As a longtime 49ers fan, I'm well aware of how the NFL Draft can make or break your franchise. Back in 1979 the team drafted Joe Montana in the third round of the NFL Draft, and he went on to become arguably the greatest QB ever. We also drafted Alex Smith with the #1 pick in the 2005 Draft. Needless to say that hasn't worked out so well. But it brings up an interesting question. Does anyone in the NFL have any clue what they're doing when they're drafting QBs? The answer is not really.
Just from a more recent perspective this seems to be true. Philip Rivers has clearly regressed as a starting QB, defenses are catching up to Vince Young who was never a good QB anyway, Matt Leinart is basically immobile, and Alex Smith is a nightmare. And just think, those four guys signed contracts that in total hover around $200 million.
Meanwhile, we have players such as Derek Anderson, a sixth round draft choice, playing out of his mind. And Tony Romo, the QB with the third best passer rating so far this year, wasn't even drafted. I'd take both those guys over Smith any day of the week.
But rather than continue to just speculate, let's look at real data. Here are the primary QBs for this year's NFL teams with winning records and where they were drafted.
Giants - Eli Manning (First Round)
Redskins - Jason Campbell (First Round)
Bills - JP Losman (First Round)
Steelers - Ben Roethlisberger (First Round)
Colts - Peyton Manning (First Round)
Titans - Vince Young (First Round)
San Diego - Philip Rivers (First Round)
Packers - Brett Favre (Second Round)
Jacksonville - David Garrard (Fourth Round)/Quinn Gray (undrafted)
Seahawks - Matt Hasselbeck (Sixth Round)
Patriots - Tom Brady (Sixth Round)
Browns - Derek Anderson (Sixth Round)
Cowboys - Tony Romo (undrafted)
Lions - Jon Kitna (undrafted)
Bucs - Jeff Garcia (undrafted)
So if you add in Quinn Gray, then we have as many Sixth Round and Undrafted QBs leading winning teams as we do First Round QBs.
But wins alone aren't the best example of whether a QB is competent or not - I'm looking at you Vince Young. A passer rating gets us closer to that. So let's find the average passer rating by draft round for the primary QBs in this year's NFL. We're using career passer ratings (not just this year's) provided by NFL.com and have added Byron Leftwich, Jake Delhomme, David Carr and Vinny Testaverde to the list. Special note: Trent Green was drafted in the 8th round of the 1993 Draft. This means in total we're looking at 34 QBs.
First Round QBs: 17
Avg. passer rating: 80.05
Second Round QBs: 2
Avg. passer rating: 86.35
Third Round QBs: 2
Avg. passer rating: 81.05
Fourth Round QBs: 1
Avg. passer rating: 84.1
Fifth Round QBs: none
Sixth Round QBs: 4
Avg. passer rating: 87.48
Seventh Round QBs: none
Eighth Round QBs: 1
Avg. passer rating: 86.9
Undrafted QBs: 7
Avg. passer rating: 85.07
You don't need a linear regression analysis program to tell you that there is no correlation between career passer rating and draft round. But there are some important things to consider. One is that first round draft choices get more playing time to determine if they'll pan out while late round draft choices have to produce immediately. We all know about the Ryan Leafs and Akili Smiths. Meanwhile a bad Sixth Round pick may play one game and that's basically his career. Or he may never play at all. These scenarios will naturally deflate the first round QB avg. passer rating to a degree while boosting the late rounds. But, looking at it from another perspective, you can also make the argument with the data available that there are a fair number of pretty good QBs that go late in the draft or that don't get drafted at all. By this analysis, there are 12 current QBs who were drafted in the Sixth Round or later (or not at all) who easily surpass the 17 First Round players in average career passer rating. When you stop and think about that, it's stunning. And it also says that maybe some of those First Round picks really shouldn't be playing anymore and teams should be trying out new guys - like say my 49ers. One can only wonder how many Tom Bradys and Tony Romos weren't discovered because a higher draft pick, but inferior player, was ahead of them on the depth chart.
The most recent example is Derek Anderson. Romeo Crennel named Charlie Frye (a third round choice) as his starter at the beginning of the year, then traded him after Week 1. It's only because of that trade that Anderson saw significant playing time. Imagine if Crennel had stuck with Frye until week 8 or 9. He might have just inserted Brady Quinn by then, effectively shutting the door on Anderson's career. Instead, the trade was made, Anderson began starting, and another late round gem was found.
Year after year scouts and coaches drool over players with great arm strength (see: Boller, Kyle), or family genes (see: Manning, Eli) or God only knows what (see: Smith, Alex). And after they fail - although Eli appears to maybe finally be headed in the right direction - you hear excuse after excuse. He's an idiot; he didn't play in a pro-style college offense; he's slow; he doesn't get rid of the ball quickly enough. Well, if all that's so noticeable now, why didn't you notice it before? And why didn't you notice Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Derek Anderson, and Kurt Warner? Obviously something isn't working in terms of scouting.
Certainly more analysis needs to be done - as in looking back year after year - but there does seem to be a bit of a trend. And that is that there are a ton of first round QB busts along with a surprisingly high number of good QBs available late in the draft or who were never drafted at all. Which pretty much means one thing. The draft is frequently a total crapshoot when it comes to drafting QBs.