by Kevin Meers
Using my previous analysis of career approximate value (CAV) on how to value draft picks, this study analyzes how the results apply to the quarterback position. As the five-month debate on what the Colts should do viz. Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck is just beginning, these findings can help inform the Colts’ decision. As with the entire draft, quarterbacks selected first among quarterbacks and earlier in the draft have more expected upside and more expected value. The following analysis looks at the quarterback position in terms of both order drafted and overall pick.
Let’s first look at quarterbacks by order drafted. Both the upside and expected value of the first overall pick stand out here. The upside of drafting the first overall quarterback taken is two and a half times greater than the downside; these both fall very rapidly as more quarterbacks are drafted. Here’s the graph:
The median is a much better metric to use here because there are so many outliers that skew the mean up. For the first overall quarterback taken, however, the mean and median are both 59, just a little worse than David Garrard at 61. The upside, however, is unparalleled. The upper bound is 152, just three below Brett Favre at 155. This upside drops immediately, falling to 116 and 96 at the second and third overall quarterbacks selected respectively. Those are still great picks: Tom Brady has a CAV of 115 and Mark Brunell has a CAV of 96; however, this is the absolute best-case scenario for these picks. They are much more likely to be closer to the median quarterbacks selected second and third overall: second quarterback should be right below Tim Couch at 31 CAV; the third should be right above Patrick Ramsey at 14 CAV.
These findings also imply that, in general, NFL teams are good at identifying players who will become good quarterbacks. If they did not, the above graphs would have trendlines sloping up. Given the strong negative slope of the median curve above, it is clear that CAV falls continuously as the draft continues. There are obvious exceptions to this trend: Alex Smith going over Aaron Rodgers; Tom Brady drafted after Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, and Spergon Wynn. However, perspective is important. These are the exceptions; the rule is that teams are good at identifying talent at the quarterback position.
Order drafted is not the only important way to analyze the quarterback position. Overall draft pick is also important. Looking at the data from draft pick instead of order selected requires grouping picks into 16-pick (half round) buckets; without this grouping the sample sizes are way too small. Even with these groups, the models are very noisy. The graph and analysis follow below.
The large groupings hide the drop in value from early to late round picks in the mean and median graphs. That said, there is still a clear downward trend from early rounds to later ones. The upper bound line is the most important line here. The extreme drop after the 33-48 bucket is the really significant point to take from this chart. Before the 48th overall pick, any quarterback has the potential to be the next Jim Kelly or Drew Bledsoe. After that pick, the upside vanishes. For the rest of the draft, the maximum upside of every quarterback is right around the David Garrard range. Mark Brunell solely causes the peak at the 113-128 bucket, which demonstrates that it is possible to find a talented quarterback late; it’s simply highly unlikely.
The conclusion here is simple: if you need a quarterback, draft a one as early as possible. If you draft a quarterback after the 48th overall pick, temper expectations. There’s a reason Tom Brady’s story stands out: he’s the only quarterback of 262 drafted after pick 100 since 1980 to have a CAV over 100. Only Mark Brunell and Trent Green are close, but Brady’s CAV/year is a full 4 points higher than theirs, putting him in a class apart. If teams want a good quarterback, they must draft one early.