Greg Cosell’s observation that teams with needs at quarterback could reach for quarterbacks in round one of the draft has caused us to wonder whether the raw number of quarterbacks taken in round one could eclipse the all-time record for first-round quarterbacks.
The high-water mark came in 1983, when six quarterbacks became first-round picks: John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, and Dan Marino (pictured).
In 28 years since then, only one class had as many as five. In 1999, Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, and Cade McNown exited the board in round one. All five were picked in the first 12 selections, with the next quarterback — Shaun King — drafted 38 spots later.
Four quarterbacks were drafted in the first round of three other drafts. In 1987, Vinny Testaverde, Kelly Stouffer, Chris Miller, and Jim Harbaugh were picked in the first round. In 2003, it was Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, and Rex Grossman. Most recently, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and J.P. Losman entered the league via round one in 2004.
In 2011, the number of prospects coupled with the teams that have needs at the position could result in up to seven first-round quarterbacks being taken. Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert are regarded as sure-fire top-ten picks. Thereafter, one or more of the next five quarterbacks could be picked in round one: Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick.
The fact that at least eleven teams reasonably need a quarterback could push the total closer to seven than two first-rounders. The Panthers, Bills, Bengals, Cardinals, 49ers, Titans, Redskins, Vikings, Dolphins, Jaguars, and Seahawks all could be poised to draft a quarterback. Though several of those teams pick way too high to justify taking anyone other than Newton or Gabbert, they could trade back into round one — or trade down — to get the guy they want.
That said, several factors counsel against a run on quarterbacks. As Rosenthal pointed out the other day regarding the assessment of Bucs G.M. Mark Dominik that five or six quarterbacks could be taken in round one, there likely aren’t five or six true first-round quarterbacks in the draft pool. And it’s increasingly obvious that teams not in need of a quarterback are trying to create a feeding frenzy, with the Patriots kicking tires on Jake Locker and the Colts supposedly looking at possible long-term replacements for Peyton Manning and the Saints bringing in Andy Dalton, who has generated an uncanny amount of interest in recent weeks.
Put simply, the teams that don’t need quarterbacks want the teams that need quarterbacks to take them early, pushing down the board the players that the teams that don’t need quarterbacks want.
Perhaps the biggest thing keeping teams from taking a chance in round one on a quarterback who may not really be a first-rounder is the lockout. With possibly no meaningful chance to get the rookie ready to play in 2011, how can drafting a quarterback in the first round truly address the need in 2011?
Even if the lockout wipes out the offseason training programs, training camp, and the preseason, coaches will need to be ready to compete and win. No matter how long the lockout lasts, Jerry Glanville’s interpretation of the letters in NFL — “not for long” — will continue to apply to the teams that fail in 2011.