If you’ve been watching the NFL for any period of time, you’ll know that the quarterback is arguably the most important player on the team. They carry their team as far as they can take them – as seen with the success of Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens on their Super Bowl run earlier this year. If you don’t have a quarterback, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have a deep playoff run.
The idea of a quarterback carrying their team has been proven time and time again – both in a good and a bad way. Limited quarterbacks on good teams can make the postseason as a result of the talent around them, but once the crunch games begin in January, they often get found out.
Two teams in the NFL are currently in what is known as “quarterback purgatory” – this is where the quarterback you have is not good enough to take you close to a Super Bowl appearance, whilst also not bad enough so that you land a high pick in the draft to select your future passer.
The Cincinnati Bengals – featuring elite talents like A.J. Green on offense and Geno Atkins on defense, are sitting at an underwhelming 2-2 record this year after defeats to the Chicago Bears and, surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns. Quarterback Andy Dalton has performed well since being drafted in the second round out of TCU in 2011, but his arm strength and pocket presence issues are beginning to hold back a team that is loaded with talent across the field.
Meanwhile, in Houston, a mutiny may be on the cards as Texans fans were seen burning replica Matt Schaub jerseys, after the 32 year old threw yet another pick-6 – his fourth in his last six appearances, including the playoffs last season. With Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels established pieces on offense and the reigning defensive player of the year JJ Watt on the other side of the ball, it might well be time for Houston general manager Rick Smith to draft a quarterback if they want to make the next step.
But this is where quarterback purgatory begins to take effect. The Texans, despite Schaub’s troubles, are still likely to make the playoffs on the basis of Watt’s gamebreaking ability and their ability to run the ball with Foster. This would put the Texans in a position to draft between 21 and 32 in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft – and the same goes for the Bengals, who were tipped as the AFC North’s best team, even after the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
Finishing in the playoffs and needing a quarterback is a tough position to be in. Of the starting quarterbacks taken in the first round, just one was taken between draft positions 21 and 32 – Aaron Rodgers, who went 24th in 2005 after a staggering slide out of California. The remaining 20 quarterbacks? All but one other went in the top half of the draft, including nine No. 1 overall picks, though the obvious caveat is that most teams in the playoffs don’t need a quarterback in the first round as they already have one.
The graph below displays the draft positions of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL today. It shows that 21 out of the 32 starters were taken in the first round, just over 65% – a number which would have been even higher if not for changes in Cleveland and Tampa Bay, who benched first round picks Brandon Weeden and Josh Freeman recently.
The reality shows that, whilst there are some anomalies (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick), it is incredibly difficult to land a franchise quarterback outside of the first round, and it’s incredibly doubtful that we’ll ever see a situation like Brady’s ever again. So where does this leave the Bengals and Texans?
With Schaub now the wrong side on 30, the need for a quarterback in Houston may be slightly more pressing than the Bengals’ need, but both are situations to keep an eye on as the season progresses. The strength of the 2014 quarterback class depends heavily on underclassmen such as Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley declaring – which would help both teams. With few quarterbacks likely to be available when they pick, we may see a monumental trade-up from one of the teams in order to land a franchise quarterback – mortgaging their future in the process, as the Washington Redskins did in order to acquire Robert Griffin III.
image: © Navin75