ARIZONA CARDINALS

NFL teams often misfire on drafting QBs. But how often do they fail? And why?

Apr 23, 2024, 7:54 AM

The Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback in this draft. That much is easy to see. The hard part is picking the right one — and determining what it’s worth to them to get him.

With this top-flight class — featuring Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye and J.J. McCarthy — the Vikings are poised to set up their future with the 11th and 23rd overall picks that could be packaged together for a move into the top five.

But they realize, no matter how well set up they are for a rookie with a quarterback-friendly coach in Kevin O’Connell and a superstar wide receiver in Justin Jefferson, there is no guarantee in this highly calculated yet no-better-than-a-coin-flip exercise of finding that franchise player in the NFL.

“I think our odds will be better than the margins. How good are those odds? Obviously, it’s still a pretty risky thing,” third-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. “But just because something’s risky doesn’t mean you’re scared of it.”

Teams are using premium draft picks on quarterbacks at an increasingly high rate. This draft is slated to be the eighth in the past nine years with at least three QBs taken in the first round, which matches the number of times that happened in the first 38 years of the common draft era.

Quarterbacks could go with the top three picks for the fourth time ever with Chicago, Washington and New England all sorely in need of a passer who can turn the fortunes of a franchise. This draft could break a record with four quarterbacks possibly going in the top nine picks. The over-under for total QBs taken in the first round is set at 4 1/2 by BetMGM Sportsbook with Michael Penix and Bo Nix also under consideration for other QB-needy teams outside the top 10 like Denver and Las Vegas.

But for every Patrick Mahomes, there is a Josh Rosen.

“I think it would be hard to point to the results and say we’ve made progress, as sad as that is,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “The more you look at it, I think there’s more attention being paid now to maybe more so the environment than the actual quarterback, and knowing how to set the table for when you do take the quarterback, that he can be successful.”

Never mind whether the player is a rhythm pocket passer, adept at ad-libbing, or somewhere in between.

“Different styles, that’s not something to get carried away with. To me, it’s more a focus of, ‘Do we have the right play caller, the right offensive line to protect him, and do we have some guys he can get the ball to?’” Jeremiah said. “I think that seems to be what’s going to lead to these guys being a success or not.”

The Vikings are banking on that.

“When we talk about these players, it’s not just how good are they. It’s how do we get the best version of themselves if they come to the Minnesota Vikings? We set up plans before they walk in the building,” Adofo-Mensah said. “I think our odds will be better than the margins.”

Still, the league-wide hit rate remains largely a tossup.

From the start of the rookie wage scale era in the 2011 draft through 2022, 38 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. Those QBs have essentially played at slightly below league-average rates early in their careers with a passer rating 1.5 points below league average over their first three seasons.

Twenty of those QBs were allowed to leave their original teams without even reaching the relatively low bar of receiving a second contract, with 2021 second overall pick Zach Wilson the latest after being traded by the New York Jets to Denver on Monday.

Only five earned first- or second-team All-Pro honors. Only eight have led their teams to multiple playoff wins so far.

“I feel like it’s really hard to evaluate quarterbacks, but you just try to get better and try to understand what you did the last time that was really good and what you did last time that was really bad,” said Commanders first-year general manager Adam Peters, who is aiming for better success picking a QB at No. 2 this year than he had as assistant GM in San Francisco when the 49ers took Trey Lance third overall in 2021. “It’s constantly evolving, and I don’t think anybody has the magic pill to understand that one. If they do let me know, I’ll hire them.”

The majority of those busts provided two seasons or fewer as regular starters as teams quickly moved on from failures like Jake Locker, Johnny Manziel, Paxton Lynch and of course Rosen, who spent time with a whopping seven teams over five years after Arizona traded up five spots to take him 10th overall in 2018.

Several teams were quickly forced back on the quarterback draft carousel. There were eight instances of a team using another first-round pick on a quarterback in the ensuing four drafts, including the Cardinals, who traded away Rosen after one year and took Kyler Murray first overall in 2019.

Chicago and New England could add to that count at the top of this draft with the Bears widely expected to draft Williams at No. 1 overall after trading away 2021 first-round QB Justin Fields and New England possibly using the third pick on a replacement for 2021 first-rounder Mac Jones.

Getting a quarterback worthy of a second contract is no sign of success with many of those being no better than a mid-level performer like Daniel Jones, Ryan Tannehill, Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz.

“I think it’s probably the most, probably the toughest position of all professional sports to play,” said Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, whose franchise has enjoyed a more than 30-year uninterrupted run of top-flight QB play from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love. “You never really know until you have that time to try to develop a guy, whether he’s going to be able to do it at a high level or not. So, it’s just a tough league to excel at that position, for sure.”

But the success stories are the reason why teams keep coming back with the hope of getting their franchise-lifting quarterback, like Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson or Joe Burrow.

Five of the seven teams with the best odds to win the Super Bowl, according to BetMGM Sportsbook, are led by a quarterback they selected in the first round. Nine of the last 10 AP NFL MVPs are first-round quarterbacks with their original teams.

“I think there’s risk obviously,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said. “There’s no certainty or else we’d be fantastic with the draft.”

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NFL teams often misfire on drafting QBs. But how often do they fail? And why?