Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Steelers and QBs (an historic perspective)

Tom Danyluk has an article on about how the Steelers have historically shied away from drafting a QB in the first round.

Reasons for drafting a QB in the first round vary by team and need, but one of my first posts on this web log was about how teams who draft QBs or RBs in the first round are basically overpaying for the position (unless you're drafting John Elway or Barry Sanders) because comparable talent can be found in later rounds.

And Danyluk makes a similar point in his piece about the Steelers (although he doesn't say that's why the Steelers waited so long in between first round QB picks):
It's a dangerous game, playing fortune-teller with these rookie passers, and each year on draft day NFL teams react with the lockstep predictably. The consensus blue-chippers (remember, Rick Mirer, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf and Andre Ware all qualified as such) are almost always snatched up within the top six or seven picks. Then, teams suddenly shy away from the position. The "best player available" reaction kicks in. Linemen and linebackers and wide receivers are taken in gobs.

As a result, you rarely see quarterbacks drafted in the middle or lower portions of the first round. Check the records. Since the QB-heavy draft of 1983 when four signal-callers were selected from picks 14 and 27, only 15 QBs have been selected between the 11th and last pick.
What's interesting is that only four QBs have been drafted in the second half of the first round in 21 years. I have no evidence, but it could be an extreme case of what I was mentioning above: namely that after a few "can't-miss prospects" drafting a high-profile position (like QB or RB) is basically a waste of money because players of similar abilities can be obtained later (and cheaper) in the draft. Not only that, but after the Elways and Marinos of the draft, there may be no real discernible difference between the 4th best QB and the 10th best QB -- and consequently, general managers shy away from taking guys that fit this mold too early. Danyluk has his own take:

And why? The psychology tells us that if they've fallen that far down the ladder, they've fallen too far, and the second-guessers in the war room begin to get nervous. Their flaws have been exposed and magnified, and agents start reaching for the cell phone, calling their clients with pep talks about second round-money.

And the majority of quarterbacks sink well below that, which meant for guys like Joe Montana (3rd round), Tom Brady (6th round) and Bart Starr (17th round), well, there must've been too many flaws.
To momentarily change gears, I want to revisit this past spring leading up to the draft. It seemed like every media outlet was bemoaning the fact that the Steelers have screwed themselves virtually every draft by not taking an available QB that turned out to be a superstar. Luckily, Danyluk took the time to make a list of quarterbacks that the Steelers bypassed but were eventually chosen in the first round by other teams -- starting with the 1983 class:
1983 -- Ken O'Brien, Dan Marino
1986 -- Chuck Long
1987 -- Chris Miller, Jim Harbaugh
1991 -- Dan McGuire, Todd Marinovich
1992 -- Tommy Maddox
1997 -- Jim Druckenmiller
2000 -- Chad Pennington
2002 -- Patrick Ramsey
2003 -- Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman
Out of this list there is obviously Dan Marino, but after that a case might be made for Chad Pennington, but I'm still not 100% convinced. And I say that because if Plaxico ever decided to show up for an entire season Pennington wouldn't even be under consideration. Now Ramsey, Boller or Grossman could prove to be great NFL QBs (out of the three I'd guess Ramsey), but even if that's the case, the Steelers have their QB of the future and I'm guessing if you ask any Steelers fan they'd take Roethlisberger ahead of Ramsey, Boller or Grossman. Here's what Danyluk thought after compiling the list:

See any other blown assignments on there besides Marino? Maybe Pennington, who now looks like a real gamer in New York, and the jury is still out on the young guys, Ramsey, Boller and Grossman. But the rest? Hey, like the old Oilers coach Bum Phillips once said, the best kind of mistakes on draft day are somebody else's.
Of course all the euphoria surrounding this year's first round pick helps many fans forget the debacle that was the 1983 draft. What exactly was the Steelers front office thinking taking Gabe Rivera over Dan Marino? Danyluk got an answer:

"I remember the 1983 draft, the legendary quarterback draft," said former Steelers Personnel Director Art Rooney, Jr., who helped assemble the great force that terrorized pro football during the 1970s. "We had the 21st pick that year. Bradshaws's career was winding down and we looked at our bench and saw Malone and Cliff Stoudt. Neither of them was working out the way we'd hoped, so it would've been the perfect opportunity to lock up our quarterback for the next 10 years.

"The decision came down between taking Dan Marino or a big defensive tackle named Gabe Rivera, who would've helped our line. (Head coach) Chuck Noll, the coaches and my staff debated the merits of both players. There were some unfavorable stories about Marino floating around, but that didn't seem to scare Noll. He loved Marino's talent. I thought Marino would be our pick. My dad [team founder Art, Sr.] was all for it.

"But Noll surprised me. He said, 'Let's go back to where it all started. We built this team around a defensive tackle [Joe Greene in 1969], now let's rebuild it with another one.' We took Rivera, a guy's whose idea of a diet, we found out, was eating 36 cans of tuna. Then we lost him a few months later to a bad car accident."
That's actually a pretty amazing story -- you have Malone and Stoudt on the bench -- a modern day Kent Graham and Kordell Stewart -- and instead of addressing that position, the Steelers decide to get the next Casey Hampton -- except Rivera wasn't nearly as good. Of course all this heartache could have been avoided if there had been a Vince McMahon, the XFL and Tommy Maddox back in the early '80's.