For the last season or two we've listened to frequent calls from the Cowboy faithful for the pursuit of a project QB to either develop as a longer term replacement for Tony Romo given his advancing age, or as a possible alternative immediate starter for those convinced that Romo will never lead the team to a Super Bowl. These calls were magnified by the dissatisfaction with our last project QB, Stephen McGee, who was a training camp cut this year when it became obvious he served no purpose after the signing of Kyle Orton as Romo's backup.
But is there anything to the theory of selecting a projectable talent, stashing him on the bench for a couple years, and then turning over the starting position to him? Let's take a look at the current starting QB's across the NFL and see what their draft pedigree was and how they rose through the ranks to become a starting QB
A review of the 31 other teams in the NFL shows that the trend for a number of years has been to invest early round dreft picks on starting caliber QB's and to turn over control of the offense immediately to these draftees. The vast majority were selected in the top half of the 1st round of the draft and were placed as the starter no later than the midpoint of their rookie year. See the list below outlining the round and pick number they were selected in the draft, how soon they took over the starting job after they were drafted/traded/signed, and some of the circumstances that existed before they were acquired.
TEAM. QB. DRAFT PICK. PLAYED WHEN? COMMENT
ARI. Kolb. Round 2-36. 1st Year after Trade. 2 years since Warner, 3 years of backup duty in PHI
ATL. Ryan. Round 1-3. 1st Year after Draft. 1 year of Harrington after Vick imprisoned
BAL. Flacco. Round 1-18 1st Year after Draft. Boller starter 4 of prior 5 years
BUF Fitzpatrick Round 7-250. 1st Year after FA Signing. Edwards/Bledsoe started 5 of the previous 7 years
CAR. Newton. Round 1-1. 1st Year after Draft. Delhomme started 6 of previous 7 years
CHI. Cutler. Round 1-11. 1st Year after Trade. No one started more than 2 straight years in 15 years
CIN. Dalton. Round 2-35. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Palmer after he sat out demanding trade
CLE. Weedon Round 1-22. 1st Year after Draft. No one started more than 2 straight years in 10 years
DEN. Manning Round 1-1. 1st Year after FA Signing. No one started more than 2 straight years in 7 years
DET Stafford Round 1-1. 1st Year after Draft. No one started more than 2 straight years in 3 years
GB. Rodgers. Round 1-24 Sat 3 Years after Draft Took over after Favre retired/went to NYJ
HOU Schaub. Round 3-90 1st Year after Trade. Replaced Carr, sat 3 years before trade
IND. Luck. Round 1-1. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Manning after he sat out a year with neck injury
JAC. Gabbert Round 1-10. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Garrard
KC. Cassel Round 7-230 1st Year after Trade No one started more than 2 straight years in 3 years, sat 4 years pre-trade
MIA. Tannehill Round 1-8. 1st Year after Trade. No one started more than 2 straight years in 8 years
MIN. Ponder. Round 1-12 1st Year after Trade. No one started more than 2 straight years in 6 years
NE. Brady. Round 6-199 2nd Year after Draft. Sat 1 year, then replaced Bledsoe
NO. Brees Round 2-32. 1st Year after FA Signing. Replaced Brooks, sat 1 year after draft before replacing Flutie in SD
NYG Manning Round 1-1. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Warner mid season after he had replaced Collins
NYJ. Sanchez Round 1-5. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Favre, Pennington started 5 of previous 6 years
OAK. Palmer Round 1-1. 1st Year after Trade. No one started more than 2 straight years in 7 years, sat 1 year after draft
PHI. Vick. Round 1-1. 2nd year after FA Signing. Sat 1 year after prison, replaced Kolb when injured
PIT Roethlisberger Round 1-11 1st Year after Draft. No one started more than 2 straight years in 3 years
SD. Rivers. Round 1-3. 3rd Year after Draft. Did not start until Brees left as FA for Saints
SF. Smith. Round 1-1. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Rattay, now is being replaced by Kaepernick who was 2-36 and sat 1 Year after Draft
SEA. Wilson Round 3-75. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Jackson after 1 year, Hasselbeck the previous 10 years
STL. Bradford Round 1-1. 1st Year after Draft. Replaced Bulger
TB. Freeman. Round 1-17. 1st Year after Draft. No one started 2 straight years in 5 years
TEN. Locker Round 1-8. Sat 1 Year after Draft. Sat behind Hasselbeck, Young started 3 of previous 4 years
WAS. Griffin. Round 1-2. 1st Year after Draft. No one started more than 2 straight years in 3 years
1.) 23 starters were selected in the 1st round, 16 of these in the top 10 picks of the round, 12 in the top 3 picks, 9 were the #1 pick of the draft.
2.) 8 starters were selected in rounds 2-7. The 3 selected in the 2nd round were in the first 4 picks of this round, virtual 1st round picks. Colin Kaepernick is about to join this list, being drafted 2-36.
3.) 3 starters were selected in rounds 6-7. Two (Cassel & Fitzpatrick) have received 4 year trials after backup duties with other teams but have failed to establish themselves and appear unlikely to get a fifth year at the helm with their current team.4.) Note the number of teams listed above that had unsettled QB situations for a number of years, with no QB manning the starting job for 3 or more years. In these cases, the last established starter was either middle of the road in terms of performance and it took sometime before the team actively sought to upgrade the position, or age or injury of a higher performing starter necessitated change. In many cases, the team's first attempt at a long term solution was not successful, resulting in multiple tries before they go it right.
5.) 10 of these 31 sat at least 1 year before becoming a full time starter. This list includes Kolb, Fitzpatrick, Schaub, Cassel, Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Palmer, Vick and Rivers. The first four on this list, did not get a real chance at starting until they were traded/FA signed to other teams, all sat at least 3 years before starting, and all but Schaub have been very shaky.
6.) Out of the remaining 6 above, Rodgers and Rivers are the only two who sat more than one year before starting, remained with the team that drafted them, and have enjoyed considerable success. Both had to wait for other star QB's to move on (Favre & Brees).
7.) This leaves Brady, Brees, Palmer and Vick. Only Brady would qualify as a project out of this group, as Palmer and Vick were #1 selections in the entire draft, and Brees was taken at the top of the 2nd round, and all three were drafted with aging, veteran QB 's entrenched in front of them.
8.) Consider the QB's in #4 above. If we discount Kolb, Fitzpatrick, and Casel as failures and concentrate on the age of the remainder of the group, all we're drafted between 2000-2005. It appears that since that time NFL personnel evaluators and front offices have effectively stopped focusing on low round draft choices as potential future starting QB, and have gone further toward banking on high round (especially top 20) draft choices to be ordained as the next NFL starters. Low round selections appear to be reserved almost exclusively for practice bodies, practice squad, and backup positions.
9.) I'm not a student of the college game, but it seems in recent years that the rise of more pro-style offenses in the college game has contributed to this drafting trend. Truly gifted college bound talent seems to be gravitating to college programs that really develop these QB's, providing the necessary reps to prepare them to have a realistic chance for success in the 1st year or 2 of their NFL careers.
10.) The focus on starting QB's with high round selection has been a mixed bag of success. If we count Kaepernick as a starter, the 2011-2012 draft had 11 QB's selected in the first 3 rounds of the draft that are now starting. A review of the 2006-2010 drafts shows 17 QB's selected in the first 3 rounds who have not distinguished themselves in the league. They are Tebow, Clausen, McCoy, White, Brohm, Henne, O'Connell, Russell, Quinn, Beck, Stanton, Edwards, Leinart, Clemens, Jackson, Whitehurst, Croyle. This group appears to represent a mixed bag of poor talent evaluation, inability to apply their skill set to the pro game, draft reaches by team's with unsettled QB situations, and players that are simply backup caliber.
11.) Tony Romo is the only current starter in the league who was undrafted.
12.) What's all this mean for the Cowboys? I think all the talk about drafting Romo's successor now is ridiculous, especially since the addition of Orton on a multi-year deal. As illustrated above, the likelihood of drafting a starting caliber player in the "project" rounds is a once in a generation jackpot, and then it is questionable that that selection will even perform at Romo's established level, which is arguably among the top 6-10 QB's in the league. Like Romo or not, it seems far more likely that Romo's contract is extended and health permitting, he continues as the starter for the next 4 years or so. Also, With Orton in the fold, there will be a continued unwillingness to tie up a roster spot on a 3rd QB who is not going to play in the near term.
I think it is more likely that the current QB situation might unfold like this:
Romo: Contract extended and he starts indefinitely.
Orton: Continues as a backup, unless a key injury(s) occur on a contending team over the next year or two and Cowboys can trade him for a mid/high mid pick. I think Orton has a lot of value in this way for the Cowboys and other teams in the league. Teams like ARI, NYJ, BUF, and probably a couple others played starters who were at best no better (and in some cases substantially worse) than Orton. He is an NFL veteran with 69 career starts, a winning record in his starts, that would likely have two 4000 yard passing seasons on his resume if he had started all of the games in these seasons. Much like Kitna, he is a valuable insurance policy, but his presence further cements my feeling that a project QB pick is not in the cards during the next couple years.
Player X: If all things go as detailed above, the 2015 or 2016 drafts are where I think we will see the next substantial effort made to replace Romo. He would be about 37 at that point, and regardless of his level of play, a replacement plan would need to be in place. Orton would likely be out of the picture and his roster spot would be in play for a long term starter.
Start the debate, I'd love to hear your comments.