Despite Rare Depth, 2014 NFL Draft Class Will Be Defined by Quarterbacks

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Despite Rare Depth, 2014 NFL Draft Class Will Be Defined by Quarterbacks
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

With the 2014 NFL draft now just a few short weeks away, quarterbacks will once again be the guys who steal the show at Radio City Music Hall.

Though the Seattle Seahawks propelled themselves to a Super Bowl title by leaning on their elite defense, the quarterback position is still the most vital one in all of professional sports.

In a discussion between MMQB.com’s Peter King and Mike Holmgren, the former head coach of the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, gave his advice for any team looking to draft a young signal-caller.

“You’ve got to take one,” Holmgren told King.

Later on during their conversation, the former Super Bowl-winning coach elaborated on his thought process:

You’ve got to be willing to pick a guy and be behind him. Coach your a– off, fix what needs to be fixed, and you might not know what you have after one year or two years, but you’ll know after three years. You’ve got to give him a real chance.

The sheer volume of talent in the upcoming draft is staggering.

Just ask NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock, who described the 2014 class as the “deepest and best in 10 years."  

Still, despite all of the talent that this year's draft has to offer at all positions, it will be the crop of QBs that will define how we remember the 2014 draft.

You may be asking, with outstanding defensive prospects like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo's Khalil Mack, why is this year's draft going to be remembered by how the quarterbacks turn out?

In order to properly answer that question, you first have to look at the current state of the National Football League and how valuable QBs have become. 

 

It's a Quarterback-Driven League

By now you’ve heard the notion that the NFL is a "quarterback-driven league."

But if you want to really understand exactly what that means, all you have to do is look at the change in statistics.

Tim Sharp
Brett Favre led the NFL in passing yards during the 1995 regular season

Back in 1995, the same year that Clueless made it's box office debut, only four quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards—Brett Favre, Scott Mitchell, Warren Moon and Jeff George.

Last season, nine quarterbacks achieved that same feat and two of those guys—Peyton Manning and Drew Brees—eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark.

Trying to come up with an explanation for the dramatic shift in aerial dominance we've seen over the last 20 years, Stephen J. Dubner, the author of the Freakanomics, brought his unique way of thinking over to NFL.com.

In doing so, Dubner discovered what he believes are the two biggest reasons for the shift.

For starters, changes to the NFL Rulebook have dramatically affected how the game is played.

As NFL Media reporter Steve Wyche wrote in a fantastic article detailing the evolution of the passing game:

One element resoundingly mentioned by players and analysts—the heightened enforcement of penalties for hitting defenseless receivers in the middle of the field—was mentioned but minimized by offensive and defensive coordinators alike.

The league's decision to enforce these types of penalties has given offensive coordinators the luxury of attacking defenses down the field more frequently, while allowing quarterbacks to feel "safer" making those types of throws.

Secondly, as another driving factor, Dubner pointed to franchises spending a significant amount of money in order to build bigger, more physical offensive lines that can keep their respective quarterbacks upright.

You can attribute many things to the reason NFL field generals have enjoyed so much statistical success lately.

But the one thing all of these variables have created is an ecosystem where quarterbacks are allowed to put up gaudy numbers without hesitation.

Because of that, finding productive QBs has become priority No. 1 for just about every program.

 

Drafting a Quarterback is the Ultimate Gamble

NFL general managers and head coaches who don't have a franchise quarterback to rely on are always preparing to go after a young signal-caller in the draft.

As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling pointed out:

There's disagreement among NFL general managers about whether quarterback is a more difficult position to evaluate than any other, but there is no debate about which position has the shortest supply of great players. In an era in which quarterback play might be more central to a club's success than ever, NFL teams can't help themselves from coming right back to try their hand again.

Even in failure, teams and fans remember the transgressions of quarterbacks above any other position.

Names like JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch continue to live on in infamy, becoming almost as recognizable as some of the game's most iconic quarterbacks.

But when a team hits on one of these guys in the draft, the benefits are monumental.

Elsa/Getty Images
Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl in just his second season in the NFL.

Take a guy like Russell Wilson or even Nick Foles for example.

Both are former third-round draft picks, who have become huge assets for their respective teams.

Wilson won the Super Bowl this past season with the Seahawks, while Foles became a statistical marvel running the dynamic offense that Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly brought with him to the city of Brotherly Love. 

First round, sixth round or anywhere in between, it doesn't matter where you find your franchise quarterback. The only thing that matters is that you've finally found one.

 

David Zalubowski

Cash is King

If you didn't know by now, the NFL is a business. And in that business, quarterbacks have become the biggest cash cows.

Looking at the top 10 highest average salaries right now, per Spotrac.com, nine of those players are listed as QBs.

Flip over to jersey sales and you'll see a similar pattern.

According to John Breech of CBSSports.com, seven out of the top 10 selling jerseys last season were those of quarterbacks.

Quarterbacks put up points, sell merchandise and command monstrous salaries. Just a few more reasons why the guys who get drafted each year come in with a gigantic burden resting on their shoulders.

 

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Analyzing the Quarterback Class of 2014

Evaluating the 2014 quarterback class comes down to personal preference above anything else.

While the media will dissect and analyze each prospect until the draft gets underway, when push comes to shove, NFL teams will look internally for answers.

You can sit back and talk about a guy like Clowney all you want.

However, for all the reasons we touched on, the biggest conversation piece leading up to the draft has centered on guys like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, UCF's Blake Bortles and, of course, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

Bridgewater is the "pro-style" quarterback, Bortles is the guy with all of the physical tools and Manziel is the wild card.

Describe them anyway you want. The fact is, come May 8, all of the talk will continue to be about these young gunslingers and where they end up getting drafted.

In a league that has been generous toward quarterbacks, finding one is vital.

That's why teams will continue to search for answers, regardless of how many times they've "missed" on a QB prospect in years past.

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman summed it up best when talking to ESPN's Ben Goessling. "You have to do everything you possibly can to try to get that right person," Spielman said.

No matter how deep this year's draft may be, when all is said and done, it will be defined by the successes and failures of each and every quarterback who hears his name called at the lectern.

 

All NFL stats and records courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless noted otherwise.

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