As I was watching the NFL draft last month, I was excited for my St. Louis Rams. After a pitiful season that saw them go 1-15, atleast they had the top pick. After learning about this and researching some of the top prospects, I fell in love with Ndamukong Suh. I had visions of him and defense end Chris Long, 2nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, busting skulls for the next five years. Alas, when the Rams were finally on the board, I saw the cameras zoom in show Sam Bradford talking on his iPhone and smiling. The Rams were going to draft Sam Bradford with the top pick? A guy who barely played college football last year?
I’ve always been of the opinion that you don’t pick quarterbacks early in the draft. Once in awhile, a Peyton Manning will come along, but that’s rare. I may gotten this opinion from my friends who are 49ers and Raiders fans. I hear a lot of complaints about former #1 picks Alex Smith and Jamarcus Russell. All those fans can’t help but look at undrafted talents like Tony Romo and Kurt Warner and think “What a waste of a pick.”
So the question arises, should quarterbacks be taken early in the NFL draft? Do they fail more often than they succeed? Is it better to take quarterbacks later in the draft? I decided to take a look into this more statistically. I’m going to look at two statistics, quarterback rating and Pro Bowl appearances. Quarterback rating is not the best statistic in the world. Michael Vick and Vince Young have career 75.9 and 72.3 ratings respectively. Those are very on par with Tim Couch and David Carr’s ratings of 75.1 and 75.2. However, I believe it’s the best general statistic to cover a quarterback’s success in the league. I’m going to use Pro Bowl appearances as a general measure of elite success in the NFL. I decided to look at the years 1995 to 2007 for this analysis. Why 1995? It’s the first year the Rams were in St. Louis. I stop at 2007, giving draftees of that year three full years to prove themselves in the NFL.
These are the numbers I crunched using draft history at NFL.com and information at Pro-Football-Reference.
Total Quarterbacks Drafted: 30
Average Career Quarterback Rating: 75.7
Pro Bowl Players: 11
Total Pro Bowl Appearances: 31
Total Quarterbacks Drafted: 14
Average Career Quarterback Rating: 68.0
Pro Bowl Players: 3
Total Pro Bowl Appearances: 5
Total Quarterbacks Drafted: 18
Average Career Quarterback Rating: 69.6
Pro Bowl Players: 1
Total Pro Bowl Appearances: 1
[Editorial Notes: Three players were drafted in the 3rd Round that never threw a pass, they have been excluded from the average. Pro-Football-Reference.com does not list Matt Schaub as a 2009 Pro Bowler. It’s possible they do not list Pro Bowlers who were injury replacements, therefore to remain consistent, I am only counting Pro Bowl appearances listed on the website.]
There are a few things that stand out to me when looking through these statistics.
1) Teams view the quarterback as the most important position. They are willing to draft in the first round to get the best quarterback prospects out there.
2) More successful quarterbacks come from the first round than later rounds. This is shown both in QB rating and Pro Bowl appearances.
3) The odds of getting a successful quarterback are higher in the first round than later rounds: 36% of quarterbacks in the first round make it a Pro Bowl, 21% in the second round, and 6% in the 3rd round.
After generating the above statistics, I did notice that a lot more Pro Bowl performances were from the upper end of the 1st round of the draft. So I decided to split up the 1st Round Picks into several groups. Quarterbacks taken with the first 5 picks, quarterbacks taken in the first half of the 1st round, and taken in the second half of the 1st round.
1st Round – Top 5 Picks
Total Quarterbacks Drafted: 15
Average Career Quarterback Rating: 75.5
Pro Bowl Players: 8
Total Pro Bowl Appearances: 27
1st Round – 1st half of 1st Round
Total Quarterbacks Drafted: 21
Average Career Quarterback Rating: 76.85
Pro Bowl Players: 10
Total Pro Bowl Appearances: 30
1st Round – 2nd Half of 1st Round
Total Quarterbacks Drafted: 9
Average Career Quarterback Rating: 72.91
Pro Bowl Players: 1
Total Pro Bowl Appearances: 1
These show some more interesting things. Quarterbacks picked early in the 1st round, have more success than quarterbacks in the back of the 1st round. The success of quarterbacks taken in the back half of the 1st round aren’t too much better than quarterbacks taken in the 2nd and 3rd round. This suggests, if you want to find a good quarterback, your odds are best when it’s a quarterback that is an elite enough prospect to warrant top 5 pick standing. That said, any quarterback drafted is still risky. About half of quarterbacks taken in the top 5 picks never even make it to the Pro Bowl, but those odds are alot better than quarterbacks with a skill set that pushes them down the draft board.
So did the Rams make a good move drafting Sam Bradford? Most draft boards did feel that he was worthy of a top 5 pick, and that someone else would have drafted him pretty high if the Rams didn’t. So the Rams probably took the chance that they needed to. Knowing that high quality quarterbacks don’t come every draft, you need to take them when you can. Will Sam Bradford join the ranks of Peyton Manning, Michael Vick (pre-dogfighting scandal), Carson Palmer, and Eli Manning? Or will he end up like Tim Couch, David Carr, or Jamarcus Russell? Time will only tell and I hope for the best. If it doesn’t work out, when does Ndamukong Suh become a free agent?
“NFL Draft History”, NFL.com
“Pro Football Statistics and History”, Pro-football-reference.com