I wanted to present some information recently discussed on the Steel City Underground Podcast to our readership. On one of the most recent episodes, myself and Brian Roach discussed the possibility of teams taking a quarterback in this year's draft, with a specific focus on teams who could use a first-round pick on the position.
The exact reasoning for the discussion came from NFL Network's draft analyst Mike Mayock, who suggested that as many as six incoming quarterbacks could have a first-round grade.
Would six passers actually go in the first round in this year's draft? That's the question we sought to answer, but you may be thinking, "Why does this matter to Steelers fans?"
There are some out there who still believe the team should invest in Ben Roethlisberger's eventual heir, but with the franchise QB recently stating he would like to play several more years (with some reports indicating three or more) most of us here at SCU feel that the position is not high on the priority list. Instead, those positions that are of priority to the Steelers could be affected by teams drafting ahead of Pittsburgh taking a quarterback.
In essence, the more quarterbacks that go before the Steelers are on the clock with the 28th overall pick, the better. That means more linebackers, more safeties, or more whatever (because at this point, who knows what they're targetting) will be available late in the first round.
In order to determine if four, five, or six quarterbacks could be selected before pick 28, we had to examine which teams have the quarterback position as a need. We came up with the following list of potential starters for all 32 teams, and where they select in the first round of this year's draft.
Perusing the list, you can immediately see where this exercise leaves a lot to be desired. An incomplete grade could be given for much of this until the NFL free agency period opens, which we'll address as part of the "slots available" for starting quarterbacks further below. For now, a casual glimpse can show us some of the available spots, as well as teams with a dire need of finding "the guy" at the quarterback position.
First, I denoted presumed starters, at this time, with an asterisk (*). Most feel that players returning from injuries, such as Andrew Luck or Carson Wentz, will be back for the 2018 season.
Players marked with a caret (^) are those under contract through 2018, but who may become free agents if they don't sign a new deal. I wouldn't anticipate Drew Brees leaving the Saints as a free agent but on the other hand, he's not getting any younger. Then there are the outliers: teams who have franchise quarterbacks, or are paying their current starter as if they are one, aren't seeking an immediate replacement... unless those teams, such as the Giants or the aforementioned Saints, are looking ahead to the future to replace an Eli Manning or a Drew Brees.
That's what makes this a difficult projection to make, but clearly, there are several teams who need to invest in a quarterback one way or another.
At the top of this list, I call out Cleveland's 2017 starter, DeShone Kizer, who will all but do battle with not just one, but possibly two quarterbacks for the starting job this offseason. I feel the Browns have to get the position right, and they may bring in a free agent and draft a quarterback in 2018. (They could also pull a Redskins play and draft two quarterbacks, as that team did in 2012 with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins.)
The New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals don't have anyone on their roster at this moment that you could feel comfortable calling their 2018 starting quarterback. It's possible that either of these two teams, along with Cleveland, could eyeball a potential pickup in free agency, which could then limit their immediate need (or "want") to draft a quarterback in the first round.
However, there isn't a large pool of free agents to choose from this season. Washington's Kirk Cousins appears to be headed to the open market after his team dealt for the Chiefs Alex Smith. Beyond Cousins, there are some possibilities: the Minnesota Vikings have to choose whether or not to retain any or all of their quarterbacks from last season, all of whom are set to be unrestricted free agents: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Bradford.
A team could attempt to make a move for Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who projects to be a backup; that is, unless, Carson Wentz isn't healthy to start the season and Philadelphia balks at trade offers. Barring a miraculous Johnny Manziel or Colin Kaepernick return, that would leave soon-to-be former Bengals backup A.J. McCarron and soon-to-be 39-year-old journeyman Josh McCown as the best of the rest.
If that doesn't sound to salivating, that's because it isn't: making an NFL Draft rich with quarterback prospects the go-to place to get one this season.
Already documented are three teams (Browns, Jets, Cardinals) who desperately need a QB. Those unhappy with their current situation and with a player under contract for one more year include the Broncos, and Bills, and if you add the Jaguars (despite signing Bortles for a few extra years) that could bump our total to five or six... the magic Mayock number introduced at the beginning of our article.
Bidding could become fierce if the Giants decide to dangle their pick or remove a rookie from the pool by drafting them second overall. If the Chargers and/or Saints have the same mindset, you could feasibly take six teams up to nine.
Will the New England Patriots also think about a future without Tom Brady? What if the Vikings start with a fresh face? And what if the Miami Dolphins, with a potential "out" from Ryan Tannehill's big contract, also wheel and deal?
Nine could be the new twelve. Or something like that.
Regardless, this could be an NFL Draft where we see a plethora of quarterbacks move in the first round: which should be to the delight of Steelers fans who'd like to see a top prospect slide down to pick 28.
That is, if, the Steelers don't make their own move up the draft board!