Tom Brady keeps the late-round QB theory alive, 2nd-3rd round QBs a crapshoot too

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse


NFL shield logo and main stage before the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery recently stated that the theory of developing a late-round quarterback into a viable starter is one that doesn’t actually work in practice. He said, via ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson, “That developmental theory doesn’t hold a whole lot of water. There’s entire classes of quarterbacks, since ’06, I went back and looked at from Jay’s on — when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn’t a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you’re either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you’ve got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that’s unusual, highly unusual.

“Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that’s where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn’t make that pick.”

Emery’s long quote isn’t surprising, because it’s  a discussion I saw on Twitter a couple of months ago in which several people logically reasoned out that a quarterback’s chances of success in the NFL drops off severely with each successive round of the draft. It’s great to think that you could find the next Tom Brady in the late rounds of the draft or develop somebody like Logan Thomas into a viable starter one day, but it seems to be a myth. I mean, it’s fun and easy to think that you could just scoop up a tools-y project player and turn him into a stud, but the only quarterbacks who end up fulfilling any sleeper status are QBs undervalued for silly reasons, mostly size (Wilson, Brady, hopefully Teddy Bridgewater’s stock doesn’t fall to that point).

The Bears GM has quickly asserted himself as one of the better GMs in the NFL, so the fact that he mentioned conducting a study on this piqued my interest. I decided to employ Pro Football Reference’s excellent “Draft Finder” in order to take a look at how successful quarterbacks are coming out of the fourth through seventh rounds of the draft, and I decided to look at every draft from 2000 to 2013.

Only one quarterback, Tom Brady, became a true star, as he was the only one to be a first-team All-Pro. How about viable starters? PFR has a stat that counts the number of years a quarterback was the team’s “primary starter”, and only four quarterbacks picked between the fourth and seventh rounds were their team’s primary starters for at least five seasons: Brady (12), Marc Bulger (8), Ryan Fitzpatrick (6), and David Garrard (5). Three others were primary starters for at least three seasons: Kyle Orton (4), Matt Cassel (4), and Derek Anderson (3).

Out of all of those quarterbacks, only Brady and Bulger can be given the “franchise QB” designation, and it’s quite alarming to see just how few of these QBs turn into legit starters. Half of the list of 106 picks never attempted more than ten passes in their entire careers, and the success rate of late-round quarterbacks seems to be lower than the success rate of late-round players at other positions.

Half of the list of 106 picks never attempted more than ten passes in their entire careers

When you are taking a quarterback in the late rounds of the draft, you are hoping to find a viable backup- not a viable starter. You are hoping to find Cassel, Fitzpatrick, Matt Flynn, Seneca Wallace, Bruce Gradkowski, or Dan Orlovsky, all of which are quarterbacks in this study. The whole idea of finding a legit starter is a myth, as I would only qualify three guys (Brady, Bulger, and Garrard) as having been at least legitimate starting quarterbacks for an extended period of time during their careers. The rest of the bunch are either no-names or quality backups.

At the end of the day, Tom Brady is the man keeping the myth alive, because everybody wants to find somebody resembling the sixth-round pick out of Michigan. But with how much more precise scouting has become today, it’s difficult to miss out on someone as badly as teams missed on Brady. Not only do we have Brady as an example of what type of mistakes not to make when evaluating players, but we also know which traits to avoid undervaluing after Brady was undervalued. Nobody mentions Bulger as a famous late-round quarterback in recent years, so it’s clear to me that the New England Patriots legend is the one keeping the false, fleeting hopes of finding the next version of him as a project late in the draft. You are far better off drafting someone in the first, or scooping an undervalued prospect like Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson in the second or third rounds.

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse

Tags: Notes And Analysis Phil Emery Tom Brady

  • NFL Buddha

    I love the way you clowns totally dismiss Matt Cassel. Apart from the year his throwing hand got shattered and the subsequent slow recovery he is a pretty accomplished QB poised for a break-out year in a situation tailor-made for him, When he goes 11-5 or better with a QBR around 95 this year and starts wining playoff games WITHOUT the help of the officials what are you going to write then?

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      I’m confused, do you like him or not? I think you can put him right there in the Garrard range, but it doesn’t really change the larger point. Overall, I probably trivialized his ability in this piece, but this is also a guy who has completed 60% of his passes in just two seasons, whereas Garrard always completed at least 60% of his passes in seasons with at least 200 attempts.

  • Richard Ciesielski

    Joe, I think that your information is interesting but what I don’t get with the information is which years were the drafts strong for the QB’s and which weren’t? I’m not going to throw you under the bus and to me I thank you for even keeping folks talking about football, if anything its neat when people share their heart for the sport, lol. I would think if anything info like this if used by coaches would open their eyes to the training prep their back ups get. Watching Cleveland play I feel a lot of the downfall our QBs suffered was from the mindset that comes with being labeled as the backup rookie. I’m hoping our coaches drill all of our QB’s the same, and not let new guys get to where they’re just going through the motions. Seems like when that happens and they have to step on field they never really have good timing on plays because of the mindset they trained with and never gave it their all like you expect them to when it counts.
    At the end you bring up Bridgewater and with him I think if he comes in as a grateful guy he’ll be a flop.If he comes into the league with a attitude like he’s going to spend the rest of his football days creaming every team who didn’t pick him and enjoy it like a fine steak dinner then he’ll be a winner. I think thats why Brady and Payton Manning are so good and with the QB’s you listed from Cleveland neither of them had that mindset.