It was a topic on Day 3 of the NFL Draft: Who will end up taking former Ohio State star quarterback J.T. Barrett? The forecasts pointed to a sixth or seventh round selection for Barrett. But, the forecasts were wrong; Barrett didn’t hear his name called inside AT&T Stadium at all; coincidently, the place where he won his last college football game.
But, the former three-time OSU captain did get minicamp offers as an undrafted free agent. When the Indianapolis Colts (and then New Orleans Saints) came knocking, it appeared that the Big Ten quarterback would be vying for a spot in a Big Ten town. Our own Matt Tamanini wrote up a piece on how 13 other QBs heard their named called—with some of them being highly questionable picks—over J.T., and how he deserved better than what he got.
The draft concluded on Saturday, but by midday-Tuesday, it appeared that the universe was trying to correct itself over how the likes of Tanner Lee and Danny Etling got picked over Barrett. Not only did the Saints sign Barrett, but it was to a 3-year deal.
Not a minicamp tryout, as had been previously announced, but an actual multi-year deal.
That’s more of what Barrett deserved after a Buckeye career that saw twists and turns, and a revolving door of who was coaching him at the QB position. Even through all of that, he still managed to break school record after school record—and even toppled Drew Brees’ Big Ten career passing touchdown mark.
Both Brees and Barrett sit at the top of a slew of categories. Barrett’s 104 passing TDs is more than Brees’ 90. However, Brees’ still holds the single-season passing TD mark with 39. Right behind him, though, is Barrett and his 35 TDs from the 2017 season. In recent memory, these two have had some of the most electric seasons in college football. Now, they’ll be teammates.
Out of all the places Barrett could’ve wound up, New Orleans is the best possible place.
Watching a Legend
Brees is the starting QB for the Saints. However, at age 39, how many more years does he have left in the tank? The Saints may be on the lookout for the heir apparent. Signing Barrett for three years shows that the team is willing to give him a chance—and to see how much improvement he can make.
The depth chart for the Bayou football team includes Brees, Barrett, Tom Savage and Taysom Hill. Since he was a free agent pickup, it’s safe to assume that J.T. will begin in the No. 4 slot on the depth chart. However, if he excels in training camp, and practices well, then you have to believe that he’ll at least be able to make the move up to No. 3. Four quarterbacks is too many, so someone—at some point—will be leaving New Orleans.
Staying in the QB room is key for J.T., and it seems very doable with the way the cards have been dealt. Brees is a Super Bowl winner, has valuable experience and tidbits of knowledge that will ultimately make Barrett better.
Quarterbacks that get time to understand the systems they are in, tend to—surprise, surprise—do better. Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent, and was sitting behind Drew Bledsoe on the depth chart in Dallas. After Bledsoe got hurt, Romo was thrust into the starting role, and eventually won it outright. Granted, Romo is an outlier: a free agency pickup that actually becomes a starter. But it does happen. Jeff Garcia and Kurt Warner, who won a Super Bowl as the signal caller for the “Greatest Show on Turf,” were also of the undrafted-free agent variety.
Buckeye Talent Around Him
Life is always easier when you have friends around you. One of the big benefits to becoming a member of the Saints is that Barrett isn’t the only Buckeye on the team. Marshon Lattimore, last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Tear, is on the team, as is Michael Thomas. But those aren’t the only former members of the Scarlet and Gray who’ve found their way to New Orleans. Vonn Bell was also part of that mystical 2016 draft class, and Ted Ginn Jr., a 2007 first-round selection by Carolina, just finished his first season with the Saints.
Barrett and Thomas are more than familiar, as Barrett threw him footballs just three seasons ago wearing the Scarlet and Gray. In his final year with the Buckeyes, Thomas hauled in a team-leading 56 reception, 781 yards and nine TDs. One of his breakout games that season was against Rutgers, where Thomas caught five pass for 103 yards and a score—courtesy of Barrett being under center for that game. (Remember, there was a QB controversy between Cardale Jones and Barrett for the first half of the 2015 season.)
During that same season, Barrett made this throw to Thomas—leading to an even more spectacular catch from the wideout.
But that wasn’t the only year where the Barrett-to-Thomas connection occurred. The national title run of 2014 featured Thomas as one of the go-to targets in the air. While Devin Smith led the team in receiving yards and TDs, Thomas had the most receptions (54) among the receiving corps. Then just a redshirt sophomore, Thomas had breakout games against Virginia Tech (six catches, 98 yards and a TD) and Michigan State (six catches, 91 yards and a TD) with Barrett as the signal caller.
Who knows, maybe Brees may learn something about the top wideout for the Saints with Barrett in the fold?
Avoiding the stranger in a strange land scenario bodes well for Barrett. Now, he has to go out and prove that the richness of the Buckeye pipeline didn’t skip over him, but it certainly won’t hurt to have familiar faces around.
The best outcome
For Barrett, the best outcome of being in this best possible landing spot is, at some point, becoming the No. 1 signal-caller for the Saints. For the Saints, the best possible outcome is the same—and they find their next quarterback after Brees.
This won’t be an overnight process. J.T. will have to work on his mechanics and his ability to throw the ball deep. Also, the run-first mentality (and QB option) will have to be shed, as that’s not really a viable strategy with the way New Orleans operates. The Saints are a pass-happy team, evident by Brees throwing for over 4,000 yards last season. When you have guys like Thomas and Ginn Jr. as receiving options, one could have a field day throwing the ball.
On the ground, a tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram removes the need for the QB to be used as a runner. Kamara ran for over 700 yards and eight TDs in the 2017 campaign, while Ingram led the squad on the ground with 1,124 yards and 12 scores.
Three years is a nice chunk of time to adapt to the big leagues. In college, Barrett had Tom Herman, Tim Beck and Ryan Day as his quarterback coaches during his four years as a full or part-time starter. The consistent change almost certainly hampered his ability to evolve at the position. Barrett was instrumental in getting the Buckeyes to the doorstep of the 2014 national championship—leaving Cardale Jones to open up the door with wins against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to secure the title for the Bucks.
After the title run, Barrett split the job with Jones in 2015; and in 2016, his numbers in the air weren’t nearly as good as his freshman season of ‘14. However, he eclipsed his personal-best in 2017 with a 3,000-yard season.
New Orleans should have a more consistent coaching staff over the three years of Barrett’s contract (assuming he doesn’t get cut), meaning that he won’t have to relearn and recalibrate based on a new quarterbacking philosophy. Joe Lombardi will be his QB coach—and his track record is impressive. Lombardi helped Brees’ set passing records in his first stint with the club (2007-2013), and was the QB coach in the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV win.
Learning to throw the ball at an NFL level is what Barrett needs to do if he wants to be successful. Having someone like Lombardi around is exactly what he needs.
One of the more popular graphic novels in the Batman canon is “The Long Halloween.” The opening line of dialogue has Bruce Wayne saying, “I believe in Gotham City.” We’ve watched J.T. Barrett, the college QB, and now we’ll see him attempt to battle up the ladder to become a QB in the NFL.
Wayne believed in Gotham City; I’m believing in J.T. Barrett—and his ability to make it in the pros.