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.
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.