clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What Cowboys Can Learn From Patriots, Broncos, Saints, And Seahawks About Drafting QBs

New, comments

The Cowboys need a better plan at backup QB, but that plan may not necessarily involve a first-round pick.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In the NFL these days, there's an expectation that a QB drafted in the first round needs to be an immediate starter, and the numbers seem to bear this out. Of the 12 quarterbacks drafted with a Top 40 pick in the last four drafts, all but one were immediate starters for their teams in their rookie seasons.

The only exception was Johnny Manziel, who was certainly expected to be an immediate starter in Cleveland, but failed to do so for a number of reasons.

There were eight more QBs drafted over the last four years between the 40th and the 100th pick (top of 4th round). Only two of them were immediate starters, Russell Wilson in Seattle and Mike Glennon in Tampa Bay.

The following table summarizes the 20 QBs picked with a top 100 pick over the last four years.

Year Rnd Pick Name Age Team Yr 1 Starter Yr 1 Starts
2015 1 1 Jameis Winston 21 TAM Yes 14
2012 1 1 Andrew Luck 22 IND Yes 16
2015 1 2 Marcus Mariota 21 TEN Yes 12
2012 1 2 Robert Griffin 22 WAS Yes 15
2014 1 3 Blake Bortles 22 JAX Yes 13
2012 1 8 Ryan Tannehill 24 MIA Yes 16
2013 1 16 EJ Manuel 23 BUF Yes 10
2014 1 22 Johnny Manziel 21 CLE No 2
2012 1 22 Brandon Weeden 28 CLE Yes 15
2014 1 32 Teddy Bridgewater 21 MIN Yes 12
2014 2 36 Derek Carr 23 OAK Yes 16
2013 2 39 Geno Smith 22 NYJ Yes 16
2012 2 57 Brock Osweiler 21 DEN No - -
2014 2 62 Jimmy Garoppolo 22 NWE No - -
2013 3 73 Mike Glennon 23 TAM Yes 13
2015 3 75 Garrett Grayson 24 NOR No - -
2012 3 75 Russell Wilson 23 SEA Yes 16
2012 3 88 Nick Foles 23 PHI No 6
2015 3 89 Sean Mannion 23 STL No - -
2013 4 98 Matt Barkley 22 PHI No - -

The table illustrates that there is a very clear difference in expectations for QBs picked at the top of the draft and QBs drafted later on. Not all of the QBs drafted high lived up to expectations obviously, but almost all got to start early, though many of them are no longer starters just a few years into their careers.

The later picks on the other hand were not drafted to be immediate starters, even though Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon did win the starting spots in their rookie season.

In Tampa Bay, Mike Glennon was drafted in the third round in 2013 to back up veteran QB Josh Freeman, who was entering his fifth season with the Buccaneers. But Freeman was benched after three weeks in 2013 (and eventually released) and Glennon was promoted into the starting spot.

In 2012, the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract in free agency and were hoping for him to become their franchise quarterback. Two months later, they took a flyer on an undersized quarterback in the third round of the draft, and by the end of camp, rookie Russell Wilson had won the starting job from Flynn.

The other point, which is not immediately obvious from the table above, is that all of the teams picking in the top 40 were QB-needy teams at the time of the draft. All of them had below-average or truly terrible QBs playing for them, as you can see from slightly modified table that shows which veteran QB each rookie replaced:

Year Rnd Pick Name Age Team Replaced Veteran
2015 1 1 Jameis Winston 21 TAM Mike Glennon
2012 1 1 Andrew Luck 22 IND - -
2015 1 2 Marcus Mariota 21 TEN Zach Mettenberger
2012 1 2 Robert Griffin 22 WAS Rex Grossman
2014 1 3 Blake Bortles 22 JAX Chad Henne
2012 1 8 Ryan Tannehill 24 MIA Matt Moore
2013 1 16 EJ Manuel 23 BUF Ryan Fitzpatrick
2014 1 22 Johnny Manziel 21 CLE Brandon Weeden
2012 1 22 Brandon Weeden 28 CLE Colt McCoy
2014 1 32 Teddy Bridgewater 21 MIN Christian Ponder
2014 2 36 Derek Carr 23 OAK Terelle Pryor
2013 2 39 Geno Smith 22 NYJ Mark Sanchez

The veteran QBs in this table read like a dumpster fire of NFL quarterbacking. No wonder each team saw the necessity to invest heavily into the quarterback position. The only exception here is probably Andrew Luck, who was not brought in to replace a below average starter, but was brought in to replace Peyton Manning, who had decided to move on to the Broncos.

If we now look at the QBs drafted between picks 40 and 100, the names on the veteran QB list change dramatically - for the better.

Year Rnd Pick Name Age Team Replaced
Veteran
Age at time
of draft
2012 2 57 Brock Osweiler 21 DEN Peyton Manning
36
2014 2 62 Jimmy Garoppolo 22 NWE Tom Brady
37
2013 3 73 Mike Glennon 23 TAM Josh Freeman 25
2015 3 75 Garrett Grayson 24 NOR Drew Brees
36
2012 3 75 Russell Wilson 23 SEA Matt Flynn 27
2012 3 88 Nick Foles 23 PHI Michael Vick
32
2015 3 89 Sean Mannion 23 STL Nick Foles 26
2013 4 98 Matt Barkley 22 PHI Michael Vick
33

What most of the teams in this table have in common is that at the time they drafted a QB, they had an older franchise QB in place with a closing window (Manning, Brady, Brees, Vick) or hoped they had a franchise QB in place (Flynn).

And there is an important lesson here for the Cowboys. The Broncos, Patriots, Saints, Seahawks and (to a more limited extent) the Eagles drafted a QB to back up their franchise quarterbacks. They did not invest in a draft pick to replace their franchise guy. And that is exactly the situation the Cowboys find themselves in.

The Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a big contract but brought in Russell Wilson anyway. The Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler the year they signed Manning, and when Manning's play deteriorated, they were ready. The Patriots have been in a constant state of readiness, drafting Matt Cassell (7th round) in 2005, Kevin O'Connel (3rd in 2008), Ryan Mallett (3rd) in 2011 and Jimmy Graoppolo (2nd) in 2014. The Saints invested a 3rd rounder last year in anticipation of Drew Brees's eventual demise, and even the Eagles prepared for Michael Vick's eventual slowdown with QB picks in consecutive years.

When the talk turns to the Cowboys' plan at QB, it seems the only example most people can think of is Aaron Rodgers (1st) sitting for three years behind Brett Favre - which in a circuitous way seems to provide some kind of rationale for why the Cowboys should invest a 1st-round pick in a QB.

But as you saw above, there are alternative ways in which to prepare for injury or an eventual drop in performance of your franchise QB. If the Cowboys are looking to find a backup for Tony Romo for the next few years, the approach followed by the Patriots, Broncos, Saints, and Seahawks suggests they should invest a low second- or third-round pick in a QB this year. In principle, that should give you a guy who can carry the team for a few games during Romo's inevitable injury breaks over the coming years. If you're really lucky, that guy may even turn into you franchise QB down the line. If not, at least you have a capable backup and can still invest a first-round pick when Tony Romo is eventually done.

Tony Romo is without question one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. And as the Cowbyos develop a plan for their QB position, they'd be well advised to follow the lead of other franchises with elite QBs, not some team with an overhyped but underperforming QB. Good franchises have a plan in place that consists of more than grabbing other people's rejects on the cheap. The Cowboys need a better plan at backup QB, but that plan may not necessarily involve a first-round pick.