The Dallas Cowboys have now ended their season and solidified their opening pick for the 2016 draft. It will be pick four. Many, myself included, believe that the opportunity to get a top quarterback prospect should not be squandered. Others insist that the thing to do is get a stud player who can contribute right away. The question I pose today is: is that player available in this draft?
Many point to Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, and Vernon Hargreaves as players who immediately improve this team. I'm not sure I agree. The immediate impact of first-round pass rushers is typically limited. While cornerback is indeed a position where rookies can come in and have some success, it's far from a "sure thing" as we've seen with Morris Claiborne. There is risk associated with any position here, and quarterback is no more likely to bust than any other pick.
But there are some really impressive names in that number four slot. Names like Chris Doleman, Derrick Thomas, and Walter Payton reside alongside more recent picks like Charles Woodson, Edgerrin James, and A.J. Green. The last two fourth overall picks were Sammy Watkins and Amari Cooper, both of whom acquitted themselves very well in their rookie years.
So I've decided to go through and determine the average approximate value for the rookie year of each number four pick since the merger to determine the immediate impact of those players. In contrast, I'm going to determine the average career approximate value of the quarterbacks taken in the top 5 picks (to get a larger sample size... only two were taken 4th overall in all that time). The idea here would be to see what kind of franchise quarterback we'd be passing on for what kind of immediate impact... not because that's fair, but because that's the specific argument I am addressing: that the Cowboys should not take a quarterback because they need an immediate impact player.
The average approximate value for the rookie season of a number 4 overall pick, since 1970, is 6.02. That would mean a player somewhat less impactful than Terrance Williams, who had an approximate value of 7 in each of his first two seasons and would likely have that again, or maybe slightly better as he comes off his most productive season in terms of both catches and yardage.
So to get that less than resounding immediate impact you give up a shot at... Dan Pastorini?
The average career AV of a quarterback picked in the first 5 slots of the draft is 62.3 which fits neatly between Dan Pastorini and Alex Smith (at 60 each) and Jeff George (at 65). Of course some of these picks like Carson Palmer, the aforementioned Smith, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck still have the opportunity to bring this average up considerably, but perhaps the bigger issue is that career AV might not be the best way to rate a quarterback. After all, Troy Aikman and Vinny Testaverde have the exact same career AV at 97 and one is in the Hall of Fame and the other might not even be in the "Hall of Pretty Good". Cowboys fans would certainly get a chuckle at the idea that Drew Bledsoe and Donovan McNabb have better career AV than Aikman.
So the overall issue is that there's variance. You might get Derrick Thomas and his 10 rookie sacks, or you might get Desmond Howard and his complete lack of influence on the game. Likewise, you might get Terry Bradshaw and four rings, or Akili Smith and 5 TD, 13 INT, and a 52.8 career passer rating. But those who act as if the immediate impact of the 4th pick is any more assured than the career of a quarterback picked in the top 5 are simply looking slantwise at the whole thing. Like all top five picks, the Cowboys first pick of 2016 will be a boom, or a bust... we'll see.
Brief disclaimer: The Career AV stats at pro-football-reference.com differ from the seasonal AV stats on the individual player pages. This is because Career AV computes a weighted sum of seasonal AV scores: 100% of the player's best season, plus 95% of his 2nd-best season, plus 90% of his 3rd-best season, plus 85% of his 4th-best season, and so on. I have calculated and compared based on the CareerAV numbers throughout this post.