Everybody is talking about quarterbacks, with the NFL draft upcoming, starting on Thursday. In recent weeks, both the St Louis Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles paid a steep price to move up to #1 and #2. The expectations are that California's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz will go with the top two picks, although their draft order is still up in the air.
If things go well with those two picks, the Rams and Eagles will be set up for the long term with above average quarterbacks. If things go poorly with those two picks, the Rams and Eagles will be steady, consistent losers until the next time they draft a QB in the first round. In fact, that’s exactly where the Rams have just been since they picked Sam Bradford #1 overall back in 2010.
The advanced metric pundits are all screaming bad deal for the two teams that traded up, and great deal for the two teams that traded down (Tennessee and Cleveland). And the history of QB’s going #1 and #2 in the draft hasn’t seen two above average quarterbacks in those spots since 1971.
Here’s the list:
2015- Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota (jury’s still out on these two)
2012- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin
1999- Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb
1998- Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf
1993- Drew Bledsoe, Rick Mirer
1971- Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning
Tim Couch was taken ahead of Donovan McNabb in 1999, but that’s about the only instance of a #2 drafted QB outshining the guy at #1. That list does not make the Eagles trade look particularly prescient.
Eagles' GM Howie Roseman had this to say after already locking up Sam Braford and Chase Daniel in free agency before making the move up to #2: “You look at teams and it’s clear — you have quarterbacks or you don’t, and teams that don’t have quarterbacks are looking for them, and we don’t want to be in that position going forward. So even though we understand that we made a commitment to Sam and Chase, we went into this offseason saying we wanted to improve the quarterback situation. We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re desperate.”
The reality is that half the league – at least -- would upgrade their QB if they could. Brock Osweiler just got $72 million from the Texans. RG3 got $15 million from the Browns. Remember when the sports universe went abuzz because Andy Dalton signed a $96 million dollar deal to stay in Cincinnati? Any warm body that can throw the football even a little bit is a valued commodity. Because the secret truth about the NFL in 2016 is that there are no quarterbacks.
Look at the serviceable quarterbacks drafted over the last ten years. These are not the top draftees (that list looks much worse), just the ones who have gotten some playing time. The five QBs on the list from the last two seasons all get incomplete grades – too soon to tell.
But the aggregate result of the rest of this list isn’t very pretty!
2015: Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston.
2014: Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater.
2013: EJ Manuel, Geno Smith.
2012: Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins.
2011: Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick.
2010: Sam Bradford.
2009: Matthew Stafford, Marc Sanchez.
2008: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Chad Henne.
2007: JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb
2006: Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, Charlie Whitehurst.
Look at that list closely. Over the last ten years, there have been a grand total of three legit superstar quarterbacks to come out of college: Andrew Luck (a #1 overall pick), Cam Newton (a #1 overall pick) and Russell Wilson (the only QB under the age of 30 with a Super Bowl ring). So basically, if you didn’t draft #1, you’ve had one chance in ten years to get an elite QB. Hard to find that kind of needle in a haystack, isn’t it!
But it gets worse than that. Over the last ten years, other than the three superstar quarterbacks, there have only been three other well above average players drafted: Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. The scary thing is that the next tier guys on the list – Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill – look good by comparison, even though none of those three appear primed to ever lead their team to a Super Bowl.
So, we’ve got three elites, three well above average QBs, and a handful of serviceable guys coming out of the NFL draft over the last ten years. But when it comes to first round QB’s drafted, there’s been more busts than anything: JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, EJ Manuel, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Tim Tebow, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel . Each and every one of those guys were a ‘set your franchise back at least two or three years’ type of bust, and there were more of those guys than anybody else.
That being said, the first rounders sure were better than the second rounders, unless you think Jimmy Clausen, Pat White, Brian Brohm, John Beck or Tavaris Jackson enjoyed productive careers.
I know, I’m exaggerating, with the whole ‘There are no QB’s thing. That being said most of the top remaining QBs have played at least a dozen previous seasons in the NFL. We just lost Peyton Manning. The likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer are all in or fast approaching past their prime territory. And there just aren’t a new crop of QBs ready to replace them.
Say you’re an NFL GM. The history of recent quarterbacks drafted is nothing short of hideous. The top free agent this offseason was Brock bleeping Osweiler, and he got a $72 million deal. Chase Daniel got $21 million. Who knows how much Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to command on the open market, or Brian Hoyer, the "top 2" remaining free agent QBs? Neither guy has much Super Bowl upside. And don’t expect next year’s free agent class to look much better.
If you can’t get a QB in free agency, it means that you’ve got to find a QB somewhere else. An elite QB turns a mediocre team good (Andrew Luck in Indy) or a good team great (Russell Wilson in Seattle). I don’t blame Roseman for paying a king’s ransom in draft picks to give the Eagles that shot, even though it’s more likely to fail than to succeed. Quite simply, there are no other options in a league with a real dearth of talent moving forward at the quarterback position.
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