NFL Draft: Where Do The Starting QBs Come From?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor looks on during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Hype is part of draft season. Every year, hopeful fans clamor for their team to fill its most glaring needs with "can't miss" players. The media fuels the fire by making bombastic pronouncements about the most high profile prospects. The combination leads to incredible hype around athletes who've never played a single snap in the NFL.

But not all hype is created equal. One position inevitably dominates the national headlines: Quarterback. Dissatisfied fans and media alike clamor for their team to trade up for that year's stud QBs. This year's buzz is all about trading up to the No. 2 slot to pick RGIII.

Lost in all the excitement is a breakdown of where starting QBs were actually drafted. This article provides that breakdown by examining the draft position of starting QBs for the 2011 season as well as the most successful QBs over the last few years.

The List of Starters

Team QB
Arizona Kevin Kolb
Atlanta Matt Ryan
Baltimore Joe Flacco
Buffalo Ryan Fitzpatrick
Carolina Cam Newton
Chicago Jay Cutler
Cincinnati Andy Dalton
Cleveland Colt McCoy
Dallas Tony Romo
Denver Tim Tebow
Detroit Matthew Stafford
Green Bay Aaron Rodgers
Houston Matt Schaub
Indianapolis Peyton Manning
Jacksonville Blaine Gabbert
Kansas City Matt Cassel
Miami Chad Henne
Minnesota Christian Ponder
New England Tom Brady
New Orleans Drew Brees
NY Giants Eli Manning
NY Jets Mark Sanchez
Oakland Carson Palmer
Philadelphia Michael Vick
Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger
San Diego Philip Rivers
San Francisco Alex Smith
Seattle Tarvaris Jackson
St. Louis Sam Bradford
Tampa Bay Josh Freeman
Washington Rex Grossman
Tennessee Matt Hasselbeck

A few clarifications before we dive in:

  • Though Locker is clearly the future, Hasselbeck was the starter so I included him.
  • I went with Grossman over Beck for the same reason. Shanahan may have wanted Beck to start, but Beck wasn't able to hold onto the job.
  • I ignored injuries, meaning Cassel was KC's starter, Henne was Miami's starter, Cutler was Chicago's starter, Kolb was Arizona's starter, Schaub was Houston's starter and Manning was Indy's starter.
  • Romo was an undrafted free agent (UDFA), so to include him in calculations, I assigned him to round number 8 and overall pick number 263 (there were 7 rounds and 262 picks in his draft year of 2003).

Distribution by Draft Round

The chart below shows the distribution of the starting QBs across the draft:

Qb_2520draft_2520distribution_2520by_2520round_medium

As expected, starting QBs are primarily drawn from the early rounds. Just 12 of the starters were found outside of the first round and a staggering 84% were picked in the first three rounds. The remaining five starters are almost assuredly teams getting lucky; for example, the Patriots didn't expect Tom Brady to become a future Hall of Famer when they took him with a compensatory pick in round 6. There was a lot of buzz around Romo as a UDFA, but Dallas probably expected him to be no better than a solid backup when they signed him. The void in rounds 4 and 5 is random for the same reason; lucky picks could just as well have happened in those rounds.

Pick Statistics

A quick statistics review: given a list of numbers, the mean is the average, the mode is the number that appears the most, and the median is the middle number if we sort the list. For example, if the list of draft rounds we're considering is {1, 1, 2, 4, 7}, the mean round would be (1 + 1 + 2 + 4 + 7) / 5 = 3, the mode round would be 1 and the median round would be 2.

There's a significant difference between the top of the first round and the bottom, in terms of dollar cost and trade cost. With this in mind, we can calculate some statistics to get a more precise picture of where exactly in the draft the starting QBs came from.

Draft Position Statistics

Mean Pick

53.1

Median Pick

17.5

Mode Pick

1

Mode Pick Count

8

Mean Round

2.2

Median Round

1.0

Mode Round

1

Mode Round Count

20


The mean lands in the middle of the second round, but it's distorted by the four 6/7 round picks (Brady, Cassel, Hasselbeck, Fitzpatrick). The median is more informative. Based on the median, we can see that half the starting QBs come from the top half of the first round. The mode just confirms the common belief that QBs are often chosen in the first round and with the #1 pick.

The Best QBs

We can also cherry-pick the best 8 QBs and look at where they were picked. To identify these players, I ranked all QBs by passer rating for the last three seasons:

Team

QB

Draft Year

Draft Round

Round Pick #

Overall Pick #

Dallas

Tony Romo

2003

UDFA

--

--

Green Bay

Aaron Rodgers

2005

1

24

24

Houston

Matt Schaub

2004

3

26

90

Indianapolis

Peyton Manning

1998

1

1

1

New England

Tom Brady

2000

6

32

199

New Orleans

Drew Brees

2001

2

1

32

Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger

2004

1

11

11

San Diego

Philip Rivers

2004

1

4

4


This list gives us the following numbers:

Top QB Draft Position Statistics

Mean Pick

78.0

Median Pick

28.0

Mode Pick

--

Mean Round

2.9

Median Round

1.5

Mode Round

1

Mode Round Count

4


The top QB list is somewhat different from the list of all starters. Half of the picks come from outside the first round compared to only 37% for the entire league's starting QBs. The mean and median indicate that top QBs are found in the bottom of the first and middle of the second.

What these Numbers Mean for the Chiefs

The main conclusion we can draw from this data is that any team looking for a new starting QB should look to the first two rounds. This result is likely the result of two effects:

  1. Teams target QBs in higher rounds because of the relative value other teams place on them. General Managers believe that if they don't pick a QB they favor in an early round, another team likely will. It's the same effect we see for kickers lasting into later rounds.
  2. First and second round picks are generally considered starters. So if a team drafts a QB in round 1 or 2, they'll likely start them regardless of how good they are.

It's tempting to say that there's a higher probability of success when drafting a QB in the first three rounds, but we don't actually know that with just this data. We have to look at all QBs drafted in each round and identify the ones that failed to know for sure (which I might do in a future article).

The most encouraging thing about this list is that the median pick for the top 8 QBs is 11 picks lower than for all starting QBs. It should give hope to Chiefs fans who know the team isn't in a good position to get a top QB this year (Luck and Griffin) and is unlikely to move into that position. We can still find a starter (perhaps even a very good one) with a mid-first to second round pick (Ryan Tannehill or Nick Foles).

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