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The VandySports 100: No. 7, Jay Cutler

Quarterback Jay Cutler is one of Vanderbilt's all-time greats in football. He's seventh on our VandySports 100, which is the list of the 100-best players we've covered in our time running the site since 2003.

Jay Cutler (6) was one of the best quarterbacks in Vanderbilt football history.
Jay Cutler (6) was one of the best quarterbacks in Vanderbilt football history. (Vanderbilt University)

Honors and awards: 2002 third-team Freshman All-American (The Sporting News)

2002 first-team Freshman All-Southeastern Conference (coaches, AP)

2002 Freshman All-SEC

2003 SEC Offensive Player of the Week (Kentucky)

2005 first-team All-SEC

2005 SEC Offensive Player of the Year (coaches, AP)

2015 Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame

In the VU record book: Single-game passing yards: sixth, 10th (395 vs. Kentucky in 2005, 361 vs. Florida in 2005)

Single-game pass attempts: first, tied-10th (66, vs Kentucky in 2005, 49 vs. South Carolina in 2005)

Single-game pass completions: first (39 vs. Kentucky in 2005)

Single-game completion percentage: eighth, 10th (77.1 vs. South Carolina in 2003, 75.0 vs. Navy in 2004)

Single-game passing touchdowns: tied-first, tied-fourth (five vs Kentucky in 2005, four vs. Florida in 2005 and Kentucky in 2003)

Single-game rushing yards per attempt: (11.7 vs. Kentucky in 2003)

Single-game rushing touchdowns: tied-third (three vs. Furman in 2002)

Single-season passing yards: third (3,073)

Single-season passing attempts: second (462 in 2005)

Single-season pass completions: second (273 in 2005)

Single-season completion percentage (61.0 in 2004)

Single-season passing touchdowns: tied-fourth and tied-fifth (21 in 2005, 18 in 2003)

Single-season 300-yard passing games: tied-first (five in 2005)

Single-season rushing touchdowns: tied-ninth (nine in 2002)

Single-season total offense: first, tied-eighth, 17th, 20th (3,288 in 2005; 2,646 in 2003; 2,193 in 2004; 1,826 in 2002)

Career passing yards: second (8,697)

Career passing attempts: second (1,242)

Career passing completions: second (710)

Career completion percentage: first (57.2)

Career passing touchdowns: second (59)

Career 300-yard passing games: tied-second (seven)

Career rushing touchdowns: tied-fifth (17)

Career total offense: first (9,953)

Before VU: Cutler starred at Indiana's Heritage Hills High, where was a two-way starter for three years. He led the team to a 15-0 record and a state title as a senior, catching a 12-yard TD pass for the winning score in the state championship game as a senior. Was a first-team all-state player as a senior (coaches, AP) and the Indiana Offensive Player of the Year (S&L Publishing Group) also. Was 122-of-202 for 2,252 yards and 31 TDs passing as a senior, while rushing 65 times for 493 yards and 11 TDs that season. Had 88 tackles and nine interceptions as a safety while returning six kicks, a fumble and an interception for a score. Led team to 11-1 mark as a junior while throwing for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs, earning all-state honors. Threw for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs as a sophomore. Was a first-team all-state basketball player, and averaged over 20 points in each of his final two seasons. Hit .400 over .400 as a junior and senior and earned honorable-mention all-state honors as a shortstop.

Freshman (2002): After redshirting in 2001, Curtler played in 11 of the team's 12 games, starting each. Set freshman records for total offense and touchdown passes. Was the team's Offensive Player of the Game vs. Furman and Georgia. Posted five touchdowns and 322 yards of total offense vs. Furman between 14 passing attempts and six rushes; that included a 61-yard scoring run in one of the team's two wins. Also scored the winning touchdown on a rush for a last-minute comeback win over Connecticut. Completed a season-high 11 passes on five occasions. Was 11-of-21 for 207 yards two TDs and no interceptions vs. Ole Miss. Had two TD passes four times. Suffered a hip pointer early in the Tennessee loss.

Sophomore (2003): Served as team captain and was the team's Offensive Back co-MVP while starting all 12 games. Had the highest completion percentage of a VU quarterback since 1990. Threw for four touchdowns (11-of-14, 175 yards) and ran for 129 yards in a win over Kentucky. Selected the team's Offensive Player of the Week after the Navy, South Carolina and Kentucky games. Was 21-of-23 in the second half against South Carolina and threw for 319 yards that game. Threw for over 200 yards five times. Was 20-of-32 for 248 yards, two touchdowns and one interception vs. Ole Miss. Was 22-of-35 for 295 yards, two touchdowns and one interception vs. Mississippi St.

Junior (2004): Was the captain and Offensive Back MVP while starting every game. Set a school record for completion percentage among players with at least 125 attempts. His five interceptions were the lowest single-season total for players with at least 200 attempts. Was 14-of-18 for 260 yards and a touchdown, adding 13 carries for 56 rushing yards and a score, vs. Rutgers. Ran for a TD and threw for another, passing for 156 yards and rushing for 73 in a win over Eastern Kentucky. Was 22-of-33 for 314 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 38-33 loss to Tennessee.

Senior (2005): Served as captain for the third time, and was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year for a 5-6 team that snapped a 22-game losing streak to Tennessee. Was 25-for-36 for 276 yards, one TD and one interception, with 10 rushes for 89 yards, in a win at Wake Forest. Led team to a win at Arkansas by completing 23 of 45 throws for 278 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Was 24-of-41 for 314 yards, with 15 carries for 58 more, in a win over Ole Miss. Was 28-of-40 for 263 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a victory over Richmond. Threw for over 300 yards (339 vs. South Carolina, 361 against Florida, 395 vs. Kentucky and 315 vs. Tennessee) in his final four games. Was 27-of-39 for 315 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, connecting with Earl Bennett for a touchdown with 1:11 left for the winning points in a 28-24 victory.

Post-VU: The Denver Broncos took Cutler with the 11th pick of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played for the Broncos, the Bears and the Dolphins during a 153-game career that ended with 35,133 passing yards, 227 touchdowns and 160 interceptions.

Final thoughts, and why I ranked him where I did: These rankings were influenced significantly by how much winning players did at Vanderbilt. Though maybe I weighed that too much at times, I generally don't apologize for it. Winning is the object in sports. Credit for that winning should be doled out to the players most responsible for that. Obviously, there's a disconnect between that and ranking Cutler, whose VU teams went 11-35 (and 5-27 in the SEC), where I did.

Is that holding Cutler to a different standard that almost everyone else on the list?


Is that the right thing to do in this case?

Again, yes.

And here's why: Cutler had--quite literally--almost everything working against him at VU. I don't think it would have mattered if Joe Montana, or Tom Brady, or Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning were behind center because nobody was winning in the situation in which he was placed.

So, let's talk about that situation:

1. VU's coaching philosophy worked against him.

Nobody was ever going to confuse head coach Bobby Johnson and offensive coordinator Ted Cain with Mike Leach or Hal Mumme. VU ran the ball 65, 58, 61 and 44 percent of the time, respectively, between 2002 and 2005.

The second part of that is the staff seemed to use most of its best athletes on defense. You'll see how that plays out next.

2. His offensive line wasn't good.

Part of that hesitation--and this came from a coach on the offensive staff at that time, was that VU didn't want Cutler "getting killed" by throwing the ball frequently. While some of that pass-hesitant logic stuck me as the equivalent of purchasing a Ferrari only to permanently store it in the garage for fear of it getting damaged, there was also some merit to it: VU allowed 17, 33 and 24 sacks in Cutler's last three seasons (I couldn't find numbers for 2002). Those 33 sacks in 2004 were notable since VU only got off 285 passes that year. (Steven Bright threw 43 of them.)

3. For the most part, he didn't have an exceptionally-skilled receiving group.

Yes, Cutler had Bennett for 2005, and Dan Stricker as a freshman. After that, who was his best receiver? Dustin Dunning? Brandon Smith? George Smith? Erik Davis? Those guys were fine, but other than Bennett, I don't think Cutler had a receiver who got a snap in an NFL game.

4. VU never had much of a running game.

With sacks included, VU averaged 4.3, 3.6, 37 and 3.5 yards per rush from 2002-05. Kwane Doster, who ran for 798 yards (5.0 per carry) in 2002, and Cassen Jackson-Garrison (539, 5.6 in 2005) had the top two individual rushing seasons during Cutler's career.

So let's look at the case for Cutler, which I see as five-fold:

1. He was a terrific athlete, which led to contributions as a runner in addition to what he did throwing the ball.

Too often, we tend to evaluate quarterbacks as passers and not for the overall package. Cutler was not just a three-sport stud in high school, he was a legitimate running threat at VU. Despite the line woes, Cutler ran for 1,256 career yards and is tied for fifth on the school's all-time rushing TD list.

2. He was a leader.

Cutler may be the only player in VU history to be elected team captain three times.

3. He was tough.

Cutler took a beating, but missed just one start due to injury during his career. (He missed the MTSU game due to a suspension during his freshman year. There's actually an interesting back-story on that one that reflects well on Cutler, and I'll tell that one in the War Room if anyone's interested.) He also learned that he had diabetes at 25, so there's no telling how long he played without knowing that.

4. The one season the staff turned him loose, he was voted the SEC's Offensive Player of the Year.

The fact he did that on a losing team tells you how much respect opposing coaches had for Cutler's talent.

5. His NFL career.

I have reserved the right to lean on this to shed light on a player's VU career when that body itself isn't good enough at face value to trust it entirely. In Cutler's case, he was good enough to start the majority of his team's games for 10 seasons at the most demanding position in pro sports. True, Cutler was generally regarded as average for the position, which most people used as a reason to disparage him throughout his career, a logic that couldn't be more twisted in the sense of how we use it to size players up. Hundreds of millions of American kids have grown up dreaming of being starting NFL quarterbacks. There are only 32 of them at a given time; name another profession in which being the 16th-best in the world subjects you to ridicule instead of praise?

Jay Cutler was an elite athlete. We can debate where he belongs on this list due to the lack of winning or eye-popping stats or whatever, but there's no fair way to leave him outside the top 10, and certainly a case he belongs inside the top five.

Jay Cutler career stats
Year Comp-att-yds-ypa-TD/int Rush-yds-ypc-TD


103 - 212 - 1,433 - 6.8 - 48.3 - 10/9

123 - 393 - 3.2 - 9


187 - 327 - 2,347 - 7.2 - 57.2 - 18/13

115 - 299 - 2.6 - 1


147 - 241 - 1,844 - 7.7 - 61.0 - 10/5

109 - 349 - 3.2 - 6


273 - 462 - 3,073 - 6.6 - 59.1 - 21/9

106 - 215 - 2.0 - 1


710 - 1,242 - 8,697 - 7.0 - 57.2 - 59/36

453 - 1,256 - 2.8 - 17