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The Chiefs and Drafting Quarterbacks

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When I first began thinking about writing this article I had to wrap my mind around the hours of research I would have to endure to give it justice. As the title suggests, we're here to talk about the utter ineptitude of the Chiefs organization over the course of history when it comes to drafting and developing a quarterback. With the NFL draft last month and it being June, I felt this was as good a time as ever for this.

We'll start with a question. If I were to ask for the top five QB careers in Kansas City, you may answer with something like the following:

  1. Len Dawson
  2. Joe Montana
  3. Trent Green
  4. Bill Kenney
  5. Alex Smith
Notice anything about the players on this list? Each of them was drafted by another team and was eventually acquired by the Chiefs.

What if I were to ask you who was the best quarterback the Chiefs ever drafted? If you're under the age of 50 it might be hard but the answer is Mike Livingston. He was drafted in the second round of the 1968 draft by the Chiefs and spent the majority of his career backing up Len Dawson. His best seasons were from 1976 to 1978 - after Len Dawson retired. Livingston started 75 career games for the Chiefs, threw for 11,295 yards, and 56 touchdowns.

The best QB the Chiefs have ever drafted has career ranks of:

Games Started Wins Yds TDs
127th 206th 164th 186th

Not pretty. To make matters worse, Pro Football Reference suggests that Mike Livingston is similar to the following players: Kyle Boller, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jeff Hostetler.

The best QB the Chiefs have ever drafted is comparable to Kyle Boller. It's almost inconceivable!

Mike Livingston won 31 games while starting for the Chiefs. For a fun reference - once you were born, you were roughly four times more likely to win 32 games in the NFL than you were to be killed by a shark.

But we're just getting started here. So sit tight, put your seat belts on, and remember the puke baggies are in the seat in front of you.

The Chiefs Don't Draft QBs in the First Round (hardly ever)

We hear this over and over again. The Chiefs never draft quarterbacks in the first round. This is not an exaggerated claim. It is factually true if you began following the Chiefs after 1983. Going back a little further, since the merger of 1970 the Chiefs have only drafted two quarterbacks in the first round.

One such QB was Steve Fuller. Fuller was drafted in 1979, played four seasons for the Chiefs and started 31 games. The other QB is the much maligned Todd Blackledge who was drafted in 1983. Blackledge played five seasons with the Chiefs and started 24 games. The Chiefs have not drafted a first round QB since the failure of Todd Blackledge.

For those who need a history lesson, the draft of 1983 was arguably the greatest QB draft class in the history of the NFL. Here is a listing of the QBs who were drafted in the first round in 1983.

Player Overall
John Elway (barf) 1st
Todd Blackledge 7th
Jim Kelly 14th
Tony Eason 15th
Ken O'Brien 24th
Dan Marino 27th

There are three Hall of Fame quarterbacks on this list, two of which were picked after Blackledge. Although Ken O'Brien and Tony Eason aren't household names they were decent quarterbacks in their own right. Eason eventually led the Patriots to a Super Bowl loss in the 1985 season, and Ken O'Brien had a strong career with the Jets.

The Chiefs picked the one dud out of possibly the greatest QB draft class in history. Coming out of college Blackledge looked like an excellent prospect but the Chiefs and Blackledge had horrible luck.

Does the claim hold true? The Chiefs don't draft quarterbacks in the first round. The Chiefs have drafted a quarterback in the first round once every 23.5 years since 1970. The league average for first round quarterbacks is roughly 17.5 years.  So yes, the Chiefs draft first round quarterbacks at a rate of roughly six years less often than the average NFL team.

Below is a table that lists out the average amount of years a team waits before drafting a first round quarterback since the merger in 1970.

The Chiefs have drafted a first round quarterback once every 23.5 years since 1970. This is the third lowest clip in the entire NFL since 1970. Let's look at the silver lining, some teams in the NFL have drafted quarterbacks in the first round less frequently than the Chiefs have. The Saints and Cowboys have each drafted only one first round QB since 1970. It helps in the Cowboy's case when that one QB was Troy Aikman.

The Browns are continual first round QB drafters. They have selected a QB in the first round once every 4.25 years.

Note: The Browns franchise started in 1999. For this article I combined the Ravens stats with the pre-1995 Browns stats.

So, Like, Does Drafting a First Round QB Frequently Even Help Teams Win?

One continuous saying I have heard while talking about the Chiefs has been something along the lines of:

We have to draft a quarterback in the first round to be successful and build a dynasty. We can't win games by continuously taking other team's sloppy seconds.

To see whether this claim is true or not we'll use two stats. The first stat is shown above - average time it takes for teams to draft a quarterback. The second stat is shown below - average wins per year for NFL teams.

As you can see the Steelers lead the way in wins since 1970, the Browns are abysmal, and the Chiefs are roughly in the middle of the pack.

Now let's go into nerd mode and calculate a correlation coefficient between franchise wins and first round QBs drafted. A correlation coefficient basically finds whether or not one set of data effects another set of data in a positive or negative manner. So we're looking to see if drafting a first round quarterback frequently affects the team's win column in a positive or negative manner.

Findings: Teams who draft quarterbacks more frequently are slightly less likely to win regular season games

Drafting first round quarterbacks frequently will not necessarily help your team be successful. In fact the opposite is slightly true.

And the cherry on top...

If you weren't discouraged by the fact the Chiefs have drafted only two first round quarterbacks since 1970, here is another happy little piece of information.

Percentage of Regular Season Games Started By Teams First Round Drafted QB
Rank Team Percentage
1 MIA 58.61%
2 NYJ 53.06%
3 ATL 52.92%
4 PIT 51.25%
5 TEN 44.44%
6 IND 44.17%
7 BAL 42.36%
8 CLE 36.40%
9 TB 35.85%
10 CAR 35.42%
11 MIN 35.14%
12 DET 34.31%
13 HOU 33.48%
14 NWE 32.36%
15 JAX 29.76%
16 BUF 29.03%
17 DAL 26.94%
18 CHI 23.89%
19 NYG 22.08%
20 PHI 20.56%
21 CIN 19.86%
22 WAS 19.17%
23 GB 18.33%
24 SF 18.33%
25 NOR 17.50%
26 STL 12.50%
27 OAK 11.53%
28 SEA 8.81%
29 DEN 7.64%
30 KAN 7.64%
31 ARI 2.92%
32 SD 2.78%

The Chiefs have started 7.64% of their regular season games since 1970 with a quarterback they drafted in the first round. This is good for 30th in the NFL.

Looking at the Chargers, we have to remember that Dan Fouts was a third round quarterback and Philip Rivers was originally drafted by the New York Giants and then traded to the Chargers.

Seeing the Dolphins and Steelers at the top of this list naturally formed this next question.

Does Consistently Starting a First Round Quarterback Give Teams Better Chances for Regular Season Success?

When I ran the correlation coefficient for this data, I was actually quite shocked. The answer is a resounding NO! Just because a team drafts a first round quarterback and starts them numerous games does NOT mean the team will be successful. It also did not mean the team would be bad either. In fact drafting a QB in the first round and starting them consistently does not sway a teams chances for regular season success either way.

Finding: Drafting and consistently starting a first round quarterback is in no way shape or form a prerequisite for success in the regular season.


Playoffs? You Wanna Talk About Playoffs?

Glad you asked.  Another common comment seen regarding the Chiefs and drafting a first round quarterback goes something along the lines of:

The Chiefs will never make it over the hump and win the Super Bowl or go deep in the playoffs if they do not draft a first round quarterback.

To analyze this I decided to use two statistics -- average time period for first round quarterback drafted as well as average amount of playoff wins for each team (seen below.)

Sadly the Chiefs are the third worst team at winning playoff games with an average of 0.09 playoff games won per year. The Steelers are the first ranked team, wining 0.74 playoff games per year.

Using the correlation coefficient again we can conclude the following...

Findings: Drafting a first round QB more frequently slightly lowers a teams chances of winning playoff games.

For the most part the Chiefs have done the right thing with the number of first round quarterbacks they have selected over the course of time. They just failed miserably on both of their selections while other teams did not.

But there's more to it, right?

Exactly. Finding that teams who draft first round quarterbacks more frequently are less successful could be caused by the following:

  • The team from management down is terrible and is constantly in a position to take a QB very early, but does nothing to make the rest of the team better.
  • The team could have had really bad luck with the first round quarterbacks they did draft.
  • Injuries are always a wild card.
However, it would make sense for GMs in the NFL to build their entire team before drafting a first round QB over and over and over again.

What About Quarterbacks Drafted In Later Rounds? How Have the Chiefs Fared There?

I'm sure everyone is aware, but there is more than one round in the NFL Draft. What happens if we look at the totality of all the rounds for quarterbacks being drafted?

We'll start with a few seemingly very embarrassing statistics regarding the Chiefs and drafting quarterbacks.

  • In the 720 regular season games since 1970, the Chiefs have started a QB they drafted in 135 of those games.
  • The Chiefs have started their own QB in 19% of their regular season games. The average for the rest of the NFL is 52%.
  • Since 1970 the Chiefs have NOT drafted a single QB who has been a consistent starter for their team for three years or more. They are the only team in the entire NFL to accomplish this feat.
  • Of the teams in existence since 1970, the Chiefs are one in three teams who have not made a Super Bowl appearance with a quarterback they drafted. The Lions and the Jets are the only other two teams. (Remember Namath won his Super Bowl in 1969 before the merger.)
Remember those puke baggies in the seat in front of you? If you filled those, please wait for the flight attendant to come by and pick them up.

But Do Any of These Embarrassing Numbers Really Matter?

For starters we'll display a table that shows the percentage of games each team started a quarterback they drafted.

Percentage of Games Started By All Drafted QBs
Rank Team
1 NWE 0.89
2 PIT 0.86
3 IND 0.74
4 MIA 0.73
5 CIN 0.72
6 BUF 0.71
7 NYJ 0.71
8 MIN 0.68
9 DAL 0.66
10 TB 0.64
11 DET 0.60
12 ATL 0.57
13 TEN 0.54
14 JAX 0.54
15 SF 0.53
16 CLE 0.53
17 SD 0.51
18 BAL 0.51
19 CHI 0.50
20 CAR 0.45
21 PHI 0.44
22 GB 0.43
23 WAS 0.42
24 HOU 0.38
25 ARI 0.37
26 STL 0.35
27 NYG 0.35
28 OAK 0.33
29 NOR 0.27
30 SEA 0.22
31 KAN 0.19
32 DEN 0.18

Using the correlation coefficient again, I came to the following conclusions:

Finding 1: Teams which start their own drafted QBs more frequently are very slightly more likely to win regular season games

Finding 2: Teams which start their own drafted QBs more frequently are slightly more likely to win playoff games

While it helps a little for a team to start quarterbacks in which they drafted, the correlation is not extremely strong. It is certainly not strong enough to suggest drafting and starting a QB over choosing a free agent quarterback would have a highly significant impact.

Some Closing Thoughts

Drafting a quarterback in the first round, or other rounds doesn't specifically mean the Chiefs will be in a better situation going forward. At this point it would appear to nearly be a coin flip.

Even though the Chiefs have been horrendous at drafting QBs, the numbers don't suggest it is as horrendous as it may appear in terms of the team's success given the history of the NFL.

There will be a second part to this article, in which we talk about Superbowl QBs.  This post had an error in calculations for Superbowl players, and I'll right the ship in the next article.