The NFL is a passing league and that means, more than ever, teams need an elite quarterback to have any hope for lasting success. If one needs an elite quarterback, it almost certainly has to come through the draft.
Sure, teams could trade for a quarterback or sign a free agent, but take a look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Of the top 25 QBs (ranked by passer rating), all but six are with the team with which they took their first snap. So, it's possible to strike gold, but the draft—regardless of where you draft—is where quarterbacks are normally found.
To put an even finer point on it: good NFL quarterbacks are, more-and-more, entering the NFL through the upper rounds of the draft.
"But...but..." the critics cry, "what about Tom Brady?"
As always, anecdotal evidence is flimsy as best. For every Brady, there are dozens of late-round QBs who've failed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, for nearly every high-round bust, there is an franchise quarterback.
Sporting News' Thomas Emerick took a look at the numbers before the 2012 draft:
Of the 32 quarterbacks chosen in the first round since 2000, 12 have won a postseason game (37.5 percent) as starter: Roethlisberger, E. Manning, Flacco, Rodgers, Sanchez, Rivers, Vick, Pennington, Grossman, Cutler, Smith and Tebow.
Of the 122 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 2-7 during this period, five have won a playoff game (0.04 percent).
So, drafting a quarterback in the first isn't a sure thing—no draft pick is—but it is where most franchise quarterbacks have come from.
Which teams could be looking for their new franchise quarterback this April?
OK, hear me out—this isn't an anti-Tony Romo screed and it's not a prediction that the Cowboys are going to implode this season. It's just that the Cowboys are a darkhorse candidate people shouldn't overlook as they continue to fall short and Jerry Jones gets less-and-less patient.
Romo will turn 33 years old the week of the 2013 draft.
While quarterbacks don't have as distinct of a wall as running backs, a QB's peak is generally between 30-34 with a pretty sharp decline afterward. If Jones is smart, he'll be looking for Romo's replacement sooner rather than later.
So, why not grab a QB in the first? It doesn't automatically mean a team has to hand their new QB the reins—see: Kaepernick, Colin; Rodgers, Aaron; etc—and it doesn't mean a team needs to admit they're rebuilding.
If the Cowboys like a quarterback prospect who falls into their lap, do not be surprised if they pull the trigger.
The Cardinals have proven me wrong this season and stand at 4-0. Moreover, with games against St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota coming up, Arizona could conceivably be 7-0 heading into the second half of the season.
At that point, hypothetically, moving on from Kevin Kolb would be an absolutely absurd idea.
However, the Cardinals offense has been atrocious this season, regardless of the record. This idea that quarterbacks "just win" should've been killed with last year's Tebow and John Skelton phenomenon, but it persists.
Teams win and sometimes do so in spite of crappy quarterback play.
The Cardinals front seven on defense is carrying the load right now and if things break down for the Cardinals, expect the calls for Kolb's head to start anew.
The Jets have an incredible amount of money invested into the quarterback position but rank 26th in passing offense heading into Week 5. Sure they're 2-2, but a team can't expect long-term success when they're getting nothing from under center.
Mark Sanchez has had enough chances and has earned too much money to need anyone's excuses any longer. Franchise quarterbacks are supposed to make their teammates better. Instead, Sanchez has leaned on his support for years and 2012 has proved just how little he's been pitching in.
Tebow? He looks as useless of a storyline as ever—not necessarily because he's regressed, but because the Jets' have no idea how to maximize the potential of his partnership with Sanchez.
Like the Browns' situation, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan could potentially be let go if the Jets' record goes south for the rest of the season. (Without Darrelle Revis, that seems like a distinct possibility.)
What the Jets had hoped would be a embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position has just been an embarrassment.
Starting over isn't that far-fetched.
Since 2007, the Browns have had their franchise QB three times.
Brandon Weeden is just the latest. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert were also responsible for drafting (and counting on) Colt McCoy. Before the current brain-trust got there, Brady Quinn was supposed to be the guy.
The Browns' new owner, Jimmy Haslam, knows what long-term success is supposed to look like, and this isn't it. Haslam is a former minority owner in the Pittsburgh Steelers and has described himself as a "1000 percent Steelers fan."
Neither Holmgren nor Heckert are Kevin Colbert (Steelers GM), they're not even Tom Donahoe. Pat Shurmur is certainly not Mike Tomlin or Bill Cowher. Haslem will see this and seek to get his guys into place if the Browns' ship doesn't turn around in a hurry.
Could Weeden have another couple years under a new regime? Sure, but if the Browns are drafting high and a top quarterback is available, another new face under center is just as likely.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is being handed a lot of money and has only earned it if you're one of his fantasy owners. Playing in a pass-friendly offense with a bunch of multidimensional (though, not necessarily great) weapons around him, Fitzpatrick puts up big fantasy numbers early in the season only to fade when he's counted on the most.
The Bills' passing offense is 19th in the league and they sit at 2-2.
Fitzpatrick will have plenty of opportunity to prove his critics (including me) wrong for the rest of the season. With the Miami Dolphins rebuilding, and the Patriots and Jets struggling so far in 2012, Buffalo could turn their fortunes around and make this idea look foolish.
Yet, there's just as much chance (arguably more) that the Bills fall flat on their collective face as the weather turns sour and the intensity heats up in the AFC East. If the Bills are in position to take an elite QB prospect, the money owed to Fitzpatrick shouldn't deter them.
Back in May, I predicted that Blaine Gabbert would get both his head coach and his general manager fired. Fast forward to October and Gabbert is completing only 55.8 percent of his passes, and his 5.79 yards per attempt is the worst in the NFL.
The Jaguars' 1-3 record isn't entirely on Gabbert—the Jaguars have had a rash of injuries and their defense has been a disappointment. However the finger has to be pointed squarely on Gene Smith who built this sinking ship. If Smith is gone, Gabbert loses his biggest advocate.
Head coach Mike Mularkey was brought in (over more qualified candidates) solely to help the young QB. If he can't, why would he be kept around?
If the Jaguars are picking in the top five picks this April, they'd be insane not to take a quarterback.
Jacksonville fans might not want to endure another re-build, but it would be infinitely better than wasting precious years on a Smith-Mularkey-Gabbert trifecta that isn't going to win anything long-term.
Another 1-3 team and another quarterback at the bottom of the NFL passer barrel.
GM Scott Pioli brought Matt Cassel over from New England and, for a time, the move didn't look that terrible. Things went sour pretty quickly, however, and the former Patriot has looked terrible.
With the talent the Chiefs have on both offense and defense, Cassel's only job has been to be average, and he hasn't been able to live up to even that expectation. He's been terrible for the past two seasons and, at 30, isn't going to magically get better.
Tyler Palko and Ricky Stanzi are not the answer either.
The Chiefs had eyed a resurgence in 2012. Instead, they'll be eying Cassel's replacement in 2013.
Carson Palmer is not a franchise quarterback.
Period. End of story.
That maxim was true for most of his time in Cincinnati and it was painfully true when he bailed on his team and retired, only to be brought back with a foolish trade by the Raiders former decision makers.
The Raiders may have given up a lot for Palmer, but that shouldn't stop Reggie McKenzie from moving on from him as quickly as possible. He couldn't do it without a first-round pick in 2012, but the Raiders, at 1-3, could easily have a top pick (maybe the top pick) in 2013.
This team needs improvement at every position other than starting running back and the kicking specialists, but no move will put the Raiders back on the path to greatness than a quick hook and another retirement for Palmer.
The Raiders, more than any other team, need to be looking at a starting quarterback in the first round of the 2013 draft.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."