Keith Price Deserves NFL Opportunity
By Tom Rohrer
After a standout sophomore season, Washington quarterback Keith Price earned both praise and vilification from the Huskies faithful the last two seasons.
Price led Washington to a 7-6 record in 2011 and threw for a school-record 33 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions. In the season finale, Price accounted for seven touchdowns in a 67-56 defeat to Baylor and Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl.
Thanks to his performance in the bowl game and his potential to grow with the Huskies' ever-improving roster, Price appeared to be a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate heading into his junior season.
Mired by nagging injuries, poor offensive line play and untimely turnovers, Price failed to take a step forward in 2012. Washington finished 7-6, lost to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Price threw for 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Last season, despite questionable performances in blowout losses to Oregon and Arizona State, Price was able to lead Washington to a victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the program's first nine-win season in more than a decade.
Washington’s career leader in touchdowns (75), passing efficiency (143.2) and completion percentage (.640), Price’s absence next fall will have a staggering effect for the Huskies given their uncertainty at the position.
Considering the state of the program prior to his arrival, Price’s impact rivals any in Washington’s illustrious history at the position.
A dynamic dual-threat quarterback prospect following his 2011 campaign, Price has seen his professional stock fall. Price’s size (6-foot-1), performance in big games (3-12 against ranked opponents) and health issues are some of the question marks proposed by scouts.
In his defense, Price has shown willingness to improve, accuracy throwing the ball and has three years of experience facing the Pac-12's collection of talented defensive players.
These strength do not guarantee Price selection in the upcoming NFL draft or a roster spot for the regular season.
Price failed to earn an invitation to the NFL combine, which will include 300 players, 19 of them quarterback prospects.
If Price does somehow earn a roster spot in the NFL, it appears he won’t be a team’s long- or short-term option at the position. His best shot may be to make a practice squad or hang on as a third quarterback and undrafted free agent.
A team captain for the last two years, Price was beloved by his teammates and coaches alike for his work ethic. Even with year to year improvement, the Huskies' failure to advance onto the list of elite programs often was put squarely on the shoulders of Price.
Despite this scrutiny from the fan base, which became particularly heavy in the latter stages of his junior and senior seasons, Price never complained or lashed out to the local media.
Price's exposure to the spotlight combined with extensive experience against NFL talent is encouraging and increases his chances to eventually play at the next level.
There is a tendency for NFL teams to bring in reserve quarterbacks who played for high-level programs against top-flight collegiate competition.
The Huskies frequently played in national TV games and Price faced talented defenses from Stanford, USC and UCLA during his collegiate career.
Similar to backups such as San Francisco’s Colt McCoy and Miami’s Matt Moore, Price lacks big-time arm strength, possessed by reserves like New England’s Ryan Mallett or Denver’s Brock Osweiler.
A stronger arm would help his candidacy, but given his accuracy and work ethic, Price could influence NFL brain trusts to look past his physical deficiencies and earn an opportunity to prove himself.
Following a prolific career at the University Idaho, Doug Nussmeier was selected in the fourth round of the 1994 and would serve as a reserve quarterback for the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts.
After leading Washington to a victory over Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl, Marcus Tuiasosopo was selected in the second round of the NFL draft before beginning an eight-season stint as a backup for four teams.
Price worked extensively with Nussmeier, Washington’s offensive coordinator from 2009-12, and Tuiasosopo, the Huskies' quarterbacks coach in 2013, providing the pupil with plenty of opportunities to learn first-hand what it takes to make it at the next level.
“Making it” at the NFL level for the quarterback class of 2014 will have varying definitions. For Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, it means an immediate starting role that eventually leads to Pro Bowl appearances and playoff victories.
For Price, making it means a paycheck and a spot on a roster.
Washington is now a better program than what it was prior to the 2011 season. Thanks to his talent and leadership, Price was a major factor in that transformation.
Reserve quarterbacks require talent, strong work ethic and the ability to block out distractions. Price possess all three traits and should earn a chance to make a roster because of it.