College QBs and Future NFL Drafts

Duane WinnCorrespondent IMay 8, 2009

ALLEN PARK, MI - MAY 01:  Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan of the Detroit Lions talks with Matthew Stafford #9 during rookie orientation camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on May 1, 2009 in Allen Park, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

With the 37th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select Matt Barkley. Quarterback. University of Southern California.

It sounds like science fiction, doesn't it; that the potential top quarterback in the draft in four years would not be selected until the second round?

Perhaps it is a bit far-fetched.

What happens, though, if all the first-round quarterbacks selected in this year's draft—Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman—go belly-up in 2009 or the following year or the year after that and prove an unwise investment?

And let's say (just for the sake of argument) that quarterbacks Nate Davis (Ball State) and Curtis Painter (Purdue), drafted this year in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, outstrip all expectations and develop into NFL stars for the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts?

Would this set of circumstances compel NFL teams to retool their high-risk, high-reward approach to drafting quarterbacks in the first round.

Probably not.

After all, we're not talking about an ordinary business enterprise. We're talking about the NFL, where cost-benefit analysis is not exactly a thriving practice.

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Take the 1999 draft when five quarterbacks were selected in the first 12 picks. Only Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb carved out legitimate careers. The latter is arguably a Hall of Famer and they are still sidestepping blitzes and pitching footballs a decade later.

The other three (Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown) are regarded as nothing more than bad punchlines.

All five draftees looked promising. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been drafted in the first round, would they?

Couch, a University of Kentucky alum whom the Cleveland Browns selected first overall, made his first start in the second game of his rookie season. He enjoyed a measure of success during his career, culminating in 2002 when he threw for 2,842 yards and 18 touchdowns and led the Browns to a playoff berth. Injuries, though, curtailed his career.

The Cincinnati Bengals had far less luck with Smith, the third overall pick in the draft. His considerable athleticism was nullified by his inability to grasp the complexities of the Bengals' offense. He started 17 games before he was granted a release.

McNown was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 12th overall pick of the draft. He started 15 games over two seasons, throwing 16 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. McNown's ineffectiveness coupled with his susceptibility to injury, forced the Bears to jettison him in 2002.

Culpepper seized the opportunity to start in his second year compiling 3,937 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions. He helped lead the Vikings to an 11-5 record and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Over the course of the next two seasons, Culpepper struggled mightily—as did the Vikings. He threw 32 touchdowns against 36 interceptions in 2001 and 2002, but Minnesota hung tough with their former first-round draft choice.

In 2003 and 2004, Culpepper rewarded the Vikings' patience with Pro Bowl years, amassing 8,196 yards, 64 touchdowns and just 22 interceptions.

McNabb has enjoyed the luxury of plying his wares for a successful franchise. As a result, he's thrown for more than 29,000 yards and 194 touchdowns.

Who's to say that if Couch, Smith or McNown played under similar circumstances, they too wouldn't have evolved into solid quarterbacks?

In addition to Couch, Smith and McNown, you can ask Michael Vick, Rex Grossman, Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Kyle Boller, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, David Carr and Alex Smith about the vagaries of fate that separate stardom and mediocrity. 

Drafting a quarterback is a weird science, at best.

A combination of injuries, an inability to read pro coverage schemes, a lack of talent surrounding them, and a host of other unforeseen factors can transform the potential savior of a franchise overnight into damaged goods.

At any rate, it's much riskier than drafting a blue-chip linebacker, or a defensive/offensive lineman.

One anecdote that proves drafting quarterbacks is a crap-shoot comes by way of Bill Walsh, who coached Hall of Fame QBs Joe Montana and Steve Young.

When asked by reporters whether he favored Peyton Manning or Leaf in the 1998 draft, he responded that he would pass on both of them and take a chance on Brian Griese in the second round.

So much for the sophisticated NFL information pipeline.

It makes one suspect that throwing darts or rolling the dice is just as effective in picking NFL-worthy quarterbacks. It doesn't hurt to mutter a silent prayer, either.