FAB 3. Drafting A Franchise QB Is Incredibly Difficult
Tampa Bay has the dubious distinction of never signing a quarterback it has drafted to a second contract. I thought for sure that would come to end with Jameis Winston, who was the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, that streak, which is over four decades long, could continue unless somehow Winston makes it back on the field this year and somehow stops becoming a turnover machine. Or this regime continues to have blind faith that he can limit the amount of interceptions and fumbles in the near future.
The first rule in football is “don’t beat yourself,” and as I pointed out in my 2-Point Conversion column after Sunday’s 37-34 loss at Cincinnati where Winston threw four interceptions, including a pick-six, you can add his name to the list of Buc-killing quarterbacks like Brett Favre, Jake Delhomme and Drew Brees.
It’s true that Winston’s penchant for untimely turnovers have hurt the Bucs more than his touchdowns have helped, evidenced by his 19-29 record as a starter. I just don’t know if he’s going to be able to get the turnovers out of his system to the point where Tampa Bay consistently win. Consider that Winston has 11 turnovers (10 interceptions and one fumble), and that is more than all three other NFC South quarterbacks combined (eight).
Some Bucs fans have tunnel vision on their team, but finding a franchise quarterback is incredibly difficult. I knew it was hard before diving into my research this week, but I’ve actually come to grips with the fact that luck has to be a big part of it because there are so many variables, such as the team they go to, the environment of the locker room, the system they play in, the weapons they have to work with, how fast they are forced into the starting lineup, the willingness of a veteran QB on the roster to mentor them, how good the QB coach is, how patient the front office/coaching staff/ownership is, how many and fame affect them, how the handle the pressure of the local media and so much more.
I took a look at all of the quarterbacks drafted in the league since 2009, which is the last time Tampa Bay used a first-round pick on a quarterback with Josh Freeman. What is the average number of quarterbacks drafted in a given year?
Do you know?
Would it surprise you if I said it was 11?
Yes, there have been 11 quarterbacks taken in the draft each year on average over the past 10 years.
From 2009-17 there have been 105 quarterbacks that have been drafted into the NFL. Do you know how many of those QBs are starters today?
They include Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, Carolina’s Cam Newton, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Oakland’s Derek Carr, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Winston, Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, Los Angeles’ Jared Goff, Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, Dallas’ Dak Prescott, Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson.
But is it really 17?
Knowing what you know about those quarterbacks, would you choose to start a team with any one of them? No.
Let’s eliminate a few. Bortles is a no-go, right? Are you sold on Winston or Mariota right now? Do you believe in the oft-injured Tannehill? Is Trubisky the real deal? Would you bet that Garoppolo is for real with such a small sample size? Would you want Stafford, who has been to one Pro Bowl and is 0-3 in the playoffs over the last 10 years as your franchise quarterback over any of the other QBs?
So there are maybe 11 or 12 really good quarterbacks that have come out over the last nine years. That’s an average of one real “franchise QB” coming out per year.
I’m not including the 2018 draft class that features Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen because those first-rounders are all forced into the starting lineup because they are on bad teams and we don’t have a large enough sample size to determine if they are on the path to Franchiseville or Bust Town.
That’s what bad teams do. They play first-round quarterbacks in their first year. Stafford, Sanchez and Freeman all played in 2009. It didn’t mean that all of them wound up being good.
Take a look at all of the QB draft classes from 2009. I’ve listed the amount of quarterbacks that were drafted that year as well as the more notable names. In some years, such as 2010, 2013 – and possibly 2015 depending on how well Winston and Mariota fare – there is a complete wipeout with none of those quarterbacks amounted to anything.
And just because teams decided to pay a king’s ransom to Bradford or Glennon doesn’t mean that those guys warranted it. Bradford has been one of the biggest thieves in NFL history.
2009 (11 QBs): Matthew Stafford (1), Mark Sanchez (1), Josh Freeman (1), Pat White (2)
2010 (14 QBs): Bradford (1), Tebow (1), Colt McCoy (3)
2011 (12 QBs): Cam Newton (1), Jake Locker (1), Blaine Gabbert (1), Christian Ponder (1), Andy Dalton (2), Colin Kaepernick (2), Ryan Mallett (3), Tyrod Taylor (6)
2012 (11 QBs): Andrew Luck (1), Robert Griffin III (1), Ryan Tannehill (1), Brandon Weeden (1), Brock Osweiler (2), Russell Wilson (3), Nick Foles (3), Kirk Cousins (4)
2013 (11 QBs): EJ Manuel (1), Geno Smith (2), Mike Glennon (3), Matt Barkley (3), Ryan Nassib (4), Landry Jones (4)
2014 (14 QBs): Blake Bortles (1), Johnny Manziel (1), Teddy Bridgewater (1), Derek Carr (2), Jimmy Garoppolo (2)
2015 (7 QBs): Jameis Winston (1), Marcus Mariota (1), Garrett Grayson (3), Sean Mannion (3), Bryce Petty (4), Brett Hundley (5), Trevor Siemian (7)
2016 (15 QBs): Jared Goff (1), Carson Wentz (1), Paxton Lynch (1), Christian Hackenberg (2), Jacoby Brissett (3), Cody Kessler (3), Dak Prescott (4)
2017 (10 QBs): Mitchell Trubisky (1), Patrick Mahomes (1), Deshaun Watson (1), DeShone Kizer (2), Davis Webb (3), C.J. Beathard (3), Nathan Peterman (5)
The 2009 draft featured 11 drafted quarterbacks and produced just one decent one in Stafford, who has been to one Pro Bowl and has led a team that has missed the playoffs in seven of the last 10 years, in addition to failed first-rounders Sanchez and Freeman. White was selected in the second round. That’s it.
Fourteen QBs were drafted in 2010, and the first round consisted of the oft-injured Bradford, who is one of the biggest thieves in NFL history considering the tens of millions he has received for being hurt and not producing wins, in addition to fellow first-rounder Tebow and third-round pick McCoy. This entire QB draft class fizzled.
Of the 12 signal callers that were drafted in 2011, Newton, the first overall pick, and Dalton, a second-rounder, are the only hits. Gabbert and Ponder were overdrafted and failed first-rounders, while the NFL thinks Kaepernick isn’t good enough to start, and Taylor, a sixth-rounder, has become an NFL journeyman and part-time starter.
In 2013, 11 quarterbacks were drafted and the biggest names are the failed first-rounder in Manuel, who had no business being drafted that high, second-rounder in Smith and third-rounder in Glennon. This QB draft class bombed.
The 2014 draft saw 14 quarterbacks get selected with Bortles, Manziel, who was an immediate bust, and Bridgewater go in the first round, with Carr and Garoppolo being drafted in the second round. Carr has been the most successful thus far in the league, but he could be on his way out in Oakland under new head coach Jon Gruden. The jury is still out on Bridgewater.
The 2015 QB class only had seven quarterbacks get drafted, and was headlined by Winston and Mariota as the lone first-rounders. Neither has lived up to his draft billing. The next QB drafted was Grayson in the third round. Mannion, Petty, Brett Hundley and Siemian were Day 3 selections and have done little in the NFL.
The following year’s QB crop was much better as 15 quarterbacks were taken in 2016 led by Goff and Wentz, who went first and second overall and are excelling. Lynch, a former first-round pick, flamed out in Denver and is currently unemployed. Hackenberg, Brissett and Kessler are all backups with only Brissett having any limited success to brag about.
The 2017 draft class saw 10 QBs get selected and looks to be quite promising with Trubisky, Mahomes and Watson living up to their first-round billing thus far. Kizer was a second-round pick, who has bounced around the league, and Webb, Beathard and Peterman are the only other names worth knowing and none has distinguished himself as a future starter.
There’s a reason why teams like the Giants hold on to veteran quarterbacks like Eli Manning for as long as they can. They’re afraid it will take several years and several drafts to find the next Pro Bowl-caliber franchise quarterback.
That fear may also be what keeps Winston in Tampa Bay for one more year under his fifth-year option as a starter or as the backup. The Bucs may need one more year of evaluation before cutting him loose or signing him to a long-term contract extension.
Look at some of the worst teams in football outside of Tampa Bay. Buffalo had 11 years of Jim Kelly, and then has started nearly 20 different quarterbacks over the last 22 years since Kelly retired. The Bills have spent three first-round draft picks on J.P. Losman (2004), Manuel (2013) and Allen (2018) over the last two decades.
The Titans are in the same boat. Since Steve McNair last played in 2005, Tennessee has drafted Vince Young (2006), Jake Locker (2012) and Mariota (2015) in the first round.
How about the New York Jets? After several years with former first-round pick Chad Pennington (2002), the Jets have drafted Sanchez (2009) in the first round, Geno Smith (2013) in the second round, and Darnold, who was this year’s first-round pick. Darnold becomes the Jets’ sixth starting quarterback in the last seven years.
No franchise has struggled more than Cleveland. After having eight years of Brian Sipe (76-83) and seven years of Bernie Kosar (85-91), the Browns have had 17 different leading passers over the last 24 years. Since drafting Tim Couch with the first overall pick in 1999, Cleveland has spent a first-round picks on Brady Quinn (2007), Weeden (2012), Manziel (2014) and Mayfield (2018) – not to mention using a second-round pick on DeShone Kizer (2017) and third-round picks on Colt McCoy (2010) and Cody Kessler (2016), who all started for the Browns at some point. That’s seven premium picks used on quarterbacks since 2007.
Tampa Bay’s quarterback struggles have been well documented on PewterReport.com and elsewhere. Yet for every Doug Williams, Steve Young and Dilfer that have gone on to win a Super Bowl elsewhere, there is a Craig Erickson, a Casey Weldon, a Shaun King, a Chris Simms, a Freeman and a Glennon that haven’t. If the Bucs give up on Winston I’m not sure which category he would fall in, but the recent evidence suggests the latter.
As was the case in 2015 when the Bucs needed a quarterback and selected Winston, and will be the case next year, a general manager is beholden to the available QBs in a given draft class. There is no “create a prospect” scenario in real life like there is when playing in the franchise mode in Madden.
That’s where luck has to come into play. Is one of the QBs that come out in a draft class going to be successful – because history suggests only one out of 11 will.
By the way, the 2019 NFL Draft class looks weak at quarterback with maybe one or two legitimate first-round prospects – and none truly worthy of a top 10 pick. That, and where the Bucs wind up picking in the first round could certainly influence what Tampa Bay does with Winston moving forward.
Winston may be heading towards being a bust, but there are certainly no guarantees that the Bucs will be able to draft a better quarterback in 2019 or beyond. It’s really difficult for any team to find a franchise quarterback.