The newly located Los Angeles Rams made headlines by trading a hoard of draft picks to the Tennessee Titans for this year’s number 1 overall pick. The expectation is that the Rams will draft a quarterback, and the two potential prospects are Jared Goff out of California (Berkeley) and Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State (Fargo). The trade was met with much skepticism for the Rams, as many pundits thought they spent too much to move up in a relatively uncertain draft. Then, shockingly, the Philadelphia Eagles made essentially the same move, trading a reserve of picks to the Cleveland Browns for the number 2 overall pick. The Eagles are expected to take a quarterback as well, taking whichever of the aforementioned prospects the Rams pass on. With both teams paying so much to move up, it is time to examine exactly how overvalued first round quarterbacks are.
Obviously, quarterback is the most important position in football, but it is now clearly a fallacy that a team should acquire their most important piece strictly in the first round of the draft. Over the past decade, there is a copious amount of evidence that picking a quarterback in the first round just for the sake of doing so is a bad idea. It is too early to judge the two quarterbacks taken in the first round in last year’s draft, although it is safe to say that Jameis Winston and Marucs Mariota are off to a good start. In 2014 three QB’s were taken in the first round. The Jaguars seemed to have nailed the Blake Bortles pick. The jury is still out (literally) on Johnny Manziel, and the Vikings seem to have made a nice choice with the last pick of the first round on Teddy Bridgewater. But going back to 2013 and further is where these picks become very unsightly. The only quarterback taken in Round 1 of the 2013 draft was E.J. Manuel. No one would look at the pool of players taken in that first round and want to come up with Manuel.
The 2012 draft has mixed results for quarterbacks. The first overall pick Andrew Luck was a no-brainer hit. There can be much debate over the Robert Griffin III pick at two, but at the time it was the only choice. The mistake was that the Redskins traded a stockpile of picks (ever heard that before?) to the Rams to get to that spot to pick RG3, and now less than four years later he is not even with them. The Dolphins took Ryan Tannehill with the eighth pick of the 2012 draft, one spot ahead of Luke Kuechly. The Dolphins and their faithful may still believe in Tannehill, but he has started every game in the four years since they have drafted him and they are 29-35 in that span with no playoff appearances. The Cleveland Browns took Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick of the 2012 draft, and there is no reason to dawdle on the numerous reasons why that turned out poorly.
The 2011 draft is the best of the past decade, and will probably go down as one of the best in NFL history. It is also when the most egregious first round quarterback picks were made. Jake Locker was taken eighth by the Titans, one spot ahead of Tyron Smith. Then Blaine Gabbert was taken tenth by the Jaguars, one spot ahead of J.J. Watt. Then Christian Ponder was taken 12th, two spots ahead of Robert Quinn. That draft class was loaded, and the only truly bad picks in the first half of the first round were those three quarterbacks.
Poor investments in first round quarterbacks can be found throughout the draft’s history. Obviously drafting college prospects is an inexact science, but recent results has to make teams wary of spending first round resources on a guy who just happens to be one of the couple best quarterback prospects in a given year.
One cliché that is often heard in interviews with NFL coaches, GM’s, and executives when regarding the draft is to “take the best available player, regardless of position.” This seems like it should be especially true for teams with high draft picks, who are most likely rebuilding, and need help at a lot of different positions. Yet teams seem to neglect this motto time and again when taking a quarterback which they think they need. Perhaps some teams have a genuine issue evaluating prospects at the quarterback position. The NFL is a business, and perhaps some teams elect to pick a potential face of the franchise that they can market in the first round deliberately (this could very well be the case for the Rams this year, as they attempt to restart in a city that won’t give the time of day to a team that can’t win or at least be very entertaining). Whatever the case, it is surprising that teams have not figured out the low probability that they will be rewarded by their risk of taking a quarterback in the first round.
Two clichés that do appear to hold in the NFL are; build through the draft, and quarterbacks are at a premium. Undoubtedly a good quarterback is needed on the path from rebuilding to championship contention. But history shows that it does not have to be the first step. Of the last seven starting quarterbacks to reach the Super Bowl, only three were drafted in the first round by the team that they took to the championship. Even merely waiting until the second round for a quarterback could be a shrewd move. After all, is there that much separating Goff and Wentz from guys like Christian Hackenberg or Paxton Lynch? Or even Dak Prescott or Cardale Jones??
It is possible that Goff and/or Wentz will pan out and become worthy of a top pick. However, history shows that it is possible that they do not pan out and also that it is very unlikely that they both do. Which is why it was so shocking and puzzling that the Rams bet the house for one of them, and then that the Eagles doubled-down for a shot with the one the Rams do not want.