The Rams are only 3-6 this year which is clearly an issue. For a team this talented, and at this point in the coaching regime, after so many years, there's no reason to not be contending for the playoffs. However, that is exactly the problem. This year's edition of Rams disappointment has been rationalized by pointing a finger at the quarterback. While having weak quarterback play is a key issue, there's no easy solution. The old rationale of 'solving it via the draft' just doesn't hold up as well as everyone would like to think. Here's why.
To begin examining exactly how far first round QBs take their teams, we'll look at the past ten teams to make the Super Bowl and where they acquired the man running their offense.
Example 1: Only 5/10 recent Super Bowl teams had their own 1st round QB.
2014: Seattle def. Denver
Neither teams here spent a first round pick to acquire their quarterback. While Manning was a first overall pick at one point, that pick wasn't made by the Broncos. Meanwhile, Wilson was a third round pick by the Seahawks... but Wilson doesn't win that Super Bowl without the defense. Regardless, in a "deep" class of first rounders in 2012, only a third rounder has won the Super Bowl thus far. While the Colts, Dolphins and especially Redskins were using assets to acquire "sure-things" at quarterback, Seattle was building a defense by drafting Bobby Wagner in the second round and Bruce Irvin in the first round.
2013: Baltimore def. San Francisco
This Super Bowl was a battle of two self-drafted quarterbacks, but only one was a first rounder. Who were the first rounders in Kaepernick's year? Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. Two of the three are already irrelevant in the NFL and the third has yet to make a real playoff impact. Flacco did win the Super Bowl for his team, but he did it on the back of a major hot streak rather than consistent play. That's eerily similar to a fellow first rounder, Eli Manning, who we'll get to soon enough...
2012: New York def. New England
Eli Manning had been a top pick, but no one can honestly make the argument he's lived up to it. Obviously his Super Bowl heroics can't go unnoticed, but he's wildly inconsistent. He throws a ridiculous amount of interceptions and, truthfully, made the Super Bowl largely on the back of a fantastic defense... though, in those years, his efforts can't be discredited. Regardless, I can't help but think another quarterback could have taken that team to the Super Bowl. As for Brady, he was a 6th round gem and the epitome of why you don't need to grab a first round quarterback.
2011: Green Bay def. Pittsburgh
This was a matchup between first round QBs. Aaron Rodgers led his team and was a great pick especially as late as he was in the first round. It goes without saying he was well worth the pick despite the need to sit him for multiple years. However, that begins the question; would he have been as effective if he was rushed into action on a mediocre team? Whether or not Aaron Rodgers, in another situation, would have developed into the Rodgers we know today will remain a question. As for Ben Roethlisberger, he's been a quality quarterback in the league for most of his career.
2010: New Orleans def. Indianapolis
Brees wasn't drafted by the Saints, but Manning was drafted by the Colts first overall way back when. Manning began his career taking lumps, losing games and throwing picks which could be damaging to a lot of guys who aren't Peyton Manning. However, Brees began his career with the Chargers and was pushed out to make room for a first round quarterback following an injury... it's been history since. Brees has outperformed Rivers and won the Super Bowl Rivers is still craving.
While half of the last ten Super Bowl teams did have a first round quarterback, the Rams need to be put into consideration. Of the five, Manning, Manning, Roethlisberger, Flacco and Rodgers, I can immediately eliminate two who wouldn't have had similar success with the Rams. Aaron Rodgers would likely have been underdeveloped and tossed into the flames only to soon-after lose confidence and move to another team where he would either thrive or be forced out of the league. Similarly, Eli Manning relied on a defense too much. An Eli Manning-esque quarterback wouldn't be a Super Bowl winner here... not in the near future.
The only quarterback in that list I could definitely see winning a Super Bowl here is Peyton Manning. But where does a team get Peyton Manning? No one simply finds a Peyton Manning. When there is a clear talent in the draft, like Manning, that man goes first overall. Look at Andrew Luck.
Example 2: For the few hits, there's been too many misses
So, some first rounders were able to get the job done and bring home a ring. Well, let's take a look at how many first rounders it took to get to that 5/10 stat. We'll go all the way back to Peyton Manning's draft to get a full scope of the field.
'98 - (1) Manning, (2) Leaf,
'99 - (1) Couch, (2) McNabb, (3) Smith, (11) Culpepper, (12) McNown
'00 - (18) Pennington
'01 - (1) Vick
'02 - (1) Carr, (3) Harrington, (32) Ramsey
'03 - (1) Palmer, (7) Leftwhich, (19) Boller, (22) Grossman
'04 - (1) Manning, (4) Rivers, (11) Roethlisberger, (22) Losman
'05 - (1) Smith, (24) Rodgers, (25) Campbell
'06 - (3) Young, (10) Leinart, (11) Cutler
'07 - (1) Russell, (22) Quinn
'08 - (3) Ryan, (18) Flacco
'09 - (1) Stafford, (5) Sanchez, (17) Freeman
'10 - (1) Bradford, (25) Tebow
'11 - (1) Newton, (8) Locker, (10) Gabbert, (12) Ponder
'12 - (1) Luck, (2) Griffin, (8) Tannehill, (22) Weeden
'13 - None
'14 - (3) Bortles, (22) Manziel, (32) Bridgewater
Disregarding the last two drafts (as if we had a choice in 2013) for lack of a career thus far, 17/43 first round QBs have made the Pro Bowl. Sure, a few such as Vince Young had irrelevant careers yet made it into the Pro Bowl, but some such as Flacco have won Super Bowls and not made the Pro Bowl so it evens out.
Using these numbers, there's a less than 40% chance your first round quarterback makes the Pro Bowl.
1st Round QBs have a less than 40% chance to be pro bowlers
So many first round QBs have been drafted with the expectations of success yet so many more have failed. This is especially saddening when you remove the stats for the number one overall picked QBs: 7/12. When accounting for first round QBs not "known commodities" the stat dwindles to only 10/35, or, under 29 percent. Since the Rams won't be picking first this year and would have to mortage way too much to get there, these odds of picking a successful franchise quarterback are dreadful. If not enough of a knock on the chances of a first round quarterback panning out, take a look at this:
2014 Playoff Picture only includes 2 self-drafted 1st round QBs
Of that list, only two teams have drafted their own quarterback and used a first rounder. The Cardinals, the NFL's best team, are doing it with one of the league's least-talented quarterbacks. Surprisingly, in today's passing league, grabbing the best quarterback in the draft shouldn't be the go-to strategy.
Interestingly enough, four teams are using another team's first round quarterback. Perhaps this shows it's more valuable to keep your first rounder -- spend it on a positional player or bolstering a line -- and finding another team's discarded (but once-talented) quarterback that they've thrown to the curb at this point. Trading for Alex Smith is a much better move than selecting a quarterback in the second round as those guys rarely pan out.
Drafting a quarterback has a high failure rate: why?
This common occurrence isn't for no reason. Actually, it's for a multitude of reasons.
- When you spend a pick in the first round on a quarterback, by simple logic you aren't spending it elsewhere. Teams with enough issues to be selecting among the top in the league are likely flawed top to bottom and need more than a quarterback to fix their woes.
- Normally, good teams don't draft quarterbacks. Arizona is an example of this. They have a great team, but could use a better quarterback; however, they won't draft one because it doesn't give them a better chance to win now. This sends incoming quarterbacks to worse environments with worse coaching and talent around them. Then, after being battered night in and night out, quarterbacks have a tough time recovering.
- Some quarterbacks just aren't as good as we think they are. Guys winning at the college level is never indicative of future success because talent is too widespread in college and there's a world of difference between Alabama and Appalachian St. One example of this is Tajh Boyd. He was initially projected as a first rounder, but he lost a couple weapons before his final college season and his production dropped. His real talent was exposed and his draft value plummeted drastically. Had he left college earlier, he would have been coined a "bust."
- Finally, some quarterbacks just don't fit the system they're drafted into. An example of this, which may be premature (and likely is), is Mark Sanchez's resurgence with the Eagles. On a defensive-oriented Jets team, his production was minimal. However, on the high-flying soaring Eagles offense, Mark Sanchez is able to show some of the talent we all thought he had coming into the league.
Conclusion: let the QB fall in place. Don't force it.
When it comes to building a contender, it's more important to build a TEAM because a QB will fall into place. The Rams need to draft the best offensive linemen, receivers and defensive backs they can find before worrying about a quarterback. The Seahawks did just that and third round Russell Wilson fell into their laps. Likewise, the Patriots have a system that works so well they were able to plug-and-play Matt Cassel for a season, win 11 games, and who knows what could have happened if he was forced to be a long-term quarterback there.
Plus -- with the Rams' coaches more closely resembling a tepid Jets' offense than a plug-and-play Eagles or Patriots squad -- chances are Jeff Fisher and co. wouldn't effectively handle the process of developing a quarterback.
I used to be fully behind drafting a first round quarterback, but as time goes on, this class just doesn't strike me as that appealing. They look like every other class of first round rookie quarterbacks and the stats say an average rookie quarterback essentially has a little higher than 1/4 chance to pan out. I don't like those chances. Not with this staff, not with this shaky offense. No.
As much as it pains me to say it, we need to stick to our guns on Sam Bradford. Bradford looked promising a year back and, if we continue to build an offense around him, could still salvage a career. It just isn't worth it to keep replacing the same position and expecting different results. For better or worse, Bradford is our quarterback. He's our quarterback.
Hell, if Eli Manning can win a Super Bowl, who's going to say Bradford can't? Football isn't about certainties; there are none. It's about chances.
Whether it's a glamorous choice or not, Sam Bradford gives the Rams the best chance going forward.