To paraphrase 1990’s singer Paula Cole…Where Have All The Quarterbacks Gone? If you were to listen to NFL shows and sports talk radio you may have heard them repeatedly ask the question, where are the next generation of quarterbacks? The analysts want you to believe that football’s premier position is in trouble. That there are no future stars at the position ready to take aim in the NFL. Well as usual, I am here to tell you not to buy into the analysts doomsday narrative of lack of quarterback talent.
The position of quarterback has always been key for any team in football, dating back even to the pre-modern days (1950) of the NFL. Sure you may win some games with poor quarterback play. You may even get a shot at the championship with a mediocre quarterback if you have outstanding play on both defense and special teams. But teams that are competitive consistently do so because they have an above average quarterback.
Teams rely so heavily on finding a top-tier quarterback they have spent 214 draft picks since 1998 on that position alone. That means each team has draft an average of 6.7 quarterbacks during that time. Side note, I chose to break it down since 1998 because that was when arguably this generations top quarterback was drafted (Peyton Manning). A total of 27 teams drafted a quarterback in the first round over that time with 16 of them using multiple first-round picks on a quarterback. (Cleveland led the way with three first-round quarterback selections. Yes that’s three over an 18 year time frame, and probably a fourth for next year!) So we have established the importance of the position.
Now for the talent part, the part where analysts want you to believe that there is a lack of talent at the position and where oh where will the stars come from?!?! Granted over the last 10 years the NFL game has become a passing league and with that we have seen some of the best play from the quarterback position in league history. In fact I make the suggestion that with the recent NFL quarterbacks we are at the pinnacle grouping in NFL history. Consider that each of the following players will likely find themselves enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the future: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger. Throw in the fact that Brett Favre and Kurt Warner were also active at the same time and that makes seven sure-fire Hall of Famers active at the same period of time. Now add in the bright future of Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, plus the multiple Super Bowl wins of Eli Manning. That makes for an impressive group.
From looking at the current group one may say well obviously the league got lucky with all of these talented quarterbacks coming along at the same time but how will they ever replace them? With the growth of tempo play and spread offenses, current college quarterbacks just aren’t going to succeed in the NFL. Well let’s take a closer look at that group of NFL quarterbacks destined for the Hall of Fame.
Last year’s Super Bowl winner, and four-time champion, Tom Brady was a seventh round pick due to his unassuming physical appearance out of college. Russell Wilson, who has won championship already and faced Brady’s Patriots last year, was a third round pick because of his height. Drew Brees who holds numerous NFL records was picked in the second round because of his lack of height and arm strength and oh yeah played in a spread offense. Aaron Rodgers, who is considered the best at his position currently, lasted until the 24th overall pick because of questions about playing in a quarterback friendly system. Hmm….does that sound familiar when analysts are ripping current college quarterbacks? Even going back further Brett Favre was taken in the 2nd round, Dan Marino lasted until the 27th overall pick over questions about drugs, Joe Montana was taken in the third round, and my favorite Kurt Warner even went undrafted!
Only a handful of quarterbacks ever enter the NFL without questions: Troy Aikman, John Elway, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning are a few. Other than those few once in a generation players a quarterback will likely have concerns about their success just as any other player at any other position will have. Each year the analysts will talk about busts, often times in regards to the quarterback position. But as noted earlier by the abundance of draft picks used on the position it is not only important to find a quality quarterback but hard to do so. Despite what analysts want you to think, not every NFL team will find a quality quarterback. It is hard to find. But do you know what? There always seems to be an appropriate amount of top-tier quarterbacks to carry the league.
I already mentioned that there are seven sure-fire Hall of Famers at quarterback playing in the league right now. I wanted to compare today’s crop of Hall of Fame bound quarterbacks against the past, do you know what I found out? After breaking it down by decade and looking at how many Hall of Fame quarterbacks were active at the same time…it averages out to 8.4 per decade with the high being 11 in the 1960-69 decade and a low of seven in both the 1970-79 and 1990-99 decades. It varies very little. That means there will likely never be a time when 20 teams have future Hall of Fame quarterbacks playing but it also means that there will never be a shortage of top quality quarterbacks.
Everyone wants a Hall of Fame quarterback but not everyone gets one. Which also leads right into my believe that just because you need a quarterback and are picking early it doesn’t mean you should waste a pick on one if you don’t feel they are a true quality player (Ahem…Browns). Sure some may develop into that, sometimes a draft such as the 2004 or 1983 draft happens when multiple top-tier quarterbacks are available but a top-tier quarterback is not always available in each draft.
I don’t know who the next great group of quarterbacks will be. Could it be Michigan State’s Connor Cook (who has the size), Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg (who seems built by a video game), USC’s Cody Kessler (a record setter with hopes of Trojan faithful on his shoulders), the oft-traveled Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel, or maybe one of two Ohio State signal callers Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett? Yes the spread offense has grown in college but it is also growing in the NFL. A spread quarterback coming out of college will need to learn to read defenses, but that is the same as any rookie quarterback. So don’t let the analysts scare you into thinking this is the end of great quarterback play. Just as the quarterback position looks different today as it did compared to 30 years ago, so will today’s quarterback look different from the one 30 years from now.