Six weeks ago, the general consensus among draft analysts was that three or four quarterbacks could be drafted within the top 10 picks of the 2014 NFL draft. While many still adhere to that theory, I am not one and never have been.
NFL clubs have over-drafted at the quarterback position for years. The thinking has been that it's almost impossible to sign a quality quarterback in free agency. If you want one, you have to draft one. The only way you can be sure of getting a quarterback is to draft one in the first round.
The problem with that thought process is that when you force the issue and over-draft at that position, it generally comes back to haunt you. A good percentage of first-round quarterbacks drafted in the last nine years have failed, and an even higher percentage of top-10 quarterbacks have failed to live up to expectations.
Recent history of first-round quarterbacks
When you look at the success rate of quarterbacks taken in the top 10 of the first round the last nine years, the results aren't good.
Going back to the 2005 NFL draft, a total of 24 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. Fourteen of those quarterbacks have been selected within the first 10 picks of their respective drafts.
|Top-10 Quarterbacks Since 2005|
|2012||2||Redskins||Robert Griffin III|
In 2005, Alex Smith was the first overall selection of the San Francisco 49ers. It wasn't until the 2012 season that he began to play with any consistency, and he was traded after that season. The best quarterback taken in that draft was Aaron Rodgers, whom Green Bay selected at No. 24, and he looks like a future Hall of Famer!
In 2006, three quarterbacks were again selected in the opening round, two of which were top-10 selections. Vince Young was the third overall selection, and he has been a bust. The 10th pick that year was USC's Matt Leinart by Arizona, and he also busted. One pick latter at 11, Denver selected Jay Cutler. Cutler has had his moments both in Denver and Chicago, but in reality, he hasn't lived up to expectations as a first-round signal-caller.
The 2007 draft was led off by Oakland choosing LSU's JaMarcus Russell. He has gone down in NFL history as one of the worst selections of all time. The only other quarterback taken that year was Brady Quinn at No. 22, and like many of the others, he has been a journeyman and has played for five teams.
2008 saw two quarterbacks drafted in the first round, with one going third overall. Matt Ryan was selected by the Atlanta Falcons. He has had a very good career but still hasn't met overall expectations. The other quarterback taken in the first round in 2008 was Joe Flacco. Flacco has a Super Bowl victory, but his overall play has been inconsistent. Still, I feel he was a great pick for the Ravens.
Matthew Stafford from Georgia was the first overall selection in the 2009 draft. While Stafford has played well, he has led the Lions to the playoffs only one time (2011). The fifth pick that year was Mark Sanchez by the Jets. He had basically one good year and then struggled. He was recently cut and then signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. Josh Freeman was taken at No. 17 by Tampa Bay and started out well. His play drastically fell off after his second year, and he is now a free agent.
The 2010 draft was led off by St. Louis selecting Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. While Bradford has had some success, he has not lived up to expectations. This coming season will be very important for him. Denver chose Tim Tebow at No. 25, and to put it mildly, he failed as a quarterback. He has already played for three teams and is currently a free agent.
In 2011, Cam Newton was the first overall pick of the draft by Carolina. He had an outstanding rookie year but then his play fell off in 2012. He came back to have a very strong 2013 season, leading the Panthers to a division title.
The eighth pick in 2011 was Jake Locker. To date, Locker has been very inconsistent and has the 2014 season to prove himself. At No. 10, Jacksonville took Blaine Gabbert, and he never looked comfortable as an NFL quarterback. He already has been traded.
The 2012 draft saw Stanford's Andrew Luck as the first overall pick. He has been outstanding and looks like a future great. The second selection was Robert Griffin III, he played well as a rookie but then sustained a serious knee injury. In 2013, he was a shell of himself, so this coming season will be very important, especially since he will be playing for a new head coach in Jay Gruden.
With the eighth pick, Miami selected Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. To date, Tannehill has been inconsistent, and like Locker, 2014 is an important year for him.
Last year, there was only one quarterback taken in the top round, and EJ Manuel played like a rookie. In fairness, he missed a lot of practice time with knee issues, so 2014 will be very telling with him.
While in some cases the jury is still out, in my opinion, less than a third of the top-10 quarterbacks have lived up to expectations. While that average is a winner as a batter in baseball, it's awful when evaluating how the quarterbacks have played as pros.
Top positional players in this draft
When you look at the needs of the teams drafting in the top 10 this year, at least four and maybe five of them have a strong need for a quarterback. Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland and maybe Tampa Bay have a need at QB. Many analysts feel that there are four or five quality quarterbacks in the draft. Will the clubs with the need grab a quarterback with their top pick?
My thinking is that maybe one quarterback goes in the top 10. Why? There are a variety of reasons, but the main reason is there is not a quarterback worthy of a top-10 selection in this year's class. You can go through the list, and you can find a hole or multiple holes in each of their games.
On top of that, there are better football players at other positions available to select in the top 10. Jadeveon Clowney had a poor 2013 season, but his talent is rare. He can be a future All-Pro if he wants to be.
There are three offensive tackles who just may be better players than the three tackles who went in the top four last year. Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan all are accomplished blockers who can line up on the left side of the formation. All three will start and be productive as rookies.
There hasn't been a complete outside linebacker like Buffalo's Khalil Mack in years. Many feel he could well be the top overall pick. UCLA's Anthony Barr has more natural size at 6'5", 255 pounds and may be a little better at pass rushing than Mack, but his overall game isn't quite as good. Barr still is a bit raw and needs to add some strength, but he has a lot of upside.
The other type of player every team is looking for is the big, fast and athletic tight end. These players create mismatches that are very difficult for opponents to defend. This year, North Carolina's Eric Ebron fits that role very nicely.
Clubs are also looking for tall, athletic corners with length. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert is the perfect player for that role.
Every one of the above 10 players I have rated higher than the best quarterback. I could easily list a few more.
The 2014 quarterbacks
As I stated above, as an evaluator, I can find a hole or holes in the game of all the top-rated quarterbacks. At this time, my top five rated quarterbacks in order are Derek Carr from Fresno State, Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M, Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville, Blake Bortles from Central Florida and AJ McCarron from Alabama. I don't feel there is a future All-Pro in this group.
Carr is the most NFL-ready. He has a quick release and accuracy but has been bothered by pressure in some big games. Manziel lacks size at 6'0", 207 pounds, and whoever drafts him has to design an offense that plays to his strengths. He will fail if he is asked to be a conventional NFL pocket passer.
I felt Bridgewater leveled off in 2013, not showing improvement from the previous year. While he started out strong, he didn't play at that high level the whole season. There were games where he looked very ordinary. What I see on tape is that he lacks top anticipation and can be late getting the ball to an open receiver. He also struggles with accuracy on deeper throws.
Bortles is similar to Bridgewater in that he seldom throws a pass before the receiver makes a cut. Too often the receiver waits on the ball. He also has average deep accuracy and his arm isn't nearly as strong as people think. On tape I have seen him make a number of questionable throws, which leads me to believe he lacks top instincts.
I feel that after Carr, McCarron is the most NFL-ready quarterback. He has played in an NFL-style offense and has been highly productive. He has a good but not a great arm, and he is not as athletic as some of the other quarterbacks. Still, he has outstanding football character and drive and wants to be a great player. I feel he will be a winning NFL quarterback.
When you compare the quarterbacks to some of the other positional players, the other players are far superior and have fewer question marks. The safer and more wise pick is to take one of the positional players. They have a far greater chance of success.
2014 draft strategy
When preparing for the draft, clubs with a quarterback need can do any number of things. They can, of course, draft a quarterback. They can look to trade down, get some extra picks and select a quarterback with the later pick. In this example, they are not over-drafting the player and taking him more at value.
Another scenario would be to select a top positional player, then try to trade back into the bottom of the first round and select the quarterback then. The last scenario would be to just wait for their second round pick and then select a quarterback with that pick.
Cleveland, with two first-round picks and some other premium picks, has the best chance of making things work to its advantage. It can select its highest-rated player at No. 4 and come back to take the quarterback with its second first-round pick. It can also use one of those premium picks to move up a few slots from the 26th spot.
Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. As we get closer to the draft, more and more people are thinking that the quarterbacks will fall.