2013 NFL Draft: Drafting mid-round quarterbacks does not work


The new mantra: draft a mid-round quarterback! Here's my mantra: just...don't do that. Okay?

Josh Freeman isn't good enough. Josh Freeman needs competition (does he?). No one in free agency is any good. There are no great first-round quarterbacks, and certainly not where the Buccaneers pick. But Freeman still needs competition, right?

Here's what I say: if you want to find someone to replace Josh Freeman, just go for the best first-round quarterback you can find. Don't settle for the mid rounds. Don't try to bring in some free agent cast off (there's a reason they're free agents), or worse yet: trade for some weak-armed, mediocre quarterback. No, go for it all or go home. Vincent Jackson will be angry. Many Freeman fans will be angry, too. But if that's what you believe -- if you have no faith in your quarterback, then move on from him. Don't let it linger on. Don't let this team turn into the Chiefs, or Jets, or Cardinals or whomever else you want to point to as an example of failure. Don't be the passive-aggressive pussy who tries to break up with his girlfriend by making her life miserable and making her do the dirty work. Just make the decision.

On the other hand, if you want to commit to Josh Freeman, then do so and don't try to be weak about it. You don't even need to give him a contract extension -- you've got a season and a franchise tag to keep him around if you need to. But what you can't do, is use a mid-round draft pick on a quarterback to bring in competition. Because here's the truth:

Mid-round quarterbacks do not work

They almost never do, no matter how many times Jon Gruden tells you how much he loves this kid. Oh, and how he loved his mid-round quarterbacks. Remember Chris Simms? Josh Johnson? Bruce Gradkowski? What about Dungy's mid- and late-rounders: Shaun King and Joe Hamilton? Would you trade Josh Freeman for any of them? Mid-round quarterbacks fall to the middle for a reason: no team thinks they're worth a first-round pick. And there are plenty of teams who will jump on any semblance of a quarterback if they think it can help them. Just ask the Browns.

But what about Russell Wilson, you ask? The tiny wizard of Seattle who has led them to heights unknown. Certainly he proves that those mid-rounders are awesome! And yes, you're right: Wilson is great. But let's not forget why he fell: not because he was a bad quarterback (he was excellent at everything, by all accounts) but because of his height. And no, that isn't silly: short quarterbacks struggle to see the field, for obvious reasons (see: Jeff Garcia).

Every year we have some late-round quarterback draftniks and fans go gaga over. Nate Davis. Colt Brennan. Jonathan Crompton. Troy Smith. Danny Wuerffel. Ricky "I can't even beat out Brady Quinn" Stanzi. Mike Kafka. Tim Tebow(Josh McDaniels should never have personnel control). These players invariably, inevitably amount to nothing. And no, Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins don't prove anything. Both of them were okay (and just okay, nothing more), but they played a handful of games. Chris Simms looked like a genius after his first few starts, too, and his spleen exploded. See what happens? Mid-round quarterbacks get their spleens exposed. Fact!


Let's move away from anecdotes. They're tiring. Facts are much more fun. So here's a fact, since 1995 teams have given 117 rookie quarterbacks drafted from round 3 to 7 some kind of playing time. Since 1995, exactly three of them came up with above-average performances in their rookie seasons over at least 100 pass attempts.* Those three quarterbacks? Russell Wilson, Marc Bulger and Aaron Brooks. 117 players. 3 above average performances. And two of those players turned out to not be long-term answers in any way.

Bulger led the NFL in interceptions in his second year, and fell off the planet after five seasons, having played well for about three seasons worth of games. Aaron Brooks was just mediocre enough to keep losing games for the perpetually 'meh' New Orleans Saints. Oh, and he decided to suck it up for another year with the Raiders too. So two of the three most successful mid-round rookies turned out to suck, and the third is still in his rookie season. Okay then.

But what about later on? Certainly some players developed, right? Tom Brady! And eh....Tom Brady! Yeah, see that list doesn't get a whole lot longer than Tom Brady. Here's the top fifteen in passing attempts for quarterbacks drafted from the third through the seventh round: Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger, Aaron Brooks, Matt Schaub, Brian Griese, David Garrard, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel, Derek Anderson, Josh McCown, Danny Kanell, Trent Edwards, Rob Johnson.

Seventeen years, and that is the top 10% of all mid-round quarterbacks. 150 quarterbacks were drafted in the mid rounds over that period, and exactly one of them is an unmitigated success. Hasselbeck was okay, but he benefited from one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history and crumbled as soon as that fell apart. He was also a weak-armed quarterback who can only play in West Coast-style systems. Matt Schaub isn't that different from Hasselbeck, really, except he hasn't had to play behind a bad offensive line yet. And let's not forget that neither of those were successful with their own teams.

And that's it. That's when we get to people like Orton. Cassel. Anderson. Fitzpatrick. Garrard. Griese. Nope. I'm not doing that. Just stick with Freeman if THAT is your alternative.

*As measured by ANY/A+ -- yards per attempt, corrected for sacks, touchdowns and interceptions and then compared to their peers at the time.

Just say no!

Let's be generous, and count Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Schaub and Russell Wilson as successes. Pair that with Tom Brady, and we have four successes in 153 selections. That's a success rate of 2.6%. Really? And we're being generous, too! That's what we want the Bucs to do now? Go for "Well maybe this one's different! He totally isn't Chris Simms. There's totally a chance!"

Oh, I know what I said a few weeks ago. I said that the Bucs may be able to find a sort of insurance for Josh Freeman in the draft. Well, tough. I changed my mind. I looked at the data and said "I was wrong". Quarterback is an extremely complex position, and trying to develop late-round quarterbacks has historically proven to be nearly impossible. This is just painfully obvious when judging the record.

So that's why I say: no, Mark Dominik. Don't do it. Do not waste a mid-round pick on a quarterback. If you want to replace Josh Freeman, have some balls and go for the first-rounder. If you don't want to replace him, then suck it up and stick with him. Taking the middle round won't work, and hasn't worked. Commit or fail.

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