by Nick Ferraro
The NFL draft is a yearly beacon of hope for fans and front offices. Endless hours are spent measuring the potential of college athletes in the hopes of landing a group of players to build a champion. The greatest focus is on those select few who grade as first-rounders, and every team is especially hopeful of landing the ever-elusive franchise quarterback. The franchise quarterback search has led to more first-round heartbreak and salary-cap headache than any other position on the field.
Only one QB drafted in the first-round since 1990 has won a Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer led the Ravens to the title in 2001, but he was drafted by Tampa Bay in 1994 with the sixth pick overall. Other than Dilfer only two QBs drafted in round one since 1990 have even played in a Super Bowl. Drew Bledsoe lost to Brett Favre â€“ a second-round pick, and Donovan McNabb finally pushed past the NFC title game this year to lose to sixth-rounder Tom Brady. Overall the first round quarterbacks of the last fifteen years have made much more of an impact on the salary cap than on the field.
A first-round bust at QB has proven to be too debilitating to be worth the gamble. Any first-round bust is costly in the long term, but a bust at QB is historically more expensive and emotionally more taxing on a franchise than at any other position. Seattle pinned its hopes to Dan McGwire in 1991 and busted out again on Rick Mirer in 1993. This year they reached the playoffs for just the second time since 1983, and they have not won a playoff game in twenty-two years.
Over the last fifteen years, the Super Bowl winning QBs have averaged a third-round draft grade. The group includes Kurt Warner who was undrafted and a champion with the Rams in 2000. Certainly there have been first round picks over the last fifteen years who are capable, yet the Peyton Mannings are far outnumbered by the Andre Wares and Ryan Leafs. In addition an argument can be made that Manningâ€™s greatness and commensurate salary restrict the Colts from adding the talent they need to make it to the big game.
The teams of the current era need to recognize and learn from recent history rather than trying to buck it. San Francisco struck out on Jim Drunkenmiller in 1997, and figure to go the QB route with the first pick this year. Alex Smith and Aaron Rogers are impressive, but is either remindful of John Elway or Troy Aikman? Prior to Dilfer, Elway and Aikman are the last number ones to win a Super Bowl. Do Smith or Rogers grade that much better than Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter, or Jason Campbell, at least one of whom figure to be on the board when the Niners pick in round three? A trade down will let the Niners fill one of their many need positions, leave them in better salary cap shape, and allow them to watch while someone else throws the dice against fifteen years of history.