Labriola On

Labriola on using No. 1 picks on QBs

Ready or not, here it comes:

When asked about the issue of the amount of time college offensive linemen need to adjust to the NFL, a college coach is said to have responded: "It's not our job to prepare players for the NFL."

Based on recent history, that appears to be especially true for quarterbacks.

The confluence of Ben Roethlisberger's age, contract status, and the Steelers' start to this 2021 regular season has sent fans off on a fantasy tour regarding which quarterbacks might be eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft, and the media is taking advantage of this potential treasure trove of clickbait by doing profiles six months earlier than normal.

All this, of course, can be great fun, or at least an amusing distraction to what has been a wildly disappointing season so far, but all of this should come with a disclaimer to the effect of: "For entertainment purposes only."

That's because since 1969, the Steelers have used the same number of first-round draft choices on quarterbacks as they have hired head coaches, and when it comes to the college quarterbacks who have been first-round picks in recent NFL drafts, there have been many more Tim Couches and David Carrs than there have been Peyton Mannings and Patrick Mahomeses.

Why is that?

This is one of those issues that has no single, definitive answer, because if there was one single, definitive answer NFL teams would have it figured out by now and stopped wasting multi-millions of dollars on guys mistakenly identified as franchise-quarterbacks-in-waiting, to say nothing of the competitive cost to the franchise of wasting a premium draft pick on a guy who couldn't play.

Part of the problem could've been the big contracts lavished on these unproven newbies and how instant wealth and fame can impact someone in his early 20s. Part of the problem could be the way the sport is played at the college level vs. the way it's played at the professional level. Part of the problem could be the increase in the degree of difficulty in deciphering the offensive and defensive schemes at the professional level. Part of the problem could be the significant uptick in the quality of competition, because in the NFL, every player on every team's defense is NFL caliber, while even a great college team might only be able to boast a handful on NFL prospects on its defense.

And part of the problem is impatience. The team is impatient because immediately after the pick the clock begins ticking on what at the longest can be a four-year contract plus an option for a fifth before a determination has to be made and the really big money starts getting handed out. And the fans are impatient because, well, because they're fans.

A recent report on Yahoo! Sports listed a set of four rookie quarterbacks' statistics and asked readers to guess which players authored these statistics:

• QB A) Threw a league-leading 28 interceptions and won just three of the 16 games he started.

• QB B) Started 11 games. Lost 11 games. Threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, and didn't throw for many touchdowns.

• QB C) Didn't complete a single one of the four passes he threw. Well, that's not exactly true: his first pass in the NFL was a pick-six. He also threw another INT. So technically, he did complete half the passes he threw.

• QB D) Started eight games, lost six. Threw 13 interceptions, fumbled the ball 13 times, was sacked 46 times.

The answers were: "A. Peyton Manning, B. Troy Aikman, C. Brett Favre and D. Andrew Walter, who briefly played for the Raiders in the mid-2000s. (Gotcha. Not everyone who has a terrible first season turns into a Hall of Famer.)"

And bringing this back to the Steelers, here's a quick reminder of how Terry Bradshaw's NFL career began after he was the first overall pick of the 1970 NFL Draft:

• As a rookie, he started eight games (3-5 record) and played in 13. He completed 38.1 percent, with six touchdowns, 24 interceptions, and a rating of 31.3.

• In 1972, Bradshaw started all 14 regular season games and posted an 11-3 record, but he completed 47.7 percent, with 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a rating of 64.3.

• In 1974, his fifth NFL season and one that ended with a Super Bowl championship, Bradshaw not only was benched, but he also completed 45.3 percent, with seven touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a rating of 55.1.

• The first season in which Bradshaw finished with more touchdowns than interceptions was in 1975, his sixth year in the NFL, when he threw for 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

• Bradshaw was voted the NFL MVP for a 1978 season in which he completed 56.3 percent, with 28 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, and a rating of 84.8.

• Bradshaw was voted Super Bowl MVP twice – in the Steelers' victories in Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV – and in those games he threw for six touchdowns and committed a combined six turnovers (four interceptions and two lost fumbles).

Clearly, the road isn't even smooth for a quarterback who was the first to win four Super Bowls, who was a slam-dunk first ballot Hall of Fame inductee, and generally is considered the best quarterback in the history of the Steelers franchise.

Now, back to the present.

In the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, five quarterbacks – Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones – were selected in the first round, and all of them were starting before the regular season reached Halloween. To date, those five quarterbacks have combined for a 3-11 record as starters, and one of those wins was inevitable because Wilson's New York Jets played Jones' New England Patriots in Week 2.

Going back to the 1998 NFL Draft, here is a compilation of the quarterbacks picked on the first round, with their overall selection in parenthesis:

1998: Peyton Manning (No. 1 overall), Ryan Leaf (No. 2 overall)

1999: Tim Couch (1), Donovan McNabb (2), Akili Smith (3), Daunte Culpepper (11), Cade McNown (12)

2000: Chad Pennington (18)

2001: Michael Vick (1)

2002: David Carr (1), Patrick Ramsey (32)

2003: Carson Palmer (1), Byron Leftwich (7), Rex Grossman (22)

2004: Eli Manning (1), Philip Rivers (4), Ben Roethlisberger (11), J.P. Losman (22)

2005: Alex Smith (1), Aaron Rodgers (24), Jason Campbell (25)

2006: Vince Young (3), Matt Leinart (10), Jay Cutler (11)

2007: JaMarcus Russell (1), Brady Quinn (22)

2008: Matt Ryan (3), Joe Flacco (18)

2009: Matt Stafford (1), Mark Sanchez (5), Josh Freeman (17)

2010: Sam Bradford (1), Tim Tebow (25)

2011: Cam Newton (1), Jake Locker (8), Blaine Gabbert (10), Christian Ponder (12)

2012: Andrew Luck (1), Robert Griffin III (2), Ryan Tannehill (8), Brandon Weedon (22)

2013: E.J. Manuel (16)

2014: Blake Bortles (3), Johnny Manziel (22), Teddy Bridgewater (32)

2015: Jameis Winston (1), Marcus Mariota (2)

2016: Jared Goff (1), Carson Wentz (2), Paxton Lynch (26)

2017: Mitchell Trubisky (2), Patrick Mahomes (10), Deshaun Watson (12)

2018: Baker Mayfield (1), Sam Darnold (3), Josh Allen (7), Josh Rosen (10), Lamar Jackson (32)

2019: Kyler Murray (1), Daniel Jones (6), Dwayne Haskins (15)

2020: Joe Burrow (1), Tua Tagovailoa (5), Justin Herbert (6), Jordan Love (26)

2021: Trevor Lawrence (1), Zach Wilson (2), Trey Lance (3), Justin Fields (11), Mac Jones (15)

There's the list, and after giving it a good going-over, if I was an NFL owner or general manager, the idea of using a first-round pick on a quarterback would scare me more than excite me.

It's kind of like defusing a bomb: It has to be done, and it's critically important work, but all things considered I'd rather have someone else have to do it.

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