Why it’s OK to get excited about Josh Portis

August 19th, 2011 | Written by Rob Staton

The last time Seattle drafted a QB in round one, the guy in the shirt was President

It’s 18 years since the Seahawks last spent a first round pick on a quarterback. There are almost certainly Seahawks fans among us that saw the birth of a child around the time their football team drafted Rick Mirer in 1993. That child will now be preparing for college. 

Bill Clinton had been President for a few months when the Seahawks last drafted a quarterback in round one. People probably thought we’d have flying cars by 2011, maybe wondered if we’d be living on Mars. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was four years old and we were still 15 years away from Indiana Jones and the flying fridge. 

During those 18 years the Seahawks appointed Mike Holmgren to run it’s football team and he acquired Matt Hasselbeck. For a time this played a large part in why the Seahawks avoided the position in the draft, but doesn’t explain why such blatant disregard was placed in preparing for the post-Hasselbeck era by the previous front office regime. 

The Seahawks haven’t had anyone to invest their faith in as a long term solution for some time. It really shouldn’t be 18 years since the team last drafted a quarterback in round one. Therefore, maybe we should expect people to get excited when a player comes along and shows even a modicum of talent? Maybe it is OK to get excited about Josh Portis? Just like people got excited about Mike Teel and the two Charlie’s – Whitehurst and Frye. 

The problem with most UDFA quarterbacks – or late rounders for that matter – is that they simply don’t have the physical tools to succeed. Tom Brady is the massive exception to the rule because he looked anything but a pro-athlete before being drafted in round six by New England. There is a huge neverending list of other quarterbacks that teams spent throwaway picks on in the hope they will be the next diamond in the rough. Once or twice in a generation something materialises. 

We also have to appreciate the situation Brady found himself in. Whatever you want to say about Bill Belichick, he clearly knows how to create a winning football team. Brady has benefited from his surroundings, the ability to enter into a good situation and grow with a system that suits his style. He’s become an elite performer but in an environment that allowed it to happen. It’s an environment the Patriots will hope has a similar effect on Ryan Mallett, who could look like an equally brilliant steal in a few years time. 

Portis is unlike the majority of late round or UDFA quarterbacks. For starters, he has an arm. Most quarterbacks drafted late or picked up in free agency are Greg McElroy clones – players who’s main characteristic is ‘winning’ mainly because they had the opportunity to play behind pro-level offensive lineman, had Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson running the ball and Julio Jones catching passes. McElroy’s reputation was built around being a winner with that other nonsense word scouts use – ‘moxy’. His physical talent was completely limited and so was his on-field IQ. Portis doesn’t appear to be restricted in this way. You don’t need to see him perform against San Diego’s first string defense to acknowledge the guy can spin a football. 

He’s also mobile, can extend plays (as witnessed on his touchdown pass last week) and has that rare knack of keeping his eyes downfield when scrambling around. These are all the talents of not only a draft pick, but a high one. We tell ourselves to calm down because he’s an UDFA, but take that knowledge away and why wouldn’t you be very impressed? Yes it wasn’t against San Diego’s #1 ranked defense from 2010, but this was a guy who played Division II football for two years before a week’s pro-practise. He got over his early nerves, he led a nice scoring drive. It’s a start. 

Portis is an UDFA because he went to three different colleges and had all kinds of off-the-field issues and suspensions. The red flags flap into your eyes and you need to get the heck away from them to see clearly. Isn’t that what makes this a different case though? Portis isn’t a Brady-miracle type who needs to beat the physical odds to succeed. Portis is capable from a pure physical stand point. We’ve seen – albeit in very small samples – a flash of pro talent. The biggest question mark is whether he can develop that flash of talent into something tangible and whether he can avoid any further drama away from the game. 

It’s a similar story with tight Anthony McCoy. When I watched him playing for USC in 2009, I thought he looked like a first or second round pick based on several games evidence for the Trojans. The Seahawks got him in round six because of major character red flags. This front office is giving players like Portis and McCoy a shot at redemption and a chance to make up for bad decisions. With the gamble so minimal, why wouldn’t you? Instead the league is full of Tim Ruskell types who wouldn’t dream of it, but why? What truly separates Portis and McCoy in terms of on field talent and some of the guys drafted early? Off the field stuff. So bring them in for a no-risk cost. Had both players been taken with early picks, people would be much more prepared to accept others getting excited by a nice pre-season showing. 

What constitutes acceptable hype? 

As I wrote in this piece, the chances are Portis will never make it as a pro. I think mostpeople are realistic about that. His peak ability may be Seneca Wallace, which would still be a tremendous achievement for an UDFA. Some fans would be disappointed if they thought that was the maximum potential because they want to believe in the miracle happening in Seattle. I don’t agree with that view, but I wouldn’t condemn it. It’s not ridiculous for people to get excited about Portis, just don’t go over the top and get your hopes up too much. It’s not ridiculous for people to suggest common sense should prevail and maintain the guy was an UDFA, but let’s not be blind to the fact Portis isn’t an UDFA due to a lack of physical potential. 

Ultimately the Seahawks are taking no gamble seeing if this guy can mature and become a trusted pro. They lose nothing if he fails. The fans equally lose nothing if their optimism is seen to be misplaced. There will be another camp All-Star, maybe even one drafted in round one. 

Go ahead and enjoy watching the guy play football over the next three weeks. If the Seahawks are going to take two decades to find a quarterback worth spending a first round pick on, you’re going to need other ways to dream about a franchise QB not called Matthew Hasselbeck.

13 Responses to “Why it’s OK to get excited about Josh Portis”

  1. Morgan says:

    I’m not getting my hopes up, but hopefully he’ll be fun to watch. I still have fond memories of preseason QB sensation Bucky Richardson with the Oilers back in ’94. Absolutely tore up the Cowboys one game before fading into oblivion. Fun while it lasted, though.

  2. Michael says:

    Carroll also brings an atmosphere to these young kids like he has with mike williams and whitehurst. Im excited because so far carroll can get talent from anywhere

  3. Hawksfan33 says:

    Was listening to rob rang and Doug farrar on kjr and they talked about the strides that Portis has made in such an early time period and they both said that they believe he will make the team. Farrar even said that he thinks the race for the backup job is not out of reach for Portis and CW could subsequently he cut.

    • Rob says:

      Anyone who thinks Whitehurst is going to be cut is just flat out wrong IMO. No need to rush Portis into a backup role. Team are not going to do that.

  4. Kip Earlywine says:

    Good read. I especially liked the 2nd paragraph.

  5. woofu says:

    The Brady/Mallett question looming is which one is looking over his shoulder?

    Keeping Portis seems reasonable under any circumstance since they stated their desire to keep a “developmental guy” way back when. Now with the dress the 3rd Qb rule in place I wonder if they will use Portis or Robinson.

    • Rob says:

      I’m not sure Peyton Manning would force Tom Brady to look over his shoulder. Brady will be the Pats QB until he retires, and he’ll know when to retire. He’ll go out at the top and when the replacement is ready.

      • woofu says:

        So your answer is Mallett as in,,,wonder where I’m going to? Indy calling yet?

        • Rob says:

          He’s not going anywhere for a few years. Teams who passed on him in the draft are not going to pay for him now just because he’s spent a fortnight with the Patriots.

  6. James says:

    Josh Portis was almost invisible, he was wrapped in so many red flags: multiple high schools, multiple colleges, academic suspensions, legal troubles, Division II school, etc. But Pete Carroll knew him from his SoCal days, and knew his coach at California (PA), Walt Harris, an uber-disciplinarian. Kudos to Pete and John for locking on this guy, understanding that despite his past, he is a good guy, and even signing him to a 3-year deal. To my eye, he is a first round physical talent, every bit as gifted, if not more so, than Locker, Ponder, Gabbert, etc. What is really exciting though is how he handles himself in the huddle, at the line, in the pocket, based on viewing a few practices and the lone preseason game. If he proves to have the intangible right stuff, what a find this guy will be. Since the Seahawks are not going 2-14, and therefore will not be in position to land Luck or Barkley, who will go 1 & 2, we could be looking at our future franchise QB.

  7. Darnell says:

    It’s funny how so much really comes down to circustance.

    Rob mentioned how much McElroy had to work with at Alabama, is there any doubt that If Locker had gone to Alabama, Georgia (like Stafford) or Oklahoma (like Bradford) he would have been #1 with bullett and his completion % wouldn’t have been a an issue.

    Say Portis stays out of trouble and starts for Florida after Tebow leaves, all of a sudden you a have super-athletic guy with a gun,with better mechanics than Tebow putting up huge stats in the SEC. How high does Portis climb – does he press for the Heisman?

    One thing that I would want to ask PC and JS is how close during the draft did they come to drafting Portis or Baldwin? I’d be scared of not landing those two.

  8. Patrick G. says:

    Good points Rob and commenters James and Darnell.

    One thing about Portis’ story that’s interesting is his apparently crazy stage mother’s influence on transferring high schools three times, then leaving Florida, going to Maryland, etc. There was even an article out there on the net about all the drama that resulted from this and how she was out on the field trashing his Florida coaches for not benching Chris Leak to play him.

    On a KJR interview with Portis, they brought this up and Portis was polite, but got a bit steely and insisted he was committed to living for himself now or something similar. It just struck me that if he’s gotten out from under that negative/controlling influence it might explain his newfound determination here in Seattle.

    I can’t wait until the game – hopefully we get some more thrilling Portis heroics. Potential QBOTF or not, it sure would be fun to watch.

  9. Scott says:

    The good- He has Aaron Rodgers type skills. The arm, the size, the athleticism are all good.

    The bad- He is more of a puppy than Aaron ever was. He is like a brand new baby quarterback, and guessing how he will turn out is pointless. In a couple of weeks, we will not be getting any information on him until the next training camp. Except for the off season, when every yokel with a keyboard advises not to draft a quarterback in 2012 because Josh Portis is the real deal.