As football fans across the globe cast their longing eyes in the direction of the April draft, I decided that now might be a good time to reflect on draft classes of the last 10 years.
Too often in this business, we rush ahead to the next big event without taking pause to evaluate the past and learn from it. In a way, this study will still be a celebration of the coming 2009 draft and will shed some light on certain overlooked trends that no one ever stops to consider.
I will begin with a class by class showdown of sorts at the quarterback position over the last 10 drafts. This is part V in the series.
(Disclaimer: It is obviously way too early to make definitive statements about these two most recent draft classes. Thus, much of the following is for the figurative sake of comparison and nothing more.)
A) 10 quarterbacks selected in the draft (the fewest in the last 10 years) / two in the first round
B) Of those 10 quarterbacks, all 10 are currently still in the league in some capacity
C) Of those 10 still in the league, two merit a level five rating (franchise quarterback), two merit a level four (starter), two merit a level three (solid backup), two merit a level two (risky backup), and two merit a level one (barely in league).
D) Here is the quarterback class of 2007:
1. JaMarcus Russell—Selected first overall out of LSU. If there’s one thing this study has shown, it’s that there is an incredible burden placed on quarterbacks taken first overall. Your production will be compared to that of every single player in your class and will be measured against the accomplishments of past quarterbacks.
When you combine that with Russell’s rough entry into the league due to a contract holdout, it’s no surprise that he’s already taken his share of criticism.
That being said, he has shown improvement as he’s gained experience at the pro level. If he can get some playmakers at receiver in 2009, he should be able to take the next step.
2. Brady Quinn—Selected twenty-second overall out of Notre Dame. He finally got some on-field experience in 2008 before suffering a season-ending injury. Expect him to continue to improve as he builds rapport with the talent around him.
3. Kevin Kolb—Selected in the second round out of Houston. Expected to be the eventual starter whenever Donovan McNabb moves on, it’s hard to get a read on his ability to compete in the NFL given his limited playing time at this point. Needs to soak up everything he can from McNabb in the meantime.
4. John Beck—Selected in the second round out of BYU. Has taken an unfair amount of criticism after under-performing as a rookie starter for a terrible Dolphins team. It also didn’t help that he lost his head coach after that year.
When the new staff drafted Chad Henne and signed Chad Pennington the following year, it seriously jeopardized his value. I don’t know if he’ll ever get another chance to be anything more than a backup in the league.
5. Drew Stanton—Selected in the second round out of Michigan State. The Lions need to decide if they’re going to groom him as their eventual starter or not before the draft this year. Has a history of inconsistent play, but possesses all the tools to be a starter in the pros.
6. Trent Edwards—Selected in the third round out of Stanford. Beat out the incumbent starter, J.P. Losman, and looks to have a bright future in Buffalo. That being said, he needs to have a better showing down the stretch in 2009.
7. Jeff Rowe—Selected in the fifth round out of Nevada-Reno. Looks to be a career third-stringer.
8. Troy Smith—Selected in the fifth round out of Ohio State. Has played well in limited opportunities. Barring a huge decline in play from Joe Flacco, will probably have to leave Baltimore to ever have a chance to showcase his ability. Otherwise, he’ll be a career backup.
9. Jordan Palmer—Selected in the sixth round out of UTEP. Barely still in the league. A weak third-stringer.
10. Tyler Thigpen—Selected in the seventh round out of Coastal Carolina. I’ll admit that I was among the throng of critics who took shots at Thigpen in early 2008, but, as the season wore one, he really showed me something.
He is already a more capable starter than Brody Croyle. The addition of Matt Cassel obviously casts him in a backup role for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s given another chance to start for someone down the line.
E) Overall analysis: Much of this draft hinges on the growth of Russell and Quinn. If they can live up to their potential and Stanton or Kolb start making contributions, this could be a sensational class. Smith and Thigpen are already better than most of the quarterbacks we normally see taken in the later rounds.
F) Grade: B+
A) 13 quarterbacks selected in the draft / two in the first round
B) Of those 13 quarterbacks, all 13 are currently still in the league in some capacity
C) Of those 13 still in the league, two merit a level five rating (franchise quarterback), four merit a level three (solid backup), five merit a level two (risky backup), and two merit a level one (barely in league).
D) Here is the quarterback class of 2008:
1. Matt Ryan—Selected third overall out of Boston College. Easily the most impressive rookie year by a quarterback I’ve seen in the last 10 years. Played a key part in turning around a franchise that had fallen upon tough times. Sky is literally the limit for this kid.
2. Joe Flacco—Selected 18th overall out of Delaware. Like Ryan, he played better than anyone could have possibly imagined. Nearly took the Ravens to the Super Bowl in his first year out of an FCS school. Has a huge upside and a very strong arm.
3. Brian Brohm—Selected in the second round out of Louisville. Rumored to be ill-prepared to handle full-time backup duties as a rookie. Will need to sit for several years to learn the pro game.
4. Chad Henne—Selected in the second round out of Michigan. Reportedly looked strong in his rookie training camp. Some experts are predicting that he’ll be starting for Miami by mid-season in 2009.
5. Kevin O’Connell—Selected in the third round out of San Diego State. Who really knows what kind of game transformation this young quarterback is undergoing as we speak. Will he be the next Matt Cassel or the next Rohan Davey?
6. John David Booty—Selected in the fifth round out of USC. While there are some who believe he could be Minnesota’s quarterback of the future, I think he’ll be more of a solid backup in the pros. With Sage Rosenfels now coming over, it will be interesting to keep an eye on that depth chart.
7. Dennis Dixon—Selected in the fifth round out of Oregon. I really liked this kid in college. Roethlisberger is obviously the team’s franchise QB, but I’d love to see the team slip Dixon in for some trick plays in 2009. This guy can do a lot of things.
8. Josh Johnson—Selected in the fifth round out of San Diego. At this point, it’s difficult to tell whether or not Tampa plans to groom him for the starting job with a new coaching staff in place. Time will tell.
9. Erik Ainge—Selected in the fifth round out of Tennessee. Didn’t hear much from him in his rookie year, but he could give Kellen Clemens a run for his money if the Jets don’t bring in a new starter from the draft or free agency.
10. Colt Brennan—Selected in the sixth round out of Hawaii. This is another young quarterback that I think has great pro potential. Looked strong in the preseason of 2008. If Campbell struggles at all in 2009, don’t be surprised if fans start murmuring for a change.
11. Andre Woodson—Selected in the sixth round out of Kentucky. Barely in league. Previously hindered by an unusual throwing motion, it’s said that he’s now changed up his mechanics to have a better shot in the pros. Currently a third-stringer for the Giants.
12. Matt Flynn—Selected in the seventh round out of LSU. Apparently better equipped for the pro level than Brian Brohm, looks to be a decent backup down the line for the Packers.
13. Alex Brink—Selected in the seventh round out of Washington State. Looks to be a career third-stringer.
E) Overall analysis: It’s impossible to talk about this class without raving about the accomplishments of Ryan and Flacco. Both rookies showed remarkable poise in getting their respective teams into the playoffs. Look for bigger and better things from them down the road.
As could be expected, there are a lot question marks regarding those who were not immediate starters. Henne appears to be the third strongest candidate to emerge as a full-time starter of the bunch. Stay tuned, this class is just getting started.
F) Grade: A-
III. ADVANTAGE: 2008