The Value Of A Top Drafted Quarterback

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Ray Burton
Ray writes mostly in-depth analytical pieces covering a range of sports from a more statistical perspective drawing his inspiration from the fanalytics movement. Ray is a fan of all sports, but mostly the NFL (Dolphins), Premier League (Man Utd), MLB (Mariners), NHL (Ducks), NBA (Heat) and NRL (Warriors) and motorsports. Usually to be found in front of the TV or in a stadium somewhere cheering on one of his teams. Never short of an opinion Ray is always ready to talk sports and is a co-founder of Lazy Fan Sports.

With six weeks still to go in the NFL regular season, several teams are already eyeing the draft to help fix a glaring hole at the quarterback position. But as some fans talk about tanking to get the top prospects, just how important is it to secure the highest picks to get a franchise quarterback?

Everyone knows that the best players are the ones that will help your team win the most. It’s common sense. So drafting higher in the draft is a sure sign that you will get the best players. Right? Well, maybe not.

The Quarterback Lottery

If you’re expecting a QB to come in and completely change a team’s outlook you’re in for a surprise. We’ve looked at the last 10 seasons first-round quarterbacks, from 2009-2018 and looked at the overall impact they’ve had on their teams.

In that span, thirty quarterbacks have been selected in the first round. The first sign that things don’t always work out: eight teams have selected more than one quarterback. And the Cleveland Browns have taken three. In ten years.

The 2018 draft is a classic tale of what can happen. It was the deepest draft in recent memory for real QB talent, they said, all of them will be great. However right now, Josh Rosen, the third quarterback taken, is one of only two quarterbacks drafted in the first round in the last ten seasons with more interceptions than touchdowns.

If you need another example, Mitchell Tubisky was selected with the second overall pick in 2017. With the tenth pick, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes. And with the twelfth pick, the Houston Texans selected Deshaun Watson. I’m guessing the Bears would take a mulligan.

Patrick Mahomes Was the second quarterback taken in 2017
Patrick Mahomes was the second quarterback taken in 2017

Of those thirty draftees, only thirteen are still starting in the NFL. Of those thirteen, only three have been in the league for more than five seasons: Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, and Ryan Tannehill. And Tannehill is on his second team.

So far, these thirty players have amassed 1,403 starts and have won just 47.4% of their games. Think that figure’s skewed by a few really, really bad picks? Think again. Just twelve of them have winning records, and only three of those have started in excess of fifty games.

And the fifth quarterback taken, Lamar Jackson, has the highest winning percentage of any quarterback drafted in the last ten seasons.

The First Quarterback Paradox

So are all of those quarterbacks with winning records number one picks? No. In fact, only four of them were.

But surely the twelve quarterbacks with winning records feature the top drafted quarterback in their class? Wrong again. Just five of them were the first quarterback taken that year.

And this is the point that people seem to miss. If you’re taken top-five overall, you’re being taken by a bad team. Unless the team that picks you trades a boatload of picks to move up, you’re likely playing for a team that lost about 13 games the season before. So short-term as a quarterback, the odds are not in your favour.

Drew Brees was taken with the first pick...in the second round © Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Drew Brees was taken with the first pick…in the second round in 2001 © Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

This is highlighted when we look at first-season records. Of the thirty quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last ten seasons, just five, yes five, posted winning records in their first season in the league, and only three of them started more than half of the season.

They’ll Shine In The Playoffs

Now the theory goes that a top drafted quarterback will win you games. So if they’re on a playoff team, that’s when they’ll show their true value. That’s their time to shine.

Or not.

Fourteen of the thirty quarterbacks have appeared in the playoffs. Six of them have lost every time, including Matthew Stafford losing three times. The overall record is just 18-24, with two Super Bowl runs.

Of these thirty draft picks, only two have winning records in the playoffs. Blake Bortles and Mark Sanchez. And what any football fan can tell you, is they are not the best quarterback drafted in the last ten seasons. Of course, we can only do that with hindsight.

20 Super Bowls

If we change our focus to the aim of all 32 teams each season and look at the last 20 Super Bowl’s we see another tale of quarterback volatility. In the last 20 seasons, only two quarterbacks taken number one overall have won the big game: and both were named Manning.

In fact, other than the Manning brothers, only two other first-overall picks have played in the Super Bowl in that span: Jared Goff and Cam Newton. That’s out of 23 quarterbacks to have started the Super Bowl over the last 20 seasons.

In that span, twelve different quarterbacks have lifted the Vince Lombardi trophy and only five were taken in the top twenty picks. That’s the same number who were taken after the second round or were undrafted, like 3-time Super Bowl starter Kurt Warner.

Undrafted Kurt Warner Has Appeared In Three Super Bowls © AFP
Undrafted Kurt Warner has appeared in three Super Bowls © AFP

That hard truth is that it takes work to find a quarterback. And it takes hard work from the quarterback to turn raw potential, and college stats, into a true NFL career. It’s difficult to know what will happen to a young man when you hand him millions of dollars straight out of college.

Will he lose his motivation, will he lose the fight and passion that has driven him to great heights. Because don’t forget these young men have all the talent they need to get to the very top of the college game. But they don’t all have what it takes to make that next step.

That’s not to say top college quarterbacks can’t become great players and win big games. But it too often gets lost on fans, and pundits alike, that this is a team sport.

And it takes a team to win. Not just a quarterback drafted number 1.

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