Hey, St. Louis. Yo, Cleveland. You REALLY want Sam Bradford, huh?
Every year around draft time there's always a desperate bid by bad teams to take a top-shelf quarterback. St. Louis, as a franchise (going back to Los Angeles), hasn't invested heavily in a star prospect since it took Jim Everett in 1986, and now the powers-that-be have it in their heads that they need to pass up almost certain sure-things like safety Eric Berry or defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy to take a chance on Bradford, who 1) didn't take a lot of big hits having played behind one of the best offensive lines in America, 2) got knocked out when he did get crunched, 3) didn't have to throw to too many covered receivers and 4) has to prove he can throw well under consistent pressure.
Is the Oklahoma star really worth the No. 1 overall pick? Is he worth Cleveland potentially mortgaging the future to move up to get? Not only does recent history say no, it says that the Rams and Browns shouldn't draft a quarterback at all.
Out of the last 22 teams to play in the last 11 Super Bowls, just 12 them drafted and developed their quarterback. Of those 12 teams, Tom Brady was under center for four of them (and he was a dumb-luck sixth round pick), two were quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, a once-in-a-generation star, and two were quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger, who was along for the ride for one of his championships. The other four were led by Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, Steve McNair, and Eli Manning, and only Manning won a title.
It could be argued (very subjectively) that of the last 22 Super Bowl teams, only five, the 2006 and 2009 Indianapolis Colts, the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles, the 1999 Tennessee Titans, and the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, were there because of the highly drafted quarterbacks taken by their respective teams. Eli Manning might have been great at times, but the 2007 New York Giants won because of a defensive front that sat on the heads of opposing quarterbacks, the 2006 Chicago Bears (Grossman) and the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (Roethlisberger) got in mainly because of hot defenses and great running games.
In other words, there's no reason to blow tens of millions of dollars on a quarterback with a high draft pick, and you should let someone else develop the passer who'll someday lead you to big things.
Kurt Warner learned his craft in the Arena League and saw practice time at Green Bay. Drew Brees started out as a San Diego Charger, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson were retreads, Matt Hasselbeck started out at Green Bay, Kerry Collins was drafted by Carolina, and Jake Delhomme started out at New Orleans.
But you have to draft a quarterback early to have a shot at being competitive, right? Throwing out the 2009 NFL Draft (because it's too early to fairly judge Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman), here's a subjective black-or-white, worked-didn't-work look at the last 31 quarterbacks taken in the first round (going back to 1996; the last time none were selected in the first round).
THE PICK WORKED
The selection was worth the time, money, and investment by the team that made the pick.
- Matt Ryan, Atlanta (2008); Joe Flacco, Baltimore (2008); Vince Young, Tennessee (2006); Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (2005); Eli Manning, NY Giants (2004); Philip Rivers, San Diego (2004); Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (2004); Carson Palmer, Cincinnati (2003); Michael Vick, Atlanta (2001); Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia (1999); Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota (1999); Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (1998).
The selection not only didn't work for the team that made the pick (remember that when it comes to Cutler and Brees), but it set the franchise back several years and/or it forced a major change and some scrambling to fill the position.
- JaMarcus Russell, Oakland (2007); Brady Quinn, Cleveland (2007); Matt Leinart, Arizona (2006); Jay Cutler, Denver (2006); Alex Smith, San Francisco (2005); Jason Campbell, Washington (2005); J.P. Losman, Buffalo (2004); Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville (2003); Kyle Boller, Baltimore (2003); Rex Grossman, Chicago (2003); David Carr, Houston (2002); Joey Harrington, Detroit (2002); Patrick Ramsey, Washington (2002); Drew Brees, San Diego (2001); Chad Pennington, NY Jets (2000); Tim Couch, Cleveland (1999); Akili Smith, Cincinnati (1999); Cade McNown, Chicago (1999); Ryan Leaf, San Diego (1998); Jim Druckenmiller, San Francisco (1997).
So by a rough estimate and nebulous criteria, out of the 31 quarterbacks taken in the first round from 1997 to 2008 only 12 were worth the pick for the team that made it, and that's being extremely generous assuming Ryan, Flacco and Young keep progressing. That's also giving credit to the Vick selection because of what he gave the Falcons before the off-the-field problems.
Out of all the first round quarterback picks that "worked out" over the 31 selected over a 12 year span, only two were taken after the 11th overall pick. Rodgers got years to develop behind Brett Favre, and Flacco has been fine but is still a work in progress. In other words, the odds are screaming at you to not take a quarterback, and if you do, you have to take one early on and pay gobs and gobs of money just to have a shot at the selection paying off. After the 11th pick, and especially after the first round, you might as well give your money to help out the Nigerian man who just sent you an e-mail about his inheritance.
Over the 1997 to 2008 time frame, and expanding and relaxing the idea of whether or not the pick worked out for the team that made the selection, only 12 were worth the pick considering where it was made (and this is being extremely generous): Chad Henne, Miami (2008), Dennis Dixon, Pittsburgh (2008), Trent Edwards, Buffalo (2007), Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia (2007), Matt Cassel, New England (2005), Seneca Wallace, Seattle (2003), David Garrard, Jacksonville (2002), A.J. Feeley, Philadelphia (2001), Tom Brady, New England (2000), Shaun King, Tampa Bay (1999), Charlie Batch, Detroit (1998), Brian Griese, Denver (1998), and Jake Plummer, Arizona (1997).
And how many picks didn't work out for the team that made the selection and turned out to be a total waste of time, scouting, and effort?
That means a team has roughly a 10 percent chance of a quarterback pick being worthwhile if it's made after the first round. Expand it to the first rounders, and going by recent history, and a team has roughly a 16 percent chance of being right and it has about a 0.05 percent shot of drafting a quarterback who will lead the way to a Super Bowl. Out of the 148 quarterbacks drafted from 1997 to 2008, only four (Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Roethlisberger) won a Super Bowl for the team that made the pick (0.027 percent).
Making the drafting of a quarterback even more unnecessary has been the recent trend of good, veteran quarterbacks finding a second life with a new team. McNabb was taken from Philadelphia for a hearty handshake and a ham sandwich; Cutler was acquired for a slew of draft picks and Kyle Orton (an easy price for a passer of his upside and in his prime); Brees was all but ignored after getting hurt; Favre was very ceremoniously let go (twice) and was on the open market; and Kurt Warner went from a mentor to Leinart to a Hall of Famer after finding a home in Arizona.
So when it comes to the question of who the best quarterback to take is in the 2010 NFL Draft between Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, or maybe a mid-range sleeper like Tony Pike or Sean Canfield, the answer really might be none of the above. Would you make an investment with a 16 percent chance of a decent return? Exactly.