Now that we are in combine/draft season, I have started thinking about the whole process and how difficult it is to draft quality players consistently. No position is more important than quarterback, and yet no position is more difficult to get right. There are teams like the Browns, Bears and Jets who have been searching for franchise QBs for decades to no avail.
There is no one tried and true formula for finding a great quarterback, but there is some data we can look at to try to identify some trends when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. What is the draft profile of a franchise quarterback–where do you usually find them in the draft?
To unearth these trends in the data, I looked at two data sets: one is the 35 best quarterbacks drafted since about 1991, and the other is quarterbacks drafted in rounds 4-7 dating back to 2000. I wanted to see where the best quarterbacks are typically found in the draft, and what the odds of success were on drafting a quarterback in the later rounds.
Let’s look at the top quarterbacks first:
So we’ve got, in my opinion, the 35 best quarterbacks in the NFL since 1991, the year Brett Favre was drafted. You may disagree with some of the names on the list, and I’ll admit there might be some reaches on there, but I was originally going to do 30, then I found a few more names, and then I wanted it to be a nice round number, so I bumped it up to 35.
You might think it’s a little strange that I have Kerry Collins on there, but the guy has made 2 Pro Bowls in his career, quarterbacked a team to the Super Bowl (the Giants in 2000), and has almost 41,000 career passing yards, which is the 20th most ever. I don’t think Collins is elite or anything, but he’s got a legitimate argument to be among the top 35 QBs since 1991.
Also, Justin Fields? I know he’s probably not worthy of being on the list right now but I’m projecting a little bit; I’m assuming he turns into a really good QB based on the potential I’ve seen in him.
What does this data set show us?
Well, of the top 35 QBs since 1991, 10 of them were the first overall picks in the draft.
15 of the 35 were top-5 overall picks, and 22 of the 35 were top-12 overall picks.
So 2/3rds of these guys were drafted in the top-12.
Only 4 of the 35 were drafted in the second round (Brees, Favre, Hurts, Dalton), and a further 4 of them were drafted between rounds 3-6 (Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott and Tom Brady).
None of the guys on the list were drafted in round 7. So basically you have virtually no hope of finding a franchise quarterback in the 7th round. Brock Purdy could be the one to break that trend, but he’s got a long way to go before we can include him on this list.
2 of the 35 were undrafted: Kurt Warner and Tony Romo. Kurt Warner was a highly unique situation, where he went undrafted in 1994 but didn’t actually make his first NFL start until 1998, when he was 27 years old. Romo went undrafted in 2003 and didn’t actually play until 2006. Needless to say it’s highly unlikely you’ll find a franchise quarterback that goes undrafted. In my estimation there have been two in the past 32 years, which breaks down to one every 16 years on average. Those aren’t great odds.
Basically the data shows us that you are highly unlikely to find a franchise-caliber quarterback outside the first 12 picks of the draft, which is pretty wild to think about: of the top 35 quarterbacks since 1991, 22 of them were selected within the first 12 picks of the draft.
Now let’s go over the data from rounds 4-7. What I did was put every quarterback drafted in rounds 4-7 of the draft between the years 2000-2020 into a spreadsheet, and there ended up being 151 names in total on my list. I lowered my bar a little bit here, but the bottom line is that only 6 of the 151 QBs drafted in rounds 4-7 wound up being good NFL quarterbacks.
Those names are: Marc Bulger (round 6, pick 168 in 2000), Tom Brady (round 6, pick 199 in 2000), Ryan Fitzpatrick (round 7, pick 250 in 2005), Kirk Cousins (round 4, pick 102 in 2012), Dak Prescott (round 4, pick 135 in 2016), and Gardner Minshew (round 6, pick 178 in 2019).
Fitzpatrick and Minshew arguably don’t even belong on the list since they’re not franchise QBs, I just felt they were notable enough to at least mention them.
So really it’s 4 out of 151 QBs drafted from rounds 4-7 between 2000-2020 that wound up being franchise-caliber players.
That means you have about a 2.65% chance of finding a franchise quarterback if you’re drafting in rounds 4-7. It’s almost not even worth trying to draft a QB in the later rounds, honestly.
Basically it’s a 97.3% bust rate among quarterbacks drafted in rounds 4-7.
I was listening to a Colin Cowherd podcast recently and he was saying something like, “Teams should just draft quarterbacks in rounds 4-7 every year until they find the right guy.” That’s what kind of spurred me to do this whole post–I wanted to see if there was actually any data to support his claim, and there really isn’t. The odds of you finding the Tom Brady, the Dak Prescott, the Kirk Cousins, the Marc Bulger–it’s not even worth trying, honestly.
The reality is that you’re probably not finding your franchise quarterback outside the top 12 picks of the draft. There’s an okay success rate in the later first round and early second round, but even there you’re highly unlikely to get your guy.