Is It Already Time to Plan for the Eagles’ Next QB?

Looking at the numbers to find the future.

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

The Eagles season is far from over and already the provocateurs on Philadelphia sports talk radio are speculating about next year and the years after. The favorite topic of the speculation set is the future of the quarterback position, ripe with options.

  1. Start Nick Foles next year
  2. Re-sign Mark Sanchez and start him (less popular after the Seattle game where Sanchez was less than mediocre)
  3. Trade with the Washington Redskins for Robert Griffin III, also known as RG3, and start him.
  4. Draft the quarterback of the future and start him or let him play behind Foles for a year.

The last choice of drafting a quarterback is gaining steam. The top two quarterbacks in the 2015 draft are Marcus Mariota, who led Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon, and Florida State’s Jameis Winston.  Many mock drafts have those two off the board after the first two picks. The Eagles are expected to pick in somewhere between 25 and 30. So, the prevailing wisdom is the Eagles would have to trade up to get a potential franchise quarterback of the future.

Is that true? Does it take a top pick to get a franchise quarterback. A data dive comes up with the answer “yes”, with a couple notable exceptions.

There are 82 quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters — 29 of them, or 35 percent, were taken in the first round of the draft dating back to Peyton Manning, the No. 1 overall pick in 1998.

But that doesn’t tell us much, because the next-most-common beginnings for a current NFL quarterback is to not be drafted at all, but be signed after the draft. With the notable exception of Dallas star Tony Romo, however, most of the other 10 undrafted free agents rarely see any playing time. Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer and St. Louis’s Shaun Hill have both started games this year, but no one would call them franchise quarterbacks.  The same goes with the vast majority of the draft picks from the mid-second round to Mr. Irrelevant, the last person taken in the draft.

So we need another metric. How about winning a Super Bowl, not just making a roster?

The ultimate goal of every NFL teams is to win a championship. In the last ten years, eight quarterbacks have led their teams to the ultimate prize. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning both did it twice. The remaining six are Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.  Five of the eight were selected in the first round of the draft. Both Mannings, Peyton (1998) and Eli (2004), were taken No. 1 overall.  Roethlisberger (2004) was selected 11, Rodgers 24 (2005) and Flacco 18 (2008). Brees was selected 32nd, in the second round of the 2001 draft, but now that would be a first round pick because the league has expanded to 32 teams. Russell Wilson was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, 75 overall. And Tom Brady is the real outlier, selected in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, 199th overall. Five of those eight quarterbacks were chosen before the Eagles expected draft position in 2015.

But Super Bowl wins are also not a perfect measure, as it eliminates great young franchise quarterbacks like Andrew Luck of Indianapolis, whose championships may lie ahead.  Using a list of the top twenty NFL quarterbacks, recently ranked by Greg Rosenthal of NFL.Com, we might get a better idea of the draft position needed to select a franchise quarterback.

  1.  Aaron Rodgers        First Round     Pick 24   2005
  2.  Tom Brady              Sixth Round    Pick 199 2000
  3. Peyton Manning    First Round     Pick 1        1998
  4. Andrew Luck          First Round     Pick 1      2012
  5. Philip Rivers           First Round     Pick 4      2004
  6. Ben Roethlisberger First Round     Pick 11    2004
  7.  Matt Ryan               First Round     Pick 3      2008
  8.  Drew Brees             Second Round   Pick 32       2001
  9.  Tony Romo         UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT 2003
  10. Russell Wilson          Third Round    Pick 75   2012
  11.  Joe Flacco                First Round     Pick 18   2008
  12.  Ryan Tannehill      First Round    Pick 8      2012
  13.  Eli Manning           First Round    Pick 1     2004
  14.  Colin Kaepernick Second Round    Pick 36   2011
  15.  Matthew Stafford First Round      Pick 1     2009
  16.  Alex Smith               First Round      Pick 1     2005
  17.  Cam Newton           First Round     Pick 1         2011
  18. Mark Sanchez          First Round     Pick 5         2009
  19. 19.  Jay Cutler                First Round      Pick 11    2006
  20. 20.  Andy Dalton           Second Round Pick 35    2011

Fourteen of the 20 franchise quarterbacks listed above were chosen before the Eagles expected pick in 2015.  If we add the injured Carson Palmer, the No. 1 overall pick of 2003, the list becomes more daunting for the Eagles.

The average pick of the top 20 listed above, if you exclude Romo and Brady as outliers, is 15.  Only Brady, Romo and Russell Wilson were picked past the 36th overall pick or the 4th selection of the second round. If you extend Greg Rosenthal’s list above to 21 and include Minnesota’s Terry Bridgewater, the best quarterback from last year’s draft, the range of 1-36 still holds, as he was selected 32, the last pick of the 1st round.

From 2005-2014, 199 quarterbacks have been selected in the draft, or almost 20 a year. Fifty-eight are still in the league. Twenty-seven quarterbacks were taken in the first round — 21 of them,  are still playing and 15 are starting. As expected, those numbers drop every round, with 15 selected in the last decade of second rounds, 10 still in the NFL and two starting. Twelve were selected in the third round, six are still in the NFL and two are starting, etc.

As the years go by, more and more of the draft picks get cut or retire.  For instance, Tim Tebow is the only first round quarterback in the last five years who is out of the league.  But Josh Freeman, Brady Quinn, Matt Leinart, Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell are the five of the 13 first-round picks from the 2005-2009 drafts who are no longer with a team.

That means a trade to the top of the first round does not assure quarterback success. Just ask the Washington Redskins who now have to decide what to do with the injury plagued and under-performing RG3 after trading three first round picks and a second round pick to the St. Louis Rams to acquire the second draft position in the 2012 draft and take RG3.  The Rams then kept trading with other teams and turned those 4 picks into 6.  To rub it in, the Rams sent all 6 of the players drafted with those picks out on the field for the opening coin toss before defeating the Redskins last week 24-0.

Still, the odds of getting a star quarterback with a pick above 25 is exponentially greater than trying to find a Tom Brady in the sixth round or a Tony Romo the day after the draft.   Of over 300 college quarterbacks either drafted or signed as free agents since the year 2000, it has happened twice.

But remember. Nick Foles was the next quarterback taken in the third round of the 2012 draft after Russell Wilson. Foles was named to a Pro Bowl after a record-setting 2013 season.

RG3 very possibly will not be available, the cost of moving up to get either Mariota or Winston both risky and expensive and Mark Sanchez is a free agent who will test to open market for a big payday.  With those obstacles, the most sound choice is to give Foles another year to see if he is the great quarterback of 2013 or the average quarterback of 2014, before he got hurt.

If they still want to take a quarterback in the draft, they can pick one with their first pick or trade to get to the 32-36 pick where Brees, Bridgewater and Colin Kaepernick have been found.  However, every draft is different and experts say the pool of talent is not deep with quarterbacks in 2015, with a big drop off after the top two.  There may be no one worth taking in the late first, early second round.

So it looks like Foles for 2015. And in 2016, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg is forecast as the No. 1 overall pick, which means the Eagles probably won’t have a shot at him either.

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