San Francisco 49ers 2011: Why They Shouldn't Draft a QB at the End of Round 1

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San Francisco 49ers 2011: Why They Shouldn't Draft a QB at the End of Round 1
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Andy Dalton of TCU is a quarterback the 49ers are interested in. How high does he deserve to go?

Last week, in a truly inspiring piece that discussed the careers of quarterbacks drafted in the second or third round between 1994 and 2008, I drew the conclusion that the 49ers would be ill-advised, statistically speaking, to draft a quarterback in the second round.

This week, due to both suggestions from comments and my own personal interest, I will explore the careers of ten quarterbacks selected in the second half of Round 1 (from pick 17 to 32) over the same time-frame.

I will not discuss players drafted in the first half of the first round, because I do not believe the 49ers will use their seventh overall pick on a quarterback.

I have heard rumblings that the team could trade up to the end of the first round to snag a QB. 

So, between 1994 and 2008, here are the statistics for late first round QBs, ordered from earliest drafted to most recent:

 

 

Starts

Rating

Completion Percentage

Jim Druckenmiller

1

29.2

40.4

Chad Pennington

81

90.1

66.1

Patrick Ramsey

24

74.9

56.0

Kyle Boller

46

70.4

56.8

Rex Grossman

34

70.9

54.1

J.P. Losman

33

75.6

59.2

Aaron Rodgers

47

98.4

64.4

Jason Campbell

64

82.6

60.8

Brady Quinn

12

66.8

52.1

Joe Flacco

48

87.9

62.0

 

The biggest difference between this list and the 35 players from last week is that all but one of these players are active, the lone exception being 49er flame-out Jim Druckenmiller.

As a result, cumulative statistics like yards or touchdowns are less-useful, since the careers of these players are still ongoing.

Passer rating and completion percentage will be more valuable to us, but I will include touchdowns and yards nonetheless. 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Washington Huskie Jake Locker projects as a late first rounder

To organize this information, I created the "average player," an invention that takes the mean of all statistics to generate an estimate of what a team can expect from a QB taken in the late first round. The average player's career stats:

39 starts, 8,413 passing yards, 48 TD, 34 INT, 82.5 Rating and 60.6 completion percentage. 

At first glance, our average first rounder is vastly superior to his second or third round "average player" counterpart, who had a career line of:

27 career starts, 5,962 passing yards, 32 TDs and 30 INTs, with a QB rating of 77.1 and a completion percentage of 59.0.

But look closely and notice that the average first round player's completion pct (60.6) is only 1.6 percent higher and his passer rating (82.5) is only 5.4 points higher than the second or third rounder.

An 82.5 passer rating in 2010 would have been 19th best in the NFL, within half a point of Carson Palmer, Kerry Collins and Alex Smith.

A 60.6 percent completion rate would have been 18th, tied with Brett Favre—and just ahead of Jay Cutler.

According to these figures, late first-rounders compare favorably with second or third round quarterbacks, who on average, placed in the low twenties in comparison to 2010 signal-callers.

Handout/Getty Images
Super Bowl winner Aaron Rodgers never should have fallen to the Packers at pick #24

But, not nearly as favorably as they should.

Jumping past Shaun Hill, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kerry Collins and Carson Palmer to still remain behind Jason Campbell, Eli Manning and Kyle Orton is not exactly groundbreaking.

The average first rounder has a passer rating about 30 points behind 2010 NFL leader Tom Brady

The difference between the late first round and third round ranges from 33 to 83 picks (including supplemental selections).

Taking that into account, do these modest statistical increases warrant the use of such a higher pick?

I don't think so. 

Furthermore, I am not sold on the story our numbers tell.

First off, that Aaron Rodgers is in this group continues to boggle my mind, even as we approach the sixth anniversary of his legendary fall in the 2005 draft.

We should remember that although Alex Smith was eventually selected with the first overall pick, Rodgers was in the discussion.

In the eyes of most experts, even if the 49ers took Smith, Rodgers would easily go soon thereafter. 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Alex Smith may not have been worth a number one overall pick. But he's better than some other first round quarterbacks.

Here are onetwothree mock drafts from 2005 that all had Rodgers as a top-10 talent, one declaring him the top quarterback in the class.

So, as I did last week, I created the "adjusted average player," which is the normal "average player" without an elite outlier.

Last week, it was to give us an idea of what a team could expect if they did not strike gold with Drew Brees or Matt Schaub.

This week, it's to show us what the pickings are like for teams that don't have the incredible fortune of seeing a top-10 talent fall into their laps at pick No. 24. 

The career line of the nine players not named Aaron: 

34 starts, 7,141 yards, 40 TD, 31 INT, 80.1 Passer Rating and 60.0 completion percentage.

The passer rating of the lesser nine, compared against 2010 quarterbacks, drops to 24th in the league—behind Shaun Hill and just one place ahead of last week's fictitious second or third round average player.

Take out Aaron Rodgers, a player only in this group because of a completely unforeseen plummet on draft day and the result is a statistical output about equal to that of third round selections.

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Chances are Chad's eyes weren't too far downfield

The adjusted average first round player is actually two passer rating points worse than Alex Smith.

The 49ers' draft-day blunder was not so bad after all. 

The second deceiving feature of these stats is the inflated 82.5 passer rating. Only three of ten players have career passer ratings 83 or above, with Jason Campbell coming in right about equal to the average at 82.6.

Since it is an average, passer rating is weighted more heavily by the players with more numbers.

Chad Pennington, one of the players with a rating above 83, has in his career achieved a 90.1 passer rating because he does not make mistakes. His 102:64 TD:INT ratio and 66 percent completion rate will attest to that.

However, consider that in his 11 pro seasons, only three times did he ever eclipse his average mark—in 2002 (104.2), 2008 (97.1) and barely in 2004 (91.0).

Of Pennington's four highest single season attempt totals, three coincide with the years he had the highest passer rating.

Since passer rating is weighted by attempts, Pennington has an artificially high career mark because of two good seasons with lots of attempts. 

Also, realize how Pennington even gets those high ratings to begin with.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco currently is under the tutelage of the other Harbaugh

In 2008 he played for the Miami Dolphins, who took the NFL by surprise with their wildcat offense, which they complimented with short passes and a strong running attack.

A league-leading 1,520 of Pennington's 3,653 passing yards (42 percent) in 2008 came after the catch.

That means on average, Pennington could throw the ball six yards in the air and expect his receiver to run the rest of the way for a first down.

Not the prolific passer one expects to see from a first round pick. 

The former Jet thrived in a gimmicky offense for one year and in 2009, his passer rating predictably dropped to 76.0 before a shoulder injury shortened his season.

There's no doubt about it: Pennington's 90.1 career passer rating in a list-high 2,471 attempts significantly raises the overall average.

But since he has only provided three seasons equalling or exceeding that quality of production, one of which being the fluky 2008 year—his numbers—and consequently the overall average of all 10 players, must be taken with a grain of salt.

Also remember who we are talking about. Before the 2008 season, Pennington was cut by the Jets.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Patrick Ramsey's time in Washington did not go particularly well. The team cut him after four years, and he's been a journeyman since

You have to look no further than the four-interception display against the Ravens in the 2009 divisional round to understand that Pennington is not a franchise quarterback.

Besides Rodgers, none of these players are. 

It is encouraging at least to see that seven of the other nine have at least 20 starts, Druckenmiller and Quinn being the only real flops.

Many believe Flacco has a shining career ahead of him. I personally do not believe it, because I have yet to see him truly stand out on an already loaded Ravens team.

Flacco has a great offensive line, several backfield options and weapons at wide receiver, not to mention the incredible defense that gives him great field position all the time.

It's hard to not succeed under those circumstances. I see him as little more than a game manager.

But he has played the Pittsburgh Steelers already eight times in his first three seasons, running into them twice in the playoffs, so I will give him another year or two to prove me wrong before I write him off completely.

Jason Campbell's numbers fall nicely in-line with the average player's. His passer rating (82.6) and completion percentage (60.8) are nearly identical to the mean (82.5 and 60.6), while he has more starts—and thus yards, touchdowns and interceptions.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Rex Grossman's tenure in Chicago was marred by inconsistency and ineffectiveness

He, like Pennington, has been deemed inadequate by the franchise that drafted him.

It is hard to argue with the Redskins, since Campbell perpetually put up numbers that were decent, but not quite good enough to get his team over the hump.  

Of the eight players to start 24 games or more, the remaining four (Ramsey, Boller, Grossman and Losman) all have passer ratings under 76. That is actually lower than the average of second or third rounders (77.1).

I have difficulty hearing one of those names without cringing. Reading all four in a row is almost too much to handle.

Here is the average of these four players' career numbers:

34 starts, 6,998 yards, 39 TD, 39 INT with a 72.5 rating and 56 percent completion rating.

Compare those to the numbers of all second and third round QBs minus Brees and Schaub:

23 starts, 4,786 yards, 25 TD, 26 INT with a 73.1 rating and 57 percent completion rating.

The former four only have more passing yards, a direct result of the 11 extra starts on average (4,786 yards in 23 starts equals 208 ypg, while 6,998 yards in 34 starts equals 206 ypg).

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Their ratings, completion rates, touchdown to interception ratios and yards-per-game statistics are all uncannily similar.

Keep in mind that I'm showing the average statistics of the 33 scrubs taken in the second and third round, the most accomplished of whom was Jake Plummer. 

Including Brees and Schaub makes the second and third round picks significantly superior to these four. 

Since the reason for the extra starts cannot be superior skill, we must assume that teams felt more attached to their first round pick.

They could simply release a second or third round pick if they were no good, but a first-rounder is a serious investment and teams continue to hope that next year is the season the quarterback turns it around.

Every mention of the name "Rex Grossman" elicits shudders from any Bears fan within a 10-mile radius. But to the name "Eric Zeier", most people say, "Who?"

Funnily enough, Zeier, in his 12 starts, had a better passer rating (74.4 to 70.9) and completion percentage (56 to 54) than Grossman.

However, he was a third round pick and the Seahawks severed ties with him easily enough once they realized he was fairly pedestrian and his ceiling was limited.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Bills fans can assure you it's painful to keep giving mediocre quarterbacks one more shot.

The Chicago Bears did no such thing with Grossman, keeping him on the roster for an absurdly long six years, hoping that one year he would live up to his potential and prove to be worth the first round pick the Bears used to acquire him.

It wasn't Rex Grossman's fault he didn't live up to his draft pick. It was the Bears' fault for picking him so high.

A similarity between these four players is that they were each the third or fourth quarterback taken in their respective drafts (Ramsey and Boller were third, while Grossman and Losman were fourth).

Whether or not the players drafted in front of them ended up succeeding in the NFL is irrelevant. The topic here is where these four should have been drafted.

If there are 22 positions on offense and defense, then in a 32-team draft, no more than two—but most often one—should be taken from each position in the first round.

Recognizing that depth is not equally distributed across positions, my model is impractical. A deep QB class should have two taken in the first round and an extraordinary class could support three.

But then normal or shallow classes should have one, or maybe none at all taken in Round 1. 

But only four times in the 1994-2008 time-frame did either none or one quarterback get drafted in the first round, while twice there were four and once there were five QBs taken.

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The remaining eight had two or three first round quarterbacks.

NFL franchises are reluctant to let quarterbacks go past the first round, even if they do not merit the high selection, simply because of the importance of the quarterback position.  

That said, a team taking the third quarterback in the first round is almost certainly overvaluing QBs. A team taking the fourth is reaching way too far.

Yes, the quarterback is the most important player on the field. That does not mean that there are more good ones out there to get drafted.

But teams want to make sure they get the QB they are targeting and will thus severely overpay for him. 

Grossman, Losman, Boller and Ramsey should have been taken in the second or third round—and their career statistics reflect that.

But their fans had to suffer through years of their mediocrity because management couldn't understand that they had simply taken a second or third round talent too early.

Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both currently have Jake Locker and Andy Dalton rated third and fourth, respectively, amongst 2011 quarterbacks. McShay has Christian Ponder rounding out his top-five and Kiper has Ricky Stanzi in the same position.

Buyer beware on both Locker and Dalton.

The Washington quarterback is currently mocked to go in the first round, while the TCU product is projected as an early second round pick, which could prompt a team desiring his services to trade up to the late first round to secure him. 

Just hope that team is not your team.

As with second and third round picks, the odds are not with teams trying to grab a quarterback in the second half of Round 1.

To recap: Of our ten players, only one (Rodgers) has earned a Pro Bowl selection, but he shouldn't have been drafted so late anyway.

One (Flacco) is still developing and could end up being anything from a game manager to a pro-bowler. But it is still too early to tell.

Two (Pennington and Campbell) are serviceable starters, but it's doubtful they can get any better than that.

Four (Grossman, Losman, Ramsey and Boller) were taken too early; they should have been taken in the second or third round.

And two (Quinn and Druckenmiller) have been complete flops.

How much do you really think of a group whose second best player statistically is Chad Pennington (best overall if you discount Aaron Rodgers)?  

As a 49er fan, I beg the organization to consider its own past and remember how useless Jim Druckenmiller was.

Disregarding Flacco (too early to tell), six out of nine late first-rounders ended up being no better than quarterbacks taken up to two and a half rounds later.

And (dare I say it?) no better than Alex Smith.

One more season of No. 11?

It's better than wasting yet another high pick on a quarterback. 

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