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5

Building Your Team with Sand

by J.B. Scott on Apr. 5, 2011

Why are teams insisting that they take a quarterback early in this year’s draft?

One part of their logic makes sense. A team without a quarterback foundation in place is likely to fail. Since there are several teams in this draft that do not have that foundation in place, they feel they need to reach for a quarterback.

However, building your foundation with a quarterback is like building a house. When your quarterback foundation is built with just sand, you end up continually trying to add water to make it hard, but it becomes worse because now you have not only wasted money trying to keep it upright, but you have also wasted valuable time; time that could have been used building a new foundation with better material.

That is what is going on with this year’s draft. Teams are reaching to build their foundation with sand, when there is concrete waiting for them next year.

As has been seen throughout history, taking a quarterback in the first round just because a team needs one, can create collateral damage for a franchise. Year after year they are to forced to keep these expensive quarterback foundations upright, at the expense of the team and potentially missing out on even stronger foundations.

Here are 3 examples of teams picking quarterbacks just #1 and crippling themselves for years to follow:
Houston-David Carr: 2002 Draft
o 5-year record: 24-56
San Francisco-Alex Smith: 2005 Draft
o 3-year record: 16-32
Oakland-JaMarcus Russell: 2007 Draft
o 3-year period: 14-34

These players probably should have been second round picks but were taken by teams who felt they needed to build their foundations now. Often times teams don’t have a choice because their fan base and owners want to build and win right away, so they become a slave to the draft of that year, and are forced to ignore the overall strength or weakness of the position.

The issue isn’t just that the quarterback might perform poorly, as there will always be first round busts at every position. The issue is that they are doing it at the most important position, and the one position that has relatively no flexibility during the game. With every other positions, you can just rotate in a player's backup throughout the game. Often times you can even just move the player to a new position, or at the very least play them on special teams. As a quarterback, you are either a starting or a backup quarterback. A quarterback needs time to get in to a rhythm and read the defenses. A young quarterback also needs time to develop and gain experience, which is why teams are forced to continue to start a guy that they have invested massive amounts of money in for several years in the hopes that he develops properly.

Troy Aikman killed the position for franchises. Aikman went 0-11 as a starter in his first year in the league. Now he’s a hall of fame quarterback who played his entire career for the franchise that drafted him. Teams don’t want to give up too early on their own Troy Aikman.

In the NFL Draft coming up in a few weeks, there are a lot of teams looking to rebuild their foundation with a quarterback. In looking at the player comparison for the top 7 quarterbacks in this draft, we try to determine whether or not a team will potentially be getting concrete or sand, and it does not look great for the 2011 QB class.


Potential Sand:

Blaine Gabbert
Comparison: Brady Quinn (or ‘Sunshine’ from Remember the Titans)

They both have great mechanical arms and build, pretty good mobility, but whether or not they can command the respect of their teammates is the question. Gabbert had a great junior year, threw for an exceptional amount of yards, and started his senior year at 7-0 for Missouri. However, should that cloud the fact that he only threw for 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions with a 127.03 quarterback rating on the year in a spread offense that should dominate those categories?

Ryan Mallett
Comparison: Ryan Leaf

When you look at it, the comparison actually lines up very nicely. First, their attitudes are similar; Cocky, potentially volatile attitudes that could rub their teammates and the media the wrong way. On the positive side, they both have exceptional arms as evidenced by their similarity in statistics for their final year:
-Leaf: 34tds/11 int, 3968 yards.
-Mallett: 32tds/12 int 3869 yards.
However, they both can’t move their feet as evidenced by their last years' rushing yards:
-Leaf: -48 yards
-Mallett: -74 yards

Jake Locker
Comparison: Drew Henson
Both players were drafted in the MLB Draft. Both players were once considered as potential #1 picks. They both look the part of an NFL quarterback. Yet Steve Sarkisian helped create that vision during his junior year there. Jake Locker was not really considered a first rounder after his first and second years at Washington.

Andy Dalton
Comparison: Jason Garrett
This comparison might be because they look similar in make-up and hair color, but if Dalton became a valuable backup for his career on a very successful team, it would not surprise me. It would surprise me if he became a hall of fame starter though.

Colin Kaepernick
Comparison: Dan LeFevour
I hate to use this comparison because I think Colin Kaepernick is a much better prospect, but I just don't think he's comparable with some of the 1st rounders that people are likening him too. In a different draft, he might have gone in rounds 4-7. Kaepernick and LeFevour both put up record breaking college numbers in terms of rushing and passing, and have great size for the position. However, the offenses that they played in during college might hinder them in the NFL.

Potential Concrete:

Cam Newton
Comparison: Steve McNair

It is actually very hard to find an equivalent for Cam Newton since he is so unique. At first glance one might think Tim Tebow and Vince Young just based in terms of productivity and build, but Newton has more potential with his arm and speed, and has even better numbers than them.
If you look at the final year statistics for all 3, it’s easy to see how exceptional of a year Cam Newton had:
Tebow-Passing: 21tds/5int 2895 yds 165.17 rating; Rush: 910 yds, 14 tds
Young-Passing: 26tds/10int 3036 yds 163.95 rating; Rush: 1050 yds, 12 tds
Newton-Passing 30tds/7in 2854 yds 182.05 rating; Rush: 1473 yds, 20 tds

The tough part is though only looking at his body of work from the one year at Auburn. If you look at his one year at Blinn College though, it can somewhat conjure up images of Steve McNair, who himself played at a small athletic program. Although this comparison might be disrespectful to Steve McNair’s arm, they seem to have similar attitudes and will have a similar style of play in the NFL.

Christian Ponder
Comparison: Matt Schaub

Both players have the size and mechanics of an NFL Quarterback. However, both of them battled potentially debilitating injuries throughout their college career. This comparison could be a gift if he stays healthy, a curse if he doesn’t.

Now in looking at the 2012 Draft, there are already two definite blocks of concrete waiting:

  • Andrew Luck-Could have been #1 this year
  • Matt Barkley-Was the #1 recruit out of high school, and will prove his worthiness again this year

Even if a team did not get those two, there are two other quarterbacks that compare very favorably to the quarterbacks in the 2011 Draft:

Outside of them, there are two other quarterbacks that could potentially make huge jumps in the draft.

Then you have the undersized quarterbacks that would be first rounders if they had a few more inches in height:

And you also have the lesser known school prospects who could climb to the top:

Finally, you have the old-timer who has pro level talent written all over him and could jump in and play for a team right away:

Teams are thus left with a very difficult dilemma this year. If you take a quarterback, you can help save your struggling franchise or at least give hope to your fan base, whereas if you don't, you might likely be inept again, or worse be mediocre and not draft high enough for the guys you want. With either decision, there is also a high likelihood that the decision makers won't be around the following year to make the pick anyways.

My advice, since quarterbacks are often not ready to contribute the first year anyways, I'd wait until next year and build with concrete.