Clarifying the Value of the Quarterback Class in the 2013 NFL Draft

By Curt Popejoy
2013 NFL Draft
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The perceived value of a player or a position in the 2013 NFL draft is always a point of debate. And in this draft, there is no position of greater debate than the one of quarterback. Those of us who are dedicated to the draft break down hundreds of hours of games per year, looking at skill sets, player tendencies and most importantly putting together what we believe is an extrapolation of what a player can do at the next level. Because really, if you think about it, being able to simply tell someone what a player can do, isn’t all that hard. It’s being able to look at a player and project what they WILL be able to do that makes some of us better at what we do than others.  Based on that analysis and projection, I assign all prospects a “grade” that designates which round I would draft them in.

And example of this is Tyler Wilson, the quarterback from Arkansas. If you went only on the games from this college football season, and how he played in them, putting a first round grade on his for the NFL would be hard. But, if you dig deeper, going back to 2011 when things were better at Arkansas, and you project going forward what he could do, and with that I give Wilson a first round grade.

This is not related at all to what round they will actually be drafted in. At this point I only have 15 players with a first round grade, and obviously there are 32 first round picks, so you get the point. Now, the point of this is to discuss the “value” of the crop of quarterbacks in this draft, and whether or not any should be drafted in the first round. Players are over drafted every year, so this year will be no different. It’s just that this year the crop of over drafted players may consist largely of quarterbacks and that seems to have people all in a lather.

But, I think as we have seen over the past several seasons, whether it’s a traditional offense or one of the new hybrid offenses, if you don’t have great quarterback play, you will not win. Oh, you might win enough to sneak into the playoffs, but if you think your favorite franchise will win a Super Bowl with a late round quarterback, or a journeyman veteran, you keep thinking that way and watch your team’s season end early year after year. The facts bare it out. You can go back over the last 5 or 7 Super Bowls and look at the quarterbacks. The majority of them are high draft picks, meaning being drafted in the first 2 rounds. The same can be said for the conference championship teams over that same stretch. I understand that every fan thinks their team can find the next Tom Brady, but Brady is an outlier and it’s bad business to sit around waiting for another Brady to come along.

So this year NFL teams and their fans are met with a predicament. There are at a minimum five teams that need a new starting quarterback. I use the number five as a conservative number, and only immediate starters. There are probably four or five more that need to commit a fairly high pick to a quarterback for depth alone.

And so the discussion becomes in a draft class that is minus that elite, can’t miss franchise prospect, should a team that needs a quarterback draft one in the first round? And the answer is, of course, yes. And it’s yes for several reasons.

The first of which is you need one. I hate to be so simplistic but that’s really all it is. All these bad teams in the NFL know what they already have at quarterback, and they know it doesn’t work. So the notion of passing on a quarterback just means a high draft pick the next year. Teams that have been historically bad have either failed to address the quarterback position or done so poorly. Most teams that have wallowed through sub-standard quarterback play find themselves with new head coaches and those coaches look at their teams and if there is a spot that you don’t want to miss on it’s assessing the state of your new team’s quarterback position. And so as is the case, a new coach will mean a new quarterback.

Secondly, you cannot be a team that needs a quarterback and pass on one in the first round, in hopes of them being there in the second. That’s a calculated risk that gets you a top five pick in 2014. If there’s a quarterback that you think can help your team win, draft them, don’t wait and pray they make it back around. I can respect trading back a few picks and still landing your guy, but to simply pass on a quarterback early and drafting a different position could mean you end up with no new quarterback at all. Now, let me add this one caveat. If a team chooses to pass on a quarterback in the first round, and simply draft the best quarterback left on the board in the 2nd round, that strategy can work. However, the difference is you must be flexible in your board and be willing to perhaps roll the dice on a quarterback that is slightly less talented in exchange for being able to pick a quarterback later on, but understand that if you are a team picking in the top 6 or 8 picks, getting your top quarterback in the 2nd round is probably unrealistic.

Third is the risk/reward of drafting a quarterback early is skewed much more toward reward rather than risk. The reason being the rookie salary cap and new rookie pay scale now means that rolling the dice on a rookie first round quarterback isn’t the financial anchor it’s been in the past. Keep this in mind. The St. Louis Rams are on the hook for just north of $50 million in guaranteed money for Sam Bradford. By comparison, the following year’s top pick, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, has a guaranteed contract that is $30 million south of that number. That makes the odds of a team pulling a trigger early much higher than new a few years ago. We have already seen the effect of this in recent drafts with quarterbacks being “over-drafted”.

So, my point in all this? It doesn’t matter if this crop of quarterbacks aren’t elite. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the top four or five guys carry a first round grade or not. If you need a quarterback and one of these young men fit what you want to do on offense, then you must draft them, and you must do it early. No team ever won a Super Bowl because they had a terrible quarterback, but lots of great defensive ends. I can’t guarantee any of these quarterbacks in this class will be franchise caliber signal callers, but I can guarantee if your team doesn’t draft one, they will never know.

Come follow me on Twitter @nfldraftboard for more football ramblings.



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