First round pick doesn’t guarantee a franchise QB

A subset of Steelers Nation who want the organization to draft Ben Roethlisberger‘s heir apparent probably let out a sigh of relief after hearing Head Coach Mike Tomlin talk to the media at the league’s annual meetings this week:

“We’ve been in that mentality… Our experience in this business and the realities of this business put us in that mindset. [GM] Kevin [Colbert] and I have spent special attention to that position over the last several years, if nothing else from a dry-run perspective, to gain the knowledge and the information necessary to make good decisions when we come to that fork in the road. Who’s to say that we aren’t there right now?”

For all intents and purposes, the subset of fans who are gung ho on taking a quarterback in this year’s NFL Draft were excited to hear Tomlin’s comments. Finally, the savior of Pittsburgh football will be added to the roster.

I hate to break the news to this part of the fanbase, but the “savior” has been here since 2004. He was drafted 11th overall and his name is Ben Roethlisberger.

See, I read coach’s comments differently. That “special attention” part: they’ve been paying “special attention” because quarterbacks taken in the first round, since Big Ben, haven’t always worked out. Actually, they haven’t more than they have.

Year Pick Team G GS Cmp Att Yds TD Int
2004 22 J.P. Losman BUF 45 33 564 952 6271 33 34
2005 1 Alex Smith SFO 141 136 2536 4108 27846 157 91
2005 24 Aaron Rodgers GNB 142 135 3034 4657 36827 297 72
2005 25 Jason Campbell WAS 90 79 1519 2518 16771 87 60
2006 3 Vince Young TEN 60 50 755 1304 8964 46 51
2006 10 Matt Leinart ARI 33 18 366 641 4065 15 21
2006 11 Jay Cutler DEN 139 139 2782 4491 32467 208 146
2007 1 JaMarcus Russell OAK 31 25 354 680 4083 18 23
2007 22 Brady Quinn CLE 24 20 296 550 3043 12 17
2008 3 Matt Ryan ATL 142 142 3288 5064 37701 240 114
2008 18 Joe Flacco BAL 138 138 2915 4742 32639 182 117
2009 1 Matthew Stafford DET 109 109 2634 4285 30303 187 108
2009 5 Mark Sanchez NYJ 77 72 1295 2285 15219 86 86
2009 17 Josh Freeman TAM 62 61 1179 2048 13873 81 68
2010 1 Sam Bradford STL 78 78 1773 2844 18667 98 57
2010 25 Tim Tebow DEN 35 16 173 361 2422 17 9
2011 1 Cam Newton CAR 93 92 1710 2928 21772 136 78
2011 8 Jake Locker TEN 30 23 408 709 4967 27 22
2011 10 Blaine Gabbert JAX 43 40 686 1226 7351 38 37
2011 12 Christian Ponder MIN 38 36 632 1057 6658 38 36
2012 1 Andrew Luck IND 70 70 1570 2651 19078 132 68
2012 2 Robert Griffin WAS 42 40 766 1210 8983 42 26
2012 8 Ryan Tannehill MIA 77 77 1653 2637 18455 106 66
2012 22 Brandon Weeden CLE 34 25 559 965 6462 31 30
2013 16 EJ Manuel BUF 29 17 319 547 3502 19 15
2014 3 Blake Bortles JAX 46 45 1003 1706 11241 69 51
2014 22 Johnny Manziel CLE 15 8 147 258 1675 7 7
2014 32 Teddy Bridgewater MIN 29 28 551 849 6150 28 21
2015 1 Jameis Winston TAM 32 32 657 1102 8132 50 33
2015 2 Marcus Mariota TEN 27 27 506 821 6244 45 19
2016 1 Jared Goff LAR 8 7 112 205 1089 5 7
2016 2 Carson Wentz PHI 16 16 379 607 3782 16 14
2016 26 Paxton Lynch DEN 3 2 49 83 497 2 1

Of the 33 signal callers who have been taken in the first round since Roethlisberger, 18 of them were starters in the NFL last season. That’s being generous, counting Paxton Lynch’s two starts, Jared Goff’s slow start, and Blaine Gabbert’s failure in San Francisco (where he was benched for Colin Kaepernick). I don’t like to evaluate quarterbacks until they have a few seasons under their belt, as it takes time to develop players (if they develop). Robert Griffin, Jay Cutler and Andrew Luck all battled injuries last season. Two of those three (not Luck) are looking for employment this offseason.

Leaving Winston, Mariota and last year’s top draft picks off the list would severely skew the success of taking quarterbacks in the first round. It means that using “starting” as a benchmark, 15 of the top selections taken since Ben have had some success, while 13 others have not.

Unfortunately, “starting” cannot be used as the only benchmark. I have my doubts that Steelers fans would feel more comfortable with Cutler, Ryan Tannehill or Blake Bortles as the starting QB. But you could do worse. Every single player whose name is not in bold, through 2011 on the above list, has flunked out of the NFL for one reason or another… with the exception of Mark Sanchez, who just about everyone can agree is not an upgrade at the position. (Well, I know of at least one person who likes him, but I have to believe they still wouldn’t prefer them as Roethlisberger’s heir apparent.)

Teddy Bridgewater was on his way to doing good things, but an offseason knee injury put him on the shelf for all of last season, and possibly some or all of the 2017 season as well. Then there’s the number of times a team has struck out on attempting to find a franchise quarterback. The Browns have spent three first round picks on passers (Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, and Johnny Manziel) while the Bills have used two (Losman and Manuel).

On the flipside of this literal coinflip, a team could land a long-term solution such as Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck or Cam Newton, but having a franchise quarterback doesn’t always translate to wins on the football field. The Panthers have missed the playoffs in half of the seasons played since Newton entered the league. The Colts have missed the last two postseasons out of five, following 11 of 13 years of postseason appearances with Peyton Manning on the roster. (Granted some of that is due to Luck’s health.)

Jay Cutler has only led one of his teams to the playoffs once. Matt Stafford: three of his nine years at the helm of the Lions.

And yes, I’m well aware as you are that Aaron Rodgers was probably the draft steal of the decade if not the history of the NFL, so long as you’re not counting a certain quarterback from New England who wasn’t taken in the sixth round. So I bet you’re asking by now, what’s your point Joe?

My point is simple. For every Rodgers there’s a Campbell. From Rodgers’ pick, you had to wait three years to get another top-tier QB talent such as Matt Ryan. If the Lions passed on Stafford for Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman, how would that have worked out? How much did taking Sam Bradford improve the Rams? (And no, trading him for draft picks hasn’t worked out either!)

Hey, a Tim Tebow sighting! (Yes, he was a first round pick too!)

And geesh, everyone after Cam Newton in 2012… I mean, Jake Locker was alright, but he had to retire. Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder? They’re headed that direction, but for different reasons. (Locker retired due to health concerns.)

So when Mike Tomlin said he was “paying special attention” to the quarterback position, I believed him. But for different reasons. Entirely different reasons. The Steelers head coach, along with General Manager Kevin Colbert know how to best strengthen their team to compete for a Super Bowl. With a Hall of Fame quarterback already on the roster, there are 21 other starting spots which demand a first round graded talent. Some of those positions are already filled, with the challenge being the one that can be strengthed in this draft.

I am near certain it won’t be the guy with the headset standing on the sidelines, who rarely gets in the game.

P.S. – Yes I hear you. Ben gets injured. Steelers made the postseason the last three years… get over it! 😉

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