Overdrafting of Below-Average Quarterbacks Like Ryan Tannehill

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Overdrafting of Below-Average Quarterbacks Like Ryan Tannehill
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No position in the NFL is as overdrafted as quarterback. 

No, I'm not saying Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III shouldn't be the first two picks in the draft. Those two are worthy of being top picks, especially at such an important position.

What I have a problem with is the guys in the next tier. Year after year, we see teams continuously whiff on quarterbacks taken after the top two are gone. It's a never-ending cycle of mediocrity.

Consider the following statistics:

These players were the third quarterback taken in the last 10 NFL drafts: Patrick Ramsey, Ben Roethlisberger, Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler, Kevin Kolb, Brian Brohm, Josh Freeman, Jimmy Clausen and Blaine Gabbert. 

These are all of the quarterbacks taken between picks No. 12 and No. 50 in the last 10 NFL drafts: Ramsey, Boller, J.P. Losman, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, Kellen Clemens, Brady Quinn, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Joe Flacco, Freeman, Pat White, Tim Tebow, Clausen, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton.

There are 21 players listed there in total. Of those 21, only three (Cutler, Roethlisberger and Rodgers), turned out to be franchise quarterbacks. But, there were extenuating circumstances for each.

Each of these three quarterbacks were seen as interchangeable with the others in their draft class. Many in the New York Giants' organization wanted to take Roethlisberger in 2004, rather than trading for Eli Manning.

Jay Cutler's strong combine essentially put him on the level of Vince Young and Matt Leinart in the eyes of most evaluators, and he was selected only one slot after Leinart.

Aaron Rodgers was projected by nearly all mock drafts to be selected first at some point in the process, but fell due to a combination of lack of need and downright stupidity. 

 

Those three also ended up in nearly perfect situations for them. Each quarterback was selected by a team that had made the playoffs the year before (Cutler and Rodgers) or one that would have if it weren't devastated by injuries (Roethlisberger).

Rodgers was a junior-college transfer without much experience, but luckily for him, he was taken by Green Bay and sat behind Brett Favre for three years. 

Cutler was drafted by Mike Shanahan, a quarterback guru who could make the most out of his natural talent. In his last year in Denver, Cutler combined with elite receiver Brandon Marshall to lead one of the league's best offenses. 

Roethlisberger went to the Steelers, a team known for its consistency and loyalty. He knew he had a stable coaching situation and went to a team with enough talent on defense and in the running game to go 15-1 in his rookie year.

The bottom line is that these guys were the exception—not the rule. 

Four of the 21 players listed (Campbell, Dalton, Flacco and Freeman) are all passable starters, but not what you want out of a highly selected quarterback. The odds are against any of these guys leading their teams to Super Bowl titles in the next few years. 

The final 14 quarterbacks, accounting for two thirds of the 21 total, are either outright busts or on their way there. 

What this tells us is that you really don't want to select a quarterback with a high draft pick unless he's seen as a sure thing. Now, obviously there is no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL, but you're far more likely to end up with your quarterback of the future with the first selection than you are picking twelfth.

 

Teams defy this logic out of desperation. They need the immediate dividends of a mediocre quarterback rather than waiting for a great one. That impatience generally keeps them exactly where they were before: picking twelfth.  

The worst place to be in the NFL is in the middle. At least if you're terrible you'll have a chance to get someone who can turn it around. If you aren't a true contender, your goal should be to get to the bottom as quickly as possible. This positions your team to take Luck or Griffin rather than Ryan Tannehill.

Speaking of Tannehill, he's the poster boy of this phenomenon. Ask yourselves this question: Before January of this year, did any of you see Ryan Tannehill in the first round of any mock drafts? Of course not! Because he's not a first-round-caliber quarterback!

But when Matt Barkley and Landry Jones opted against entering the draft, teams became desperate. When that happens, they talk themselves into other options. "Hmm, that Tannehill kid isn't bad. I guess we could convince our fanbase to get behind him with a late first-rounder". 

Here's the problem, though: Every quarterback-needy team is thinking this way. Before long, he's getting mocked up to No. 12 to Seattle because they have to ensure they get him. Then, it's No. 8 to Miami. And now, all of the sudden, a guy that teams had to talk themselves into is potentially going to go No. 4 overall to Cleveland.

Does anyone else see the problem with this strategy? 

This happens every single year.

Last year, it was Blaine Gabbert. When Andrew Luck was in the picture, he, Cam Newton and Jake Locker were projected to go in the first round. Then, Luck dropped out and teams needed another quarterback in the first-round mix. When Gabbert rose, even more teams got even more desperate and pushed Christian Ponder into the first round.

Now, people seemed surprised that the two are looking like busts. Really?

 

Back to Tannehill. Let's look at him objectively as a player. His stats are decent, but nothing to get too excited over. None of his Texas A&M teams won more than nine games, and he only finished above .500 once. Oh, and he's a converted wide receiver. Name me one converted wide receiver who has succeeded at quarterback. What's that? You can't? Well, I'll be damned. 

The bottom line is that there is virtually no reason this guy should be a first-round pick, yet he may go in the Top 5. We see this happen every year, but teams refuse to learn from their mistakes. 

Let's say you really need a quarterback. You need one so badly that you're willing to start Rex Grossman. There are two correct courses of action.

The first is to trade up. That's what the Redskins did, and they assured themselves an elite quarterback prospect. No price is too high to do that. 

The second, and far easier course of action, is just to take a player at a different position. Wouldn't the young quarterback you take next year love to play with the wide receiver you grabbed this year? Or maybe he'd prefer an offensive tackle to protect him.

The fact of the matter is, you probably aren't going to find a quarterback once the top two are gone, but you could definitely find a defensive end or cornerback. As we've seen with the few second-tier quarterbacks who have succeeded, having a good team around them certainly helps. 

It's not like there's a timetable for teams to win. The league isn't going to suddenly fold in five years; a championship in 2016 is just as valuable as one in 2015, and general managers are typically afforded plenty of time to build teams. 

Picking a quarterback high in the draft is essentially a marriage. You're committing to that player for at least three or four years, but hopefully for many more. Would you marry someone just because they're the best person available out of a terrible group? Absolutely not! You'd wait until you found the one.

That's what the smart teams do. But the other teams? Well, they'd better get ready for a nasty divorce. 

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