Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Forecasting an Early Run on Draft Quarterbacks

I wanted Ndamukong Suh so badly last year. I kept toting the idea of trading our #6 and #14 picks to Detroit to move up to #2 for him. It seemed to make so much sense; wouldn't the Lions benefit more from two franchise players instead of just one?

My peers, meanwhile, manufactured cheaper scenarios that envisioned Suh or Gerald McCoy falling to #6 as Detroit took a left tackle instead. Incumbent Jeff Backus didn't seem to be cutting it, and the Lions had signed Corey Williams to bolster the D-line; perhaps they were patching the defense with free agency and targeting a left tackle with the pick! Once Suh fell past Detroit, the other teams' needs would make at least McCoy available to Seattle. It made so much sense.

This is the very definition of wishful thinking. Football movements have many interpretations; the Williams move was a support for Suh, not an alternative. You can create a scenario that's possible, but is it realistic and reasonable? Any theory that requires a long procession of things to go wrong for other teams to benefit us should automatically be re-examined. In the end, Suh and McCoy went at #2 and #3 respectively, leaving us to ask ourselves, "Why did we ever think that Detroit and Tampa Bay would pass those guys up?"

It's wishful thinking to assume that any of the top four quarterbacks - Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, or Ryan Mallett - will be available at #25. Sure, it could happen. Unlike most draft years, not even the #1 pick is locked in, and there are literally millions of possible draft simulations to wade through, including some that drop a top QB to the Seahawks. The problem is, each such scenario involves a number of very QB-hungry teams passing up a potential franchise QB, in favor of either an in-house solution that tanked in 2010 or an unremarkable/aging/unproven free agent (some of whom may not even be open to trade).

I've listed every team by draft order and included a color code to indicate my opinion of the degree of their need at the quarterback position. Said opinion is based on a number of factors, including current roster, offseason movements to date, organization's history, scheme and disposition of coaches, etc.

Certain to draft a QB, no other options
Likely to draft a QB (very small chance otherwise)
May decide to pass, could have other options available
Set or content at QB

Pessimism isn't much fun during the offseason, but one of the best ways to predict this matter is to ask for each team, "If we want a QB so badly, why wouldn't they?"

#TeamQB NeedJustification
1Carolina Panthers
Jimmy Clausen unlikely to stick, QB's usually go #1
Set with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton
Ryan Fitzpatrick not necessarily long-term answer; offense matches a couple of top QB's
4Cincinnati Bengals
Will most likely lose their game of chicken with Carson Palmer
5Arizona Cardinals
Looking more and more like a "veteran QB" team
6Cleveland Browns
Colt McCoy not the answer, despite statements to contrary
7San Francisco 49ers
Alex Smith is lockout insurance at most

Vince Young headed out; Kerry Collins headed to retirement home any day now

Tony Romo
10Washington Redskins
Donovan McNabb all but gone; Jake Locker fits Mike Shanahan like a glove

Matt Schaub
12Minnesota Vikings
They'll take any big arm they can get; Joe Webb is a backup

Matt Stafford, decent depth in Drew Stanton
14St. Louis

Sam Bradford

Definitely in the hunt, Chad Henne experiment is over
16Jacksonville Jaguars
Character emphasis might rule out Newton and/or Mallett; David Garrard could suffice
17New England Patriots
Something tells me these guys are set at QB
18San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers
19New York

Eli Manning
20Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh Freeman
21Kansas City

Matt Cassel

Might look for developmental QB

Might look for developmental QB
24New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees

Dry as a desert skeleton

Joe Flacco just given contract extension

Matt Ryan
28New England Patriots
Yep, they're still set

Jay Cutler, still with upside; depth is overrated
30New York

Mark Sanchez

Ben Roethlisberger
11Green Bay

Aaron Rodgers, decent depth in Matt Flynn

That's a lot orange and red for a QB to slip through. To be painfully blunt, the only teams who are assured of keeping their hands off the first-round quarterbacks are the teams that already have one.

We have to start there, and we have to set aside the thinking that the draft will proceed strictly in order of talent vs. risk. It never does, or Tyson Alualu doesn't go in the first round last year. Teams do crazy, unpredictable things - that's part of the excitement of the draft, isn't it?

And this year, there's actual incentive to get wild. Talk about the weighted risk and historical bust rate of first-round QB's all you like, but that's skewing the debate. History shows that the vast majority of playoff teams get there because of a first-round QB. Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck are the rare exceptions that prove the rule. No other position, nor any possible pair of positions, has the power to elevate a team that a QB does. It's a risk, but like all risks, not taking it ensures failure. Bust on Mark Sanchez and you're in the hole for two years; pass him up and you're stuck with Matt Hasselbeck or Colt McCoy for two years. Not much difference.

I've been maintaining for months that all top four quarterbacks, despite their many flaws, will go in the first 16 picks. I stand by that now. But even if you think that particular prediction is extreme, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that any of them will find their way into the second round as many predict. It's not happening.

Call these guys a reach in the first if you want, but there's no position more deserving of a reach than the QB position. Foolish or not, reaches will happen. Veteran QB's won't rule out a drafted QB; they will serve mostly as easy sponges for new schemes that are unteachable during the lockout. The 2011 QB class isn't worth waiting for unless you'll be selecting #1, which Seattle won't be. GM's and coaches will decide they can coach up a prospect. And franchises will want to entice lockout-dissatisfied fans back with shiny new quarterbacks. It's the perfect storm for an early run.

Russ Lande, a former scout, is one of the few guys who seems to understand how teams look at quarterbacks. Veteran sportswriter John McClain of the Houston Chronicle is another one. And, of course, there's the inimitable Rob Staton with his excellent instinct for how teams think.

My sincere hope is that the Seahawks will not reach at #25 for one of the second-tier prospects like Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick, or Andy Dalton - that's an entirely different kind of reach, a developmental player taken in a round meant for impact starters. I highly doubt that those guys will be reached for, just like Jimmy Clausen and Coly McCoy weren't last year.

I'm not saying these QB's should be drafted in the first round (though I think one of them is underrated), and I'm not saying that teams will benefit for these reaches. They might very well regret them for years. All I'm saying is what will probably happen, for better or worse - and what it means for Seattle.

And hey, if I'm wrong - we get a shot at a possible franchise quarterback.


  1. Been saying this for months, the lock out forces teams with needs at QB to take the QB in the draft. That is the simple reality that many fans seem to want to ignore. Normally many of these teams would look to make moves for veterans but with no such option (most likely) they will be forced to pick a QB in the draft.

  2. Pretty amazing visual aid, but it could really use a key for quick, clear reference.

  3. Also, what is you're justification for Tennessee not being a "red" team? Collins?

  4. Yeah, basically. But orange is honestly not all that different from red.

  5. That's a lot of red and orange up in front of us! With only 4 qbs deserving to go in the first i'd say our chances are pretty slim! The speculation about the Seahawks making an offer for Kolb kinda makes more sense. Ill take Kolb over Dalton, Kaep, Dalton, Devlin, anyday, but part of me just wants to ride out this next year with Charlie and draft the BPA with our #25 pick.

  6. I should read my comment before posting it! I meant to say Ponder on one of those Daltons! Or maybe subconsiously, I REALLY don't want Dalton.

  7. We already have a ginger on the team. And that might be too many!

  8. Dalton and Ponder will go early 2nd to team's whom did not take a QB in the 1st round. I do think that kaepernick has more upside. He could turn out to be the best QB of this class.

  9. Makes it more likely that if we can get Kolb for #25 that it should happen.

  10. A couple things to keep in mind- Teams that desperately need QBs often don't take them in round 1. A few years back, Miami passed on Matt Ryan of all people and took Chad Henne in round 2 because they felt it was a better value. Mike Holmgren is infamous for never having drafted or even coached a 1st round QB. Teams like Minny, Tennessee, AZ and SF would strongly prefer veterans, and I don't think Cincy drafts a QB at #4 overall with Palmer's status still unresolved. If they draft a QB then attempt a trade, they lose leverage. And then you have the Seahawks, who've been a "red" team on this list for 3 years running, and still haven't selected a 1st round QB.

    The second factor is that its almost unprecedented for 4 QBs to come off the board in the first 16 picks. The best QB draft of the last decade had 4 QBs go in the 1st round, the 4th going at pick #22.

    A lack of trades and free agency really complicates things, and because of that, you might see some of the teams I mentioned above say "screw it" and just grab a QB now. I guess we'll see. If FA/trades somehow open up before the draft, I think there is a 90% chance a QB reaches our pick. If it doesn't, I'd say 50/50.

  11. Not the biggest fan of GM jr. They brag about grading Jay Cutler as a 5th rounder, which is incredibly stupid and even stupider to brag about. They also have Seattle taking MIKEL LESHOURE (a RB) at #25 in their latest mock. Really now?

  12. GM jr. does make off-the-wall picks sometimes. Last time he had Julio Jones falling to Seattle, which won't happen (although it'd be the steal of the decade if it did). But he does seem to understand the possible "screw it" dynamic that you mentioned. Nicely put, I chuckled.