Garrett Gilbert On His Way to Earning A Second NFL Opportunity

Garrett Gilbert
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 17: Garrett Gilbert #3 of the Orlando Apollos looks to pass the ball in an Alliance of American Football game against the the San Antonio Commanders at the Alamodome on February 17, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/AAF/Getty Images)

For many young athletes, the AAF represents an opportunity to show the world they belong in the NFL. Despite having the physical and mental prowess for the job, some players never get the opportunity they deserve. For every Kurt Warner out there, there are 10 grocery store cashiers who never got the right chance. The AAF provides that chance, and Orlando Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert is making the most of it. Through two games, the 27-year old quarterback is well on his way to earning another NFL opportunity.

Orlando Apollos’ Garrett Gilbert Earning Another NFL Opportunity

The Orlando Apollos selected Gilbert with the seventh pick in the AAF quarterback draft. Six other teams are kicking themselves for not taking him when they had the chance. Through two games, Gilbert has completed 64.2% of his passes for 620 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Additionally, the one-time Carolina Panther added two successful two-point conversions through the air.

Gilbert’s production isn’t merely a product of being in a good system. The quarterback consistently makes the right reads and flashes his natural arm talent to connect with the open man. While Charles Johnson is clearly his favorite target, Gilbert isn’t afraid to spread the ball around and keep the defense guessing.

Nobody knew what to make of Gilbert after Week One’s action. He finished with a respectable 227 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions, but the performance came in a lopsided 40-6 victory. Gilbert didn’t need to do much to win, as Atlanta just didn’t show up for the season opener. However, Gilbert put all questions about his ability to rest after Week Two’s action.

Posting the best performance of the week, Gilbert finished Week Two with 393 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Gilbert became the first 300-yard passer in league history while averaging a ridiculous 14.0 yards-per-attempt. This wasn’t garbage time stat padding either, as Gilbert erased two separate 12-point deficits to power Orlando to a 2-0 start to the season. Basically, Gilbert did everything you’d want to see in a quarterback. He put up big numbers, took care of the football, and willed his team to victory while overcoming multiple double-digit deficits.

Gilbert’s Collegiate Roots

A Texas native, Gilbert spent the first three years of his collegiate career with the Texas Longhorns. Gilbert spent 2009 season as the Longhorns’ primary backup before earning the starting gig in 2010. During his first year at the helm, Gilbert completed 59% of his passes for 2,744 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. This wasn’t a good season by any measure, and head coach Mack Brown announced that Gilbert needed to re-earn the starting job in 2011.

Gilbert initially earned the starting job as a Junior but lost the position after just two games. The Junior suffered a shoulder injury, prematurely ending his season. Needing a change in scenery, Gilbert transferred to Southern Methodist University for the start of the 2012 season.

Given the starting job, Gilbert showed gradual improvement over the course of the 2012 season. The first-year Mustang finished his second Junior season completing 53% of his passes for 2,932 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. While he improved from his time as a sophomore, Gilbert still didn’t do enough to earn an NFL job. With that in mind, Gilbert returned for one last season at the collegiate ranks and ended his career on a high note.

Playing in 10 games, Gilbert completed 66.5% of his passes for 3,528 yards, 21 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. All of these numbers were career-bests by a wide margin, as all of Gilbert’s hard work and devotion throughout five seasons finally paid off. Now on the national radar, Gilbert entered the NFL as the St. Louis Rams sixth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Perseverance In the Face of Adversity

Gilbert proved he has what it takes to play quarterback if a team gives time to develop. Unfortunately, Gilbert never earned that time at the NFL level. The first-year quarterback couldn’t break camp but earned a spot on the Rams practice squad. However, Gilbert and the Rams parted ways on October 30th. Gilbert landed with the New England Patriots practice squad, spending the remainder of the 2014 season with the eventual Super Bowl champions.

For the second straight year, Gilbert couldn’t make the NFL roster out of camp and bounced around the league. Over the next three seasons, Gilbert bounced around with the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, and Carolina Panthers. It would have been easy for Gilbert to give up his NFL dream, as the quarterback simply never had a chance to stick at any of his destinations.

However, Gilbert refused to quit, and eventually, his hard work and perseverance paid off. After a series of injuries decimated the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback depth chart, Gilbert earned a spot on Carolina’s active roster for the 2018 season finale. Backing up Kyle Allen, Gilbert made his long-awaited NFL debut in the waning minutes of the 2018 season. The 27-year old rookie completed two of his three passes for 40 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. While the passes were ultimately meaningless, it represented years of unrelenting work and focus finally paying off at the highest level.

As it is, Gilbert entered the AAF as a fringe NFL backup with a wide array of experience. He’s clearly learned a lot along the way but never had a chance to display his knowledge and natural ability on the field at any point over the past few seasons.

That is until the AAF came knocking. Gilbert finally had a platform to put his skills on display, and he’s made the most of his opportunity. If it weren’t for the Arena Football League, Kurt Warner would never have captained the Greatest Show on Turf. While Gilbert may not be a Hall of Famer in the making, he’s proving that he belongs in the NFL, at least in a backup role.

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