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Spagnola: Selecting Quarterbacks A Real Crapshoot

Posted Feb 22, 2013

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have six draft choices in their back pocket for the 2013 NFL Draft, which means these are precious commodities. They cannot afford to be frivolous with any of those picks.

Because quite possibly, with the salary-cap headaches they are now trying to buffer, the draft might be the only and least expensive method to add significant players to this roster. Free agency, other than trying to re-sign their own guys, might be too rich for their blood.

With six picks – and as I say, you never want to tie yourself to drafting a particular position, because if you do sometimes you end up with a Shante Carver – here would seem to be the Cowboys’ position necessities come the last weekend in April:

Offensive line and defensive line – and sure wouldn’t criticize them if they took more than one of each – running back, safety, fullback (if they still exist in college), tight end, cornerback and linebacker.

Those are their needs.

So why do I keep hearing all this noise about drafting a quarterback? Because it’s sexy? Because they have become the NFL toy of choice these past two years?

Or because the Cowboys absolutely need one, which can’t be the case since they are planning to re-sign Tony Romo to a contract extension in order to minimize that gargantuan $16.8 million cap hit in 2013 they’ll take if they don’t, and they still have the very capable Kyle Orton under contract for two more seasons?

Take a QB, and he’s no more than the third guy – if that – until the 2015 season, and who is to say if you select one you’ll hit? (See Stephen McGee.) Especially since the Cowboys would not dare use more than a third-round pick if they did decide to roll the dice on a quarterback, what with the aforementioned priority needs and inability to speculate in free agency.

Furthermore, unless you are taking a quarterback in the first two rounds, and maybe just the first, your percentages of hitting on a keeper are not real high. To illustrate, I did this: Since the Cowboys selected Quincy Carter in the second-round of the 2001 draft – by the way, the third quarterback taken that year, behind only Michael Vick and Drew Brees when the Cowboys didn’t have a first-round pick (see Joey Galloway trade) – there have been 147 more quarterbacks selected over those 12 years.

Now then, from 2001-2010, prior to this explosion the past two years – or dire desperation – to start young quarterbacks, only 17 percent of the drafted quarterbacks (21 of 123) became legitimate, fulltime starters. Franchise guys if you will, and not a one selected in that 2001 draft after Carter.

Yep, maybe times are changing, since I see 11 of the 24 quarterbacks selected in 2011 and 2012 have already become starters, and one, Colin Kapernick, has advanced to the Super Bowl. We’ll see where this lot of quarterbacks goes.

But if you study the draft history, all I know is this: If you aren’t taking a quarterback in the first round, and at least the second, the percentages of finding that guy aren’t real high.

Oh sure, everyone wants to say, well, the Patriots found Tom Brady in the sixth round. Yep, they did. But there’s been 60 more quarterbacks selected from the sixth-round down since Brady was chosen in the 2000 draft. You know how many more made it? Depending on what you think of Marc Bulger, Matt Cassel and Matt Flynn, the other 57 were definitely flops.

Also keep hearing how the Seahawks found Russell Wilson in the third round this past year. Well, here is a list of third- and fourth-round quarterbacks selected between 2001 and 2011: Chris Weinke, Sage Rosenfels, Jesse Palmer, Josh McCown, Rohan Davey, David Garrard, Dave Ragone, Chris Simms, Seneca Wallace, Matt Schaub, Luke McCown, Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter, David Green, Kyle Orton, Stephan Lefors, Charlie Whitehurst, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, Isaiah Stanback (OK, he was really drafted by the Cowboys as a wide receiver), Kevin O’Connell, Colt McCoy, Mike Kafka and Ryan Mallett.

That’s 24 guys, and really, Schaub is the only quarterback anyone has sunk their teeth into. Odds aren’t real high, are they?

So just be a tad careful when someone tells you, oh, you can find quarterbacks in the third round; you can find quarterbacks in the sixth round. They generally point out the exception, not the rule. Always ask for more examples. Same thing with sub-6-2 quarterbacks. Brees’ name always comes up, but no one ever tells you how many six-foot QBs failed along the way, or never ever even earned a shot.

So again, be careful buying into these types of perceptions.

Oh, and I got another little study for you. Since Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, using his very first NFL draft choice on Troy Aikman with the first pick in the draft, there have been 24 Super Bowls played, a total of 48 quarterbacks competing in those games, some obviously multiple times.

Of those 48 appearances, 54 percent of the quarterbacks in those Super Bowls were first-round picks. After that, there’s been four second-rounders, four thirds, a fourth, eight sixths, a ninth and four undrafted. And think about this: Brady accounts for five of those eight appearances by those sixth-round picks and Kurt Warner three of the four undrafted QB appearances (Jake Delhomme the other).

So that means there has been only 14 of the 48 appearances by Super Bowl quarterbacks in the past 24 years selected after the third round or not selected at all, and eight of those appearances are accounted for by Brady and Warner. Guessing you wouldn’t gamble on those odds too heavily.

Here’s another one of those misconceptions always thrown out there: Hey, the Cowboys need to draft like the Packers do and take a quarterback every year. Well, since 1989, when the Packers beat the Cowboys and lost the right to the first pick in the draft, they have selected 16 quarterbacks in these past 24 drafts. Only Aaron Rodgers has become their franchise quarterback, and they used a first-round pick to grab him.

Yeah, yeah, I know Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck went on to nice careers elsewhere, but here are the other 13 guys those quarterback geniuses selected along that road: Jeff Graham, Anthony Dilweg, Kirk Baumgartner, Ty Detmer, Jay Barker, Kyle Wachholtz, Ronnie McCada, Aaron Brooks, Craig Nall, Ingles Martin, Matt Flynn, Brian Brohm and B.J. Coleman. That’s going three for 16, basically meaning they hit on just one out of every 5.3 QB picks.

Remember, they traded a first-round pick to acquire Atlanta’s 1991 second-round draft choice for some guy named Brett Favre.

So some of that should give you pause about selecting quarterbacks after the second round, although hey, maybe we are seeing a trend change these past two years. Maybe these colleges are doing a better job of preparing quarterbacks for the NFL. We’ll see, but sure didn’t see a whole lot at the Senior Bowl this year.

As for the Cowboys, they have selected 33 quarterbacks in their 52 drafts, but only three in the first round: Aikman, Craig Morton and, technically, supplemental choice Steve Walsh. That’s it. And only three in the second: Carter, Glenn Carano and Sonny Gibbs way back in 1961. Guess you can get away with that when you trade for Don Meredith, speculate a 10th-rounder on Roger Staubach who was headed to the Navy, a third on Danny White who was headed to the WFL, and spend nearly three and a half seasons grooming the undrafted Romo.


Oh, here is one more when thinking it’s wise to use non-first round picks on quarterbacks: Since Staubach was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, eight of the next 10 quarterbacks inducted have been first-round picks, with Joe Montana and Dan Fouts the two, third-round exceptions.

See what I mean? So remember, this draft stuff is like playing blackjack. You are gambling on the percentages. Go regularly against the odds and you’ll be contributing heavily to the dealer’s salary.
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