In the next few days, you’ll be hearing more and more references to recent draft busts such as Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker when analysts discuss the possibility of a team taking Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles in the first round of the 2014 draft. Those critics will say that teams are too quick to pull the trigger on guys that shouldn’t have been drafted in the first round. Those critics will also be missing the point.
The first round of the draft is where teams find their long-term core players that will define the future of the franchise. Teams that routinely draft solid starters in the first round, and even in the second round, often see their own draft acumen reflected in the form of long-term success. Teams like the Ravens, Packers, Patriots and even the Colts are in the playoffs nearly every year because they pick impact players with their early round selections.
Teams like the Lions, Browns, Raiders or Jaguars don’t.
In 2011, the Jags, Titans and Vikings all pulled the trigger on players they thought would be leading their franchises for years to come. They were all wrong. The verdict is still out on Jake Locker, but he’s only hanging on by a thread in Tennessee. Christian Ponder will likely walk away from the Vikings in 2015, and Blaine Gabbert has already be shipped out of Jacksonville to the 49ers as a developmental backup.
What critics of selecting quarterbacks early in the draft forget is examples of homeruns. Last time I checked, Cam Newton took the Panthers into the postseason a year ago, and Andrew Luck has led the Colts to two consecutive playoff appearances in his first two seasons. Both Newton and Luck were taken with their respective draft’s first overall pick, and both have proven they can be long-term solutions for their teams.
The lesson here is actually exceedingly simple. It’s far more important to pick the right man for the job than it is to get the right value for the pick, especially when talking about quarterbacks.
A prime example of this can be seen in Tom Brady. Brady was selected with the 199th overall pick in the 6th round of the 2000 draft. Had he been taken in the first round, the Patriots would have been ripped for taking him so far ahead of where he was projected to go, but that wouldn’t have mattered either because the Patriots would have drafted the right guy for the job.
What if Blaine Gabbert had slid to the third round? What if the Jaguars would have drafted him where he “should” have gone? Would that have made him any more successful in the NFL? Obviously, the answer is no, and it’s a dumb question.
So when we see quarterbacks coming off the board this Thursday, keep that simple fact in mind. When an analyst says a team stretched for a pick, they may be right, but if that pick is the right fit, it really doesn’t matter if he was over drafted. Some players like Brady or Russell Wilson would have been great uses of a top draft pick.
Unlike every other position in football, there’s no way to overstate the importance of a solid franchise quarterback, and if that means a team like the Browns or Jags have to “stretch” to snag one in the draft, so be it. If it’s the right pick, no one will care how over-drafted he was if he brings a championship to town.