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Smith throws a pass in between checking twitter.

Smith throws a pass in between refreshing Twitter.

As Jason Lisk has pointed out, quarterbacks drafted first overall tend to be much more successful than other quarterbacks, even those drafted just a few picks later. If a quarterback is an elite prospect — think John Elway or Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck (the Colts got three of those for one Jeff George) — he’ll go first overall, while lesser-skilled quarterbacks might get “overdrafted” because of the position they play. There are counter-examples, of course — think Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008 — but I agree with Jason on the general theory.

One could argue that if you group together all quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds (after removing the top five or ten picks), you won’t find any significant relationship between draft slot and performance. That’s not where this post is going, though. Instead I’ll take a narrower view and note that Geno Smith became the 44th quarterback drafted in the second half of the first round or the first half of the second round since 1978. Those cut-offs should give us a good look at quarterbacks ignored by teams picking in the top half of the first round but quarterbacks who were otherwise good enough to be drafted relatively early. This analysis generally applies to EJ Manuel, too, although he technically misses the cut-off as the 16th pick of the first round. Once we leave out the quarterbacks drafted since 2009 — Brandon Weeden, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Josh Freeman, and Pat White — we’re left with 36 quarterbacks.

The table below shows each of those quarterbacks, along with the year they were drafted, the round, the overall pick, and the team that selected them. How did they turn out? I’ve included their number of seasons starting, number of games and games started, career passing yards and passing touchdowns, and also their number of Super Bowl wins, Super Bowl appearances, and Pro Bowls. The final row shows the median for each category (and for the last three columns, the average). Obviously this will shortchange some of the active quarterbacks, but you get the general idea.

QuarterbackYearRdPkTeamSea StGGSPass YardsPass TDsSB WinSB AppPB
Brett Favre1991233ATL19302298718385081211
Dan Marino1983127MIA1624224061361420019
Boomer Esiason1984238CIN1218717337920247014
Drew Brees2001232SDG1117016945919324117
Jim Harbaugh1987126CHI1017714026288129001
Jake Plummer1997242ARI1014313629253161001
Randall Cunningham1985237PHI716113529979207004
Ken O'Brien1983124NYJ712911025094128002
Neil Lomax1981233STL710810122771136002
Chad Pennington2000118NYJ5898117823102000
Doug Williams1978117TAM6888116998100110
Joe Flacco2008118BAL5808017633102110
Aaron Rodgers2005124GNB5857821661171113
Tony Banks1996242STL597781531577000
Jason Campbell2005125WAS477711468276000
Marc Wilson1980115OAK5126601439186000
Tony Eason1983115NWE395561215865010
Mark Malone1980128PIT573531017560000
Rex Grossman2003122CHI354471023256010
Kyle Boller2003119BAL46747893148000
Steve Fuller1979123KAN29042715628000
Tommy Maddox1992125DEN29336808748000
J.P. Losman2004122BUF14533627133000
Patrick Ramsey2002132WAS13824593035000
Kevin Kolb2007236PHI13421520628000
Todd Collins1995245BUF15121454722000
Brady Quinn2007122CLE12420304312000
Browning Nagle1991234NYJ1241424898000
Todd Marinovich1991124RAI08813458000
John Beck2007240MIA09714173000
Dan McGwire1991116SEA01357452000
Drew Stanton2007243DET013411585000
Jim Druckenmiller1997126SFO0612391000
Matt Blundin1992240KAN030150000
Mike Elkins1989232KAN01050000
Gene Bradley1980237BUF00000000

What should the expectation be for Smith? Eighteen of the quarterbacks did not even start 48 games, so it would be unwise to “expect” that Smith will be the quarterback of the future. It’s up to the coaches as to whether he should start in 2013: I generally think players get better when they receive more reps, but many scouts think Smith is a raw prospect. If he’s going to be overwhelmed by Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast system, it won’t benefit anyone to insert him into a mediocre lineup when he doesn’t fully understand the playbook.

When you look at the recent rookie quarterbacks to succeed, none of them played in a traditional West Coast offense. Robert Griffin III played under a WCO coach in Mike Shanahan, but the Redskins tailored the playbook to RG3 instead of asking him to learn their scheme. Russell Wilson‘s offensive coordinator is Darrell Bevell, who also has WCO roots (he coached under Mike Sherman in Green Bay and Brad Childress in Minnesota) and uses West Coast terminology, but the read-option elements and a punishing ground game made life easier for Wilson. None of Andrew Luck (Bruce Arians hates the West Coast offense), Cam Newton (Rob Chudzinski), Matt Ryan (Mike Mularkey), Joe Flacco (Cam Cameron), and Ben Roethlisberger (Ken Whisenhunt) played in a West Coast offense as rookies, either.

Traditionally, the school of thought was that learning the West Coast offense (especially the terminology) takes awhile, and that goes double for rookies. Aaron Rodgers sat on the bench behind Brett Favre, so he never had to struggle as a rookie. We do have one really useful example of how a rookie quarterback might take to Mornhinweg’s offense: Nick Foles started the last six games of 2012 for the Eagles with mediocre results. By that point in the season, Philadelphia’s offense had been decimated by injuries, but a 1-5 record and a 5.5 NY/A average isn’t inspiring no matter the caveats.

Perhaps the more relevant comparison will be to Jimmy Clausen, although not in the way you might think. Regardless of how Smith performs, his low salary makes it easy for the Jets to draft a quarterback in the first round next season. After a terrible rookie year, the Panthers earned the first pick in the draft, and selected Newton. Even if Smith doesn’t take a snap next year, his selection shouldn’t prevent the Jets from selecting Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Johnny Manziel, David Fales, Aaron Murray, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, or any other college quarterback who earns a high first round grade for the 2014 draft. The issue for the Jets will be balancing the need to find out what they have in Smith with throwing a raw player into the fire too early.

  • Bob

    Nice work as usual, Chase.

    Meanwhile, the Rams are hamstrung by Sam Bradford’s contract and effectively must end up continuing to bet on him to the exclusive of other highly-drafted prospects. At least he has a better supporting cast (on paper) heading in to 2013…

  • Richie

    I vote for Brett Hundley to stay in school through his senior year.