Litmus test for taking QBs high in Round 1

ESPN’s “Elway To Marino” documentary, although insightful and entertaining in its execution, has apparently stirred up some old feelings of resentment toward the Lions, my childhood team growing up in suburban Detroit.

Heading into the 1983 draft, the Lions had significant holes at quarterback, offensive line, receiver, linebacker and tight end — probably in that order — and opted to take the least desirable path to happiness in Round 1, bypassing Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Darrell Green, Willie Gault, Don Mosebar and Joey Browner … for the honor of snagging fullback James Jones at No. 13 overall.

In fairness to Jones, he racked up 4,593 total yards and 33 touchdowns — rock-solid fantasy numbers — in his first four seasons with Detroit, while assuming a greater role in the offense after superstar Billy Sims retired from the game (1980-84).

But that production still doesn’t supersede the following creed for which all middling clubs should abide by, especially when holding a top-13 pick in a transcendent draft:

Always move heaven and earth to land a franchise quarterback … or, in the Lions’ case, don’t over-think the process when two game-changing talents fall square into your lap.

If Detroit had successfully dangled Marino and/or Kelly to QB-needy clubs like the Patriots, Jets, Raiders and Dolphins at No. 13, getting a bevy of picks or players in return, the 9-year-old in me would have respected the leverage play.

But to just sit there and not exploit the upper hand … just reeks of stubbornness, and ultimately, stupidity.

If Kelly or Marino had gone to Detroit, er, Pontiac, I’m guessing Erik Kramer wouldn’t be the answer to the following trivia question: Who is the only Lions quarterback to win a playoff game since 1958?

On the flip side of the Lions’ short-sighted foibles back then, we have modern-day clubs like the Vikings (Christian Ponder, 2011), Titans (Jake Locker, 2011), Jaguars (Blaine Gabbert, 2011), Broncos (Tim Tebow. 2011) and Jets (Mark Sanchez, 2009) making classic mistakes of reaching high for quarterbacks who were far from consensus stars at the league’s most vital position.

Although Denver gets beaucoup points for rectifying its error … in the greatest way imaginable (Peyton Manning).

Bottom line: No executive, coach, fan or know-it-all writer can predict the future with amazing accuracy, but certain gut instincts or statistical assumptions must come into play when investing time, money, emotions and playbook resources into Round 1 quarterbacks.

To wit, here’s my annual, uh, acid test for NFL general managers when contemplating a quarterback high in the draft. If a particular man-crush doesn’t meet the criteria below, it’s probably best to pass on the rookie and wait for the next prospect to move up the ladder.


The QB Test


1. Will your Round 1 man-crush become the starter for at least seven games in Year 1? (Precedent: Dan Marino, John Elway, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan)

2. Can your prospective stud orchestrate a significant win-loss turnaround in Year 2? (Peyton Manning in 1999)

3. Does he have the capacity for 3,800 passing yards in Year 2? (Elway, Marino, Manning)

4. Can your Round 1 stud average 65 percent passing from Years 2 through 8? (Troy Aikman)

5. Will your Round 1 man-crush annually exceed 4,000 yards passing after his 30th birthday — for the team that drafted him? (Marino, Manning)

6. Can he throw for 60 combined TDs in Years 3 and 4? (Marino, Matthew Stafford, Jim Everett)

7. Does your Round 1 dynamo have the potential for 2,500 yards passing and 900 rushing yards in the same season? (Michael Vick)

8. Can your Round 1 must-have reach the Super Bowl within his first four seasons? (Eli Manning, Marino, Elway, Aikman)

9. Does your Round 1 stud possess the greatest arm you’ve ever seen — or might ever see? (Elway, Stafford, Terry Bradshaw, Jeff George)

10. And finally, would you rather have your targeted QB early in Round 1 … or, for history sake, second-round notables like Andy Dalton (Bengals), Colin Kaepernick (49ers), Brett Favre (originally of the Falcons)?

Verdict

If a GM can honestly give affirmative answers to the majority of questions, by all means, go ahead and draft your Round 1 asset with supreme confidence. Then, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your prescient labor for the next 10-15 seasons (obviously, Jeff George didn’t work out for the Colts, even though he matched the criteria of a franchise savior).

And if you answered “No” for nearly every query, don’t fret, either.

Just take a deep breath, consult your larger-than-life draft board and focus on taking a top-rated offensive or defensive lineman in Round 1. When in doubt, you can never go wrong with infrastructure picks.

And if you feel like taking a quarterback in the latter rounds, that’s OK, too.

After all, neither Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo nor Joe Montana were Round 1 selections — and they all survived the heartbreak of not being labeled can’t-miss kids coming out of college.

Jay Clemons can be reached, day or night, on Twitter at @FOX_JayClemons.