clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Study: Drafting & the franchise quarterback

Taking a look at the strategies, philosophies, and tragedies of attempting to find that elusive franchise signal caller.

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

How do teams choose when to draft a quarterbacks? And how does the philosophy for drafting quarterbacks vary from team to team? Using Pro Football Reference’s Draft Finder tool, I pulled the draft records for quarterbacks over the last ten years. Due to the changing nature of the game, I feel like going back further than that might not accurately reflect teams’ current attitudes and philosophies.

With that as a foundation, let’s take a look.

In total, 117 quarterbacks have been selected during the last ten drafts. Unsurprisingly, the 1st Round is the heaviest round for quarterbacks. It’s interesting that the 2nd & 3rd rounds are the least popular rounds for taking quarterbacks, but it probably goes to show just how inflated QBs’ draft stock becomes due to the importance of their position. The secondary peak being in the 6th round is quite interesting, and probably notes that as being the round in which teams are most inclined to gamble on longshot high-potential QBs.

With that in mind, anyone who argued that Paxton Lynch was actually a 2nd or 3rd round prospect... feel free to pat yourself on the back. Be nice about it, though- all of Broncos Country is stuck with the same mess at QB at this point and we’ll have plenty of time to argue about quarterbacks in the offseason.

Basic Divisional Analysis

QBs Drafted by Each Division

Division QBs Drafted
Division QBs Drafted
AFC East 20
AFC North 13
AFC South 14
AFC West 16
NFC East 14
NFC North 14
NFC South 11
NFC West 15

The divisional view of quarterback drafting might be even more interesting. Most divisions fell into the 13 to 16 QB range, meaning 3 to 4 QBs drafter per team, on average. But two divisions stand out.

The NFC South appears to be the least QB-thirsty division over the last decade, and with good reason. Drew Brees was already entrenched as a franchise quarterback in 2008, causing the Saints to draft only 2 QBs since then. Likewise, the Falcons took reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan 3rd overall in 2008, and have only drafted one other quarterback since. The Panthers also sewed up franchise stability by drafting another one-time MVP, Cam Newton, 1st overall in 2011. The prevalence of quality starting QBs in the NFC South during the last decade has definitely had a significant dampening effect on QB drafting in that division.

If only they had more Super Bowl victories in that time to show for it.

On the other end of the spectrum, the denizens of the AFC East are on a constant search for new quarterback talent. With 20 selected in the last ten drafts, teams in the AFCE are averaging a QB pick every other year.

The reason for that is pretty obvious: Tom Brady. He and Bill Belichick have made the division their personal playground for the last fifteen years or so, and it shows in their rivals’ scramble to find viable franchise QBs. The Jets have dipped into the QB pool especially often, with 7 QBs selected including a 1st round pick (Mark Sanchez) and two 2nd round picks (Geno Smith and Christian Hackenburg). But more surprisingly, the Patriots themselves have been the second best QB customer in the AFCE with 5 selections. More on that later.

The AFC West

As for the AFC West? We’re at the higher end with 16 quarterbacks taken. The Chargers have taken only two, as is usual for teams with franchise QBs, as they already had Philip Rivers on board. Weirdly, the Raiders have only taken 3 QBs in the past decade and didn’t take any at all between 2008 and 2012, despite their consistent patheticness during that period. Then come the Chiefs with 4 selections. But they echo the Raiders’ weirdness: until they took Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, all of their QB selections during the last decade were in the 5th round. There was a clear philosophy in Kansas City of trying to find a quarterback outside of the draft if at all possible, and it took until 2013 and the arrival of Alex Smith for it to work.

The 2012 ESPY Awards - Show Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

But it’s the Broncos who are the most common QB customer in the AFC West over the last decade. The Broncos tie the Jets for most QBs drafted in that period, with 7. Of them, Tom Brandstater (6th round, 2009) is long gone, as is Tim Tebow (1st, 2011). Brock Osweiler (2nd, 2012) is currently in Denver being misused by the Broncos while getting paid by the Browns. Zac Dysert (7th, 2013) is on the Cowboys’ injured reserve list and may never make it back to an NFL roster. Trevor Siemian (7th, 2015) is throwing touchdowns to the other team as the Broncos’ starting QB. Paxton Lynch (1st, 2016) is in QB purgatory and things are looking darker and darker for him. And Chad Kelly (7th, 2017) is on injured reserve, and is a complete question mark.

Now, one thing I’ll give John Elway: the Duke definitely has a philosophy when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. I’m not entirely sure it’s a wise philosophy, but he definitely has a more easily observed plan than most GMs. And that is: Get a guy that works and then constantly draft QBs late, mostly in the 7th round, and hope you strike gold. Overall, that’s probably an okay plan. 7th round picks, especially the late ones the Broncos have been using, aren’t very valuable. And if there’s a position with a heck of a great return on investment if you hit with one of those picks, it’s quarterback.

If only his two high picks at quarterback had turned out better. Brock Osweiler, once the presumed future face of the franchise, has fizzled and looks to be a career journeyman and spot starter in the making. And Paxton Lynch, the first true stab at replacing the retired Peyton Manning, is likely a bust.

But here’s something to note: While the Broncos have never had significant success with a quarterback that they drafted, the highest pick the Broncos have ever spent on a QB is the 12th overall pick (Jay Cutler, 2006). In 2018, with what will probably be a top 5 pick in hand, it may be time for the Broncos to roll the dice on a truly premier quarterback prospect for the very first time since the NFL merger.

Divisional Analysis (Again)

Pardon my colorful mess there. What you’re looking at above is a more detailed breakdown of how many quarterbacks each division has taken in each round. A few things immediately stand out:

  1. The AFC East loves it’s 2nd round quarterbacks.
  2. The AFC North is almost disturbingly consistent in its distribution of picks through the rounds.
  3. The AFC South apparently thinks that quarterbacks in the 2nd & 3rd round are cursed and will not touch them. Ditto for the NFC North with 3rd & 4th round QBs.
  4. The AFC South and NFC East are all about those 1st Rounders.
  5. The NFC West teams love to roll the dice on 6th round development projects.

A brief kudos to the Jaguars here: they’ve taken only 3 QBs in the last ten drafts, two of which have been 1st rounders. Both times they’ve been patient with players that turned out to not be very good. But to their credit, they’re doing this 1st round QB thing the right way. Unlike the Broncos and their talent-wasting wishy-washiness and refusal to throw full support behind any one guy.

Another interesting note is that every 3rd round QB taken by an AFC East team has been chosen by the New England Patriots. A big part of that is probably the constant search for Tom Brady’s eventual heir in New England. Here’s hoping they never find him.

Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

On the other hand, the Patriots have managed to turn succession planning into a profitable side business. In 2017 alone they shipped off former 3rd round pick Jacoby Brissett in return for WR Phillip Dorsett and traded former 2nd round pick Jimmy Garappolo to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a new 2nd round pick. After using Garoppolo as a seemingly quality backup to Tom Brady for three and a half seasons, shipping him off for what they originally invested in him is a coup. Though the Colts have, so far, decisively gotten the better end of the Brissett trade. They also exchanged former backup Ryan Mallett, another 3rd rounder, for a 7th rounder from the Texans back in 2014.

As much as I loathe that franchise, it’s hard not to love what they’re doing with quarterbacks on draft day. Take a 2nd or 3rd round guy who needs some development, train him up a bit while having him serve as a presumably capable backup to your starter, and ship him off for profit. In the process, you might just get lucky and find yourself a Russell Wilson or Kirk Cousins or Dak Prescott type of QB and set your franchise up for 15 years.

But even if that doesn’t happen, you keep a steady stream of talented backups coming through and can turn them back into draft picks for future use relatively often when it’s time to move on from them. Whether it’s by trade as the Patriots have done it, or by free agency signing as the Broncos did it with Osweiler (3rd round compensatory pick), it’s a cool strategy. If there’s one thing I think the Broncos could stand to do to emulate New England, it’s this. It’s gotta be better than the emotional rollercoaster & constant losing that the draft-7th-rounders-and-cross-your-fingers philosophy has brought to Denver.

It’s All About Your Circumstances

By my judgment, 15 franchises currently have established franchise quarterbacks. They’ve taken 43 QBs in the draft, or just over 13 of the QBs drafted even though they account for almost half the teams in the league. Among them, the Patriots are an outlier with a sharply different QB philosophy as discussed earlier. The Giants and Packers have taken nearly as many QBs in the last decade, with 4 each, but almost all of those have been Day 3 guys. For everyone else, it’s just 2 or 3 QBs in our sample period, which shows the clear benefits of having a settled, reliable starter at the QB position.

There’s a second distinctive group, that being starters with questionable futures with their current franchise who could someday be or were once considered franchise quarterbacks. That includes the Chiefs with Alex Smith, the Cardinals with Carson Palmer, and the Bills with Tyrod Taylor. Notably, all three of these QBs joined their current teams via trade or free agency, which is interesting.

Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

A third distinctive group is those teams with young starters who haven’t become established franchise QBs yet. Some of them, like the EaglesCarson Wentz, are well on their way to doing so. But basically, the 9 teams with starters who were taken in the 2015, 2016, or 2017 drafts make up this group. The 49ers are also among these teams, due to their acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo via trade. As are the Vikings due to their very unique QB situation.

Last and certainly least, we have five teams who will exit the 2017 season lacking a quality long term option at QB. That would include the Dolphins, the Jets, the Browns, the Jaguars, and our own Denver Broncos.

Want to know the value of having a franchise QB? The 15 teams with established starters have taken a combined 5 1st round QBs in the last 10 years, and a combined 5 2nd round QBs. Those 1st rounders turned into Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, Matt Stafford, and Andrew Luck. By contrast, the 5 teams with the worst QB situations have taken 8 1st round QBs in the same time period, and 6 2nd rounders. Those 1st rounders turned into Mark Sanchez, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow, Paxton Lynch, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, and Ryan Tannehill.

So clearly 1st rounders aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, right? No, they actually are. You’ve just gotta find the right guy and not screw him up. Of those 15 teams with established franchise QBs, nine QBs came from the 1st round and three came from the 2nd round. Only three were drafted later than that: Wilson, Prescott, and Brady. And the three young QBs that are arguably the most likely to make the jump to franchise cornerstone (Wentz, Goff, and Watson) are all 1st round picks too.

Oh, and if that list of 5 teams with crap at QB looks odd to you? It’s probably because they’re all AFC teams. So once Brady and Roethlisberger bow out, expect the Super Bowl championships to start leaning disproportionately in favor of the NFC for a while. Young, good AFC QBs are pretty much limited to Luck, Derek Carr, and maybe Mariota.

If we don’t land a premier option in free agency, the Broncos need to go QB in the 1st round.


What should the Broncos do at QB this offseason? Go ahead and specify who you’d like in the comment section.

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Sign a veteran free agent.
    (363 votes)
  • 32%
    Trade up & draft our absolute top choice in the 1st.
    (468 votes)
  • 34%
    Stand pat and draft a top 2 or 3 prospect in the 1st.
    (503 votes)
  • 3%
    Trade down & hope for a good option to remain later in the 1st.
    (50 votes)
  • 1%
    Draft a QB later.
    (19 votes)
  • 3%
    Stick with one or more of the guys we currently have.
    (45 votes)
1448 votes total Vote Now