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Well-Known Member
Feb 14, 2006

Draft history full of hits and misses when it comes to QBs
Sunday, April 16, 2006
By Mike Triplett
Staff writer

Teams never will stop trying to find the next Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Tom Brady or Johnny Unitas.

They'll use up prime draft picks and spend millions on top of millions in their desperate search. Some will hit big. Most will miss. But the most maddening thing is, all of those guys could have come to them so cheap and easy.

Montana was a third-round pick in 1979, Favre a second-rounder in 1991. Brady fell to the sixth round in 2000. And Unitas was a ninth-round choice in 1955 who didn't even make the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster that year.

"Maybe a guy's size wasn't just what someone wanted, and then later it became not so much of an issue," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who has been coaching and evaluating quarterbacks the past 10 years in the NFL. "Or maybe the player didn't play as much (in college). You know, it's hard to figure out. I think there's a prototype we're all looking for, whether it's Brett Favre or Troy Aikman, you know. And everyone's got that picture in their mind of the prototype at the position.

"It starts with prototype and productivity. But, hey, there's 32 teams that decided not to draft the player on the first day of the draft, so it wasn't just one team. So there are a lot of reasons for it, and it isn't an exact science."

Payton remembers evaluating guys like Brady and Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a sixth-round pick in 1998.

He said those misses don't make you want to question the entire process, but you have to live with the fact that you're only going to be about 80 percent or 85 percent accurate.

"I think that will continue for as long as we have drafts and evaluate players," said Payton, who pointed out the most classic example of quarterback hit and miss -- when Peyton Manning was selected first overall and Ryan Leaf second in 1998.

Some teams rated Leaf higher than Manning.

"There are a lot of people here that have shredded their evaluations on both of those players," Payton said while surrounded by league coaches, general managers and owners at the league meetings last month. "So it's hard, it's a hard position."

To be fair, many of the league's great quarterbacks have been obvious No. 1 choices who panned out -- like Manning and Aikman, John Elway and Terry Bradshaw.

But there have been just as many cases like Kurt Warner, who went undrafted out of college and worked his way back through the Arena Football League.

Former Saints quarterback Jake Delhomme went undrafted and failed to earn a starting job in New Orleans, where he backed up Aaron Brooks -- a fourth-round choice.

The Saints' sixth-round choice in 2000, Marc Bulger, became the starter in St. Louis.

Current NFL veterans Jon Kitna, Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb and Jay Fiedler also went undrafted. Brad Johnson was a ninth-rounder, Trent Green an eighth-rounder and Mark Brunell a fifth-rounder.

More classic examples? Bart Starr was a 17th-round pick in 1956, Roger Staubach a 10th-rounder in 1964.

Dan Marino was a first-round choice in 1983, but he was the sixth quarterback taken that year, the 27th pick overall.

This year, three quarterbacks have been projected as high first-round picks -- Southern California's Matt Leinart, Texas' Vince Young and Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. History says at least one of them will be outshone by a second-day pick.

"Someone told me that in the last 20 years, when there have been three quarterbacks taken in the first round, only two make it," said Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, whose team is expected to use the No. 3 pick on one of those guys. "That's make it, start and survive for two, three, four years. There has never been three of them that made it. There's always been one that for whatever reason doesn't make it.

"In this particular case this year, I can't see that happening. There's no way one of these guys is not going to be a great quarterback. They are all going to be real good."

That's what most NFL teams continue to tell themselves, year in and year out.

If only they had the luxury of following Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh's advice and avoiding the first-rounders at all cost.

"There is a reason why Bill Walsh never took a first-round quarterback. If you're going to crapshoot, don't do it in the first round," Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "No matter how good you are and what your track record is, if it's a crapshoot, you don't want to throw that dice on the fifth, 10th, 15th or 25th pick. You do it with the 40th, 50th, fifth round or sixth round.

"No matter how good of an evaluator you are, everybody had Ryan Leaf at second, third or fourth on their board, I promise you."

Both Billick and Payton said the problem with evaluating quarterbacks is that there are so many variables.

"You look for vision, accuracy, functional intelligence, to use a Bill Walsh term," Billick said. "It's different for different quarterbacks. Joe Montana's vision, athleticism and touch was in totally different ratios to Dan Marino's quick acute football mind.

"How do the sum of the parts add up? You can't give me a prototypical quarterback. You can give me a prototypical defensive end vs. a nose tackle. But I'd defy you to give me the prototypical, successful pro quarterback. There is a middle ground, but I don't know who that athlete is."

Walsh struck gold twice, plucking Montana in the third round, then later trading for Steve Young in 1987. And for that, he forever will be labeled a genius.

Of course, he was lucky as much as anything else.

Had he not hitched his wagon to Montana from the start of his coaching career, Walsh might have spent the '80s in that same desperate search, just like everyone else.