I have been involved in scouting in the NFL since 1981 and one thing that has become apparent to me is that drafting follows trends.
Starting with the 2008 draft through to the 2012 draft, 15 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. With each selection, the club doing the drafting has made the selection with the hope that it had found its quarterback of the future.
There is a scarcity of top quarterbacks in the NFL and clubs are held hostage to the need. It's because of that need that clubs have forced the pick and taken a quarterback at a higher slot than the real value.
First, let's look at how each of these quarterbacks has done since being drafted.
In 2008, there were only two quarterbacks taken in the first round and both have had very good careers to date. Matt Ryan went to Atlanta with the third overall pick and immediately made the Falcons a playoff contender.
Joe Flacco was the other quarterback taken in the first round that year and has won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.
Looking back, it was a successful first round for quarterbacks.
In 2009, we saw three quarterbacks taken in the opening round and only one has had any kind of success. Matthew Stafford was the first overall pick in that draft, and while he's had success, he has not come close to making the Detroit Lions a Super Bowl contender. Inconsistency has defined his career.
The New York Jets selected Mark Sanchez with the fifth pick. He played well early in his career, but then his production fell off so much that he has been replaced.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Josh Freeman with the 17th pick and he also only had one good year. He was waived in 2013 by Tampa Bay and is now a free agent after a dismal stint with the Minnesota Vikings.
Just as in 2009, the top pick in the 2010 draft was a quarterback. Sam Bradford from Oklahoma was taken by the St. Louis Rams. The Rams have yet to make the playoffs since Bradford's arrival. The other first-round selection was Tim Tebow, who was taken with the 25th pick by the Denver Broncos.
Tebow was a media darling, but not a very good quarterback. Yes, there were some clubs that felt he was an NFL quarterback, but there were just as many—if not more (including myself)—who felt that he would never make it.
Not only did Tebow not make it, the pick may have cost then-head-coach Josh McDaniels his job.
The 2011 draft was when clubs really started forcing the quarterback picks. Four quarterbacks went in the first round and I only had one rated as a first-rounder.
Cam Newton went to the Carolina Panthers with the first overall pick. He had a record-setting rookie year, but his production dropped his second year. Mike Shula was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2013 and installed an offense that played to Newton's strengths. Newton led the Panthers to the playoffs and was invited to the Pro Bowl.
Jake Locker was taken at No. 8 by the Tennessee Titans and to say that he has been inconsistent is an understatement. The Jacksonville Jaguars took Missouri's Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 and it didn't take long before they found out he was not an NFL quarterback. He lost his starting job in his second year.
The Minnesota Vikings selected Christian Ponder with the 12th pick and they go into this draft STILL trying to find a quarterback.
Like we saw in 2011, four quarterbacks were taken in the opening round of the 2012 draft. The Indianapolis Colts took Andrew Luck with the first pick and he has been everything we thought he would be. The Washington Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second pick, and after a very good rookie year, he was ordinary in 2013.
Ryan Tannehill was taken with the seventh pick by the Miami Dolphins and has been up and down. The Cleveland Browns took Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick and he has already busted.
Of the 15 quarterbacks taken, only one (Flacco) has taken his team to a Super Bowl. Ryan has been a perennial All-Pro and Newton and Luck are on the doorstep of being considered top NFL quarterbacks. Stafford has been inconsistent and the jury is out on Tannehill and RGIII.
That means fewer than half of the first-round quarterbacks taken in those years have done what was hoped when their team drafted them.
My feeling is that because of the lack of success of the quarterbacks taken between 2008-2012, clubs didn't force the issue in 2013.
Only one quarterback was taken in the first round last year with the Buffalo Bills selecting Florida State's E.J. Manuel with the 16th pick. Manuel dealt with injury issues for much of the year, but when he had the opportunity to play, he showed that he has a chance to become a solid player.
Two of the best quarterbacks selected in the last three years were not taken in the first round. Russell Wilson just won a Super Bowl for Seattle and was a third-round pick in 2012. Colin Kaepernick took San Francisco to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship Games and was a second-round pick in 2011.
The other clubs in the NFL see this and are taking note!
This year, depending on who you talk to, there are as many as four or five quarterbacks who could be taken in the first round. While all are talented, you can find fault with each one.
Teddy Bridgewater has small hands and a bit of a long delivery. He started the season strong, but then leveled off. We didn't see much improvement from his strong 2012 season. Has he peaked?
Some will say that Johnny Manziel is too short and has scheme limitations. He has to be able to make plays with his feet and throw on the move in order to be successful. If he is forced to play as a conventional dropback passer, he will fail.
Derek Carr is very talented and really came on in 2013. He put up great numbers and almost led his team to a BCS bowl. No one can question his desire and football character because he has already played while under adverse conditions this year.
Shortly before the start of the season, his first child was born with birth complications. The little boy had three surgeries in his first five weeks of life. He is fine now, but Carr played some of his best football while this was going on.
ESPN's Todd McShay believes he doesn't react well to pressure. In the NFL, he will be pressured all the time.
Like Carr, Blake Bortles had a strong 2013 season. Still, he is an underclassman coming out and is very raw. He is far from a finished product. The National Football Post questions his accuracy and overall decision-making.
AJ McCarron has size and has been very productive at a high-profile program. He won two BCS National Championships, not many have that in their resume. The critics will say he won because of all the talent on the Alabama roster, not because of his talents.
I could go on, but you see my point. None of the five I listed is a lock to become a top NFL quarterback. My guess is that, just like in the previous six drafts, about half of these guys will actually succeed.
So why use a first-round pick on them?
Which Teams Have a Quarterback Need?
Going into free agency, we can make a case that Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Minnesota, Oakland and maybe Tampa Bay all have a need for a quarterback. Not only do they have the need, but they all have a pick in the top 10 of this year's draft.
Do they pull the trigger on a quarterback with their top pick? As I have already pointed out, it can be a risky situation and the chance of getting it right is less than 50 percent.
There are some very good players in this draft at other positions that are very worthy of being taken in the top 10. Many of them can step in and play at a high level as rookies.
There are three offensive tackles who will be starters the day they sign their contract. Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Greg Robinson all look like future Pro Bowlers.
Sammy Watkins has A.J. Green- and Julio Jones-type talent as a wide receiver. Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr will be impact players from the outside linebacker position. C.J. Mosley is a superb inside linebacker with great instincts. Justin Gilbert, with his size and speed, can become a dominant corner.
No one disputes Jadeveon Clowney's talent, but does he want to be a great player? His chance of success is just as good if not better than any of the quarterbacks.
Do the teams with a quarterback need pass on a player who looks as if he can become an excellent pro to take a quarterback who may become a good player? The more I look at tape on all the quarterbacks, the more I believe that there isn't a "franchise" quarterback in the group.
The rule in drafting is you don't pass on a higher-graded player to take a need. What I feel may happen is many of these teams will look to trade out of their top 10 slot, pick up extra draft picks and draft their quarterback a little later. Their clubs may end up being that much stronger by using that strategy.
Recent history has shown that if a club drafts a quarterback high and he doesn't produce, the people who made those decisions are on the outside looking in.
The decision-makers of the clubs that have a quarterback need know this and have to be very sure they are making the right decision before pulling the trigger. Their job is on the line and it's for that reason that I question if the quarterbacks are going to go as high as many think.
I know it goes against conventional wisdom, but my gut feeling is we might not see a quarterback taken in the top eight and only three will end up actually going in the first round.
I will also predict that there will be quarterbacks taken after the first round this year who will outperform all the quarterbacks taken in the first. Time will tell.
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