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The quarterback vacuum

Teams will reach for passers on draft day because they have to. Dan Pompei

Print This April 07, 2011, 11:00 AM EST

If you don’t believe that nature abhors a vacuum, try explaining how Alex Smith, Joey Harrington and Cade McNown were chosen as high as they were in the NFL draft.

The perpetual lack of talent at the quarterback position in the NFL creates a vacuum that sucks up anything in its path on draft day. Quarterbacks, more than any other position, are chosen higher than they should be chosen. Either teams fudge on quarterbacks grades consciously or subconsciously to justify decisions, or they ignore their grades and pick quarterbacks ahead of better players at other positions.

Andy DaltonICONAndy Dalton is likely to be chosen higher than his talent would indicate because of the position he plays.

The way I see it, 14 teams—or 44 percent of the NFL—are threats to take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft. Judging by my grades from talking with front office men, there are eight quarterbacks worth taking in the first three rounds (Andy Dalton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder and Ricky Stanzi), and 13 quarterbacks worthy of being drafted at all.

Seven teams are desperate for a quarterback. They are the Bengals, Cardinals, Forty Niners, Panthers, Redskins, Titans and Vikings. Seven other teams could be in the market. They are the Bills, Broncos, Browns, Dolphins, Jaguars, Raiders and Seahawks. There may be others too.

If this was a normal year, some of those teams would already have acquired a veteran quarterback and scratched off quarterback from their draft day wish lists. But since the draft is expected to precede free agency, the quarterback vacuum on draft day could be more powerful than ever.

This year, neither Newton nor Gabbert are the best prospects in the draft. But both are believed to be under consideration for being picked first overall by the Panthers. Most scouts, if they are being completely honest, will tell you Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, Marcel Dareus and others are more complete, safer prospects. But they are not quarterbacks.

“Quarterbacks are unique in the sense that you have to have them,” one general manager said. “If you identify one you feel has some developmental potential, the value is in the eye of the beholder. If you are drafting on need, and there are only X amount of quarterbacks in the draft, obviously they are going to get pushed. There just aren’t enough of them being developed.”

Teams that lean towards best available player and away from drafting strictly for need tend to be more successful on draft day. But exemptions can be granted for quarterbacks.

If a team has to reach for a quarterback, it’s not as bad as reaching for a player to fill another need because quarterbacks are so hard to find. A good quarterback can make a lot of players around him better. And subsequently, the lack of a good quarterback is probably going to be the undoing of most teams.

The Panthers are in a very interesting position. They apparently are not sold on Jimmy Clausen. They have the first overall pick, which means they can take the best quarterback in the draft. They hope not to be in this position again in the future. Should they pick a flawed quarterback, or a player with fewer flaws who plays another position and subsequently might not have as much of an impact?

Internally, they are trying to fight the urge to make any prospect out to be more than he is just because they need him. “The thing we talk about doing is not creating the pick,” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said. “Our philosophy going in is we have to attack every angle. That’s one of the question we are asking ourselves—are we trying to create something that’s not there?”

Teams will try to create something that’s not there with quarterbacks. They do every year.

“Guys are going to reach to fill the position,” the general manager said. “The bottom line is you need one to go out and play on Sundays. If you don’t have one, people will reach to go get one.”

How far they reach is the only issue.

Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.

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