It’s a weird year to need a quarterback.
There are teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers that desperately need a franchise signal-caller. And then there are teams like Detroit and Carolina that already have a young quarterback recently drafted high in the first round but are already looking for a replacement.
Oh, and have you heard this is allegedly the worst QB class since the infamous 2013 class?
And yet, as many as five quarterbacks could be taken in the first round this year.
Kyler Murray was the first-overall selection in 2019. He went on to win Rookie of the Year and is already a two-time Pro Bowler. But the other top QBs that year – Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall, Dwayne Haskins at 15 and Drew Lock at No. 42 – didn’t enjoy the same success.
It should be noted that Arizona only drafted Murray because the Cardinals’ pick the previous year, Josh Rosen, who was taken with the 10th overall pick in 2018, didn’t pan out. The same can be said for Sam Darnold, the No. 2 overall pick that year. He’s already with his second team, Carolina – one of the teams that’s in the mix for a QB in Round 1 this year. Baker Mayfield was the top overall pick in 2018; he could reportedly land in Carolina.
In fact, the best two QBs in 2018 were Josh Allen, taken No. 7 by Buffalo, and Lamar Jackson, taken by Baltimore with the last pick of the first round. Pittsburgh took Mason Rudolph that year; he was the next QB off the board after Jackson, going No. 76 overall.
And you want to talk about “forcing the issue?” Mitch Trubisky was the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, going to the QB-starved Chicago Bears. Of course, hindsight says Patrick Mahomes (No. 10) or Deshaun Watson (No. 12) would have been better picks, but those were the only two QBs from that class to have success in the NFL.
Showing some restraint and waiting to take a quarterback hasn’t always worked out for some teams, either. Cleveland had three picks in the first round in 2017 and was desperate for a QB (remember, this was the year before Mayfield was drafted). They passed on Trubisky and took Myles Garrett instead. So far, it’s hard to argue with that pick, even though the team could have taken Mahomes or Watson at No. 1 overall.
The Browns then drafted safety Jabrill Peppers (No. 25) and tight end David Njoku (No. 29) in the first round, again showing some restraint. Finally, at pick No. 52 overall, Cleveland went back on the clock. Browns fans and team executives alike were probably high-fiving each other at that point, as the last top QB remaining was still on the board, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer.
He lasted one season with the team and is currently out of the league.
History also shows teams don’t have to force the issue and over-draft a QB to still fail.
Consider the 2016 draft as Exhibit A.
Both the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles were so desperate for a new QB that they both traded up to the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the draft. And, sure enough, Rams QB Jerod Goff and Eagles QB Carson Wentz went on to make Super Bowls. But Wentz was injured and didn’t appear in the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, while Goff was so unimpressive in the 2019 Super Bowl that he was shipped out to Detroit two seasons later. Goff is now on his second team, Detroit, while Wentz is now playing for his third.
The other QB who went in the first round that year? Memphis’ Paxton Lynch. Denver traded up to take Lynch. He’s now a backup for the Michigan Panthers of the USFL.
In fact, the only QB from the 2016 class who has enjoyed continued success is Dak Prescott, taken by the Cowboys near the bottom of the fourth round out of Mississippi State with pick No. 135 overall. Dallas, you may recall, was looking for a backup to develop behind starter Tony Romo.
But, truth be known, the Cowboys got lucky with that pick.
They first tried to trade back into the first round to take Lynch. Denver beat them out. Then Dallas was dead-set on taking Michigan State’s Connor Cook early in the fourth round. Instead, Las Vegas – who already had a young starter in Derek Carr, himself a second-round pick in 2014 – traded up one pick ahead of Dallas and snagged Cook.
The Cowboys eventually drafted Prescott, but he wasn’t even their first pick of the fourth round. That would be Oklahoma defensive lineman Charles Tapper, who has already retired.
There have been other bad QB years.
In 2015, two quarterbacks were taken in the first round: Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Although Winston was named a Pro Bowl his rookie season, neither player is still with their original team, and it’s debatable whether either will start this year.
But, to be fair, Winston and Mariota were highly regarded at the time, so no one questioned the picks back then. And teams didn’t force the issue that year, either, as only five other quarterbacks were taken in 2015. The only other QB drafted that year to enjoy some success was Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick at No. 250 overall. He’s now on his sixth team, Chicago.
One of the most famous bad QB years was 2013.
Buffalo was desperate for one after releasing Ryan Fitzpatrick despite signing him to a six-year, $59 million contract in 2011. Fitzpatrick, though, refused to take a pay cut, paving the way for then-new head coach Doug Marrone to draft the QB of his choosing.
Problem was, the QB pickings were pretty slim that year. Simply put, E.J. Manuel of Florida State was the best of a bad bunch. Buffalo wound up drafting him with the No. 16 overall pick.
Geno Smith of West Virginia was the next QB to be drafted after the New York Jets took him with pick No. 39 overall. He was followed by Mike Glennon of North Carolina State, who went to Tampa Bay in the third round at pick No. 73 overall. USC’s Matt Barkley and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones were among four QBs to be taken in the fourth round that year.
None of them enjoyed prolonged success, including Manuel. He lasted three seasons in Buffalo and eventually retired after the 2018 season.
Hoping the Steelers find the next Dak Prescott or Russell Wilson in the later rounds?
Of the 116 quarterbacks drafted since 2012, only 15 who were taken outside of the first round became part- or full-time starters. That’s about 8 percent.
Meanwhile, 15 of the 20 QBs the past 10 drafts who have gone on to make at least one Pro Bowl were taken in the first round.
Sure, you run into the occasional anomaly. Six quarterbacks from the 2012 draft made at least one Pro Bowl appearance, including first-rounders Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill. But Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson (No. 75 overall), Arizona’s Nick Foles (No. 88 overall) and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins (No. 102) have also gone to Pro Bowls, with both Wilson and Foles winning Super Bowls.
And therein lies the conundrum this draft presents.
Pittsburgh’s depth chart right now includes Trubisky, now playing for his third team, and Rudolph, the 2018 third-rounder.
The team is said to be high on Liberty’s Malik Willis and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, in that order. If available, you’d have to think Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett could be a possibility, too. All three have or will have official visits with the Steelers.
There’s also talk about Pittsburgh possibly trading back into the first round, where North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral could still be available. Nevada’s Carson Strong is a dark horse candidate for Round 1, too, even though he comes with serious medical issues. Corral (No. 60 in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board) and Strong (No. 115) are rated outside of the first round, but desperate teams like Atlanta or Detroit could try to trade back into the first round if they pass on the position the first time.
Don’t want to take that chance?
Sure, the Steelers could hope they strike gold in the later rounds with a player like Bailey Zappe. The 6-foot, 215-pound senior transferred to Western Kentucky last year after starting his collegiate career at Houston Baptist, an FCS program. Zappe went on to lead the NCAA in passing during his lone season with the Hilltoppers, throwing for 5,967 yards and 62 TDs. That was 1,095 yards and 15 TDs more than the next-closest passer.
But it’s hard to ignore how few QBs drafted after the first round since 2012 have gone on to have some kind of success in the league.
Pittsburgh’s other option is to continue building its offensive line, taking the best player available in the first round, then aiming for a QB in 2023. As of now, the 2023 QB class is expected to be much better and is headlined by Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young.
Then again, this time last year, the 2022 draft was supposed to be headline by Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler. He’s now with South Carolina.
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