Quarterback Conundrum: Part II

Steve O Speak

In Part I we looked at the misconceptions that winning teams need elite quarterbacks, and that they can only be found in the first round. We also broke down the 31 quarterbacks taken in the first round since Peyton Manning went 1st overall in 1998. Well the numbers are in and they aren’t pretty. Of those 31 one quarterbacks only four could be considered ‘elite’, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Eli Manning. Another two should be in the very good category, as both Palmer and McNabb lose some points do to consistency and injuries. I’d say there are another two in the above average category, Campbell and Cutler, with both 2008 QB’s (Ryan and Flacco) just about there and likely to move up.

Beyond those 10, I think at best you can call Pennington an average quarterback, and say its too early to tell on Vince Young and Matt Leinart. Even in the best case scenario Young and Leinart join Cambell and Cutler in the above average category and Ryan and Flacco ascend to the level of elite quarterbacks.

Now you’ll notice I didn’t add the ‘too early to tell’ on any of the three rookie quarterbacks from last season. I don’t think its fair yet to judge them or fully label them in any category yet. Right now though I do feel they are all shading towards the ‘bust’ label, given just how bad their rookie numbers were. None of their rookie numbers compare too favorably with any of the names above, giving one pause. Now I doubt all three will end up being bad picks, but I also don’t believe all three will be successful first rounders either. And I really have a hard time believing any of these guys will one day end up in the ‘elite’ class.

So by ignoring the three rookies we are down to 28 quarterbacks of those, in our most optimistic perception we have 13 successful draft picks. That’s less than half, and only the top 6 (potentially 8 if Ryan and Flacco keep developing) are true ‘franchise’ changers. So that means less than a third of the quarterbacks drafted over the 10 year period 1999-2008 in the first round, became the top-notch quarterbacks that everyone is looking for. That is an awful percentage, especially since when you miss on a ‘franchise’ quarterback you miss badly (see Akili Smith, Joey Harrington etc.).

So what makes one quarterback successful and another a cautionary tale (or at least should be one)? The honest answer is there isn’t much in common among the successful quarterbacks in the league, some are pure pocket passers, others are good on their feet, some have big arms, others are more limited. Some are tall strong quarterbacks, others barely break 6 feet. The one thing that they do somewhat have in common, is that they have been developed over time.

Going into the 2008 draft, only two of the quarterbacks listed above in the success category, started more than half their teams games their rookie season, Ben Roethlisberger and Vince Young. And Roethlisberger is the only one to have sustained success, after starting his rookie year. Young struggled his first two years, before getting benched for over a year. He too had technically had to ‘develop’ into a starting quarterback, and the jury is still very much out on him. What’s even more impressive is that pretty much every successful quarterback with the exception of Peyton Manning had to spend at least a year maturing into being a starting quarterback. Guys like Favre, Brees, and Brady were back-ups their first season’s  in the League. Yet despite this track record of quarterbacks needing time to develop, the 5 first round quarterbacks since 2008 all started at least 9 games their rookie year. While it looks like Ryan and Flacco will be fine, its quite possible that the Lions, Jets and Bucs all slowed down or stunted the growth of their rookie quarterbacks. Now this is not to say that benching a quarterback for a year or two will automatically make a quarterback a success story, as their are plenty of failed quarterbacks who barely saw the field their first season, but it is telling that so many of those quarterbacks who did start their rookie seasons are now out of the league.

I don’t believe that you should never draft a quarterback in the first round, but I do feel teams need to be smart when doing so. Teams need to have talent around them on offense, as well as allowing them ample time to develop. When teams force the issue with a young quarterback and throw him in the fire too soon, they are the ones getting burned. If you draft a quarterback and your team isn’t ready, or able to hold him on the bench for a couple of seasons it will set your team back for years. Franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, but they also aren’t found just by ‘drafting them in the first round’.

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