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2009 NFL Draft: The First Round Quarterbacks
Total Pro Sports – The history of first round quarterbacks in recent years is a mixed one, and with 3 more expected to join the club this summer GMs will be asking themselves: what makes a QB bust? JaMarcus Russell, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Alex Smith, JP Losman, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Patrick Ramsey are all first round busts since 2002. Obviously it’s a little subjective, but that makes a grand total of 11 busts to 7 successes with 1 wait-and-see in Brady Quinn for first round QBs pre-2008. So why are GMs faced with an 11 in 18 chance of picking a dud?
The skills of the player seem an obvious start point for evaluation, but if recent history tells us anything GMs don’t find this easy. Arm strength is atop of many personnel coordinators’ list of desired attributes, and it got JaMarcus Russell ahead of Brady Quinn in 2007 and Joe Flacco flying up draft boards last year. It’s a pretty contentious issue and I personally don’t find it the be all and end all, since modern football is putting a greater emphasis on a game of efficiency since 60+ yard aerial plays tend to land in the hands of Ed Reed; throwing a more accurate seam route that bends away from the safety is a far more realistic goal than a deeper vertical. The biggest arm in the draft has catapulted Matthew Stafford to the top, and if he is throwing to one of the best down field threats in the league Calvin Johnson he’s going to need it. You also have to consider that division rivals Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota all struggle to defend the deep ball thanks to a combination of slow corners and poor safety play, but if Chad Pennington has shown us anything it’s that a big arm isn’t everything.
NFL teams love the intangibles, the skills you can’t put numbers to or glean from a combine. Matt Ryan earned the respect of the league and teammates with his high intelligence, character, leadership, clutch performances and game management skills, whilst JP Losman wound up offensive linemen with his erratic play and penchant for escaping the pocket without warning. Consequently, a lot of my skepticism about Mark Sanchez is because of his intangibles; a lack of game experience doesn’t help, and he has reportedly come across as borderline arrogant in interview. A USC quarterback who is a little too self confident and might be susceptible to off the field distractions. Where have I seen that before? Hmm.
As far as physical attributes go, I love Josh Freeman. 6’6″ and above average athleticism make this guy super impressive and I hope a team polishes his mechanics and turns him into a real force. You can’t talk physical freaks without mentioning Pat White. I understand his athleticism and NFL teams hate facing option plays that are pass or run, but at 6′ and under 200lbs he’ll be the shortest starter in the league by a long way, face practical problems of seeing over linemen and will have major durability concerns. He has his heart set on being a QB but suspect mechanics make that a struggle to believe – a slot receiver/returns man/backup within 3 years.
That’s the QB, but you also have to consider your own team. A bad line can kill a young QB – David Carr literally had the talent knocked out of him. Whether it’s through injury, demoralization or a total halt to development, careers can be put to rest if you don’t protect your signal caller. San Francisco and Detroit gave up more sacks than anyone else, and whilst I expect Detroit to add an offensive tackle at 20 giving Stafford the bare minimum protection, I really worry about Sanchez’s safety if he lands in San Fran. He isn’t mobile and may not have the game time experience to make veteran moves like spotting blitzes or quick reads; this may be enough to make offensive tackle the 49ers’ selection at 10. You also need to supply your QB with a strong running game to rely on – look what it did for Matt Ryan last year. If you can help reduce the number of third and 9 passing situations faced, you’ll keep a rookie QB’s turnovers to a minimum. Luckily for this year’s quarterbacks, most of the teams in the market for them have competent run games (Gore, Kevin Smith, Derrick Ward, Thomas Jones, AP), but what teams won’t do is sit on a QB and let him get used to the NFL’s speed under a veteran’s tutelage. Detroit, Tampa and San Francisco don’t have this luxury.
Finally you have to consider the pro style versus college system debate. Even if not all gimmick offenses produce busts it certainly helps, and that’s why professional sides value experience of 3, 5 and 7 step drops as well as depth to a QB’s route vocabulary – talk to Alex Smith if you need further clarification. Stafford and Sanchez ran pro-offenses, whilst Pat White and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell suffered from the number inflating shotgun gimmickry that can ruin a prospective pro.
Any position can bust, but when a QB goes down he goes down in a big expensive fireball. You have to limit the scope for failure, and looking at the player’s skills, the protection you’ll offer him and whether he’s a system quarterback with no transferable skills to the pros are good starts to finding the solution to a pivotal position.