Drafting First Round NFL Quarterbacks: What Do They need for Success?

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Drafting First Round NFL Quarterbacks: What Do They need for Success?
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This article is also featured at NFL Soup.

It's NFL Draft season. Every year, we go through what seem like the same debates. What quarterback deserves to go off the board first? Will <insert team here> draft <insert player here> first overall?

The biggest talk is usually regarding quarterbacks.

They are the hottest commodity in the NFL because every team knows that you need a solid quarterback to be successful. Some people want to just draft any quarterback because he's a great player, despite them having almost no talent offensively to surround him with.

What I'm going to show you below is that it's a big No-No to draft a quarterback into a bad offensive environment.

I'm going to look at some of the more successful first round QB's over the last 10 years, compared to some that haven't been successful. See if you can find the trend.


Successful QB's

Joe Flacco (Baltimore)— Flacco came into Baltimore last season with Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap as offensive weapons. In addition, Ray Rice was drafted and has turned out to be an excellent player for them.

Matt Ryan (Atlanta)— Ryan came into an offense that had just signed Michael Turner, the former standout that played behind LaDainian Tomlinson. Add Roddy White, who was a 1,200 yard receiver prior to Ryan's arrival (with Joey Harrington throwing him the ball), and Alge Crumpler, who was usually good for 700-800 yards and seven-eight touchdowns.

Jay Cutler (Denver)— Cutler came to Denver to take over for Jake Plummer. He got the pleasure of playing with the now-retired Rod Smith and a very talented Javon Walker, who was a 1,300-yard receiver prior to injury. Sprinkle in a little Brandon Marshall and add in Shanahan's zone blocking scheme, which makes lanes that even my grandmother could run through, and you have a recipe for success.

Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)— Rodgers was drafted in 2005 to take over for Brett Favre, who many thought would retire following that year...Well Favre lasted until 2007, letting Rodgers learn from one of the best QB's of the last 20 years. Add in Greg Jennings, acquired in '06, along with Donald Driver, and an efficient Ryan Grant, and you've got talent.

Eli Manning (New York Giants)— Manning was drafted in 2004, getting the pleasure of playing with Pro-Bowler Tiki Barber and a great WR duo in Amani Toomer (1,000-plus yard receiver annually) and Ike Hilliard. That wasn't it. He also had Jeremy Shockey, who some would swear had stick 'em on his hands earlier in his career. A season later, Brandon Jacobs was drafted as well.

Philip Rivers (San Diego)— Rivers came into San Diego and waited his turn to hand the ball off to the best RB in the league from around 2002-2007, and throw the ball to a top-three TE in the league. Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson, in their primes, were as big of play-makers as you could get.

Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)— Despite having a terrible offensive line, Big Ben got some great treatment in Pittsburgh by a team that featured Jerome Bettis at RB, along with Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress at WR.

Carson Palmer (Cincinnati)— Palmer went into Cincinnati with the play-maker formerly known as Chad Johnson. Not only did he have Johnson, but he had an underachieving Peter Warrick, who still made a few plays here and there. T.J. Houshamanzadeh also emerged for the Bengals. But most importantly he had a 1,400 yard rusher in Rudi Johnson. Even Jon Kitna succeeded in that offense.

Donovan McNabb(Philadelphia)— He is the only one of these QB's not to start out with a stud teammate on offense.

 

Unsuccessful QB's

(Disclaimer: leaving out Vince Young , Brady Quinn , and Matt Leinart for lack of opportunity)

Jamarcus Russell (Oakland)— He had Justin Fargas in 2007, who had a solid season rushing, but has never been consistent. Not much else.

Alex Smith (San Francisco)— He had rookie Frank Gore offensively, along with a slightly-above-average Brandon Lloyd. On the flip side, Smith may be emerging with the additions of Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to go along with Gore.

J.P. Losman (Buffalo)— J.P. didn't play his rookie year because of Drew Bledsoe, but McGahee rushed for 13 TDs and had a great season. J.P. got about eight starts in 2005, but McGahee's YPC went down, as did his overall play. Eric Moulds was the top option for Losman as well, which wasn't terrible, but he wasn't nearly the same Moulds as from 1998-2002. Not to mention Losman had a terrible offensive line.

Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville)— Leftwich had a very young line to work with, but had a fantastic rusher in Fred Taylor. However, he had nobody to throw to, even when his offensive line could keep him upright.

Rex Grossman (Chicago)— Grossman only started six games over his first two seasons with a team that had Anthony Thomas and Thomas Jones, both of whom were solid rushers. However, little help came from the WR's, TE's, or offensive line for that matter. In the one season in which Grossman played decently, he had a 1,200 yard rusher, a pass-catching TE, a veteran receiver in Muhsin Muhammed, and a good pass-catcher in Bernard Berrian.

David Carr (Houston)— Houston, being an expansion team, weren't expected to have any play-makers...and they didn't. Carr spent most of his time in Houston on his back. When he wasn't horizontal he was handing the ball off to former-Buckeye Johnathan Wells (2.7 YPC), and throwing the ball to Corey Bradford and Billy Miller. The Texans got him a RB in Domanick Williams, and a stud WR in Andre Johnson, and they went 7-9 in 2004 in just their third season in the NFL. Once Williams faded away, the only option that Carr had was Johnson...if he could stay on his feet long enough to get it to him.

Joey Harrington (Detroit)— Harrington went to a Detroit team whose No. 1 wide receiver was Az-Zahir Hakim. Need I say more?

Patrick Ramsey (Washington)— Ramsey had a mediocre Stephen Davis as his top RB, and one-year wonder Rod Gardner at WR. In Ramsey's second season his leading rusher was Trung Canidate, who rushed for just over 600 yards. His only true option was Laveranues Coles and he played behind an inconsistent offensive line.

Michael Vick (Atlanta)— Vick was a different type of quarterback. However, he didn't have any options on offense when drafted either. Atlanta's best WR then was 35-year-old Terance Mathis. There was no more running game as Jamal Anderson was washed up. Vick was called upon to do everything himself.

Akili Smith (Cincinnati)— Smith didn't play much his rookie year when he had Corey Dillon and Darnay Scott. Scott emerged as an above average receiver for the Bengals for a few seasons, until he missed the 2000 season with injury. Smith started 11 games in 2000 with a bad offensive line, and inexperienced and lackluster WR's, but at least had a great running game. Unfortunately, just a running game wouldn't do it. He only started two more games after that season.

Tim Couch (Cleveland)— I think we know how this one turned out. Expansion team QB. His best receiver was Kevin Johnson. Terry Kirby was his leading rusher. Couch got sacked so much that I'm pretty sure he is permanently scarred for life.

Cade McNown (Chicago)— McNown had the amazing (sarcasm off) Curtis Enis and James Allen as his first two RB's in the league. Marcus Robinson had a one-hit wonder season in McNown's rookie year and Bobby Engram also stepped up, but those WR's weren't enough.


All of these QB's either had one play-maker or less, while all of the successful guys usually had a solid offensive line, along with two play-makers at least.

Jason Campbell is the only QB that busted with play-makers like Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley, Santana Moss/Laveranues Coles, etc.

Daunte Culpepper was a very solid player (yet inconsistent) prior to tearing his ACL, MCL, and PCL. Since that accident, he hasn't been the same.

Chad Pennington was somewhat the same way. He had a great season (22 TD and six INT), but injuries just killed him in the long run

In the most recent season we’ve seen Alex Smith turn around a bit. Smith has Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, and Michael Crabtree as his play-makers.

Mark Sanchez had some success. That’ll happen when you have Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller, and Thomas Jones.

If Matthew Stafford ends up successful, we can only look at the fact that he has Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, and an above average Kevin Smith running the football for him.

Since 1999, there have been 31 QB's taken in the first round.

Eight of those QB's are doing well for their teams. Brady Quinn, Leinart, and Young all haven't gotten true opportunities, and the jury is still out on Stafford, Josh Freeman, and Mark Sanchez.

That leaves 25 quarterbacks in the pool.

Nine of those 25 quarterbacks have been successful. Of those nine, eight players had at least two or more play-makers on offense to help them develop and play well. Donovan McNabb seemed to make something of nothing.

Of all the busts, they had no more than one play-maker on offense. Jason Campbell seems to be the exception, having Portis, Cooley, Coles/Moss. Two others fought the injury bug in Daunte Culpepper and Chad Pennington.

The point that I'm getting at is if you want to use a first round pick on a QB, you've got to make sure he has offensive talent around him.

Make sure that he can get the ball to play-makers. Otherwise, these young QB's try to do too much, they get so much pressure put on them, and they buckle. If they don't have a solid offensive line around them, they'll get sacked too much, develop happy feet, and will struggle to develop into a quality NFL quarterback.

That being said, the Rams are one of the few top-five teams this year that could afford to draft a quarterback and have a good chance at him succeeding.

The Rams have a top running back in Steven Jackson and an offensive line that should be able to keep a rookie up, led by center Jason Brown and left tackle Alex Barron.

The acquisition of Jason Smith to play right tackle last season only reinforces the statement, despite Smith being injured for most of this season. Donnie Avery seemed to develop nicely, and Brandon Gibson looks like a decent second option for the Rams if they get a true quarterback.

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