T.J. Yates was traded by the Houston Texans to the Atlanta Falcons two days ago. Ordinarily the trade of a third-string quarterback would not need to elicit much comment, but Yates is unique. On his shoulders rests the entirety of the UNC Tar Heel quarterback legacy in the NFL. Others have been on league rosters before and others have even changed positions (Ronald Curry), but Yates is the only one with a significant achievement up to this point–a playoff victory over the Bengals.
The Tar Heels have produced a champion professional quarterback, sure. His name is Darian Durant and he won the Grey Cup for the Saskatchewan Roughriders earlier this year. Still no one will confuse North Carolina with QB U.
The player that Yates will be competing for reps with in Atlanta is Dominique Davis. Davis played his best ball at East Carolina. East Carolina has a better NFL resume for quarterbacks than the flagship, and that is because of Jeff Blake and David Garrard. Those two were capable NFL starters.
Wake Forest has to go back to Norm Snead, though Snead was a good one. The four time Pro Bowler was stuck on a number of poor teams over the course of his career.
Of all the North Carolina area teams, it would seem that NC State is the closest thing to a quarterback factory that we have. That starts with Roman Gabriel, who played so long ago that I have a better understanding of his acting career than his football career. Then there is Erik Kramer, who looked really good at times for the Lions and Bears, but could not seem to stay healthy.
These days, State is well represented at the QB position. Philip Rivers is still playing solidly for the San Diego Chargers. Rivers, who was once recruited by some teams as a tight end, now makes regular appearances on Pro Bowl teams. Mike Glennon started for Tampa Bay last year and is still thought of as the quarterback of the future there. The guy who former Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien let go in favor of Glennon hasn’t done too poorly either. Russell Wilson won the last Super Bowl and is likely a fixture in the league for years to come.
Before we crown State as local QB champs, we can’t sleep on Duke. No, I’m not that big of a Thad Lewis fan. I was thinking someone further back. While others on this list may become Hall of Famers, Sonny Jurgensen already is. His inclusion might just tip the balance.
Still none of these QB legacies are terribly impressive. Remember that Miami once went from Jim Kelly to Bernie Kosar to Vinny Testaverde and even BYU had a string including Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Ty Detmer. So the question is, will this change in the future?
I think so. North Carolina and East Carolina run quarterback-friendly spread systems that will produce players with the stats to get initial notice. Whether Marquise Williams or Shane Carden (I do like Carden) is the real deal right now is not the point. The point is those systems got NFL shots for Graham Harrell, Brandon Weeden, and Austin Davis. Bryn Renner and Dominique Davis are on rosters right now, and someone will eventually break through.
Peyton Manning and Eli Manning mentor David Cutcliffe is still the coach at Duke and he will attract quarterback recruits who want to build their game for the pros. So Duke is well situated to contribute draft worthy QB talent. While it will take time to produce consistent NFL QB talent from the state’s schools, I think the future is bright.