Nipping a Draft Myth in the Bud: First Round QB = Postseason Success
I’ve heard a lot of talk in the media, amongst fans and by draftniks of late how all four quarterbacks left in the playoffs are first round picks, and that for some reason therefore first round quarterbacks equal overall team success. For me, nothing is more flat wrong than that presumption, especially when you look at the quarterbacks left. Now I could see how some people could come to that conclusion if the matchups were Manning-Roethlisberger and Ryan-Rodgers, but when you try to use Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez to prove a point about investing in first round quarterbacks it should be as a cautionary tale, not evidence of success.
The fact that Manning, Ryan, Vick and Flacco, all superior first rounders to Cutler/Sanchez, didn’t make it deep in the postseason should tell you right then and there that elite quarterbacks do not guarantee postseason success. Also, proving the point is the fact that Drew Brees and Tom Brady didn’t win a playoff game despite being better than any quarterback in the postseason sans Peyton Manning (and yes that includes Aaron Rodgers). What is proven by the playoff results, is that the best teams win playoff games, not the best quarterbacks.
Now when I say best teams, I don’t necessarily mean the most talented, or those with the best record, but the best team on the field (including coaches) on that given Sunday (or Saturday). And it frankly doesn’t matter whether a quarterback was drafted 1st overall, or undrafted, it matters how good he is, and how great his supporting cast is.
While I respect what Jay Cutler has done with the Bears and in Mike Martz system this season, I’m not going to label him as ‘elite’ or a ‘franchise’ quarterback. While it is now evident that the Bears won the Jay Cutler trade, much of that has to do with the fact that Denver was completely inept in the draft and wasted the draft picks they received from Chicago. While its apparent that Cutler is better than Kyle Orton, whom the Bears gave up on, and that the fifth round pick they received (Johnny Knox) has been an incredible find, it ignores what they could have taken had they kept the picks.
While Cutler and Knox have been good for the Bears, I don’t know if they are better than Orton, and the draft picks. Had they kept the 1st and 3rd round picks, the Bears could have taken Michael Oher and Mike Wallace in those spots (Denver traded that 3rd round pick with another pick to the Steelers to move up into the 2nd round). And in 2010 they would have had the 11th overall pick and either had their choice of players including a number of guards and OT’s they needed or traded back and stockpiled picks like Denver did (though they then subsequently wasted those picks). Either way, Chicago would be in a pretty healthy position right now with those extra draft picks. And Kyle Orton plus those picks (executed properly) is just as likely to have the Bears in the Championship game as Cutler and Knox.
Mark Sanchez is even a bigger cautionary tale as his numbers through two seasons have been less than stellar. Yes the Jets have been successful, but that is due in large part to the fact that they have a great defense, offensive line, running game, and receivers. Mark Sanchez had a nice 2nd half against the Patriots, but he is hardly the reason for the Jets overall success. His numbers have been well below average, and more often than not the Jets win in spite of him. It is also worth noting that the Jets traded up for Sanchez, from a pick where they could have taken Josh Freeman.
Now I’m not totally discounting Cutler and Sanchez here, just making the point that their team’s success isn’t solely because of them. And had their teams gone a different way (Bears with Orton and Jets with Freeman) the draft picks and players they could have saved would have put them in a more favorable longterm position. There are 1st round success stories out there among quarterbacks, but it usually comes down to the team around them. Cutler and Sanchez benefit from good teams and coaching around them, but they themselves aren’t at the ‘franchise’ level just yet. Both are still young and could (and should) get better, but right now they have not reached the potential and talent befitting what Chicago and New York expect of them.