Hunting for Quarterback Bargains in the Draft

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King something very important.

There are no Andrew Lucks or Peyton Mannings in this draft.

Laugh if you want, but it’s true and it weighs heavily on how the draft boards will play out.

There’s Teddy Bridgewater, a very talented player, but one who has unfairly found himself pulled through the mud. While I dispute much of the criticism thrown his way, the fact that he hasn’t been able to transcend the noise lends some credence to the fact that he’s not an generational prospect.

Johnny Manziel has his baggage. Blake Bortles is a project. Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Savage, Zach Mettenberger, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, David Fales. All players who have been touted as top prospects at one point or another, all with their select blemishes and miscues.

There isn’t an Andrew Luck or a Peyton Manning. This is how it affects the draft.

We’re able to look into the past to see the Lucks and the Mannings (both of them). Quarterbacks who are labeled as the most valuable, or important, or “best” are there for us to see: they’re selected at the top of the draft.

Over the past twenty drafts, there have been 95 quarterbacks selected in the first three rounds. 21 of them were selected in the first three picks.

In fact, 12 of the 15 drafts between 1998 and 2012 saw a quarterback go as the first overall selection, and in two of the other three drafts a quarterback was selected in the top three (2006: Vince Young, 2008: Matt Ryan).

These quarterbacks may not as generational as Luck or Manning, but they entered the league with expectations unfair for any rookie. But they were players indisputably ranked at the top of their classes.

While this 2014 class is a better picture than last year presented- when E.J. Manuel went to the Bills in the middle of the first, Geno Smith went to the Jets  in the middle of the second, and Mike Glennon went to the Buccaneers early in the third- there lacks the same historic certainty that would solidify the prospects as first round picks.

As such, we should turn to the non-“can’t miss” prospects and out of the top three. Here’s a graph of the number of quarterbacks selected in the first three rounds over the past twenty seasons, excluding those drafted in the top three:

Q20There’s a clear upward trend where more quarterbacks are selected in the top three rounds, and where we can project five quarterbacks selected in the first two days of the draft.

Teddy, Johnny, Blake, Derek, and…Jimmy? Tom? A.J.?

Doesn’t matter. Let’s look at the data set over the past decade:

Q10It’s a slight downwards trend now? Fact is, both of these trend lines are statistically insignificant and trying to glean any hidden truth  would be folly.

What we can do is note that the average number of quarterbacks selected is going to be roughly 4 and the expected number would be between 3 and 5.

This information does very little upfront for quarterback needy teams. What could be more useful is the fact that outside of the top three picks, an expected 0 to 3 quarterbacks are drafted in the first round. If you’re comfortable with any of the main four quarterbacks (Bridgewater, Manziel, Bortles, Carr), you could fairly confidently wait until the second round to make your pick.

Of course, this all hinges upon the recent smoke defaming the top prospects. If there’s fire behind it, then this information will be relevant. If all the noise is just noise, then a quarterback could be selected in the top three.

What’s more important is for those teams like the Patriots and the Broncos who are looking for a bridge prospect to take the place of their imminently departing back-ups (Ryan Mallett and Brock Osweiler, respectively), and potentially have elite starters upside.

We’ve seen teams that are already set at the quarterback position investing second and third round picks on quarterbacks as either a lower-risk potential upgrade (Mike Glennon, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Pat White), or just a valuable back-up with top potential (Mallett, Osweiler, Nick Foles, essentially Kirk Cousins and Ryan Nassib).

To take advantage of the current market, even if Gil Brandt has ten-or-so quarterbacks with a top 65 grade, we have to acknowledge that they all aren’t going to be selected in the top two rounds. The nature of the quarterback position is different than most others in that the starter never willingly comes off the field.

Drafting a fourth cornerback makes sense due to dime packages, as does selecting a third running back. A back-up quarterback draws a little more scrutiny because it’s considered to be drafting a player who won’t see the field- a “waste” until you need them.

Back-up quarterbacks usually provide the starter a sounding board during the week and will be the scout team quarterback. He won’t receive any snaps in real time, unless an injury takes down the starter. Investing in a back-up to trade down the line is more a  theory than an actual event, but the actual investment makes sense. It’s a necessary part of building a team, even if its added value can’t be explained on the field.

But for all its value, teams that are building can reasonably justify passing over a player that won’t see the field for someone who will. In a league where there are fewer than five teams (Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks, 49ers) who can truly afford to invest in the back-up position,  there will be a lot of teams passing over the quarterbacks. If the team isn’t looking for a starter, then they’re going to pass over the position.

Which is why they fall. If there isn’t a match between top talent and a starter-hungry team, then where do these players fit? It’s why Mallett is available in the third round, and Ryan Nassib fell to the third day.

It’s why we will see only a handful of quarterbacks selected in the first couple rounds and it’s why we’ll all be “surprised” when the Patriots tap someone with a top 40 grade to be Ryan Mallett’s heir apparent in the fourth round.

It’s why we’ll see the Texans, Jaguars, Browns, and Raiders take quarterbacks in the top 40. It’s why the Cardinals, Buccaneers and the Vikings will wait until the third round.  It’s why at least a couple quarterbacks like Savage or Garoppolo or Mettenberger or McCarron or Murray will be available well into day three.

Those teams that are looking for bargains at the quarterback position can afford to wait because the talent will have no where else to go.

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