Edwards compares favorably to Seattle's Hasselbeck (Photo Source)
It happens all the time with young NFL quarterbacks - fans desperate to believe that their young signal-caller will blossom into a star compare their quarterback to others around the league, pointing out similarities in the hope that the youngster will develop along the same lines as the veteran. In the case of the Buffalo Bills' Trent Edwards, one veteran NFL quarterback compares quite well - and he just happens to be the man that Edwards will be squaring off against in Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season.
Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck didn't take the standard route to becoming one of today's best quarterbacks. Drafted by Green Bay, he spent the first two years of his career sitting behind Brett Favre; it was only when his former coach, Mike Holmgren, traded for Hasselbeck in 2001 that he became a full-time NFL starter. The results have been solid - Hasselbeck started his career off a bit slowly, but at the age of 32 has blossomed into the of the toughest, smartest and most productive players at his position. His Seahawks are also a perennial contender.
Where Edwards/Hasselbeck compare
They aren't just similar in their first-year numbers, though those compare eerily well: Hasselbeck started 12 games in his first year in Seattle, completing 54.8% of his passes for 2,023 yards, 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, whereas Edwards, in his nine rookie starts, completed 56.1% of his throws for 1,630 yards and the same 7 touchdown to 8 interception ratio. Edwards was sacked much less (12 sacks as compared to 38), but Hasselbeck held the slight lead in yards per attempt (6.3 to 6.1).
No, these players compare well beyond the numbers as well. Neither was highly touted coming out of college, where Hasselbeck was a sixth round pick in 1998; Edwards a third-rounder in 2007. They're built similarly (both are 6'4", and Edwards, at 231 pounds, barely outweighs Hasselbeck at 225). Both are considered cerebral quarterbacks; Edwards was smart enough to keep his team in games as a green rookie, while Hasselbeck, with experience, has turned himself into one of the best readers of a defense in the entire league. Neither has the strongest arm in the world, though Hasselbeck's throws have a bit more zip to them. Hasselbeck is tougher - in the mold of Jim Kelly, to be quite honest - but Edwards isn't a cupcake either, playing the end of the '07 season with bruised ribs, a development which prompted him to add 15 pounds of muscle this past off-season.
The comparison is valid. Edwards has the ability, with enough experience, to produce and lead the way Hasselbeck has in Seattle. What he'll need to do to make that leap, however, is only partially in his control: he'll need consistency, and he'll need to become a better leader.
Where it may go wrong
Hasselbeck is one of the fieriest competitors in the league. He's bold, brave, and sometimes a little over the top (see his brash overtime prediction at the coin toss in a playoff loss to Green Bay). But he's a leader, both by example and by command, and the latter is an attribute that Edwards has yet to develop - and he may never do that. Edwards' biggest challenge in 2008 isn't reading defenses, it's winning over his teammates. Players have gotten behind young quarterbacks before in Buffalo. But it's been a while since those players have been true believers in their young leader.
Ultimately, what Edwards needs more than anything is the opportunity that Hasselbeck has been afforded. Hasselbeck has enjoyed the longevity of Holmgren in Seattle, even amidst rumors that he would be fired or retire, and even through some substandard seasons here and there. Holmgren gets the benefit of the doubt because of his reputation; Dick Jauron won't enjoy such luxury. There's more pressure on Edwards to succeed right away than there was on Hasselbeck, who had the backing of a proven head coach. Hopefully, this isn't Edwards' downfall.
Either way, the Edwards-Hasselbeck comparison is legitimate - and there are much worse situations that the Bills could be in. If the comparison turns out to manifest itself well for Buffalo down the road, and Edwards turns into something close to what Hasselbeck has been for Seattle, then we can count ourselves very lucky.