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Feb 23, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Texas A&M Tackle Luke Joeckel

Best Available Chief

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 1 Andrew Luck Indianapolis Superstar
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 8 Jake Locker Tennessee Horrible
2011 10 Blaine Gabbert Jacksonville Game Manager
2011 12 Christian Ponder Minnesota Game Manager
2010 1 Sam Bradford St. Louis Game Manager
2010 25 Tim Tebow Denver Horrible
2009 1 Matthew Stafford Detroit Superstar
2009 17 Josh Freeman Tampa Bay Game Manager
2008 3 Matt Ryan Atlanta Superstar
2007 1 Jamarcus Russell Oakland Horrible
2007 22 Brady Quinn Cleveland Horrible
Year Second Round (Overall Pick) Name Team Ranking
2011 35 Andy Dalton Cincinnati Superstar
2011 36 Colin Kaepernick San Francisco Superstar
2010 48 Jimmy Clausen Carolina Horrible
2009 44 Pat White Miami Horrible
2008 56 Brian Brohm Green Bay Horrible
2008 57 Chad Henne Miami Game Manager
2007 36 Kevin Kolb Philadelphia Game Manager
2007 40 John Beck Miami Horrible
2007 43 Drew Stanton Detroit Horrible
2006 49 Kellen Clemons New York Jets Horrible
2006 64 Tarvaris Jackson Minnesota Horrible
Year Third Round (Overall Pick) Name Team Ranking
2012 88 Nick Foles Philadelphia Game Manager
2011 74 Ryan Mallett New England Horrible
2012 75 Russell Wilson Seattle Superstar
2010 85 Colt McCoy Cleveland Horrible
2008 94 Kevin O’Connell New England Horrible
2007 92 Trent Edwards Buffalo 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:

Year First Round Name Team Ranking
2012 3 Matt Kalil Minnesota Superstar
2010 4 Trent Williams Washington Superstar
2010 6 Russell Okung Seattle Superstar
2010 11 Anthony Davis San Francisco Superstar
2010 23 Bryan Bulaga Green Bay Superstar
2009 8 Eugene Monroe Jacksonville Superstar
2009 23 Michael Oher Baltimore Superstar
2008 1 Jake Long Miami Superstar
2008 12 Ryan Clady Denver Superstar
2008 15 Branden Albert Kansas City Superstar
2008 26 Duane Brown Houston Superstar
2007 3 Joe Thomas Cleveland 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
2011 29 Gabe Carimi Chicago Horrible
2009 2 Jason Smith St. Louis Horrible
2008 14 Chris Williams Chicago Horrible
2008 19 Jeff Otah Carolina 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?!

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