Where Do Quarterbacks Come From?
With the NFL draft coming up on Saturday, I wanted to find the answer to the question — should teams take JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn high in the draft? More specifically, I wanted to know where the good quarterbacks come from. Are they usually drafted highly? Are they Top 10 picks? Can you be successful with a starting quarterback who was a mid-late round draft pick, or not even drafted at all? In order to answer the question of where do the good quarterbacks come from, I classified all the quarterbacks into several categories (where I have each quarterback ranked is debatable by +-1 category). After I’ve sorted all of them out, I will come to the conclusion and answer whether or not you can get a good quarterback late in the draft, or whether or not taking one with a high pick is the way to go.
- Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 1st Rd, #1 (Tennessee) – Highly regarded, came from an excellent pedigree, showed he had an excellent work-ethic and head on his shoulders. Has put up some of the most gaudy numbers ever by a quarterback.
- Carson Palmer, Cincinnati, 1st Rd, #1 (USC) – Highly regarded Heisman Trophy winner coming out of college. Has carried his impressive collegiate career over to the NFL, even fending off a potentially devastating knee injury.
- Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia, 1st Rd, #2 (Syracuse) – Good all-around player with multiple skills coming out. Has evolved into a successful pocket passer after starting off as a scrambler initially. Has been an excellent QB without having much talent to throw to.
- Brett Favre, Green Bay, 2nd Rd, #33 (Southern Miss) – Regarded as a gun slinger with potential. He’s only a decent QB these days, but was a stud for most of his career, so given the purpose of the exercise, he gets placed highly.
- Tom Brady, New England, 6th Rd, #199 (Michigan) – Drafted lowly because he did not see much action in college. Has developed into one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, showing a propensity for clutch performance, and victories without much talent around him.
Very Good Quaterbacks
- Vince Young, Tennessee, 1st Rd, #3 (Texas) – National champion was regarded with a lot of contention coming out early, said he wasn’t smart enough, couldn’t throw well enough. Proved everyone wrong by taking a terrible team and turning it into a winner despite not having good stats to show for it.
- *Steve McNair, Baltimore, 1st Rd, #3 (Alcorn St.) – Air McNair was a big-time project coming out of a very small school. It took him a long time to develop, but he grew into one of the toughest and smartest quarterbacks in the league. *McNair is only a good QB now, but for most of his career he was very good, and that’s the point of this exercise, to find out where the good ones come from.
- Philip Rivers, San Diego, 1st Rd, #4 (NC St.) – Led a terrific offense all four years of school, sidearm throwing motion was questionable. Had an excellent first season as a starter throwing to Pro Bowler Antonio Gates, and helped by LT who had one of the best years by a RB ever.
- Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2nd Rd, #32 (Purdue) – Thought to be a product of the system and too small for the NFL. Has developed into one of the best passers in the game, putting up numbers and winning in both conferences on separate teams.
- Marc Bulger, St. Louis, 6th Rd, #168 (West Virginia) – Strong armed guy played against good competition in school. Has emerged as one of the better passers in the league, proving he can play at a high level even without offensive genius Mike Martz.
- Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle, 6th Rd, #187 (BC) – I didn’t even know this guy coming out of BC. He’s turned out to be a superb passer in the league, and very underrated speed. He’s become one of the better QBs around.
- Kurt Warner, Arizona, Undrafted (Northern Iowa) – Bagged freakin’ groceries before the NFL. No, he’s terrible now, but there was a time when he was very good, like MVP good, like Super Bowl good. And for the purpose of this exercise, he is rated highly.
- Eli Manning, New York Giants, 1st Rd, #1 (Ole Miss) – Regarded highly for his pedigree (see his last name). Appeared to be on the verge of a breakout year, but was slowed by poor decision making and far too many turnovers.
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, 1st Rd, #11 (Miami of Ohio) – Had lots of tools coming out including size and arm strength. Had a horrendous year in ’06 and lost several games single-handedly, but he gets a partial pass into the good category because of the ring, and all the problems which made last year hard to decipher.
- Jay Cutler, Denver, 1st Rd, #11 (Vanderbilt) – Made a bad school relevant in college football, cannon for an arm. Put up outstanding numbers for a rookie quarterback, playing against very tough competition.
- Chad Pennington, New York Jets, 1st Rd, #18 (Marshall) – Was viewed with skepticism coming out because he played at a small school. Has been the epitome of efficiency all the while battling through multiple injuries.
- Trent Green, Kansas City, 8th Rd, #222 (Indiana) – I wasn’t even alive back when he was drafted (j/k). I totally disregard last year because of his massive head injury sustained in week 1. Prior to last year, he was a good quarterback (playing in a good system) for several consecutive years.
- Tony Romo, Dallas, Undrafted (Eastern Illinois) – Unheard of for the most part coming out of school thought to be a long-term project. Showed signs of brilliance (e.g. Thanksgiving vs. TB) but also had some bad games. Had excellent weapons in T.O., Witten, and Glenn.
- Jake Delhomme, Carolina, Undrafted (Louisiana-Lafayette) – Another greatly unheard of guy coming out. Could be making his way into the decent category, but based on the Super Bowl run, giving him the benefit of the doubt. Plagued by bad interceptions.
- Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay, Undrafted (San Jose St.) – Overwhelmed scouts with his booming voice. Has put together a few Pro Bowl seasons, and can do well when he’s surrounded by good talent.
- Michael Vick, Atlanta, 1st Rd, #1 (Virginia Tech) – Supposed to be all-planet coming into the NFL. Just hasn’t lived up to the hype, bad pocket passer, far too erratic. Still shows some signs of brilliance on occasion.
- Alex Smith, San Francisco, 1st Rd, #1 (Utah) – I’m still not sure what scouts saw, other than a good season in a good system, and some speed. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt due to his youth, because he’s been pretty crappy.
- David Carr, Carolina, 1st Rd, #1 (Fresno St.) – Prototypical pocket passer coming out. Career marred by a terrible offensive line leading to more hits than Jessica Simpson’s website. Could be a good QB, or he could be a bad one. Right now he’s only decent.
- Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville, 1st Rd, #7 (Marshall) – Had excellent size and toughness coming out of a small school. His injury depleted career has been difficult to judge, but he appears to be decent when he plays.
- Matt Leinart, Arizona, 1st Rd, #10 (USC) – Slipped in draft because teams were stupid even though he had an excellent track record. Too early to tell, wasn’t overly impressive, but wasn’t too bad. Will probably move up to being good after the year.
- Daunte Culpepper, Miami, 1st Rd, #11 (UCF) – Taken as a project QB who was viewed as someone with a lot of tools, such as excellent size and a great arm. Has had a terribly tumultuous career recently after being slowed by a knee injury. Until then, proved he can be a Pro-Bowler, but is extremely turnover prone.
- J.P. Losman, Buffalo, 1st Rd, #22 (Tulane) – Was taken highly because he rated well at the combines, showing a powerful arm and excellent speed for a QB. Emerged slightly in 2006, showing he can win a few games with his arm, still has yet to prove he can lead an NFL team to a double-digit win season.
- Rex Grossman, Chicago, 1st Rd, #23 (Florida) – Thought to have a good arm, but there were concerns he was a product of the system. Half the time he looked like one of the best QBs in the league, the other half he looked like one of the worst QBs in the league. That balances out to just being average.
- Jake Plummer, Tampa Bay, 2nd Rd, #42 (Arizona St.) – A winner in college with scrambling abilities. A total gunslinger with a knack for throwing interceptions. Still led Arizona to the playoffs, and was even a Pro Bowler. But in his best years he was only good, the rest of the time he was just decent.
- Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh, 2nd Rd, #60 (Eastern Michigan) – A project coming out, taken by the local Lions. Although he’s not a starter, proved he can still win a game in the NFL and play decently at quarterback.
- Damon Huard, Kansas City, Undrafted (Washington) – Obviously scouts didn’t seen enough there to make him a draft pick. Was a resounding success last year and I’d be curious to see how he does given a full season. Not enough experience to place him higher.
- Jon Kitna, Detroit, Undrafted (Eastern Washington) – Did anybody know him? He can put up some decent numbers, but not a guy you want entering a playoff game in case of injury. Trust me, I know.
- Jason Campbell, Washington, 1st Rd, #25 (Auburn) – Thought very highly of by scouts. Didn’t produce much in his half-season as a starter, but has good weapons to work with.
- Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota, 2nd Rd, #64 (Alabama St.) – A big-time project, but seen has having a lot of ability. Looked awful in his first few games, so he can only get better.
- Charlie Frye, Cleveland, 3rd Rd, #67 (Akron) – He was a hometown hero with an ability to scramble. Produced way too many turnovers, but still young and hampered by being on a bad team.
- Andrew Walter, Oakland, 3rd Rd, #69 (Arizona St.) – Thought to have a good arm after putting up numbers in college. Looked utterly lost out there. Didn’t have the speed or quickness to evade the rush, not a good combination when you have a terrible line.
- Matt Schaub, Houston, 3rd Rd, #90 (Virginia) – Not highly touted, but viewed as a good pocket passer. Hasn’t done anything in the NFL yet except for have one good game, which automatically places him in the crappy section.
- Brian Griese, Chicago, 3rd Rd, #91 (Michigan) – Had the name and the legacy, but not too many tools. Made the Pro Bowl once, but reality is he has no arm and was never very good.
- Chris Simms, Tampa Bay, 3rd Rd, #99 (Texas) – Last name sure helped him get drafted highly. Despite working with the coach who made Rich Gannon great, he still looks terrible.
- David Garrard, Jacksonville, 4th Rd, #108 (East Carolina) – I hadn’t even heard of him coming out. Good scrambler, but not much of anything else. Showed his true colors as a starter last year after a surprising ’05 season.
Conclusion: Most of the elite and very good quarterbacks in the league were Top 3 picks in the draft. Although many highly drafted quarterbacks turn out to be only decent (or busts), it’s worth taking a shot at a top QB and investing the money in hopes of greatness in return.
However, several very good quarterbacks were taken in the 6th round (Brady, Hasselbeck, Bulger) or not even at all (Warner, Garcia, Delhomme, Romo). Just goes to show how unpredictable player development can be, and that you can be successful hoping with a quarterback who was thought little of entering the draft.
Bottom line, the best QBs in the league tend to be high draft picks, so it’s worth the risk to take Quinn and Russell at the top and hope for the best.