As football fans across the globe cast their longing eyes in the direction of the April draft, I decided that now might be a good time to reflect on draft classes of the last 10 years.
Too often in this business we rush ahead to the next big event without taking pause to evaluate the past and learn from it. In a way, this study will still be a celebration of the coming 2009 draft, as I believe it will shed some light on certain overlooked trends that no one ever stops to consider.
I will begin with a class by class showdown of sorts at the quarterback position over the last 10 drafts. This is part IV in the series:
A) 14 quarterbacks selected in the draft/ three in the first round.
B) Of those 14 quarterbacks, 10 are currently still in the league in some capacity.
C) Of those 10 still in the league, one merits a level five rating (franchise quarterback), four merit a level four (starter), one merits a level three (solid back-up), and four merit a level two (risky back-up).
D) Here is the quarterback class of 2005:
1. Alex Smith—Selected first overall out of Utah. The story of his pro career follows the infamous arc of first-round quarterback busts (see Joey Harrington, David Carr…etc.). In his first two seasons, I couldn’t watch a 49er game without cringing. You’d think a group of 5 to 6 overpaid, fat men could block somebody. Smith is unlikely to reclaim a starting job in the near future.
2. Aaron Rodgers—Selected twenty-fourth overall out of Cal. Though he may or may not have appreciated it at the time, sitting on the bench all those years in relief of Favre was the best thing that could have happened to Rodgers. If only Alex Smith could have been so fortunate. In his first year as a starter, Rodgers exceeded expectations, and looked the part of a franchise quarterback.
3. Jason Campbell—Selected twenty-fifth overall out of Auburn. Needs to have a good 2009 to convince skeptics that he is worth keeping around for the long haul. His current resume isn’t bad, but you’d expect more from a first rounder. He doesn’t force things or turn the ball over much, but he also doesn’t seem to make many big plays.
4. Charlie Frye—Selected in the third round out of Akron. Given an opportunity to start in Cleveland before ultimately losing the job to his back-up, Derek Anderson. Currently a third-stringer in Seattle.
5. Andrew Walter—Selected in the third round out of Arizona State. Like Frye, he was given an early opportunity to assume starting responsibilities for a disjointed franchise, but he failed to impress. Walter’s better suited for back-up duty.
6. David Greene—Selected in the third round out of Georgia. The all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history and the SEC’s all-time leader in yards never cut it in the pros. He retired last month without ever having played a down in the NFL.
7. Kyle Orton—Selected in the fourth round out of Purdue. In his first few years, Orton did little to dispel his fourth round tag. However, after beating out Rex Grossman in the 2008 offseason, he demonstrated enough improvement to merit a second year as Chicago’s full-time starter in 2009.
8. Stefan Lefors—Selected in the fourth round out of Louisville. No longer in league (plays in CFL). Never played a down in the NFL.
9. Dan Orlovsky—Selected in the fifth round out of Connecticut. Given a few chances in 2008 to start for the Lions. As expected, his play was up and down. Decided to test free agency and will now backup Matt Schaub in Houston.
10. Adrian McPherson—Selected in the fifth round out of Florida State. No longer in league (plays in CFL). Never played a down in the NFL.
11. Derek Anderson—Selected in the sixth round out of Oregon State. Like fellow draft classmates Orton and Campbell, 2009 will be an important year in determining the path of his career. Resume currently boasts one great year and one terrible one. Will he be dealt to a QB-hungry team in the off-season or will he have to backup Brady Quinn?
12. James Kilian—Selected in the seventh round out of Tulsa. No longer in league. Never played a down in the NFL.
13. Matt Cassel—Selected in the seventh round out of USC. Didn’t even start in college, but played well in relief of an injured Tom Brady in 2008. He’ll have every opportunity to cement his starter status now that he’s been traded to Kansas City.
14. Ryan Fitzpatrick—Selected in the seventh round out of Harvard. Not a starter, but a decent backup option. Benefited from a lot of playing time in 2008 while filling in for Carson Palmer.
E) Overall analysis—Though it lacks the star power of 2004, this is a solid group. No one has carried his team to the Super Bowl yet, but this class is responsible for five quarterbacks capable of starting at the pro level. That being said, the 2009 season will be a big test for this bunch.
F) Grade: B+
A) 11 quarterbacks selected in the draft/ three in the first round
B) Of those 11 quarterbacks, 10 are currently still in the league in some capacity
C) Of those 10 still in the league, one merits a level five rating (franchise quarterback), one merits a level four (starter), three merit a level three (solid back-up), three merit a level two (risky back-up), and two merit a level one (barely in league).
D) Here is the quarterback class of 2006:
1. Vince Young—Selected third overall out of Texas. A lot of his career is still ahead of him. Too early to call a bust, despite his current back-up status. When placed in a starting role, he’s shown a knack for winning games despite having shortcomings in his mechanics. Needs to improve his vision, accuracy, and (most of all) maturity level if he wants to be a franchise quarterback in the pros.
2. Matt Leinart—Selected tenth overall out of USC. Even though he and Vince Young possess entirely different skill sets, they need to improve in similar areas–especially in terms of maturity. Leinart has all the tools to be a franchise signal caller in the NFL, but he’s yet to show the Arizona coaching staff that he’s willing to work to develop them. It’s too early to call him a bust, as the jury is still out for much of this class.
3. Jay Cutler—Selected eleventh overall out of Vanderbilt. Ahead of the curve in terms of maturation and experience, Cutler has improved every year and is a clear-cut franchise quarterback. Hopefully, the new coaching staff in Denver is intelligent enough to see this.
4. Kellen Clemens—Selected in the second round out of Oregon. Has yet to really shine in the starting opportunities he’s been given, time will tell whether or not he’s run out of chances to be a #1. After all, someone has to start under center for the Jets in 2009.
5. Tarvaris Jackson—Selected in the second round out of Alabama State. The script has been all wrong for this kid. He was taken too early in the draft, forced to play way before he was ready, benched too early into a season, and then forced back into the lineup just in time for the most crucial games of the year. To his credit, he’s shown improvement, but it probably isn’t enough at this point for him to be considered a lock to start in 2009. Stay tuned.
6. Charlie Whitehurst—Selected in the third round out of Clemson. And then he disappeared. Seriously though, he’s still backing up the backup in San Diego.
7. Brodie Croyle—Selected in the third round out of Alabama. Given chances to be the starter in Kansas City, but he always winds up hurt. Now, with Tyler Thigpen outplaying him, and the recent acquisition of Matt Cassel, Croyle could sink as low as third string.
8. Ingle Martin—Selected in the fifth round out of Furman. A career third-stringer.
9. Omar Jacobs—Selected in the fifth round out of Bowling Green. No longer in league. Never played a down in the NFL.
10. Bruce Gradkowski—Selected in the sixth round out of Toledo. Coach Gruden threw him to the lions during his rookie year, but he’ll probably never start again (unless a team injures the two quarterbacks that are certain to be ahead of him). A good third-stringer.
11. D.J. Shockley—Selected in the seventh round out of Georgia. And then he disappeared like Charlie Whitehurst. The rare career third-stringer who has only been on one team for his entire career (and he gets to stay in hometown Georgia). Take that, David Greene!
E) Overall analysis: The careers of this draft class are still being written. Therefore, it is too early to distribute “bust” labels, but there was a certain high degree of expectancy from this bunch that has not been met. Young and Leinart were set to rewrite the NFL record books coming out of college, but instead everything has been harder and taken longer than they expected. If they can grow as men, learn patience, and cut down on their mistakes, the sky is still the limit. If not, however, this class will serve as just another cautionary tale.
F) Grade: C+
III. ADVANTAGE: 2005
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