Jets Fans Take Notice: First-Round Quarterbacks Often FailErik Matuszewski
The New York Jets’ first road win of the season might have cost them a shot at one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s National Football League draft. It may turn out to be a blessing.
With a 3-11 record, the Jets are in position for the sixth pick in next year’s NFL draft, when Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of Florida State probably both will be first-round selections.
Geno Smith’s quarterback rating ranks 34th among players with more than 200 pass attempts this season, prompting some Jets’ fans to root for losses in hope of drafting a potential franchise quarterback. History shows their hopes may be misplaced. First-round quarterbacks usually aren’t saviors: Of the 57 selected in the first round of the NFL draft from 1990 through 2013, only 14 had a winning record as a starter, a Pro Bowl appearance and at least one playoff victory.
“We all scout them, we all do tests, but it’s still a projection,” said former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans General Manager Charley Casserly, who is an analyst for the NFL Network. “I’ve always said it’s an inexact science.”
While the 2004 draft class produced quarterbacks Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers -- who have 10 Pro Bowls, 22 playoff wins and four Super Bowl titles between them - - the quarterbacks taken in the first round two years earlier were David Carr, Joey Harrington and Patrick Ramsey. They were a combined 59-120 and only Ramsey reached the playoffs, making an appearance as a backup on the Jets in 2006.
“History proves that there’s a lot of first-round quarterbacks who haven’t succeeded and only lasted a couple years in the league,” said former Pro Bowl quarterback Trent Green, who’s now an NFL analyst for CBS Sports. “Whether it’s JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Akili Smith or Cade McNown, the list goes on and on.”
Casserly was with the Texans when they made Carr the first pick in the 2002 draft and in Washington when Shuler was taken third in 1994. Carr and Shuler had a combined 31-70 record as starters in the NFL. Of the first-round quarterbacks from 1990 to last year, 65 percent haven’t made a Pro Bowl, 61 percent have lost more games than they won as starters and 56 percent have failed to win a playoff game.
Several factors can affect a quarterback’s development, Casserly said: how good the team he’s joining is, how he transitions from his offense in college, and how he handles the pressure of starting in the NFL.
ESPN projects Mariota to be taken first by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 draft, with Winston going second to the Tennessee Titans. The Jets had been tied for the league’s second-worst record before beating the Titans 16-11 last week in a matchup of two-win teams.
Smith, who is 24, was a second-round selection of the Jets in 2013, when E.J. Manuel was the only quarterback taken in the first round. Manuel got 14 starts with the Buffalo Bills before losing his job. Smith started all 16 games as a rookie with the Jets last year and another 12 this season, going 11-17 while throwing 21 touchdown passes and 33 interceptions.
Jets coach Rex Ryan said one of the biggest challenges in the NFL is figuring out how much time a franchise can afford to give a young quarterback to progress. The Jets traded up to draft Mark Sanchez fifth in 2009 and cut him four years later even though he has a winning record and four playoff victories.
“It is probably the toughest position, and that time is the magic number. Is it three years? Is it four? Is it two? That is hard to gauge,” Ryan said last week. “You may have less patience if all of a sudden quarterback X is in the building.”
In 2012, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the two top picks and regarded as franchise quarterbacks. While both went to the Pro Bowl and led their teams into the playoffs as rookies, Luck has emerged as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks - - leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns this season in Indianapolis -- while Griffin has fallen out of favor in Washington, with a 4-14 record the past two seasons.
“Andrew Luck is a rare entity. He’s a once-every-20-to-25-year guy,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “Will Mariota be viewed as a franchise quarterback when he’s drafted? Yes, he will. He’s No. 1 on the board for a reason.”
Green, who played with four teams during his 11-year NFL career, said because many top quarterbacks now are in passing-oriented offenses in college, they’re often expected to “step in and play right away” in the NFL. The quarterbacks taken in the first round this year -- Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater -- have all started this season.
Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner as college football’s best player, last week became the sixth quarterback since 1997 to be shut out in his starting debut. He becomes the only first-round pick in that group.
The time frame for teams to make an assessment on players has gotten shorter during the current era of NFL free agency, which started in 1993, and that’s hampered the development of quarterbacks, Casserly said. Smith’s struggles have mirrored those experienced by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks such as Terry Bradshaw and Phil Simms during their first two seasons.
Bradshaw, a Hall of Fame quarterback who won four Super Bowl titles in Pittsburgh, went 8-13 in his first two seasons with the Steelers after being the No. 1 overall pick in 1970, throwing 19 touchdowns and 43 interceptions. Simms, a Pro Bowl quarterback who won the Super Bowl with the New York Giants after the 1986 season, was 9-15 in his first two NFL seasons, with 28 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.
“You don’t know how a lot of these guys would have developed. There’s more hurdles now than there was before,” said Casserly, adding that the implementation of the rookie wage scale in 2011 has further reduced a team’s commitment to first-round quarterbacks.
Sam Bradford, the last No. 1 pick before the predetermined rookie salaries were set, got a six-year, $78 million contract from the St. Louis Rams in 2010, with $50 million in guaranteed money. Two years later, Luck got a four-year, $22.1 million deal from the Colts as the top pick.
It’s why the Jacksonville Jaguars, who last had a winning season in 2007, weren’t as reluctant to give up on quarterback Blaine Gabbert after taking him with the 10th pick in 2011 and signing him to a four-year, $12 million deal under the rookie wage scale. This year, they took Bortles third overall, giving him a four-year, $20.5 million contract.
“Financially it doesn’t set you back like it used to,” Casserly said. “But it’s a miss because of the number of years you’re investing in a guy. You can’t get those years back.”