NFL teams taking their chances in drafting, developing QBs
Terry Bradshaw led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory in his fifth NFL season. What some forget is he didn't secure the starting job until the midpoint of that 1974 season.
Once the Steelers ended their dalliance with Joe Gilliam — they flirted with Terry Hanratty for a few seasons before that — Bradshaw settled into a career in which he became one of only two quarterbacks (Joe Montana is the other) to win four Super Bowls.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. wonders whether the Steelers, or any team, would wait that long today.
“It's hard to evaluate quarterbacks now because you're not giving them three years to develop. They're done by their third year,” Kiper said. “It's a completely different mindset.”
Welcome to the era of great quarterback impatience, when top-rated quarterbacks are expected to step directly off a college campus and into the middle of a blitz package without blinking. Or throwing an interception.
EJ Manuel, for example, was the first quarterback drafted last year, but his uneven rookie season is leading some Buffalo Bills fans to call for another quarterback to be chosen early in the May 8-10 draft.
“(In the 1970s), it was a five-year process. You never evaluated a rookie or second-year quarterback and said he was a bust or this or that,” Kiper said. “Yeah, you had Dan Marino who came in after six games (in 1983), but that's a great rarity. All the quarterbacks needed time: Troy Aikman, John Elway. These guys (now) are kicked to the curb early.”
Based on recent drafts, quarterbacks often are among the most overvalued players on draft boards, yet teams desperate for a quick fix keep selecting them early, then they give them little time to succeed before moving on to the next flavor of the month.
Just look at the first-round quarterbacks of 2010 — Sam Bradford (No. 1), Tim Tebow (No. 25) — and 2011 — Cam Newton (No. 1), Jake Locker (No. 8), Blake Gabbert (No. 10), Christian Ponder (No. 12). Only Newton and Bradford have enjoyed even a modicum of success. (Brandon Weeden, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman of recent drafts also could be included among the first-round QB busts).
Some were forced to play too early and, as Kiper said, shunted too quickly by anxious coaches and executives who didn't believe they could wait five years to win.
That makes the quarterback Class of 2014 all the more unpredictable — and risky and scary to NFL coaches, GMs and player personnel chiefs.
The top three QBs — Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater — seem likely to go in the first round. But each seems to have as many drawbacks as elite-level skills, and even the teams that take them likely will do so with hesitation.
Manziel, for example, has been called the best overall player in the draft, even ahead of Jadeveon Clowney, but other draft analysts rank him as low as No. 6 among quarterbacks.
At slightly below 6-foot, Manziel might be too short. Bortles? He has 50 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions the last two seasons, but his Central Florida competition was suspect. Bridgewater? He is potentially fragile.
There's no safe pick, such as an Andrew Luck, in the group. Yet quarterbacks are so coveted, and teams are so reluctant to pass up a possible franchise player, that the first-round quarterback lottery likely will be played again next week.
“I think everybody likes to say they're going to take the best player available,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout. “But the quarterback is the one position where you can get out of sorts and you can move guys above what their grade is.”
Jeremiah and fellow NFL Network analyst Charles Davis wonder whether teams that wait until the second or third round to pick a quarterback — as the San Francisco 49ers (Colin Kaepernick) and Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson) did — might be better rewarded.
“Teams seem to be wanting to have the formula now of, ‘We want to win with the quarterback, not have the quarterback win for us,' ” said Davis, who said Day 2 of this year's draft might be “quarterback day.”
“That's the theory going around, ‘Let's build up our roster with as many talented players as we can and then insert the quarterback at that point in time,” Jeremiah said. “Have yourself a veteran that you can get through the next couple of years (with) as you groom a younger player. ... So you don't force it in the draft.”
But all it takes is one general manager who thinks, “If we pass now on Manziel, and he turns out to be the next Drew Brees, we'll never forgive ourselves.”
Then there are those who, Jeremiah said, are “trying to talk themselves into that second group so they can take a big-time positional player earlier in that draft.”
That second group includes the fast-rising Tom Savage, the one-year Pitt starter who could go early in the second round; Derek Carr of Fresno State, AJ McCarron of Alabama, Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, Zach Mettenberger of LSU and Aaron Murray of Georgia.
There's even a thought that if Manziel, Bortles and Bridgewater go off the board early — although Bridgewater seems to have tumbled of late — Carr might go in the first round, too.
“If the Browns don't do quarterback at No. 4, I think a lot of people anticipate them going quarterback at (No.) 26,” Jeremiah said.
Even after the first and second tier of quarterbacks are gone, Kiper said he thinks there will be a run on lower-graded quarterbacks in Rounds 4 through 6 — even though only one All-Pro quarterback, Tom Brady — has been drafted in the sixth round since 1967.
That lack of success is one reason teams desperate for a quarterback draft one in the first round, even if they lack the complementary players, system or intangibles for that quarterback.
It's the Powerball theory: You might keep losing, but if you hit the jackpot with a first-rounder, you're set for life. Or at least the life of your contract.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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