Fans and media alike ignore a crucial element when debating the level of success Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford will enjoy in the NFL.
Even if Bradford is a future Hall of Famer, he's the wrong person for the St. Louis Rams to select with the first pick in this year's draft.
For a quarterback, making the transition from college to the NFL is difficult enough. Making that transition while starting as a rookie on a team with no offensive weapons to ease your transition is simply too difficult for most quarterbacks.
For this reason, picking a quarterback in the top of the draft is a move that is almost always destined to fail.
For every Peyton Manning, there are a plethora of players such as Tim Couch or JaMarcus Russell. When a team has holes all over the place, especially on the offensive line, upgrading at quarterback doesn't make the team a whole lot better.
The past two drafts provide direct evidence of the truth held by this philosophy. In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions upgraded at quarterback, selecting Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the top pick after an 0-16 season.
In the 2008 draft, the Miami Dolphins chose offensive tackle Jake Long with the top pick and waited until the second round to select a quarterback. Later in the 2008 offseason, the Dolphins signed veteran Chad Pennington after he was released by the Jets, allowing Chad Henne to learn from the bench.
These contrasting approaches to rebuilding a team led to contrasting results. The 2008 Miami Dolphins were the champions of the AFC East with an 11-5 record, 10 games better than their record in 2007.
Meanwhile, the 2009 Detroit Lions went 2-14 and have the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. Behind a patchwork offensive line, Stafford was sacked 24 times in the 10 games in which he played. By week five of the 2009 season, Stafford already had to miss a game due to injury.
Selecting a quarterback with the top choice is a move designed to provide fans and the front office with optimism, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee success on Sundays.
For the most rapid and drastic improvement, teams with the top pick in the draft are better off choosing a dominant offensive or defensive lineman.
Football is a game won and lost at the line of scrimmage. You can't score touchdowns if the quarterback doesn't have time to wait for his receivers to get open and the running backs don't have holes to run into.
Similarly, if your defensive line cannot pressure the opposing quarterback, he will eventually find an open receiver no matter how talented your defensive backfield is.
For this reason, choosing a quarterback, no matter how good the quarterback is, does not pay off as well as drafting a lineman on either side of the ball. The Houston Texans learned this lesson the hard way.
In the Texans' first-ever draft, they selected quarterback David Carr with the first overall pick. Carr was sacked 76 times in 2002, and the Texans were 4-12. After four losing seasons in a row, the Texans had the No. 1 pick in the draft again in 2006.
This time around, they chose North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams over highly-touted prospects Reggie Bush and Vince Young. The Texans haven't had a losing record since then.
Rookie quarterbacks making an immediate impact are an exception to the rule. Two recent exceptions were Mark Sanchez and Vince Young, drafted in 2009 and 2006 respectively.
Sanchez was drafted fifth overall by the New York Jets, who had obtained the No. 5 pick in a trade with the Browns. The Jets had gone 9-7 in 2008, and were originally slotted to pick in the middle of the round, at No. 17.
At this point in time, they felt they were a quarterback away from being serious playoff contenders, so they made the trade for Sanchez. Because of the Jets' solid offensive line and strong running game, Sanchez's rookie mistakes were limited and the Jets made it to the AFC championship game.
Young was drafted third overall by the Tennessee Titans, who had gone 4-12 the previous season. After the Titans started 0-3 under Kerry Collins, Young was inserted as the starter and the Titans went 8-5 with Young under center.
Although Collins was a more polished passer, Young's ability to scramble and avoid defenders made up for the Titans' lack of a top-tier offensive line and gave the Titans a better chance of winning.
A mobile quarterback who can scramble and compensate for a lack of protection is an instant jump-start for an offense that doesn't have a lot of weapons. This is best exemplified by the quarterback switch in Tennessee this past season.
After opening the 2009 season with an 0-6 record, the Titans benched Kerry Collins in favor of Vince Young. Under Young, the Titans went 8-2, mainly due to the threat of Young's mobility.
Because they had to worry about the quarterback running with the ball, opposing defenses were forced to blitz less and run more zone coverages, allowing more running room for explosive back Chris Johnson.
With Collins as the quarterback, Johnson averaged 99.6 yards per game. With Young, Johnson's average increased to 141, and the second-year running back finished the season with 2,006 rushing yards.
A quarterback such as Michael Vick or Tarvaris Jackson, who could each be easily attained for the Rams' fourth-round pick, would have this same effect on the Rams' offense.
Running back Steven Jackson has been the only bright spot on the Rams' offense, and a mobile quarterback would have the same effect on him that Young had on Johnson, providing a short-term solution for the Rams' offensive woes.
This would then allow the Rams to select either Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, greatly improving the Rams' defensive line. Opposing quarterbacks would have less time to find an open receiver, making up for the Rams' lack of talent at defensive back.
With the Rams seemingly intent on selecting Bradford, a trade for Vick or Tarvaris Jackson is not going to happen, even though it is the best move the St. Louis Rams could possibly make.
St. Louis Rams fans, prepare yourselves for another top-10 pick in the 2011 draft.