That is the question not being asked, so I have decided to task myself to search for the answer.
Using a sampling size of a decade’s worth of first-round quarterbacks, I have found that since 2004, twenty-eight quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. Of those, only nine can be considered among the elite, and reducing this number even more, only four have played in the Super Bowl. The following quarterbacks were drafted in the year:
- 2004 – Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and J.P. Losman.
- 2005 – Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers and Jason Campbell.
- 2006 – Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler.
- 2007 – JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.
- 2008 – Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.
- 2009 – Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman.
- 2010 – Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow.
- 2011 – Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
- 2012 – Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden.
- 2013 – E.J. Manuel.
Classifying a player is subjective, however, I will categorize “Elite”, “Better then Average” and “Bust” on achievements, wins and post-season appearances.
- Elite: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford*, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck.
Matthew Stafford hasn’t spent much time in the post-season, however, his abilities are unquestionable and should he jump ship, many teams would vie for his services.
- Better Than Average: Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Robert Griffin III*, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford* and Alex Smith.
- Bust: J.P. Losman, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden and E.J. Manuel.
The gap between Elite and Bust is eye-catching, far more first round disappointments than quarterbacks who have lived up to their draft status. Drafting a quarterback in the first certainly doesn’t guarantee you will find an elite quarterback. E.J. Manuel may develop and produce as a first round draft pick should, but he hasn’t shown any signs that will happen. Robert Griffin has shown some promise of fulfilling his trade/draft status, but injuries have kept him off the field. Sam Bradford showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, but he has fallen from grace the past two seasons, and word is, Bradford is under the Rams microscope.
The past five drafts have seen fourteen quarterbacks taken, and only four who have proven to be franchise quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford. Sam Bradford*, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. There are 32 teams in the NFL and soon, the league will see Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers retire, or reach the age of diminished skills.
Some argue that sitting a first round rookie quarterback is the best way to ensure success, but there isn’t any evidence to support that, especially when rookie starters such as Cam Newton, Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck have had great success.
As football aficionados sternly profess the NFL is a “Passing League” now, and in order to win in the NFL you must have an “elite quarterback”, how do those two accepted ideologies unite when so few elite quarterbacks are ever found?
Contributing to the problem is the pre-conceived idea of the Model NFL Quarterback. The notion that you can’t draft a quarterback unless he is 6′ 5″ tall, 250 lbs and has a cannon arm is a lazy assessment at best. The quarterbacks in possession of these ideal physical traits who enter the draft are automatically labeled “elite”, regardless of intangibles.
The NFL has become so technologically advanced, they use algorithms and high-tech software to grade college prospects, removing the human element. NFL teams hire third-party scouting institutions, such as BLESTO and National Football Scouting Services to build a resume on all college prospects from Division i, Division II and Division III. They then provide NFL scouting departments with those resumes, who then look at players graded the best…and as we have seen how the BCS ratings have worked out over the past several years, those computer statistics aren’t always the best science.
Russell Wilson is listed as 5’11’; Drew Brees at 6’0″, Michael Vick at 6’0″. Andy Dalton, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford Aaron Rodgers are listed at 6’2″. Simply saying a quarterback is too short is about the laziest analysis you can give a player. But teams still apparently abide by it, as do many fans. Several teams who cared too much about the height of Russell Wilson have missed out on a franchise quarterback. When they watch Wilson now, we bet they feel pretty small.
The next time a NFL team is thinking about taking that 6’6” behemoth like JaMarcus Russell at the top of the draft, hopefully they think twice about overrating the physical tools rather than the skills that translate to success. If the quarterback proves he is a great decision maker, throws an accurate ball at each depth level, throws his receivers open, has a great feel for the pocket, then why should it matter how tall he is? Why continue worrying about the one thing he cannot control? If the NFL is a Passing League now, and the elite quarterbacks few and far between, the time is now to start changing the way quarterbacks are measured and break the mold that obviously has very little success.
Somewhere on the gridiron, the lack of franchise quarterbacks will lock up with the passing league and offenses will come crashing down like the Hindenberg. Although the history of the Super Bowl tells a very different story.
The pinnacle of the NFL has shown that teams who take home the Vince Lombardi are not carried on the shoulders of a franchise quarterback. Championships are won with well-rounded teams. Teams with dominant defenses and a strong running game. Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady had players all around them, on both sides of the ball, making plays. As great as hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman was, he struggled until Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper, Daryl Johnston and Jay Novacek arrived to help out.
There is a cliche’ that goes: It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog…
As soon as the NFL embraces this cliche’, the more teams will find their Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. Otherwise, they could find they’ve run out of franchise quarterbacks. Ironically, neither quarterback was drafted in round one.