Thursday’s draft is approaching quickly and we will begin the process of grading drafts ridiculously early. However, there is still a little time for historical deep dives. Some people have no use for these kinds of things and I certainly respect that perspective. However, I have always been a big believer in the idea that past is prologue.
So, I embarked on answering two fairly straightforward questions. The first question is when the best quarterback from a class is actually selected? So, I went back and looked at the 2001 through 2020 drafts and took the quarterback with the highest weighted average value according to pro-football reference. Some of these players are still active, so it isn’t a perfect test. For instance, Jared Goff could pass Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow could pass Justin Herbert. Still, it’s a good start.
The second question is how often a franchise guy is actually available. Nailing down whether a guy is a franchise guy or not is a lot like putting makeup on a pig, but if we go back far enough, we can see if a guy has a career WAV of 100 or more. Especially if a guy is retired, that mark would seem to indicate that he was at least for a portion of his career. We will also go through total Pro Bowls just for added context.
2001: Drew Brees, second round, second QB taken, 167 WAV, 13 Pro Bowls
2002: David Gerrard, fourth round, fifth QB taken, 62 WAV, 1 Pro Bowl
2003: Carson Palmer, first round, first QB taken, 107 WAV, 3 Pro Bowls
2004: Philip Rivers; first round, second QB taken, 149 WAV, 8 Pro Bowls
2005: Aaron Rodgers, first round, second QB taken, 163 WAV, 10 Pro Bowls
2006: Jay Cutler, first round, third QB taken, 86 WAV, 1 Pro Bowl
2007: Trent Edwards, third round, sixth QB taken, 16 WAV, 0 Pro Bowls
2008: Matt Ryan, first round, first QB taken, 146 WAV, 4 Pro Bowls
2009: Matthew Stafford, first round, first QB taken, 116 WAV, 1 Pro Bowl
2010: Sam Bradford, first round, first QB taken, 44 WAV, 0 Pro Bowls
2011: Cam Newton, first round, first QB taken, 115 WAV, 3 Pro Bowls
2012: Russell Wilson, third round, sixth QB taken, 130 WAV, 9 Pro Bowls
2013: Geno Smith, second round, second QB taken, 31 WAV, 1 Pro Bowl
2014: Derek Carr, second round, fourth QB taken, 82 WAV, 4 Pro Bowls
2015: Jameis Winston, first round, first QB taken, 59 WAV, 1 Pro Bowl
2016: Dak Prescott, fourth round, eighth QB taken, 77 WAV, 3 Pro Bowls
2017: Patrick Mahomes, first round, second QB taken, 83 WAV, 5 Pro Bowls
2018: Josh Allen, first round, third QB taken, 68 WAV, 3 Pro Bowls
2019: Kyler Murray, first round, first QB taken, 51 WAV, 2 Pro Bowls
2020: Justin Herbert, first round, third QB taken, 43 WAV, 1 Pro Bowl
What does this all mean?
Okay, remember we are focusing on two essential questions here. The first question is how often the best quarterback in a class is the first quarterback off the board. That has happened seven out of 20 times. Those numbers deserve some context. Those guys were found in the first round 13 times out of 20 and they were one of the top three quarterbacks taken 15 times.
If we include the second round then we find that best quarterback in the class was taken in the first two rounds 16 times. Sure, there are outliers, but the idea of a quarterback coming out of nowhere to be the best quarterback in the class is still relatively rare. So, if we include Hendon Hooker in the top five then historically we would expect one of the top five quarterbacks on the board to be the best of the class. There have only been three guys outside of the top five to be the best of the class. Dak Prescott could be passed up by Jared Goff and Trent Edwards represents the weakest quarterback class of the century. So, we are really looking at Russell Wilson as the one clear historical comp.
The second question is how often a franchise quarterback is available. We are only looking at the best quarterback of the class. There have been seasons with more than one franchise quarterback and seasons with none. We started with the benchmark of 100 or more in WAV. We saw that happen eight times. Still, players like Derek Carr, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen will almost certainly get there. That would be 12 such quarterbacks.
Of the eight quarterbacks that are not a part of that list, four had 50 or more WAV for their career and six of the eight went to at least one Pro Bowl. Three are still active so they could potentially get to 100 WAV for their career although the odds of Jameis Winston and Geno Smith getting there are pretty low.
For those that just love digesting numbers, the average WAV was 89.85 over the course of 20 seasons, but with more than half of them still active that number is not all that meaningful. They collectively have attended 73 Pro Bowls, but again we have more than half of them still active.
What is meaningful? What can we gleam from this? I would come to two very concrete conclusions. First, if history is our guide then I’d say the chances are very good that there is at least one franchise quarterback in this draft. Secondly, historically the odds are that the first quarterback off the board won’t necessarily be that guy. We don’t know why that is. It could be that teams in general don’t do a good job of evaluating quarterbacks. It could also be that quarterbacks need a good system and good pieces around them to succeed. Likely it is a combination of these things. We know two things for the Houston Texans: first, the franchise quarterback is not currently on the roster; secondly, we won’t have one unless the Texans take one. So, if we don’t come away from the draft with a quarterback then we are just kicking the can down the road.