“One Good Year” And Other Asinine Thoughts on QB Evaluation

This guy had "one good year" in college football.   Photo by PDA.Photo
This guy had “one good year” in college football. Photo by PDA.Photo

One good year. It’s a cautionary refrain from the chorus of skeptics not sold on Central Florida junior Blake Bortles as a top-flight quarterback prospect (see my evaluation of Bortles vs. South Carolina). In the wee hours of the morning in a video-lit room evaluating quarterbacks, this three-word phrase will strike the fear in the hearts of most veteran scouts.

One good year could be Akili Smith, who  like Bortles, was another 6’3″, 220-plus-pound college wonder who the Cincinnati Bengals took third overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. Smith had the arm and the legs to carry team, but according to Smith, who is now coaching quarterbacks at St. Augustine High School in San Diego, he spent more time curling glasses at bars than he did grinding tape in Cincinnati.

However, one good year is also Cam Newton, who took the NFL by storm as a rookie and along with a fine defense has pried open the Panthers’ window of contention. Many scouts were also singing the One good year dirge during the winter of 2011 for this rocket armed athlete who has grown each year as a quarterback and team leader despite concerns he didn’t possess the right kind of potential to handle the role on the field and in the locker room.

More than anything, one good year means NFL scouts don’t have enough evidence to cover their collective assets if a quarterback like Bortles fails. It’s one thing to invest a second, third, or fourth-round pick in players like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Matt Schaub, or Aaron Brooks and spin their development as a surprise or a stroke of scouting/coaching genius. It’s another to anoint first-round picks the future of the franchise and watch them set back a team’s development.

Personally, I think the phrase one good year is just a phrase. Giving those three words anywhere close to the weight of what’s seen in a game, in practice, or during a team interview is asinine.

Let’s go with the popular idea that a first-round quarterback should be more than a “capable starter.” I know what that means to me, but I have no idea what it means to everyone else. The same goes for “he should be a star.”

Then there’s the inevitable truth that stars rise and decline. If you don’t believe me, look in the sky.

There are many ways to define what that either term means. I’m defining a star as a quarterback who has done at least one of the following during his career:

  • Earned multiple trips to the Pro Bowl.
  • Led the league in meaningful passing categories (yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, or QB rating) for multiple seasons.
  • Led his team to multiple conference championship games.

Here is my criteria for capable starter status. A quarterback with this label should have done at least one of the following:

  • Led his team to the playoffs at least once.
  • Earned one trip to the Pro Bowl.
  • Earned top-5 production in meaningful passing categories (see above) for multiple seasons.

Using this criteria on the 51 first-round quarterbacks drafted since 1993, 22 of them are or were at least capable starters. That’s an underwhelming 45 percent success rate. Only 8 of these first-round picks can be considered stars – an appropriate stardom rate of 15 percent even in this day and age where everyone earns a trophy for participating.

Here’s a look at 17 years of first-round quarterbacks courtesy of DraftHistory.com.  I’m not counting the 2013 class – even in today’s ever-impatient media-fan-ownership environment of the NFL, they get a pass.

Year No. Round Pick Name Star Capable Comments
2012 1 1 1 Andrew Luck x Quintessential rising star. But by this conservative criteria, a “capable starter.”
2 1 2 Robert Griffin III x Pro-Bowl rookie season, toilet bowl sophomore year. Still, a “capable starter.”
3 1 8 Ryan Tannehill Flashes of good work, but jury still out.
4 1 22 Brandon Weeden Two years in and the Browns are eyeing the draft for a QB once again.
2011s 1 3 0 Terrelle Pryor Had moments this year, but regressed and lost the starting job.
2011 1 1 1 Cam Newton x On the cusp of stardom accoridng to my simplistic criteria.
2 1 8 Jake Locker Injuries and play mean the jury is out.
3 1 10 Blaine Gabbert The Jaguars are giving him one more year. I think they mean with the team and not as a starter unless he wows everyone.
4 1 12 Christian Ponder Like the coaching staff, out with the old and in with the new.
2010 1 1 1 Sam Bradford The talent is there but he cannot be considered a capable starter yet.
2 1 25 Tim Tebow Italy is calling.
2 1 5 Mark Sanchez Sanchez is the fly in my criteria’s ointment, because it considers him a star. Fortunately, I’m not counting it. Common sense is a beautiful thing.
3 1 17 Josh Freeman Where will Freeman land?
2008 1 1 3 Matt Ryan x Not quite a star, but more than capable.
2 1 18 Joe Flacco x Highly capable.
2007 1 1 1 JaMarcus Russell Have we heard anything from Jeff Garcia lately?
2 1 22 Brady Quinn Storied program, big muscles, QB looks, and holds a clipboard with the best of them.
2006 1 1 3 Vince Young x At one time, capable but blew it. Still, it counts.
2 1 10 Matt Leinart The next Tom Brady . . .
3 1 11 Jay Cutler x Capable starter.
2005 1 1 1 Alex Smith x Capable starter.
2 1 24 Aaron Rodgers x Stud.
3 1 25 Jason Campbell Career backup.
2004 1 1 1 Eli Manning x Capable starter.
2 1 4 Philip Rivers x Low end of stardom, but qualifies.
3 1 11 Ben Roethlisberger x Stats don’t justify stardom, but the postseason does.
4 1 22 J.P. Losman Trent Edwards was better until Adrian Wilson got to him.
2003 1 1 1 Carson Palmer x Capable starter.
2 1 7 Byron Leftwich x Low end of capable starter at one time.
3 1 19 Kyle Boller Big arm, big-name school, big disappointment.
4 1 22 Rex Grossman Low-end of capable starter w/his Super Bowl appearance.
2002 1 1 1 David Carr Human pin cushion.
2 1 3 Joey Harrington Good college quarterback, good at the piano, and decent on FS1 Network.
3 1 32 Patrick Ramsey Reserve.
2001 1 1 1 Michael Vick x One-time capable starter with exciting gifts.
2000 1 1 18 Chad Pennington Not healthy enough to earn capable starter status even if he was in spirit.
1999 1 1 1 Tim Couch Capable SEC commentator for a regional cable network.
2 1 2 Donovan McNabb x One-time star.
3 1 3 Akili Smith High school QB coach.
4 1 11 Daunte Culpepper x One-time star.
5 1 12 Cade McNown Where are they now?
1998 1 1 1 Peyton Manning x Hall of Famer.
2 1 2 Ryan Leaf Still in the news on occasion.
1997 1 1 26 Jim Druckenmiller Big, strong, and UDFA/NFL Europe’s Jeff Garcia much better.
1995 1 1 3 Steve McNair x Underrated star. Yes, I’m biased. I don’t care. Don’t argue . . .
2 1 5 Kerry Collins x Capable starter at one point.
1994 1 1 3 Heath Shuler I wonder what Norv Turner was thinking when he laid eyes on Shuler.
2 1 6 Trent Dilfer x Beginning to remind me of F. Murray Abraham in “Finding Forrester.”
1993 1 1 1 Drew Bledsoe x Low-end star at one time.
2 1 2 Rick Mirer Goes to show you even Bill Walsh was fallible.

I inadvertently omitted Matt Stafford from this list (capable starter), but I did count him into my calculations. I don’t know about you, but a 45 percent success rate for a first-round quarterback developing into a capable starter tells me that having hard and fast rules about where and when you invest in a quarterback is foolish.

Another acceptable notion of “common sense” is that NFL teams shouldn’t draft a quarterback unless they believe that player sees star potential from that prospect. Using the same sample size and criteria, there are 35 quarterbacks since 1993 that were drafted with one of the top-15 overall picks. Only 6 of those 35 passers became stars – a whopping 17 percent success rate for meeting these organizations’ expectations.

Go easier on these top-15 picks and consider them successful as “capable starters” then that rate jumps to 54 percent. Still, the probability for turning a top-15 overall pick at quarterback has been marginally better than a coin flip.  If the NFL hasn’t figured out how to project the talent with more accuracy than it has, then why should anyone listen to a former or current scout, coach, general manager, or owner when they explain their criteria for what makes a good first-round caliber quarterback?

This is not a complete indictment of NFL personnel men. Injuries and surrounding talent can alter the prospects of a young player that teams probably did a fair job of evaluating. However, the idea that the NFL and the draft community should be critiquing what constitutes a potential “bull’s-eye” with an anecdotal theory about “one good year” when it has difficulty hitting the target is putting the Super Bowl before the regular season.

This week, I’ll post some evaluation notes on Bortles. I promise you “one good year,” won’t be a part of my analysis.

 For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.The 2014 RSP will available April 1 and if you pre-order before February 10, you get a 10 percent discount. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

18 responses to ““One Good Year” And Other Asinine Thoughts on QB Evaluation”

  1. “Only 8 of these [51] first-round picks can be considered stars – an appropriate stardom rate of 4 percent even in this day and age where everyone earns a trophy for participating.”

    Where do you get “an appropriate stardom rate of 4 percent”? 8/51 = 15.6%, no?

  2. Kerry Collins: 1996 NFC Championship Game, 2000 Super Bowl. Pro Bowls in 1996 and 2008. If I understand your criteria correctly, he should be listed as a star, not just a capable starter

  3. Ah, gotcha. Even as a Penn State fan I’d have a hard case making a case for Kerry Collins as a star!

    But be on the lookout for Christian Hackenberg, who just had a great true freshman season under new Texans coach Bill O’Brien.

    • Garcia wasn’t a first-round pick. Doesn’t meet the criteria. Might want to give what I wrote about Garcia a second read. I was making fun of Russell and pointing out that Garcia was much better than Drunkenmiller.

    • That brings up an interesting notion I’ve had, that durability is part of a football player’s skill set, though it’s not really a skill, per se.

      Football is a meat grinder, hats off to the Brett Favres and Manning brothers of the world, to name some of the more durable QBs in NFL history.

  4. Christian Ponder lead his team to the playoffs in 2012 so, according to your criteria, he should be considered a capable starter. You didn’t mark him as one in your chart.

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