Okay, so I’m totally obsessed about this “franchise quarterback in the first round” thing. I’m also not all that busy at my place of employment, so the combination has caused/allowed me to do a little further research.
The goal of any sports franchise is to win a championship. Yes, the owners want to make money, but the best way to sell tickets and merchandise is to be good. Which means winning championships. Which in the NFL means winning the Super Bowl. Every year at draft time, teams with a shoddy quarterback pony up to the podium and pile all their championship hopes onto the shoulder of some college stud who all the pundits and experts agree is a “can’t miss” prospect. And yet it appears that most of those guys actually DO miss. Even if they prove themselves worthy of the hype, it’s extremely rare that any of them lead the team that drafted them to that elusive Super Bowl victory.
But of course, this is all just baseless accusation on my part. I decided I wanted to get some hard data to back up my ranting. So what I’ve done is gone back and dug up the names of all first round QB’s chosen from the twenty year period of 1982-2002. I’m leaving off the last three seasons because it’s not fair to judge those kids yet, seeing as how they’re still in the “learning stages” of their careers. Four years or more? Well, Joey Harrington is basically D-U-N done in Detroit, so that number seems like a fair barometer for how long teams are willing to wait.
Having compiled said list, I’ve put together a little grading system to see whether or not they actually ended up being worth what they projected to be. I’m basically weighing it heavily in favor of being a Super Bowl winner versus being a Hall of Famer. I realize that’s not fair to the likes of Peyton Manning, but the idea here is that they were drafted in hopes of bringing home the Lombardi trophy, not to lead their All-Pro laden team to one measly AFC Championship and choke that away in spectacular fashion. Anyway, here’s the scale:
10 points – won a Super Bowl with the team that drafted him and otherwise had a solid or even spectacular career
8 points – won a Super Bowl with a team OTHER than the one that drafted him after flaming out with his first team, then turned into a respectable NFL QB in the process
6 points – got to a Super Bowl with the team that drafted him (but lost) and was a very good-to-great QB
5 points – was a respectable NFL QB who got to a Super Bowl with some other team, but didn’t get the job done for them either
4 points – had an okay career for the team that wasted a pick on him, but never so much as sniffed the grass at a Super Bowl
2 points – was a decent NFL QB who found a home somewhere after dashing the hopes of the team that pinned their future on him, but probably couldn’t even spell Super Bowl at this stage
0 points – was a total bust who either never made it in the NFL or spent his career as a lowly back-up without doing anything of note
So there’s the scale. Let’s see how these bums grade out.
#4 – Art Schlichter, Colts, 0 points
#5 – Jim McMahon, Bears, 10 points
1 – John Elway, Colts, 10 points(*)
7 – Todd Blackledge, Chiefs, 2 points
14 – Jim Kelly, Bills, 6 points
15 – Tony Eason, Patriots, 6 points (for which he owes Steve Grogan BIG TIME)
24 – Ken O’Brien, Jets, 4 points
27 – Dan Marino, Dolphins, 6 points
(*) I’m actually gonna be generous and grant Elway the full 10 even though he didn’t win the SB with the Colts. The thinking being, he was traded before ever playing for the Colts and Denver gave up a king’s ransom to get him, so it was almost as if they traded for the pick before Baltimore bothered to make it.
3 – Jim Everett, Rams, 4 points
12 – Chuck Long, Lions, 0 points
1 – Vinny Testaverde, Buccaneers, 2 points
6 – Kelly Stouffer, Cardinals, 0 points
13 – Chris Miller, Falcons, 4 points
26 – Jim Harbaugh, Bears, 2 points
1 – Troy Aikman, Cowboys, 10 points
1 – Jeff George, Colts, 4 points
7 – Andre Ware, Lions, 0 points
16 – Dan McGwire, Seahawks, 0 points
24 – Todd Marinovich, Raiders, 0 points
6 – David Klingler, Bengals, 0 points
25 – Tommy Maddox, Broncos, 2 points
1 – Drew Bledsoe, Patriots, 6 points
2 – Rick Mirer, Seahawks, 4 points
3 – Heath Shuler, Redskins, 0 points
6 – Trent Dilfer, Buccaneers, 8 points
3 – Steve McNair, Oilers, 6 points
5 – Kerry Collins, Panthers, 5 points
26 – Jim Druckenmiller, 49ers, 0 points
1 – Peyton Manning, Colts, 4 points
2 – Ryan Leaf, Chargers, 0 points (HAHAHAHAHAHA!)
1 – Tim Couch, Browns, 0 points
2 – Donovan McNabb, Eagles, 6 points
3 – Akili Smith, Bengals, 0 points
11 – Duante Culpepper, Vikings, 4 points
12 – Cade McNown, Bears, 0 points
18 – Chad Pennington, Jets, 4 points (which is being generous, given his injury history)
1 – Michael Vick, Falcons, 4 points
1 – David Carr, Texans, 4 points
3 – Joey Harrington, Lions, 0 points
32 – Patrick Ramsey, Redskins, 0 points
How about that vaunted class of 1999, huh? *shudder*
So let’s break down the data, shall we? In that twenty year period we had a grand total of 40 quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Of those, only three (McMahon, Elway & Aikman) ever lead their team to a Super Bowl victory. Another guy (Dilfer) lead a different team to the promised land. Six more actually made it to the big game with their chosen franchise, but choked on the bone when they got there (how’s it feel Mr. 4-Time Loser Jim Kelly?). One guy (Collins) got their with another team (his third), but couldn’t pull it off. The rest? They either never made it (*cough*Manning*cough*) or were so horribly inept or unmemorable, that their careers are nothing more than footnotes. So let’s look at some percentages.
10 points? 3 of 40 or 7%
8 points? 1 of 40 or 2%
6 points? 6 of 40 or 15%
5 points? 1 of 40 or 2%
4 points? 10 of 40 or 25%
2 points? 4 of 40 or 10%
0 points? 15 of 40 or 37%
Wow. The biggest percentage were the freakin’ WASHOUTS! How lame is THAT! In fact, of the 40 quarterbacks taken in the first round from 1982-2002, to date only 11 have ever even REACHED the Super Bowl (a whopping 27%), while a mere 4 have actually won the thing. That’s right, 10% of the overhyped bastards actually did what they were expected to do. Yes, a lot of these guys still have a chance, but take a look at the names again and I think you’ll see very few of them have a *legit* chance. Manning, if he ever gets his shit together (which I highly doubt). Vick, if the Falcons ever figure out how to use him, and maybe McNabb or Culpepper, given they at least are playing for good teams. The other guys? They’ll need a collective miracle to ever get there with the teams that picked them.
Meanwhile… on the other side of town, let’s take a peak at the guys who actually HAVE won a Super Bowl in those same twenty years.
1983 – Joe Theisman, a 4th round pick in 1971. Took him 12 years to win the big one, and yet teams still manage to flush kids away if they don’t cut it after three or four? Yes, the NFL has changed.
1984 – Jim Plunkett, a former #1 overall (1971) for New England that was beaten like a dog for most of his career before winning the big one as “cagey veteran” for the Raiders. Joey Harrington should get this guy on speed dial.
1985, 1989, 1990 – Joe Montana. A 3rd round pick in 1979, he was Tom Brady before being Tom Brady was cool.
1986 – McMahon, on of the “Big Three” from our above stats.
1987 – Phil Simms. As the #7 pick in 1979, he had a very solid career and probably would have won 2 Super Bowls had he not got injured in ’91. One of the few examples of scouts getting it right by finding him at little know Morehead State.
1988 – Jay Schroeder. Taken in 1984 in the 3rd round by the Skins. Aside from this big win though, his career was very hit-and-miss.
1991 – Jeff Hostetler. Came from the same 3rd round in ’84 as Schroeder did. Notice nobody was taken in the first round that year? Still, a career back-up who got lucky when Phil Simms got hurt and parlayed that little playing time into a fat contract and few good years with Da Raidah’s.
1992 – Mark Rypien. Like our boy Brady, a 6th round pick (1986). The Redskins didn’t think much of him at the time, but he managed to squeak out a respectable career and this Super Bowl win.
1993, 1994, 1996 – Aikman, one of three #1 overall picks that ever ended up being worth a damn in terms of championship glory.
1995 – Steve Young. Kind of an exception, as he went to the USFL instead of being the #1 overall he would have been in the NFL. Still, didn’t do much when he eventually did get to Tampa and only won the big one because he was in a primo situation with the Niners.
1997 – Brett Favre. A second round pick in 1991 by the Falcons. Traded the next year to Green Bay where he became a Hall of Fame procrastinator (oh, so NOW you decide you’re gonna keep playing?). Still, a lot of teams miss-judged this one.
1998, 1999 – Elway. Joins Aikman as being worth the trouble. The third of the trio would be Terry Bradshaw, all the way back in 1970.
2000 – Kurt Warner, the undrafted Arena Football reject. Nice scouting there, you jackasses.
2001 – Dilfer. By then with his second team and generally considered “adequate”.
2002, 2004, 2005 – Tom Brady, he of the sixth round draft pick. I guess he wasn’t “too skinny” after all, hey Mel?
2003 – Brad Johnson. Never started while in college at Florida State, but still managed to be a 9th round draft choice of the Vikings in ’92 before leading the Bucs to the promised land a scant 11 years later.
So how does that play out? Well on the plus side for all the “GET A FRANCHISE GUY, STAT!” supporters, first rounders did manage to account for a lot of Super Bowl victories (I’m including Steve Young with that). The breakdown:
1st round – 7 players winning a combined 10 Super Bowls (although three of those came with their second team)
2nd round – 1 and 1
3rd round – 3 and 5
4th round – 1 and 1
6th round – 2 and 4
9th round – 1 and 1
Undrafted – 1 and 1
All-in-all, it’s about even. The supposed first-round studs have won 10, the leftovers have won 13. So what exactly does all this prove? What is my point?
Simply that for all their bluster and high draft marks, first round quarterbacks are no more likely to win you a Super Bowl than somebody drafted at some other point in the draft. Yes, the percentage of success is higher than any other round, but hey, they’re first round picks! They’re supposed to be good! It’s still not a high enough percentage to warrant all the gum flapping that goes on by draftniks and press gurus who clamor that such-and-such a franchise is making a “huge mistake” by not taking a certain QB with their pick.
What’s more, if you look at some of those winner profiles a little deeper, you’ll see something else that is quite telling. Most of them took years honing their craft before they lead a team to the highest high. On average it took them 6.8 years to win their first Super Bowl. Aikman, a #1 overall, won his first in only his 3rd year, but it took Elway 14 seasons to finally do it. Plunket took 12, Theisman 11. It really goes to show how much of a fluke it was for Brady and Ben Roethlesbirger to pull it off in their second seasons. Instead what we get is teams throwing their young pups into the fire, usually without any semblance of an offensive line or legit playmakers (sound familiar David Carr?), then growing frustrated when the kid’s record is way under .500 after 3 seasons of taking sacks. I mean, how in the hell do the Buffalo Bills expect J.P. Losman to ever be worth a damn if they keep throwing him behind a patchwork line and making him fight for his job with Kelly Holcomb? Kelly FREAKIN’ Holcomb!
It kills me. Vince Young and Matt Leinart are this years two big studs. Nobody can seem to agree on who will be the better pro, but most “experts” agree they’ll both be great. But history? History has other things to say.
As for me… I have WAAAAAY too much free time on my hands.