The Real McNabb

by Tommy Lawlor ,

Washington recently acquired Pro Bowl QB Donovan McNabb from the Eagles.  If you listen to some in the media, Washington got a great player and the Eagles are in real trouble.  If you listen to others, Washington added a declining QB that benefited greatly from a good coach and strong supporting cast.  What is the truth?  Having watched every game of McNabb’s career I decided to write a scouting report.  This is based on reality, not prior accomplishments, perception, or just highlights.

McNABB — Had serious injury issues in the past, but has been fairly durable in recent years.  Started 14 games in 2007, 16 in 2008, and 14 in 2009.  Tough player.  He will take a beating and get up smiling most of the time.  Natural leader, but not in a fiery, aggressive way.  McNabb is one of those guys that other players gravitate toward.  He has a positive demeanor and likes to joke around.  Sometimes he does that too much and it undermines him with other players.  Smart, veteran QB.  He uses audibles more than people realize.  McNabb makes good pre-snap reads.  He lacks ideal field vision.  This has frustrated multiple receivers over the years.  McNabb will lock onto targets and force the ball to them.   He really developed this habit when Terrell Owens was with the team in 2004 and half of 2005.  McNabb has greatly changed the way he plays QB over the years.  He came into the league as a runner and small-ball passer.  He has cut down on his running in a major way.  He only does it in select situations.  He always keeps his eyes downfield.  McNabb is hard to sack.  He has excellent escapability.  He is very elusive, even in tight spaces.  He is very strong and will shrug off some tackle attempts.  He’s developed into more of an intermediate and deep passer in recent years. Accuracy remains a major problem.  McNabb’s completion percentage has gotten better, but he doesn’t consistently hit receivers where he should.  He needs players that can adjust to passes low and high, as well as thrown behind them.  The main culprit is sloppy footwork and delivery.  There are times when McNabb will make perfect throws.  He will then turn around and short-hop a wide open receiver.  This can be maddening at times.  He is very good on screen and swing passes.  He puts good touch on the ball.  He will still throw some short passes too hard and make his receivers fight the ball.  McNabb is erratic with his deep passes.  He throws a very catchable ball.  He has a habit of holding the ball too long and then under-throwing his target.  Go watch DeSean Jackson highlights.  There were at least 5 long completions where Jackson had to slow down and wait for the ball.  McNabb still has a very strong arm.  He can make all the throws.  He doesn’t stride into his deep balls and that takes away some distance on them.  McNabb is very good on deep fade throws.  He puts good touch on those passes and seems to time the routes well.  McNabb is outstanding in drives before halftime.  He does a great job of working the sidelines against soft coverage and moving the team down the field.  The Eagles were amongst league leaders in both ’08 and ’09 in points in the final 2 minutes of the half.  McNabb is inconsistent late in games.  Early in his career he was great, partially due to his willingness to run and make something out of nothing.  He really struggled in 2007 and 2008, but showed good improvement in 2009.   McNabb is not a good Red Zone passer.  He does not anticipate throws.  He likes to see an open receiver.  This has limited his interceptions over the years.  He is one of the least picked off QBs in NFL history.  He is hurt in the Red Zone because of his failue to anticipate.  McNabb has a tendency to throw to players in the flat or on shallow crosses and then hope they can run in.  He was never given a chance to consistently throw fade passes in the end zone during his time as an Eagle.  McNabb is a very streaky passer.  When he’s hot, he can be near impossible to defend.  When he’s cold, expect major struggles.  Because McNabb limited mistakes in Philly and was able to make some plays he won most of the time.  He only had one losing season as the starting QB.  That came in 2005 when TO went TO on the Eagles.  McNabb is great off the field.  He won’t get in trouble.  He represents the organization with class and generally deals well with the press.  Occasionally he will put his foot in his mouth (“I didn’t know there were ties in the NFL”).

Summary – Good player, but one who will get over-praised by the media and football analysts due to his past accomplishments.   When he is focused and throwing the ball well, McNabb still looks like a star QB.  Other times he looks indecisive and confused.  His decisions will frustrate you and his throws will be off target.  The good still very much out-weighs the bad.  The problem is that an 11-year veteran should not make some of his mistakes.  Donovan has a playmaker’s mentality.  That leads to big plays, but also  inconsistent stretches filled with 3 and outs.  A veteran passer should be more efficient and consistent.  The huge x-factor to all of this is that McNabb played in a pass-happy attack in Philly that kept all the pressure on him.  That shouldn’t be the case under Mike Shanahan.  He could thrive in a more balanced offense that cuts his pass attempts from 40 to 30.  If Shanahan can convince him to run more that could be a significant help.  McNabb is wasting a valuable tool by forcing himself to be a pure pocket passer.  McNabb should be a good starting QB for at least 2 more years.  He will turn 34 in November and age will become a factor at some point.


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