Fanatics of other sports will undoubtedly disagree with my assertion, but to me it’s not even close. Across all team sports, a franchise quarterback in the NFL is the most coveted position to fill.
A quality goalkeeper is key to building a successful soccer club or hockey franchise. No MLB team wins the World Series without a true “Ace” up on the mound. And without a leader at Fly Half, there’s no one to run the attack.
But…it’s next to impossible to maintain success in the National Football League without a top-notch quarterback at the helm.
It’s not just that they’re valuable. They’re extremely hard to find.
I’m not saying that unequivocally the quarterback is the most important position in all sport. What I am saying is that it’s the most challenging for any General Manager to fill.
On average about a dozen QB prospects are drafted out of college each April by NFL teams. In general all but one or two will end up washed up and out of the league within a few seasons.
Look at the 2010 draft. Out of 14 players picked, only Sam Bradford is currently a starter, and even he has failed to live up to his hype as the number one pick overall.
A riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, in an enigma.
Successfully predicting the future success of NCAA signal callers in the NFL is generally an exercise in futility. Even the best in the biz fail time and time again to properly assess the incoming quarterback crop in any given year.
It’s extremely rare to see a plug-and-play prospect like Andrew Luck available in the draft. There’s a reason why many QB-needy teams still opt to take a steady offensive or defensive tackle in the first round as opposed to rolling the dice on a college superstar.
Teams often prefer to take their chances on a mediocre journeyman who’s been through the ringer as opposed to handing over the reins to some young pup who might wilt under the pressure.
Look at what just happened in Oakland! The Raiders just traded for Matt Schaub, a guy that had a few great seasons early in his career but who just couldn’t stop tossing Pick 6’s in 2013. They’ll be paying him up to $11million, hoping that he returns to his former self.
That’s how hard it is to find a great quarterback. It’s commonplace to sign has-beens to million dollar contracts. And a back-up who steps in to a game or two and throws for a few hundred yards will undoubtedly be heavily pursued in the coming off-season (think Matt Flynn debacle from a few years back.)
There just aren’t that many guys out there that can truly play the position at the top level.
So what are QB needy teams to do?
Every off-season at least ¼ of the league would like to make some sort of upgrade under center. Now that free agency is under way, we’re starting to get a better idea of which teams are taking the “recycling” approach and which teams will be looking to the draft.
Other than Schaub in Oakland, let’s look at some other teams that are hoping to plug veterans into the starting role.
NY Jets: New York has finally jettisoned Mark Sanchez after watching his play steadily decline. He reached the AFC Championship in his first two seasons and then slowly lost his confidence.
The coaching staff is playing P.C. and preaching “competition”, but I think that it’s pretty clear that newly acquired Michael Vick was brought in to start and not just to push Geno Smith. When healthy, Vick is still a very productive player. Healthy being the operative word here.
It’s been rumored that Sanchez may land in St. Louis as a back-up, but really, who cares? Sanchez’s successful playoff runs early in his career (behind a killer D and strong running game) gave a false vision of his potential. I don’t see him getting a second-wind, but he’ll still make a couple million to stand around holding a clipboard and look pretty in his curly locks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh McCown played well enough last season in relief of the injured Jay Cutler (13TDs to 1 INT) that new Bucs Head Coach Lovie Smith brought the ten year vet over to his new team in free agency and slotted him right in as the starter over Mike Glennon.
McCown is old-ish, and has only played in more than nine games once in his career (2004, Arizona), so this doesn’t necessarily mean that Glennon will never get his shot. But as promising as Glennon looked in 2013, it’s clear that not everyone in the Tampa Bay brass believes he’s franchise QB material.
Minnesota Vikings: It seems as though the Vikings have given up on the Ponder experiment and are at least looking to Matt Cassel to be a stop-gap. They re-signed Cassel to a two-year $10million deal, which is enough money to point to him being the starter, but not enough to stop new Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner from pulling the veteran in favor of younger blood when the time comes.
Turner has openly stated that regardless of what they do with their veteran QBs, they’ll be looking to add a younger QB to the roster in the draft. Whether they go 1st round or not is clearly the big question.
Quite a few analysts believe Manziel would be a good fit for the Vikes. Then again, all you need to type up a mock draft is a computer and internet access. If sportswriters knew as much as they think they do, they’d be making ten times more money working in the front office of a real team.
Myself included, of course. We’re all half full of shit, but fans are too, so it works out to be a beautiful symbiotic relationship.
Holding out for the new guys.
With four adequately exciting QB prospect to choose from (Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, David Carr), we’ll probably see a couple of these guys go to teams that hope to throw them to the wolves immediately, and a couple drafted with an eye to the future.
Houston Texans: Holding the number one pick overall and having just traded away the man who was supposed to lead them deep into the playoffs, there’s a good chance that the Texans will take Blake Bortles with the top choice in the draft. Bortles is slowly gaining ground as the top QB prospect.
Then again, it’s equally possible that Houston goes with the best available player and hopes that enough other teams pass on signal callers to get one of these top four in the 2nd round.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags re-signed Chad Henne, who played OK in a tough situation, but Henne’s been around long enough to prove that he’s just a mediocre quarterback.
Like Houston, Jacksonville has too many holes to fill. They may also pass on a round one QB and hope to get a steal in the next go around.
Cleveland Browns: Brian Hoyer played in three games last season, and the Browns won all three. Then he got injured. Christ only knows if he’d have been able to keep winning in Cleveland.
Now that Schaub is with the Raiders (he had been rumored to be headed to Cleveland), the job may be Hoyer’s to lose. That’s not to say that the new Browns management trust him to be “the guy”. They don’t.
With two first round picks, it would be shocking to see Cleveland finish the opening round of the draft without adding a QB to the roster.
The Quarterback Carrousel.
Some years there’s a clear-cut number one. And other years, like 2014, QB prospect rankings ebb and flow like a girlfriend’s mood when she’s PMS-ing.
It wasn’t long ago that “Johnny Football” Manziel was a shoe-in to be the number one pick. A couple off games and now he’s too small, too unconventional, and lacking in pocket play.
Teddy Bridgewater has also seen his stock slide after sub-par performances at the combine and at his pro day. It’s silly, in my opinion, to allow your opinion to change so much after events that are absolutely nothing like a live football game, but I’m not in charge.
Bortles is becoming the consensus favorite, although some teams put Carr at number one, even if not a single mock draft has him going earlier than the second round.
The truth? Only twenty or thirty games under center in the NFL will give us the real answer. I know, it’s a cop out. And yes, I excel at them.
So fine…conventional wisdom says to take Bortles, and out of the four he’s the one I’d want most on my team. Now I’m down to a half cop out.
There’s a reason why teams don’t like to spend their first pick on a quarterback. So very few of them ever pay off.
That being said, over the past 10 years there have been successes going balls-to-the-wall in the opening round for your QB as well: Andrew Luck, RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger. Add in a few previous first rounders (Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees) and you’ve got 50% of the league’s starters that were drafted in the first round.
We all love the Tom Brady story (one of the greatest of all-time picked up in the 6th round) and more recently “too short” Russell Wilson has captured our hearts with his 3rd rounder to Super Bowl Champion fairy tale…but the reality is that statistically, even taking into consideration all the flops and failures, teams that pull the trigger on first round QBs are much more likely to have picked a winner.
It will be interesting to see where each of these four guys goes, but it will be 2017 before we can really pass judgment on how they stacked up with the big boys.
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