I am pretty pumped about yesterday’s huge news with Alex Smith, and here’s why: in the debate between drafting the best available player versus the best available quarterback, I think history shows that taking the best available player is a better gamble. The Chiefs are now free to do just that.
The Chiefs did the right thing in trading for Smith. To help explain why, let’s take a closer look at past draft classes. With Luke Joeckel widely considered to be the best available player this year, we’ll compare quarterbacks and offensive tackles chosen over the past six years.
First, the quarterbacks. Here are the QB’s who have been drafted in the first three rounds since 2006, sorted by the round they were drafted. I’ve inserted my advanced personal ranking system of Superstar, Game Manager or Horrible next to each QB:
|Year||First Round (Overall Pick)||Name||Team||Ranking|
|2012||2||Robert Griffin III||Washington||Superstar|
|2012||8||Ryan Tannehill||Miami||Game Manager|
|2012||22||Brandon Weeden||Cleveland||Game Manager|
|2011||1||Cam Newton||Carolina||Game Manager|
|2011||10||Blaine Gabbert||Jacksonville||Game Manager|
|2011||12||Christian Ponder||Minnesota||Game Manager|
|2010||1||Sam Bradford||St. Louis||Game Manager|
|2009||17||Josh Freeman||Tampa Bay||Game Manager|
|Year||Second Round (Overall Pick)||Name||Team||Ranking|
|2011||36||Colin Kaepernick||San Francisco||Superstar|
|2008||56||Brian Brohm||Green Bay||Horrible|
|2008||57||Chad Henne||Miami||Game Manager|
|2007||36||Kevin Kolb||Philadelphia||Game Manager|
|2006||49||Kellen Clemons||New York Jets||Horrible|
|Year||Third Round (Overall Pick)||Name||Team||Ranking|
|2012||88||Nick Foles||Philadelphia||Game Manager|
|2011||74||Ryan Mallett||New England||Horrible|
|2008||94||Kevin O’Connell||New England||Horrible|
|2006||81||Charlie Whitehurst||San Diego||Horrible|
|2006||85||Brodie Croyle||Kansas City||Horrible|
If we assign a score of 1 for each Superstar, a 2 for each Game Manager and a 3 for each Horrible QB, then we have the following averages per round chosen:
|Round Drafted||Average Score|
|1||2.06: Essentially, a Game Manager|
|2||2.45: Midway between a Game Manager and Horrible|
|3||2.63: Closer to Horrible|
First round quarterbacks tend to grade out a bit better than second rounders. No surprise there. What is a little surprising to me is the number of Game Managers and Horrible QB’s that came out of the first round. Some of that is the luck of the draw, but some of that has got to be teams reaching for a quarterback that they so desperately need.
Here’s another list: left tackles chosen just in the first round since 2006, with my same ranking scale, sorted by their rank:
|2010||11||Anthony Davis||San Francisco||Superstar|
|2010||23||Bryan Bulaga||Green Bay||Superstar|
|2008||15||Branden Albert||Kansas City||Superstar|
|2007||28||Joe Staley||San Francisco||Superstar|
|2012||23||Riley Reiff||Detroit||Game Manager|
|2011||9||Tyrone Smith||Dallas||Game Manager|
|2011||17||Nate Solder||New England||Game Manager|
|2011||22||Anthony Castonzo||Indianapolis||Game Manager|
|2011||25||James Carpenter||Seattle||Game Manager|
|2011||32||Derek Sherrod||Green Bay||Game Manager|
|2009||6||Andre Smith||Cincinnati||Game Manager|
|2008||17||Gosder Cherilus||Detroit||Game Manager|
|2008||21||Sam Baker||Atlanta||Game Manager|
|2007||5||Levi Brown||Arizona||Game Manager|
|2009||2||Jason Smith||St. Louis||Horrible|
Once again, let’s assign a score of 1 for each Superstar, a 2 for each Game Manager and a 3 for each Horrible offensive tackle. These first round tackles average a 1.67, which is quite a bit better than the 2.06 that the first round quarterbacks fared.
With my admittedly rudimentary ranking system, the data suggests that teams often reach when they draft a QB in the first round. Of the fifteen first round quarterbacks taken in the last seven years, only four became superstars. That’s just 26%. The exact same percentage turned out horrible. But with left tackles, thirteen of the past twenty-seven left tackles drafted in the first round turned out to be superstars.
That’s why I prefer the “take the best available player” approach. Football is a game of big plays – a quarterback throws a perfect pass, a defensive end sacks the QB or a running back bursts through the line for a long gain. In the hand-to-hand combat that is the NFL, you need superstar players who can make that special play. For those of us who were lucky enough to watch Willie Roaf open gaping holes in the line of scrimmage play after play, we know well that a superstar left tackle can change a game. The same was true of other positions as well, like with Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith. The point is, a true superstar doesn’t have to be a quarterback to be a gamechanger. And bottom line – the allure of a quarterback often leads teams to reach for a first rounder, only to have it end up as a wasted pick.
With Alex Smith now, we have a proven starter who will be an immediate improvement, and who can also help groom a young quarterback that we will most certainly pick up in the draft this year. We don’t yet know if Luke Joeckel will be the best available player. We’ve got eight more weeks of research and learning to do. But whoever it ends up being, I think the Chiefs are better off with Alex Smith and drafting the best available talent with the first pick, then if we would have reached for Geno Smith or another quarterback with the first selection.
Addicts, where do you fall on this debate? Are we better off with Alex Smith and the number one pick, or should we have used our pick on the best available quarterback?!