because they have an arm like Freeman’s, but it’s usually even more than that, some combination of an obvious gift and something else. Maybe Freeman doesn’t have that something. Maybe, working in the wastelands of the Midwest’s forgotten football child, Freeman’s arm was just a novelty, like the country’s deepest well or the biggest ball of yarn.

Or maybe the something else that will make him something more than a spectacle is the journey out of obscurity. Being incredibly talented is a good thing, but it can also be a soul crushing thing for those who find no way to let their talent out into the world where it belongs. That world, for an arm like Freeman’s, one that shortens a field just by being there, is not to be found on empty plains, but in a crowded arena. When did front offices become so afraid of the responsibility that comes with being a teacher? Isn’t the American dream all about finding treasure where there was once dross, and turning fortunes around as a result? If a program committed to making Freeman a star, what on earth would his past performance have to do with what he could do in he future? Look what Mike Holmgren did with Brett Favre, or what Andy Reid did with Donovan McNabb; where you’re from is the marble slab out of which coaches are supposed to create art. In a league filled with middling performers with top notch resumes of success at lesser levels under center, it would be a shame to let a buried treasure like Freeman stay underground just because the dirt of deep burial has made his shine harder to see.

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