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Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Updated: May 9, 1:46 PM ET
Draft risk study: Quarterbacks

By Ted Kluck
Special to Page 2

Should the Raiders draft JaMarcus Russell or Calvin Johnson?

Should your team take a chance on Brady Quinn?

Is Joe Thomas a future Pro Bowl left tackle?

Scouts and general managers are paid to evaluate the individual talents of these players, but there is another way to look at risk assessment in a more general sense: Which positions pay the most dividends in the NFL draft?

We studied 15 years of first-round picks -- 1989 through 2003 -- and analyzed the success (or failure) of each player, ultimately determining a "bust percentage" for each position.

Our conclusion: drafting Russell is riskier than drafting Johnson ... and much riskier than drafting potential a stalwart left tackle like Thomas.

Let's start with draft history for the most important position on the field.

By position: QB | RB | WR | O-line | DE | DT | LB | CB | S | Study wrap

Success criteria, first-round quarterbacks

We've set the bar at 80 games played in the league, plus a positive TD/INT ratio. Obviously, a Pro Bowl appearance or Super Bowl win (see Trent Dilfer) will help us overlook transgressions in other areas. And for recently drafted players, we'll use a combination of stats accrued to this point and gut feelings about the player.

(Statistical sources: ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia, pro-football-reference.com, databasefootball.com)

1989
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Cowboys 1 Troy Aikman, UCLA 165 165/141 6 No

Not a bad way to start the study, with a Hall of Famer, a player who, after a rocky start, went on to win three Super Bowls and become the face of the Dallas Cowboys.

1990
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Colts 1 Jeff George, Illinois 136 154/113 0 No
Lions 7 Andre Ware, Houston 14 5/8 0 Yes

Woof. George never performed to the level of a the No. 1 overall pick, either on or off the field, and 1989 Heisman Trophy-winning Ware was perhaps the first "system quarterback" problem, coming out of Houston's run-and-shoot. You can't call George a bust, based on the criteria, but it's tempting.

1991
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Seahawks 16 Dan McGwire, San Diego State 13 2/6 0 Yes
Raiders 24 Todd Marinovich, USC 8 8/9 0 Yes

McGwire was tall and Marinovich could bench press 225 pounds by the time he was in first grade. They played a grand total of 21 games between them.

1992
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Bengals 6 David Klingler, Houston 33 16/21 0 Yes
Broncos 25 Tommy Maddox, UCLA 8 48/54 0 Yes

After putting up astronomical Ware-like numbers in college, University of Houston product Klingler flopped similarly in his stint with the Bengals. Maddox didn't do much with Denver, but resurrected his NFL career after playing in the ill-fated XFL. Why did the Broncos draft Maddox? There was a pretty good quarterback named Elway still in Denver.

1993
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Patriots 1 Drew Bledsoe, Washington State 194 251/206 4 No
Seahawks 2 Rick Mirer, Notre Dame 82 50/76 0 Yes

Mirer was named Rookie of the Year by many publications (2,833 passing yards), but regressed, while Bledsoe went on to enjoy a solid career. Compared to other years though, 1993 was just a very weak draft at almost every position.

1994
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Redskins 3 Heath Shuler, Tennessee 29 15/33 0 Yes
Bucs 6 Trent Dilfer, Fresno State 124 106/117 1 No

Dilfer's name became synonymous with the term "game manager," while Shuler, who had a 2:1 INT/TD ratio, is now a North Carolina congressman. Neither performed up to his college billing, but Dilfer hammered out a respectable career, collecting a Super Bowl ring and a Pro Bowl appearance.

1995
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Oilers 3 Steve McNair, Alcorn State 158 172/114 2 No
Panthers 5 Kerry Collins, Penn State 156 174/172 1 No

McNair was a true franchise quarterback and Collins has been solid throughout most of his career, going to the Pro Bowl in '96 and quarterbacking the Giants to a Super Bowl.

1997
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
49ers 26 Jim Druckenmiller, Virginia Tech 8 1/4 0 Yes

Remember when scouts fell in love with Druckenmiller's size and arm strength before the '97 draft? He played eight NFL games and completed 21 passes in his career.

1998
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Colts 1 Peyton Manning, Tennessee 144 275/139 7 No
Chargers 2 Ryan Leaf, Washington State 26 14/36 0 Yes

This was the arms race to end all arms races, with the debate over Manning versus Leaf providing top-notch water-cooler banter for months. Leaf flamed out hard, and Manning put the finishing touches on his legacy with a Super Bowl ring. Seahawks starter Matt Hasselbeck was a sixth-round pick by Green Bay.

1999
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Browns 1 Tim Couch, Kentucky 62 64/67 0 Yes
Eagles 2 Donovan McNabb, Syracuse 104 152/72 5 No
Bengals 3 Akili Smith, Oregon 21 5/13 0 Yes
Vikings 11 Daunte Culpepper, Central Florida 85 137/89 3 No
Bears 12 Cade McNown, UCLA 25 16/19 0 Yes

The McNabb selection was roundly dissed by Philly faithful, but the player they wanted, Ricky Williams, is currently leading yoga sessions at a strip mall near you. Couch, Smith, and McNown were colossal busts. Though Couch, in his defense, had the added problem of playing on some famously talentless teams during Cleveland's "expansion" years.

2000
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Jets 18 Chad Pennington, Marshall 61 72/46 0 No

The oft-injured Pennington has had a solid career, but the most heralded quarterbacks in this class -- Tom Brady and Marc Bulger -- came out of Round 6.

2001
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Falcons 1 Michael Vick, Virginia Tech 74 71/52 3 No

I might be tempted to call Vick a bust, but doing so might lead me to being duct-taped and thrown into the trunk of Roger Goodell's car. That said, the numbers say he's safe, but it's also safe to say he's been a disappointment for a player with such high expectations. For comparison's sake, Drew Brees went in Round 2, and LaDainian Tomlinson, selected four spots after Vick, is carving out a Hall of Fame career.

2002
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Texans 1 David Carr, Fresno State 76 59/65 0 Yes
Lions 3 Joey Harrington, Oregon 70 72/77 0 Yes
Redskins 32 Patrick Ramsey, Tulane 37 34/29 0 Yes

After interviewing Harrington in Lions camp his rookie year, I predicted he would go to multiple Pro Bowls, and with his easygoing, articulate manner would soon rule the world in a Tom Brady-type way. How very wrong I was. Ramsey just got released by his second team, and Carr has spent most of his career on the ground. This is where it gets dicey though, as the jury is still out on Carr and, to a lesser extent, Harrington. I'll affix the bust label, but with the caveat that it might have as much to do with their horrible teams as with their play.

2003
Team Pick Player, School Games TD/INT Pro Bowls Bust?
Bengals 1 Carson Palmer, USC 46 78/43 2 No
Jaguars 7 Byron Leftwich, Marshall 46 51/36 0 No
Ravens 19 Kyle Boller, California 41 36/34 0 Yes
Bears 22 Rex Grossman, Florida 24 27/26 0 No

Palmer is a star, Grossman is erratic, but a Super Bowl starter, and Leftwich has had his moments in Jacksonville. Boller, though he snuck over the TD/INT metric, looks like a bust, due to the fact that he has been relegated to backup duty.

Crunching the Numbers: First-Round QBs, 1989-2003
Number of QBs drafted: 30

Notable busts: Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich, David Klingler, Akili Smith, Cade McNown

Number of busts: 16

Bust percentage: 53%

Number of QBs with at least one Pro Bowl appearance: 10

Pro Bowl percentage: 33%

Noticeable second-tier (not busts, but not stars): Jeff George, Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins, Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman

For the sake of comparison
Percentage of first-round RB busts: 49%
Percentage of first-round WR busts: 45%

Conclusions
If history tells us anything, either Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell will be an abject failure at the next level. And it seemed like our metrics -- games played and TD/INT ratio -- were pretty accurate. To survive in the league at QB, you must make wise decisions with the football. To thrive, like many of our multiple Pro Bowl QBs, a 2/1 TD/INT ratio is standard.

But thriving is in no way a given, with quarterback grading out as our riskiest offensive skill position. The Lions (Ware, Harrington), Seahawks (McGwire, Mirer) and Bengals (Klingler, Smith) each had two busts in the study cycle, and the Lions, yet again, find themselves in need of a signal-caller. Buyer beware.

Ted Kluck is not a scientist, rather he is the author of three books, including "Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories" (Lyons Press 2006) and a full-fledged draft geek. He recently spent a season playing professional football as a member of the Battle Creek Crunch (GLIFL) where he was, without a doubt, a bust.