April 15, 2000
The best quarterback in the draft hopped into the Jets' boat and they didn't throw him back.
"The only reason we didn't have Chad's face plastered up on the post office wall is because we really didn't anticipate the scenario where he would come to us," coach Al Groh said. "We got a first-round quarterback without having to be a 3-13 team, which is usually where you have to go to make those kinds of picks."
Chad Pennington had turned heads all the way down to the Jets' own first-round pick at No. 18. Pittsburgh was thought to like him at No. 8, although the Steelers took WR Plaxico Burress instead. Denver (No. 15) and San Francisco (No. 16) also had interest at one time. But a combination of last year's QB feast, some knocks on his arm strength and mobility, and more pressing needs kept him moving down the first round. But that was OK with him.
"I played in green in high school, I was in green at Marshall and I'm green again," he said from his home near Knoxville, Tenn., after his selection. "This is actually the best situation out of all the teams. Being able to go to an organization and a city that loves football, have a coach like Al Groh and a quarterback coach like Dan Henning, playing under Vinny Testaverde, you can't ask for a better situation."
Groh compared him favorably to Phil Simms, the QB when Groh was a Giants assistant coach in the 1980s and early '90s. And Simms, now CBS's top NFL analyst, said from his North Jersey home that he's impressed by the little he's seen of Pennington.
"The people I talked to had him picked a lot higher than that," Simms said. "He's a little more athletic than people give him credit for. And he throws the ball with pinpoint accuracy. The two things you have to do as an NFL quarterback are picking the open guy and then throwing it to him. Moving around is way down the list."
The accuracy was underscored by a school-record 63.3 career completion percentage that set a Marshall record. Other Thundering Herd marks he toppled were for completions (1,084), attempts (1,712), yards (14,036) and touchdown passes (123, many to Vikings superstar Randy Moss). In addition, he throws tight spirals and flings well when he is forced from the pocket.
Despite Pennington's gentle protestations to the contrary, draft analysts marked him down for his arm strength, saying that while it has improved over the years, he noticeably loses accuracy the further downfield he throws and doesn't have the arm of last year's top three QBs, Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith. And while he said he tried to answer those who don't like his mobility by turning a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, some still think he is not elusive or dangerous enough when he is forced to tuck the ball and run.