I’ve never been too hot on Byron Leftwich, though I never quite knew why. When he came to Pittsburgh in 2008, I wondered why I felt so negatively about him after his stellar job filling in for the injured Big Ben and Charlie Batch. Leftwich got a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers in 2008, but he wasn’t just a dude on the sidelines that season. Byron played in 5 games and ended the season with a 104.3 passer rating and 303 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Basically, he played how everyone thought he was going to play when he was a 1st round pick in the 2003 draft.
All that being said, Byron’s stellar 2008 year as a backup with the Steelers was a complete anomaly and will likely not be repeated. Since the beginning of Byron’s NFL career, he’s been plagued with injuries. He’s played so poorly at times that he’s been moved from starter to 3rd string in a matter of weeks. This guy’s real story is that he is a first round bust, and a total mess the majority of the time.
Leftwich began his career as a Jaguar. In 2005, just when it seemed he was developing in to that 1st round pick from Marshall they all thought he’d be, he injured his ankle and was replaced by David Gerrard. Gerrard played so bad in the last three games of that season it was widely expected that Byron would return as the starter. Come camp time the next season, Byron was traded to the Falcons in favor of Gerrard. He got a two-year $7M deal from the Falcons to come in a play some backup. When he finally did get the start he played well and then…you guessed it, hurt his ankle. He came back in week 11 and played so poorly he was moved to the bottom of the depth chart and then released in 2008. Cue the 2008 Steelers.
After his performance as a Steeler, Byron had a lot of people fooled. He quickly capitalized on his performance and signed another two-year deal, this time with the Buccaneers. He started the first three games and after an 0-3 start, was benched. After spending several games inactive due to an elbow injury (yep, another one) he was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Cue the 2010 Steelers.
After being brought back in 2010 to be the starter for the then suspended Ben Roethlisberger, we got to see Byron’s knack for injury first hand. Just before the start of the season, Byron was injured and was out for at least five weeks. Now he’s back again in 2011, and it looks like he’ll be placed as Big Ben’s backup. The real question is: Can we really trust this guy to be the backup QB with the Steelers?
My short answer is no, we can’t, but let me explain. A year ago, I made my case on my own blog as to why I thought Charlie Batch should be the starter (this is before both Dixon and Byron came down with injuries) during Big Ben’s suspension. After he finally did get a chance to come in, he showed us why he’s been the backup for so long, and played his ass off without getting hurt. That is worth so much in this league, staying healthy. Batch has not been totally healthy all the time as of late, but in my opinion, he has the best chance of staying healthy, and gives us the best chance to win in the short term.
The difference is this: Batch knows the playbook better than anyone on this team short of Mike Tomlin himself. I’m not just making that up either, that’s widely excepted fact. He’s another coach out there. So when you put him in the game, you have a lot more options than just running the ball (Dixon), or just throwing screen passes and deep balls (Leftwich).
But we’re talking about Byron. So when I look at Byron, I look at an injury-prone, slow-footed, slow-release QB who doesn’t belong on the roster, regardless of how he played in 2008. He’s essentially a statue back there, and with an offensive line as injury-prone and shaky as ours, you need a mobile QB (Big Ben, Dixon) out there to circumvent their weaknesses, or a QB with a deep knowledge of the book and a quick release (Batch).
In my first “Steelers Quarterbacks” post, I gave you my list for the start of the season. #1: Big Ben, #2 Charlie Batch, #3 Dennis Dixon #cut: Byron Leftwich. With my next post in the series, I’ll show you why Charlie Batch should be the #2 QB on the roster.