Browsing the web over the past few weeks, I have gathered that most people believe Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers will select a quarterback in the second or third round of this year's draft, unless they decide to trade up from number seven overall. The first round, most agree though, is foolish; with players like Patrick Peterson or Von Miller potentially still on the board, it makes little sense for the 49ers trade up to take a risk on a Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton.
The 49er faithful appear content with this route. Why not get an impact player on defense and tack on a Colin Kaerpernick, Andy Dalton or Christian Ponder in the second round? Plus, the 49ers have new quarterback developer extraordinaire Jim Harbaugh to mold the next great field general to wear red and gold.
The plan really does grow on you. Surely there must be a gem of a QB waiting in the rough past the first round.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn't bring myself to jump on board; since I couldn't think of any recent top-flight starters taken in the second or third rounds besides Matt Schaub and Drew Brees (and Brees was the first pick in round two), I figured that this current crop of second tier quarterbacks must be overrated.
So, I ran some numbers. I looked up every quarterback drafted in the second or third round between the years 1994 and 2008, and put my theory to the test; I chose not to use the most recent two drafts, because the data will be far from conclusive; 2008 is recent enough as is.
I compiled the career statistics of each of the 35 players drafted. The results were pretty shocking. Here are the names in the order they were selected:
Some notable names are Stoney "Checkdown" Case, Andrew "Turnover Machine" Walter and Charlie "Clipboard Jesus" Whitehurst.
I would be impressed if you could identify half the players on that list. I would have been hard pressed myself before I became familiar with their career achievements (or in most cases, lack thereof).
Two players here currently hold career passer ratings over 91.5. Those two are Matt Schaub and Drew Brees, both active. While it proves that there are gems to find, the fact that those two are about nine points above the next highest (Brian Griese at 82.7), who is a solid three more points over number four, doesn't bode well for a general manager's chances on draft day.
Also consider that two quarterbacks, the same number of 90+ passer rating QBs, failed to ever throw a single pass in the NFL.
That means that with a second or third round pick, it is statistically just as likely, given the data of these 15 years, to draft a pro bowl caliber QB as it is to draft one who won't ever appear in a game.
Makes you think twice, doesn't it?
As you can imagine, my data was incredibly varied, with some players breaking records and others unemployed at age 24. To make sense of it all, I took all 35 players' statistics and averaged them to create the "average player," which theoretically gives us a general idea of what to expect from a second or third round draft pick.
The average player had, in his 27 career starts: 893 attempts, a 59.0 percent completion rate, 5,962 passing yards, 32 TDs and 30 INTs, with a QB rating of 77.1.
The average 16 game season then would be 3,518 yards, 19TDs and 18 INT, with the same 69.0 completion rate and 77.1 rating.
A 77.1 rating leaves a lot to be desired. To put that in perspective, Donovan McNabb had the same rating in 2010 for the redskins, good enough for 24th in the league. Alex Smith had a rating of 82.1, and 49er ex-backup Shuan Hill had one of 81.3 for the Detroit Lions.
A 59.0 percent completion rate in 2010 would have tied our fictitious player with Jason Campbell of the Raiders for 23rd in the NFL. He would trail Alex Smith (59.6) and Shaun Hill (61.8) yet again.
If we find both Smith and Hill unsuitable in San Francisco, do we really want a new quarterback who likely will be even worse?
Omitting Brees and Schaub, two players head and shoulders above the rest, we get a career average of 23 starts, a 57.3 completion percentage in 741 attempts, with 25 TDs to 26 INTs for a rating of 73.1.
That rating is approaching Derek Anderson and Brett Favre territory. The completion percentage and passer rating both would have been in the bottom five of qualifying quarterbacks in 2011. To top it all off, 11 players threw more touchdowns last year than our imaginary quarterback would have thrown his whole career.
Let's just say that all around, the numbers don't look good. But the most frightening statistic to me is the average of 27 career starts, or five games short of two full seasons. Though skill is the most important factor in determining NFL success, longevity and consistency are two vital components that this batch lacks.
Here are some ways to put these careers in perspective:
1. As many players (15) recorded single-digit career starts as 20 or more career touchdowns.
2. 14 players threw less than 10 touchdowns in their entire careers.
3. Only eight players recorded career completion percentages over 60%, approximately the mark Matt Hasselbeck, Alex Smith and Jason Campbell posted last season.
4. Twice as many players logged 16—a season's worth—or fewer starts (20) as a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio (10) in their careers.
5. 24 players (69 percent) failed to reach 5,000 passing yards in their career, a feat Brees accomplished in a single season.
6. Only five of the 35 earned a Pro Bowl appearance—Kordell Stewart, Jake Plummer, Brian Griese, Drew Brees and Matt Schaub.
Also note that a Pro Bowl selection does not a career make. Vince Young and Derek Anderson have both gone to Hawaii in the past three years; not many would deem these two successful NFL quarterbacks by any measure.
7. Regardless of whether each individual deserved his selection, this group combined accounts for 52 percent of starts, 55 percent of yards, 60 percent of touchdowns and the lone Super Bowl ring accumulated by all players.
8. Four of the five Pro Bowl attendees reached 80 starts (only Matt Schaub with 56 falls short), or five full seasons, and all have thrown at least 80 touchdowns, the only players on this list to do either.
There are many ways to define success in the NFL: years played, Pro Bowl appearances or Super Bowl rings. From the quarterback position, I am a stout believer in consistent production; contending every year gives a team a much better shot at winning one championship.
I see only two franchise quarterbacks (Brees and Schaub) and four serviceable starters (Griese, Plummer, Banks, Stewart)—those four are good enough that they hang around for a while, but not good enough to win a championship. In other words, not players to build a franchise around.
The rest are no good, ranging from potentially useful journeymen backups (Charlie Batch for example) to absolutely terrible (think Andrew Walter: 9 starts, 3 TD, 16 INT for a rating of 52.6). Neither is worth a second round pick.
Quarterbacks are especially tricky to draft because they are both the most important players on the field and, besides offensive linemen, the only ones who play every down. Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and all defensive players sub in and out as packages change.
As a result, signal callers are the riskiest; a poor first round linebacker can still produce in special packages or on special teams, but a bad quarterback just sits on the bench, contributing nothing.
Drafting a quarterback, while never a sure thing, gets too chancy after the first round, and does not make much sense for a team with other holes to fill. Given the data from 1994 to 2008, the alleged promising futures of Andy Dalton or Christian Ponder-type guys are fool's gold; only two out of 35 have become franchise quarterbacks, and only one so far has one a championship. The smart move is to fill a need on defense, and wait for next year to draft a quarterback.
Alex Smith may not be the quarterback of the future. But can he give us a season better than 19 touchdowns, 18 picks, a 59 percent completion percentage and a 77.1 rating?
If so, he is better than the average second or third round quarterback.
2012 draft, here we come.