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The NFL Draft - Quarterbacking 101
Tim Gase
April 20, 2005

Let’s take a look at the upcoming draft and arguably the most important position in the draft, the quarterback.

It is common knowledge that drafting a QB is probably the scariest and most difficult position to fill from the college ranks. One can argue that the college systems defines the college QB’s skills and prepares him – somewhat – for the NFL, but no one can guarantee that even the best college QBs are even going be an acceptable alternative to any NFL team’s QB woes. No one, not Gil Brandt or Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells or even the great Hall of Fame Coach of the past, Cleveland Browns, Paul Brown could predict which college QB would be successful. We have all seen and heard the stories that the late round picks like Joe Montana, Rich Gannon, Trent Green and of course Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, have had more success than the majority of first round picks, but NFL personnel managers, head coaches and owners continue to spend the big dollars on unproven, raw NFL rookies with only the promise of future success.

Ah, if only we could all get paid on the promise of our best intentions.

What you are about to see herein is a review of quarterbacks picked in the first round from the last 25 years (1979 to 2004). It will be relative clear, early on, that picking a college QB to lead your favorite NFL franchise out of the darkness and into the glaring light of the NFL playoffs and especially a Super Bowl victory is nothing more than a crap shoot at best.

Below you will find an overall view of the last 25 years of first round NFL draft picks. Some of them are pretty impressive and familiar. Some of them will test the memory of even the biggest NFL nostalgia fan; remember Tom Cousineau?

As you review the list, notice that the QB position constitutes the biggest quantity of players drafted with 11. This is 44% of the total over the past 25 years. The next biggest quantity is defensive players with 8 (6 DT and 2 LB), clearly a much smaller number than the QB position, accounting for a mere 32%.

Arguably, a position that is, by many accounts, almost as important as the QB is the running back. Surprisingly there were only 4 drafted in the first round over the past 25 years. Wide receivers followed with 2 and only one offensive lineman, Orlando Pace, was drafted in round one. Clearly, the NFL believes the quarterback is the marquee position.

YEAR   PLAYER POS UNIV NFL TEAM YRS IN NFL PRO BOWLS
1979 Tom Cousineau LB Ohio State Buffalo 6 0
1980 Billy Sims RB Oklahoma Detroit 5 3
1981 George Rogers RB South Carolina New Orleans 7 2
1982 Kenneth Sims DT Texas New England 8 0
1983 John Elway QB Stanford Baltimore 16 10
1984 Irving Fryar WR Nebraska New England 15 5
1985 Bruce Smith DE Virginia Tech Buffalo 18 11
1986 Bo Jackson RB Auburn Tampa Bay 4 1
1987 Vinny Testaverde QB Miami , (FL) Tampa Bay 17 2
1988 Aundray Bruce LB Auburn Atlanta 11 0
1989 Troy Aikman QB UCLA Dallas 12 6
1990 Jeff George QB Illinois Indianapolis 13 0
1991 Russell Maryland DT Miami , (FL) Dallas 10 1
1992 Steve Emtman DT Washington Indianapolis 8 0
1993 Drew Bledsoe QB WA State New England 12 4
1994 Dan Wilkinson DT Ohio State Cincinnati 11 0
1995 Ki-Jana Carter RB Penn State Cincinnati 8 0
1996 Keyshawn Johnson WR Southern CA N.Y. Jets 9 4
1997 Orlando Pace OT Ohio State St. Louis 8 6
1998 Peyton Manning QB Tennessee Indianapolis 7 5
1999 Tim Couch QB Kentucky Cleveland 6 0
2000 Courtney Brown DE Penn State Atlanta 5 0
2001 Michael Vick QB Virginia Tech Atlanta 4 2
2002 David Carr QB Fresno State Houston 3 0
2003 Carson Palmer QB Southern CA Cincinnati 2 0
2004 Eli Manning QB Mississippi N.Y. Giants 1 0

But let’s look a bit deeper, and what do we see? We see that, despite the quarterback being the higher percentage of players drafted, they have the least amount of success; unless, of course you define success as those years spent wearing a ball cap and holding a clipboard.

YEAR   PLAYER POS UNIV DRAFTED BY YRS IN NFL PRO BOWLS
1983 John Elway QB Stanford Baltimore 16 10
1987 Vinny Testaverde QB Miami , (FL) Tampa Bay 17 2
1989 Troy Aikman QB UCLA Dallas 12 6
1990 Jeff George QB Illinois Indianapolis 13 0
1993 Drew Bledsoe QB WA State Buffalo 12 4
1998 Peyton Manning QB Tennessee Indianapolis 7 5
1999 Tim Couch QB Kentucky Cleveland 6 0
2001 Michael Vick QB Virginia Tech Atlanta 4 2
2002 David Carr QB Fresno State Houston 3 0
2003 Carson Palmer QB Southern CA Cincinnati 2 0
2004 Eli Manning QB Mississippi San Diego   1 0

Since 1983, only one first round pick, John Elway has been nominated and inducted into the Hall of Fame. The next available Hall of Fame candidate is Troy Aikman drafted in 1989. Beyond that, who do we have? Drew Bledsoe? Maybe, but it would be a tough argument. Peyton Manning? If he continues as he has, most certainly. But the ever-present threat of injury lurks in the path of any potential hall-of-famer, and Manning is still, in my opinion, a minimum of five years away from consideration as a potential Hall of Fame candidate. Beyond those three it’s anyone’s guess.

Who do we have then, waiting in the wings of the HOF? Well, a quick review reveals the likes of NFL veteran, Vinny Testaverde. This guy is the epitome of what the NFL sees as a prototypical QB. A former Heishman Trophy winner at 6 feet 5 inches tall, 233 pounds and a cannon for an arm even now at 42, he should have been, and when drafted by the Buccaneers way back in 1987, was, everyone thought, a for-sure HOF lock. Well, as we all know, that’s probably not going to happen.

What about some of the other veterans such as Jeff George? Is he…? Uh, never mind.

What seems obvious, at least to me, is the hype machine of the national press – written, radio and television - coupled with college football’s “Ministers of Information” are creating these monsters. Although some show great feats of football prowess on the college gridiron, translating that to the NFL is a completely different story.

Why is that? I do not know. I am not as enamored as I used to be about each class of college quarterbacks that come into the NFL every year simply because every year the hopes and dreams of millions of fans are built up only to be crushed by bad QB play. Notice I did not say a bad choice, I said bad quarterback play. There is a difference. A bad choice would be Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Andre Ware or Todd Marinovich. A point of trivia here, Todd Marinovich was drafted in the second round by the Raiders. Dan McGwire was a first round pick of the Seahawks in 1991, but who was drafted in the third round that year Atlanta Falcons? Hall of Fame lock, Brett Favre. My point? No one knows which college quarterbacks will make the successful transition from college to the pros.

Sizing up who’s going to be successful is simply too difficult. A perfect case in point is the NFL 2004 draft of Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger in round one. Manning, drafted by the Chargers and traded to the Giants sat for the first 7 games only to be named the starter after Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin decided the season wasn’t worth saving – even at 5 & 2 – and inserted Manning. Look at Big Ben Rothlesberger. He took over for Tommy Maddox, started 13 of the Steelers 16 regular 2004 season games and almost made it look easy. Of course he had what Manning could only hope for, a great offensive line, a great running game, and an even greater defense. Is it the player or the system? I think it’s pretty obvious that the system and the team are probably a much bigger help than any of us are willing to acknowledge. Afterall, these guys are drafted number one overall because the teams they’ve been drafted to, stink.

As an example: Was Tim Couch a bad quarterback coming out of Kentucky? My guess is he wasn’t as bad as the team around him. To make matters worse, Cleveland Browns’ management and head coaches, Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Dwight Clark and Carmen Policy continued to draft bad players to put around him. The results were he was expected to carry a bad team, win games and absorb the boos of the fans when they lose. Oh yeah, he had to try and stay healthy at the same time behind, probably the worst offensive line in NFL history.

Of course, I don’t think he exhibited the thickest of hide needed by someone who is drafted into the toughest position in the NFL, but his supporting cast didn’t help. So in this case, it was volatile mixture of bad coaching, a bad team, being drafted way too early, and no support.

What about some of the other first-rounders?

Michael Vick, drafted #1 in 2001 by the Atlanta Falcons. David Carr, drafted #1 in 2002 by the expansion Houston Texans. Carson Palmer, drafted #1 in 2003 by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Certainly Michael Vick is an exciting player to watch, great runner and escape artist, fantastic speed, but his accuracy is terrible. Not a trait of a future NFL HOF’er. David Carr? Interesting case. He’s got a strong arm, decent receivers and running backs, but no defense and a porous offensive line. He may not even survive the pounding, not to mention the quest for a championship or HOF mention. Carson Palmer? If any of these guys have a chance, I believe it will be Palmer. He’s in a system that is getting stronger, has good coaching, good receivers a good running game and a defense that’s getting better. He’s not being asked to do everything – yet – but manage the game, rely on his running game and hope the defense can keep you in it.

But who among us really know who’s going to be the next Brett Favre, Joe Montana or even Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. No one knows, and predicting any level of success is a shot in the dark.

If it’s up to me and I’m the GM of a 2 and 14 team with the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and the greatest quarterback to come out of college is named Rogers or Smith? I trade down, pick up an extra pick, draft a running back an offensive tackle or defensive linebacker, and wait until next year to see which quarterbacking savior come from the college ranks.

Of course I’m only a fan. Have a great draft day.