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The 2011 NFL draft's main lesson is to take the right quarterback, not to take him late

The 2011 NFL draft taught NFL teams the wrong lesson about drafting quarterbacks.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

People keep comparing this draft to 2011, when we saw four quarterbacks in the first round (Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker), three of them turn into busts, and two second-round quarterbacks go on to be successful (Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick). Obviously, the lesson there is to not overdraft quarterbacks.

Because apparently, the key mistake those teams made is that they took those quarterbacks too high. As if those passers would have succeeded had they been drafted a little lower, where they "should" have been picked. Never mind that we don't even know where any player "should" be drafted, and several analysts thought Blaine Gabbert was the best quarterback in the draft. If only they'd been picked later, those quarterbacks would have succeeded.


How would these teams have looked had the Jaguars decided that they liked Colin Kaepernick much more than Blaine Gabbert? What if the Vikings had selected Andy Dalton instead of Christian Ponder? What if the Broncos thought that really, Nick Foles would be a better backup to Peyton Manning than Brock Osweiler? What if the Dolphins loved Russell Wilson over Colin Kaepernick? Would we be complaining about overdrafting anyone? Do you honestly think Blaine Gabbert would have done well in San Francisco? That Kirk Cousins would have been a quality starter in Seattle? That Russell Wilson would not have looked good in any other uniform?

If we take this lesson seriously, we should be lauding the Cleveland Browns for patiently waiting for Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden to fall to them. We should be praising the Carolina Panthers for taking Jimmy Clausen in 2009, rather than reaching for Cam Newton with the first overall pick in 2010. The Jets were geniuses for getting Geno Smith in the second round last year, right?  The Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers should be celebrated for their selections of Kevin Kolb, Chad Henne and Brian Brohm in the second round.

But we don't do that, because we construct narratives around limited data points without looking at the full set of data. That data is pretty clear, and should not surprise anyone: the longer you wait on selecting a quarterback, the less likely that quarterback is to be successful. No one ever suggests that you should wait until the second round to select a pass rusher, because those first rounders are so risky -- even though their bust rates are identical to quarterbacks.The longer you wait, the worse the prospect you're going to end up with is likely to be.

Certainly, if you don't like a quarterback, you shouldn't take him high. No one's saying you should. And it's perfectly fine to take a third-round quarterback with the hope that he can turn into a better player down the road, and that he'll be a decent backup if he doesn't develop. But that doesn't mean you go into the draft looking for a later-round quarterback to be your franchise leader. If that happens with a pick beyond the first round (and some would say beyond the top 10), it's a bonus. You got lucky. If you pick a third-round quarterback you are picking a backup who has a very small chance of becoming a quality starter.

So no, there won't be quality starters available at quarterback in the second round. They probably won't even be available beyond the draft's top 10 picks. There will be talented but flawed quarterbacks, who have a small chance of developing into a starter down the road. But don't kid yourselves into believing that you got a good starter just by waiting. You got a backup.

Blaine Gabbert didn't fail because he was drafted in the first round. He failed because he's an awful quarterback who can't handle pressure. Colin Kaepernick didn't succeed because he was drafted in the second round. He succeeded because he's a good player who plays for a very good coach. So here's the lesson I'd take from the 2011 NFL draft: don't draft bad quarterbacks. Draft good quarterbacks instead.