Quarterback is the most important position on the football field, and nowhere is that more true than in the pass-happy CFL.
It seems like just yesterday that the likes of Damon Allen, Matt Dunigan and Doug Flutie were airing the ball out and racking up passing yards at an alarmingly impressive rate. Then came the next evolution of strong arms, including Anthony Calvillo and Henry Burris. But soon their best days will be behind them too and another group will need to emerge to carry the torch.
A few years back, a study was undertaken to determine when NFL quarterbacks reach their prime and the results showed that at the age of 31, they begin the downside of their careers. Using that as a barometer, then, almost every CFL team should have its next starter on the roster already because only three teams have starting quarterbacks under the age of 31 and one, Buck Pierce, is out for the rest of the regular season with another serious injury.
So who will lead the next generation of great quarterbacks?
Darian Durant of the Roughriders and B.C.'s Casey Printers are already household names and they have yet to reach their 30th birthdays. The study would suggest that both players have yet to reach their potential and will likely lead their teams for the foreseeable future.
Let's take a look at some of the other candidates who are back-ups now but could become household names in the next few years.
Adrian McPherson - Can the 27-year-old fill the void in Montreal when 38-year old Anthony Calvillo retires in the not-too-distant future? Coming into this season, the product of Florida State had only thrown 75 passes. However last week, he came off the nine-game injured list and threw for 238 yards and a touchdown and added 121 yards rushing in leading the Alouettes to victory. He may be ready to take the reins.
Steven Jyles - Despite Buck Pierce only being 28 years old, his injury problems are well-documented and he was just placed on the nine-game injured list. Therefore, the focus switches to Jyles, who will be given an enormous opportunity to show his wares the rest of the way. After two-year stints in Edmonton and Saskatchewan, the timing couldn't be better for the pivot, who turns 28 later this month. Going by his first start against his old team last weekend, he could make some big strides.
Quinton Porter - Great things were predicted of Porter when he earned the starter's role in Hamilton last season. However midway through the season, the 27 year-old was replaced by veteran Kevin Glenn, who happens to be 31 years old (there's that number again). Glenn remained the starter to begin this season and is showing no sign of giving it up. Porter came off the bench in Saturday's loss to the Alouettes and did not impress.
Jared Zabransky - After a brilliant career at Boise State (yes, he was the one who orchestrated the famous Statue of Liberty play in overtime at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl), the 26 year-old Zabransky is still learning the Canadian game in his second season in Edmonton. In three games this season in relief of a battered and bruised Ricky Ray (who happens to be – guess what - 31 years old), he has thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions, so class is still in session. When the Eskimos get straightened out, he may be the go-to guy.
Dalton Bell - With 31-year old starter Cleo Lemon still unproven, the door may be open for someone like Bell to walk through in the coming seasons. The 27 year-old was brought in from Saskatchewan but has no CFL resume to speak of as yet.
Drew Tate - Henry Burris may be 35 years old but he is still at the top of his game so barring serious injury, the 25 year-old Tate could be sitting and watching for a few more years. The Iowa product has not seen the field much in his two seasons with the Stampeders, completing 22 of 26 passes for 240 yards.
Predicting the success of young quarterbacks is an imperfect science at best. To put things into perspective, Calvillo threw an eye-popping 36 interceptions in his first two CFL seasons and it took him four more seasons to establish himself with the Alouettes. In his first season as the starter in Saskatchewan, Burris threw 30 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. So it seems patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to grooming quarterbacks.
On the other hand, Ricky Ray burst on to the scene with the Eskimos, throwing 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in his rookie season and he's never looked back. In that case, maybe the best young quarterbacks have yet to sign north of the border. But make no mistake, the CFL is a passing league and good young quarterbacks will emerge to carry the torch. Which ones appear to be the most likely to rise to the top in the next few years?
It's Your Call: Who will lead the next generation of great quarterbacks?