Coaches risk careers on first-round QBs

BY foxsports • April 20, 2011

Every year as we approach the NFL draft, the focus seems to be all about where the quarterbacks go, and how critical it is for a team to get it right at that position.

The airwaves and blogs abound with theories about when, where and why you take a quarterback in the first round, how you should wait and perhaps get one in the second. Then there are those that think: don’t bother, just take one in the sixth round and get the next Tom Brady with a once-in-a-generation stroke of luck.

There are some telling observations that can be made when you look at this year’s draft order. I am not suggesting that a single year should be used as the unchallenged template for assessing your team needs, but as I look at the listing of team these things jump out at me.

First, the obvious. Of the 17 teams that did not have a winning record (and I don’t consider 8-8 a winning record), all but Seattle are in the front end of the draft and only Dallas and Houston have a quantifiable presence at the quarterback position.

Each is in desperate search for a quarterback with the exception of Denver, Detroit and St. Louis, which have each taken a QB in the first round the last two years. Conclusion: You need a quarterback to win in this league. Brilliant, right?

Next, there were 15 teams last year with winning records of nine or more wins. Of those 15 teams, 13 were led by quarterbacks taken in the first round -- New England, obviously, with Tom Brady and Kansas City with Matt Cassel.

Brady was the 199th player taken in the 2000 draft while Cassel was acquired in a trade with New England after being taken as the 230th player in the 2005 draft. Drew Brees was technically a second-round pick, but he was the 32nd player taken in the 2001 draft which actually makes him a first-round pick in my book.

Just in case you are among those that think picking a quarterback is not that difficult, consider that in that same 2000 draft class that yielded Brady, the first three quarterbacks chosen in the first three rounds were Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi and Chris Redman.

In 2005, it was Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter and David Greene. Rodgers and Pennington are the only ones who have justified those high of selections.

So what do these facts mean? It means you have about a six percent chance of winning in this league without a quarterback that is not selected in the first round. Unfortunately, if you do select a quarterback in the first round you only have about a 50-50 chance of him being worthy of that pick.

It is an interesting quandary for coaches in particular. This tells you that you have to have a first-round quarterback to be successful, but if you miss on a first-round quarterback, you have no chance of surviving as a coach.

I am living proof that if you miss on a first-round quarterback, as I did with Kyle Boller, you end up broadcasting games and writing about the NFL instead of coaching.

Mike Holmgren has been brilliant in his 23 years in the NFL. Jon Gruden has been seen, justifiably, as one of the top experts on quarterback play in this league for much of his 18 years in the league.

When it comes to quarterbacks there are no two coaches I would rather consult with more on the subject. But, consider this: In their combined 41 years of NFL experience, they have not drafted a single quarterback in the first round. I don’t know if this was simply a matter of fate, or a conscious decision to avoid the perils of making that type of choice.

The three of us had a common mentor in Bill Walsh.

When I sat down to co-author the book “The Winning Edge” with Bill he made this observation:

“I am not sure, as a coach, taking a QB in the first round is worth the risk. No matter how competent you are at evaluating that position, the variables as to whether a QB will develop adequately, are to a large degree, outside of your control. And, if you are known as an offensive coach, particularly if your reputation is built on working with QB’s, and you miss on a first round pick. I am not sure you can survive that. Not just with that team, but in the industry.”

So having said all that, have at it. Go pick that QB.

share story