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History Indicates Trubisky, Mahomes, Watson Are More Likely to Fail Than Succeed

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 1, 2017

Chicago Bears' first round draft pick quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, from North Carolina, poses with a Bears' jersey during an NFL football news conference Friday, April 28, 2017, in Lake Forest , Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

It's been well-established that the NFL draft is a crapshoot, regardless of round and position. And yet teams continue to sell farms in order to acquire prospects who, based on precedents, are as likely to fail as they are to succeed.  

What's more, the bar for success is raised when teams forfeit multiple premium draft picks in order to land one first-round prospect, especially if that prospect is a quarterback.

Take the Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, all of whom paid huge prices last week in order to move up in Round 1 to secure quarterbacks they hope will one day lead them to championships.

The Bears parted with the No. 3 overall pick as well as third- and fourth-round selections in 2017 and a third-round pick in 2018 in order to add North Carolina product Mitchell Trubisky. The Chiefs essentially used a first-round pick, a third-round pick and a 2018 first-round selection on Texas Tech product Patrick Mahomes II. And the Texans sacrificed two first-round picks (this year's and next year's) in order to add Clemson product Deshaun Watson

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Pre-draft consensus, supported by tape and stats, was that those three are not clear-cut blue-chip quarterback prospects. But now, they'll have to make Pro Bowls (plural) and help their new teams consistently contend for championships (also plural) in order for the teams that drafted them to justify the cost. 

Recent history is not on their side. 

Three quarterbacks—Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch—were also taken in the first round last year, and their teams—the Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos—also traded up in all three cases. Goff had an abysmal rookie season, Wentz faded after a hot start and Lynch barely saw the field. So while the jury is still out, the group didn't get off to a promising start. 

It is too early to draw conclusions there, but what about the decade that preceded last year's draft? 

Between 2006 and 2015, 26 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Only 10 of those 26 are NFL starters right now, only 14 are currently under contract with NFL teams and only one—Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens—has won a Super Bowl. Seventeen of the 26 have never made a Pro Bowl, and only twoCam Newton of the Carolina Panthers in 2015 and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016—have been first-team All-Pros. 

Those 26 quarterbacks have won 25 playoff games, but Flacco accounts for 40 percent of those. Only Flacco, Newton, Ryan, Mark Sanchez and Andrew Luck have won multiple postseason games, and only two others—Jay Cutler and Tim Tebow—have been victorious at least once in the playoffs. 

Quarterbacks drafted in Round 1, 2006-15
Current NFL startersBackupsNot under contract
Jameis WinstonTeddy BridgewaterJohnny Manziel
Marcus MariotaEJ ManuelRobert Griffin III
Blake BortlesBrandon WeedenJake Locker
Andrew LuckMark SanchezBlaine Gabbert
Ryan TannehillChristian Ponder
Cam NewtonTim Tebow
Sam BradfordJosh Freeman
Matthew StaffordJaMarcus Russell
Matt RyanBrady Quinn
Joe FlaccoVince Young
Matt Leinart
Jay Cutler
Pro Football Reference

Now, only 11 playoff wins are handed out each year and only 51 Lombardi Trophies exist. There are only so many victory-related accolades to go around, and it's worth noting that four pre-2006 first-round picks (Peyton and Eli Manning, Roethlisberger and Brees) have hogged seven of the last 11 Super Bowls. But the fact that 28 of the 29 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2006 have failed to join the club is an indictment on a decade's worth of quarterback draft classes. 

We shouldn't let this generation off the hook because the previous one was successful. 

Don't get me wrong, the odds are even longer as the draft continues. Quarterbacks drafted in Round 1 are twice as likely to become starters and nearly three times as likely to become Pro Bowlers as those drafted in Rounds 2, 3 and 4, although some of that might be driven by the pressures teams face to give first-round quarterbacks as many opportunities as possible to succeed. 

Interestingly, quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 2006 and 2015 are no more likely to be under contract now than signal callers drafted in the next three rounds, and the third-round has as many Super Bowl winners (one, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks) as the first round (Flacco). 

QBs drafted in the first 4 rounds between 2006 and 2015
StatusRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4
Starter38%20%18%17%
Under contract54%53%64%50%
Pro Bowler35%13%18%8%
Super Bowl winner4%0%9%0%
Pro Football Reference

That's without including 2000 sixth-round pick Tom Brady, 2001 second-rounder Drew Brees, undrafted recent/current starters Tony Romo and Brian Hoyer, 2016 fourth-round rookie sensation Dak Prescott and late-round starters Tyrod Taylor and Trevor Siemian, all of whom aren't covered in the sample. 

Knowing guys like Prescott, Wilson, Cousins, Taylor, Romo, Brees and Brady have slipped through the first-round cracks—and Jeff Garcia, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre, if we want to go back a little further—it's hard to understand why teams would willingly part with multiple high- and/or middle-round draft picks in order to grab a quarterback in the first round. 

Pro Bowl quarterbacks drafted since 2000
Drafted in Round 1Not drafted in Round 1
Teddy BridgewaterDerek Anderson
Jay CutlerTom Brady
Robert GriffinDrew Brees
Andrew LuckMarc Bulger
Eli ManningDerek Carr
Cam NewtonMatt Cassel
Carson PalmerKirk Cousins
Philip RiversAndy Dalton
Aaron RodgersNick Foles
Ben RoethlisbergerDavid Garrard
Matt RyanDak Prescott
Alex SmithTony Romo*
Matthew StaffordMatt Schaub
Michael VickTyrod Taylor
Jameis WinstonRussell Wilson
Vince Young
* Undrafted (Pro Football Reference)

And for whatever reason, it does appear as though trading up to draft first-round quarterbacks backfires a lot more often than the alternative. How many quarterbacks on this list from NumberFire's JJ Zachariason have lived up to expectations? 

JJ Zachariason @LateRoundQB

If my research is correct, this is the list of QBs teams have traded up to select in the first round since 2000. And it's not #great. https://t.co/i5RpoXTnUe

We can't draw conclusions yet regarding the quarterbacks teams trading up to draft in 2016 and 2017, but at least nine of the other 13 quarterbacks listed went bust. The other four? Things aren't looking good for the injured Teddy Bridgewater, Flacco has a ring but has never made a Pro Bowl, Cutler has just one playoff victory in 11 years and Vick was a first overall pick who missed two seasons while in prison and never played in a Super Bowl. 

Is trading up always a risky proposition, regardless of which position the prospect plays? Sure, but there are a lot more success stories involving first-round trade-ups for non-quarterbacks from that same stretch. For example, Troy Polamalu (2003), Darrelle Revis (2006), Joe Staley (2007), Clay Matthews (2009), Julio Jones (2011), Chandler Jones (2012), Dont'a Hightower (2012) and Harrison Smith (2012) were all drafted by teams that traded up to take them. 

Plus, the stakes and the price are both higher when we're talking about quarterbacks. 

And the thing is, this isn't something new. First-round quarterbacks were overvalued well before the 21st century samples we've been analyzing. 

Jeff George and Andre Ware were top-10 picks in 1990. Neither made a Pro Bowl. Two years later, David Klingler went to the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 6 overall pick. He won just four games in his NFL career. In 1994, Heath Shuler was a No. 3 overall pick for the Washington Redskins. He won eight games in his pro career. Cade McNown went 12th overall to the Bears in 1999. He won just three games in two miserable NFL seasons. 

For every Drew Bledsoe (top pick in 1993, and a four-time Pro Bowler) there's always been at least one Rick Mirer (No. 2 overall pick that year, and a clear bust who won just 24 games). For every Peyton Manning, at least one Ryan Leaf. For every Donovan McNabb, at least one Tim Couch. 

So why do teams continue to not only use early draft picks on quarterbacks, but trade up in order to do so?

First, it's sheer desperation. This is a quarterback-driven league. Teams rush less and throw more. The last four seasons have been the most pass-heavy campaigns in NFL history, and 12 of the last 14 Super Bowls have been won by starting quarterbacks named Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brees or Rodgers. 

But it's likely that teams have also been teased by the success stories. They saw what Peyton Manning did to the Indianapolis Colts franchise, what Troy Aikman did to the Dallas Cowboys. They saw three first-round quarterbacks in 1983—John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino—become Hall of Famers. They saw what 2004 first-rounders Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Roethlisberger did to change the fortunes of the New York Giants, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively.

And do those money first rounds, few and far between as they are, embolden general managers? In the 13 years prior to that legendary 2004 draft, an average of 2.1 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. In the 13 years since, that average has increased by 29 percent to 2.7. 

Six quarterbacks have gone off the board in the first round in the last two drafts, and the six teams that drafted them were obsessed enough to give up extra picks (additional first-round picks in four of those six cases) in order to have them. 

Unfortunately for the Rams, Eagles, Broncos as well as the Bears, Chiefs and Texans, the odds indicate they'll wind up regretting those investments. 

     

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