Is it better to err by taking a quarterback early, or by not taking a quarterback early?

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Given the importance of having a great quarterback — and in light of the absence of truly great quarterbacks for every team — there’s a temptation to draft quarterbacks higher than they should be drafted, relative to the available players at other positions.

This year, it’s unclear whether the urgency to find a great quarterback will get teams like the Panthers at No. 6 or the Falcons at No. 8, or someone else, to pull the trigger on a signal-caller in the first dozen or so picks.

Recently, Seahawks G.M. John Schneider was asked to assess this year’s quarterback class, which is perceived to be less talented than the quarterback classes from recent drafts.

“I would say there’s a quietness about it that can make people feel either anxious or extremely calm,” Schneider told reporters. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of buzz right now. That’s happened in the past, too, where all of a sudden, I think it was the year that Jake Locker and [Christian] Ponder, and that whole group of guys went, or it was pretty quiet, and then they all went really high.”

That was 2011, the year of the lockout. With no prior opportunity to address the quarterback position that year via trade or free agency, quarterback-needy teams overdrafted them.

The Titans took Jake Locker at No. 8. The Jaguars took Blaine Gabbert at No. 10. (Both passed on J.J. Watt, who went to the Texans at No. 11.) Then, the Vikings took Christian Ponder at No. 12.

Each of those three quarterbacks became busts, but the rookie wage scale (which was expected as of April and which became a reality in August) reduced the cash-and-cap consequences of swinging and missing. Indeed, thanks to the reduced financial commitment made to a highly-drafted quarterback, teams can now roll the dice with the knowledge that, if it doesn’t work out, they’ll be able to roll the dice again in a few years. (Or, as in the case of the 2018 Cardinals, the very next year.)

While it’s far from ideal to take a chance on a top quarterback and fail, there’s a worse fate. Just ask the 49ers, Jaguars, Titans, Jets, Chargers, Panthers, and Bengals. Each could have had Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft. Each passed on him.

The Bears got the worst of it. They traded up one spot that year and picked a quarterback not named Patrick Mahomes. Five years later, the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky, the player taken at No. 2, are still trying to live that down.

But think of how different each of those teams would be, if they had Mahomes. The 49ers were waiting for Kirk Cousins in free agency a year later (they instead traded for Jimmy Garoppolo). The Jaguars still believed in Blake Bortles, for some reason. The Jets went with Josh McCown in 2017. The Chargers were actively considering a future without Philip Rivers, but apparently not actively enough. That Panthers, who did well for themselves with Christian McCaffrey, were in the final years of their relationship with Cam Newton. The Bengals had Andy Dalton, and three years later they’d get Joe Burrow. (All of this assumes that Mahomes would have become great with a team other than the Chiefs. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that some other coaching staff would have developed him the way Andy Reid did.)

It’s arguably better to swing and miss than to get caught looking with a fastball in the wheelhouse. The bust eventually will be forgotten. The failure to snatch up the future Hall of Famer will leave a much bigger scar.

The worst scar, of the course, is the one the Bears endured in 2017. Trade up. Take a quarterback who busts. Pass on a quarterback who booms like few ever have.

That’s the other angle for teams considering quarterbacks in the upper half of round one to consider, this and every year. If you’re going to take one, you’d better take the right one.

Look at the 2018 Browns (who took Baker Mayfield instead of Allen or Lamar Jackson), the 2018 Jets (who took Sam Darnold instead of Allen or Jackson), and the 2018 Cardinals (who took Josh Rosen instead of Jackson) can also relate to. And don’t forget the 2020 Dolphins, who left Justin Herbert on the board.

Are the teams that need a quarterback upgrade willing to take a chance on a quarterback who may fail? Are they willing to pass on a quarterback who may thrive? And are they confident that, if they take a quarterback, they’ll take the right one?

These are important questions to consider during every draft. They become even more important this year, when the prevailing vibe is that the quarterbacks aren’t great. Of the names floating around at the top of the class, the chances are that at least one of them will work out, for someone.

46 responses to “Is it better to err by taking a quarterback early, or by not taking a quarterback early?

  1. It doesn’t matter where you draft them….what matters is your Expert Scouts Who are suppose to evaluate these guys.

  2. I would avoid drafting a QB earlier than they should be. It sets a high bar for them, basically setting them up for failure

  3. The decision is unanimous. All non-QB needy teams think it’s better to err on taking a QB as early as possible.

  4. I fear for the GM that takes one of these QB’s first round. It could be a career killer. On paper this might be the weakest QB class in 10 – 12 years. And there’s no clear cut favorite among them. However,… this is a draft loaded for bear at WR and Edge Rusher.

  5. “It’s arguably better to swing and miss than to get caught looking with a fastball in the wheelhouse. The bust eventually will be forgotten.” but yet “Five years later, the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky, the player taken at No. 2, are still trying to live that down.”

    I guess the lesson is that it’s better to wing and hit. Everything else stings.

  6. This proves why most NFL GM’s are clueless when it comes to drafting, they’re hoping to get lucky.

  7. Always best to have someone on your staff that’s an expert at evaluating QB’s. Take the guesswork out of it.

  8. Bad franchise are bad franchises. The Jets drafted a bad one and then did it again. Most of the teams mentioned have drafted multiple QBs because they are poorly run from top to finish.

  9. Ask the packers if it was smart to take Love in the first round when they were a playmaker away from a championship

  10. My definition of a bust is a quarterback who can’t play. Jake Locker could play, Mitchell Trubisky can play – neither was/is a bust.

  11. Not. QB’s move a lot more in recent years. If a team wants to pay the price, they can rebuild that position group in one off season.

  12. It seems important to remember that some pretty dang QBs have been taken post 1st Round… Wilson, Dak, and… Whats that other guys name? Oh yeah… Tom Brady.

  13. Nothing is better than the 2000 Jets fans cheering wildly at the draft as their team took Chad Pennington in the first round.

  14. No right or wrong answer. The key is to accept the error as quickly as possible, and move on. Too many teams dwell on guys because of their draft position. That’s the worst.

  15. Like Green Bay found out, if your QB is a petulant douche then don’t take one even as a backup.

  16. “Ask the packers if it was smart to take Love in the first round when they were a playmaker away from a championship”

    I’m not sure what big difference maker they could have selected. But anyway, you can also ask most of the league if it was smart to pass on Aaron Rodgers – some of them twice.

  17. It would seem to me the Packers secured an excellent insurance policy in Jordan Love, especially doing it the way they’ve done it before.

  18. Depends if it’s a rookie head coach… Who was the reason for success? Bellichick or Brady? Same at the other end of the spectrum. Who was at fault? Nagy or Trubisky? I wouldn’t hand an early QB pick to a rookie HC (for the most part).

  19. If you need one. you take one. doesn’t matter where, as long as the ‘brains’ picking him know football and make an informed decision.

    The experts get paid a lot to decide. Incompetence is not rewarded.

  20. unknownvikingfan says:
    April 23, 2022 at 8:55 pm

    Ah yes, the heady days of Christian Ponder. Those were the days!

    Ponder lit up the Senior Bowl. Turned him into a first round bust. A bust is related to where you are picked and therefore unfair to the player. Ponder was a 3rd QB who might have had a better career if thought of as a back-up/maybe starter.

    What if Gabbert had been a 3rd rounder? He’d be a success story. Not a Wilson 3rd Rd HOF’r but a guy with 50-to 75 mil or whatever he has. He’s only a ‘bust’ because of where he was picked and expectations from said location of the pick. Colt McCoy is a perfect example. Seemed like a good back-up. WRONG. Great back-up. What if he had been picked #1 by some moron?

    I’d take Gabbert’s career in a heartbeat and so would everyone else reding this (who didn’t inherit 50 mil). I think everyone knows the back-up QB is one of the best jobs in America.

    How much has Tyrod Taylor made? His problem is they keep throwing him in there to start.

  21. if youre picking in the top 8, you likely have more than just quarterback issues.

  22. Let’s see here, 1st of all if you find the QB expert who’s perfect, then you win. 2. Love is an unknown at this point… but I’m guessing if he was good, Aaron would be gone. 3. Good one about Ponder. He did help beat you in 2012, even if it was mostly AP. That was a good day!

  23. Clearly scouting, team, real opportunity (playing time) and a little luck accounts for most of a players success. How many QB’s have replaced Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers?

  24. Just never know. Always depends on what franchises they go to and what pick. Mahomes hit a homerun getting drafted by KC. Some of these other QBs just walk into crap .

  25. Isn’t that “bust” Gabbert still playing 10 years later? He seems to be a serviceable backup.

  26. It’s not so much the quarterback in question, but if the team around them is good enough where they can achieve their maximum potential. Some decent QBs in history have been ruined because they played behind horrible OLs. And few QBs could overcome having a bad supporting cast around them. I don’t think its a coincidence that the top QBs in the league right now – Mahomes, Rodgers and Brady sat for their first season and weren’t thrown out to play for a team that hadn’t matured yet. If you draft a QB in the top 5 the team and the player, need to be ready to win from the jump. And if you are drafting in the top 5 – odds are your team is not ready to win from the jump and should be addressing other needs.

  27. pauldeba says:
    April 23, 2022 at 7:11 pm
    Nothing is better than the 2000 Jets fans cheering wildly at the draft as their team took Chad Pennington in the first round.

    Chad Pennington was an excellent quarterback who had an outstanding career.

  28. It’s the most important position in all of sports and there are very few experts in the field of scouting and evaluation. As a Cowboys fan, we are currently cursed with what is disguised as a blessing. A stats monster who will never get us to the mountain top.

  29. The bottom line is no one knows anything. You can have the absolute best talent evaluators in the world, but they cannot predict the future. Look what happened with Carson Wentz. He was a unanimous top one or two pick. And he lived up to expectations for about a season and 3/4. Then he got injured and it went off the rails. Oh I think NFL teams will be wise to ignore all of the subjective “this is a very talented class“ nonsense and just focus on each player. How do they look? What are their numbers? What is their mental make up in interviews? What kind of competition did they face? What kind of system did they run? Do players like them typically make it in the NFL or do they flame out (e.g. are they Superman athletes like RGIII and Vince Young?). Then you trust your people and make the pic. If it doesn’t work, you move on as quickly as possible. That’s all there is to it.

  30. Reaching a little in the first round to get the QB you’ve evaluated and that you are going to trust to lead your offense is not nearly as scary as it could be, because of the rookie contracts. Cleveland took on a full year of a rookie contract and guaranteed 230 million. Granted Watsons only getting 1 million the first year, it shows that when you go top ten in the first round for a qb maybe not rated top ten it’s not an all or nothing move. Rookie contract scales along with the salary cap has really created parity in the league. Also credit some very timely rule(s) interpretation by refs to keep games close and the league has exactly what it needs to maximize profits.

  31. With the rookie wage scale, it doesn’t matter. You can draft a guy (even if you spend three 1st round picks on him), play him for 3-4 years, and if he doesn’t work out, rinse and repeat. You can keep doing that because of the rookie wage scale — until you find a true franchise quarterback.

  32. If you have a great QB coach then take a QB too early and develope him for your future takes a great deal of time,teaching,practice and preseason games to develope that young QB properly.rookie QB rarely become proficient by being thrown into the fire before they are ready.

  33. The Bears have made a legacy of botching high round QB draft picks. Trubisky, Rex Grossman, Cade McNown just to name three within my lifetime with the jury still out on Justin Fields. Some organizations just have persistent blind spots at certain positions and unfortunately for Chicago fans, the Bears are systemically inept at evaluating the most important position on the field.

  34. Bottom Line: QBs that go to bad teams generally never do well. The reason is these teams picking in the top few have more problems than the QB play. A good example is the Dolphins and Jaguars. Tannehill is pretty good (now) and so will Lawrence be. Tua will be good, now that they have surrounded him with talent like the Bills did with Allen in 3 years. The Bengals and Chargers had decent rosters when they got Burrow and Herbert. In fact, Herbert went to a top 8 Offense. Mahommes is great, but imaging him drafted by the Jets. QB’s that can sit out for a year and learn ALWAYS do better. Unfortunately, desperately bad teams need immediate impact and ruin these guys.

  35. Chad Pennington was an excellent quarterback who had an outstanding career.

    Chad Pennington was an average quarterback who had an okay career. Threw for 20+ TDs and 3500yds only once in his injury plagued career. ‘Excellent’ or ‘outstanding’ are adjectives that are in no way are applicable to his ability or stats.

  36. That’s why Jordan Love should be sought out by everyone needing a QB.

    Looking at the Panthers, Titans, and the ATL

  37. My definition of a bust is a quarterback who can’t play. Jake Locker could play, Mitchell Trubisky can play – neither was/is a bust.

    If you’re drafted in the 2nd round or later and you bounce around as a backup, you are not a bust. When you are drafted in the top 10 and can’t hold onto a starting job in the NFL, you are a bust.

  38. I know Jackson was voted MVP, but is he really a “great” quarterback that everyone is kicking themselves for not taking?

  39. The NFL makes billions, they have about one coach or scout per player, more statistical analysis than MIT, and after all these years they still can’t evaluate college QB talent.

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