NFL Draft 2011: Previous Quarterback Success Puts Pressure on 2011 Class

Mike SalvatoreCorrespondent IIIApril 11, 2011

The 2011 Quarterback Class has a lot to live up to.
The 2011 Quarterback Class has a lot to live up to.

Quarterback is the most important position in football, and perhaps the most crucial in all of sports. It is the quarterback’s job to lead the team on the field and keep a cool head under pressure. 

Every year the NFL Draft comes along and a host of fresh new faces that coaches and owners will hope become franchise cornerstones get put under the white hot light of the NFL media circus. 

In a league where parity has become commonplace, every team feels that they may just be a piece or two away from competing. 

Football is a very volatile and fluid sport; players come and go and only a select few are able to last more than a handful of seasons, which is why selecting a quarterback in the draft has become such a scrutinized and arduous process.

Franchises are investing a great deal of money on a position in which more players fail than succeed.

Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Rick Mirer, Tim Couch and Alex Smith are just a handful of well known examples of quarterbacks who, for one reason or another, did not pan out in the NFL.

Coaches and personnel men know the high risk that comes with selecting a quarterback in the first round; you are handing the keys to the franchise to a kid who was on a college campus less than a year earlier.

However, the recent success of first round quarterbacks has caught the league off guard and has caused a bit of trepidation on teams looking to select quarterbacks in the first round.

Since the JaMarcus Russell train wreck from the 2007 draft that included another first round bust in Brady Quinn, the success of quarterbacks selected in the first round has been staggering. 

When Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco burst onto the scene in 2008, they shocked the league with their ability to lead their teams to success so early in their careers. Both players led their teams to the playoffs as rookie quarterbacks in 2008 and have since established themselves as franchise players.

The 2009 quarterback class offered the trio of Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman. Although the jury is still out of Stafford due to his injury issues, he has produced when healthy and has made Detroit relevant for the first time in a decade.

Sanchez has led the Jets to back to back AFC Championship Game appearances and is clearly the face of the organization. 

Freeman struggled in his rookie season, but came on very strong in 2010 as he lead Tampa Bay to a surprising 10 win season and to the brink of the playoffs. 

2010 offered first round pick Sam Bradford who almost singlehandedly turned around the fortunes of the St. Louis Rams and led them to the doorstep of the playoffs. 

Fellow 2010 draft mate Tim Tebow currently gets an incomplete due to his lack of playing time during the season, however, he did create quite a bit of excitement when he was on the field. 

That makes seven first round quarterbacks selected in the last three years, and six of them showed tremendous promise, poise, leadership and growth. 

Statistically speaking, this should not happen, which is why this year’s quarterback class is being watched very closely. 

Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker all have first round potential and the skill set to succeed in the NFL. However, due to the success of quarterbacks from the last few drafts, there is a cloud of doubt surrounding this group.

Scouts, coaches and owners know that based on recent quarterback success, there is a good chance that some if not all of these players might not pan out, but that is the nature of drafting a quarterback in the first round. 

High risk, high reward. 

The Carolina Panthers are on the clock, and they are one of a handful of teams that are in need of a quarterback, even though they selected Jimmy Clausen last season. 

Don’t worry though, Clausen was selected in the second round, so the Panthers are allowed to take a mulligan.