Draft Philosophy: Cowboys Quarterbacks

My goal this weekend was to share some of my guiding principles about the three glamour positions of any NFL offense. Yesterday we discussed running back and earlier today we looked at wide receiver. We now wrap things up with the most important position in all of sports, NFL quarterback.

If you read my WR article then you saw my breakdown of the very high success rate with first and second-round receiver picks since 2010. In that same timespan there have been 16 first-round picks spent at quarterback and seven in the second round. Here’s what those picks have yielded.

  • Franchise QBs: Cam Newton, Andrew Luck
  • Solid Starters: Andy Dalton (2nd), Colin Kaepernick (2nd), Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Derek Carr (2nd)
  • Jury Still Out: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariotta, Brock Osweiler, Johnny Manziel, Jimmy Garoppolo (2nd)
  • Busts: Jimmy Clausen (2nd), Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith

Seven busts out of 16 picks; about a 44% rate of failure. At wide receiver we had just around 13% of the first-round picks ending up as true busts and everyone else either being a league-leading receiver or at least a solid, contributing player.

You could even argue that I’m being generous with some of these. Kaepernick and Griffin are getting some benefit of the doubt here based on their past seasons over recent play, with the expectation that they could do well in new environments. Many would go ahead and label Manziel a bust but I’d also like to see what he does with a better team and better personal habits.

Cowboys Draft - Draft Philosophy: Cowboys Quarterbacks 2Many want for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys to find their next franchise quarterback in this year’s draft. Some want it at the fourth-overall pick in either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. Others want Dallas to take Paxton Lynch in the second round. Some have even suggested taking Lynch in the first, perhaps by trading back into the later part of the round or even still in the top ten after a trade down from number four.

History has proven that you are about 50/50 on getting a viable NFL quarterback with a high pick. For every Peyton Manning there’s a Ryan Leaf; a seemingly inescapable balance between both sides of the spectrum. One year can yield several quality players, such as 2004 with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all in one draft. Two years later, Jamarcus Russell and Brady Quinn were the first-rounders.

Clearly, nothing is guaranteed about drafting quarterbacks. It doesn’t matter how high your pick is or how highly-rated the talent pool is. It’s the ultimate crapshoot for any NFL team, with only your faith in your own scouting process and offensive system to lean on.

“Grooming” Mid-Round Picks

The other idea for Dallas this year is to take a guy in one of the middle rounds, somewhere between the third and fifth, for a few years of grooming behind Tony Romo. On paper this is a sound strategy that seems to fit better with the idea that Romo will still be here for another two or three seasons, if not more. However, history isn’t kind for mid-round quarterbacks.

Let’s sample five years of drafts from 2013 back to 2009 and see what the middle rounds have yielded. This will give us guys who, for the most part, have had three years or more to learn and emerge with their original team or a new one.

3rd Round 4th Round 5th Round
2013 Mike Glennon Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib,
Tyler Wilson, Landry Jones
*No players drafted *
2012 Russell Wilson,
Nick Foles
Kirk Cousins *No players drafted *
2011 Ryan Mallett *No players drafted * Ricky Stanzi, T.J. Yates,
Nathan Enderle
2010 Colt McCoy Mike Kafka John Skelton,
Jonathan Crompton
2009 *No players drafted * Stephen McGee Rhett Bomar, Nate Davis


We’ll be nice and assume Kirk Cousins remains a solid player in Washington after last season. That means just he and Russell Wilson have come out of this pack as quality NFL starters. A few have flashed good things, such as Colt McCoy and Nick Foles, but at best these guys are career backups or starters for bad teams

Of the 11 guys taken from 2009-2011 only McCoy, Ryan Mallett, and Ricky Stanzi are even on NFL rosters right now. The other eight are unsigned and most of them have been out of football for the last few years.

The bottom line here is that the notion of grooming mid-round talent into a future starter seems to be a myth. The key word in that phrase isn’t “grooming” but actually “talent,” and history shows that there isn’t much talent to work with once you get out of the first two rounds.

What Should Dallas Do?

The Cowboys are back to a familiar place, needing to consider the future as an aging star is getting close to the end. Their lack of an exit strategy from the Troy Aikman era was a colossal failure and perhaps the biggest blemish on Jerry Jones’ record as general manager. They don’t want to go back to those days and we certainly don’t want to see it as fans.

Cowboys Draft - Draft Philosophy: Cowboys QuarterbacksRemember, Dallas did once try to draft a starter in second-round pick Quincy Carter. Many would argue that Quincy had the talent but his personal issues wrecked a potentially successful career. At the same time, I think we’d all agree that Carter was never going to be one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks no matter how little weed he smoked. If he ever had won a Super Bowl, he’d have been a Joe Flacco at best.

Dallas also tried the mid-round grooming option before with Stephen McGee. He was on the chart above and was one of those guys who’s been out of the NFL for a few years, having failed both in Dallas and with the Houston Texans.

While the rate of failure is very high for even first-round picks, there’s another consistent trend that has to be considered. Though there are plenty of busts along the way, the truth at quarterback remains the same as any position; the higher your pick tends to yield the best results. And with a rare fourth-overall pick to work with this year, the Cowboys have to strongly consider this opportunity to find their future starter.

If Dallas isn’t sold on Goff, Wentz, Lynch, or any other 2016 prospect then they have the luxury to wait. As was said already, Tony Romo is likely to play at least another two years. Truthfully, if they aren’t sold on any of these rookies then it wouldn’t matter what Romo’s projected future is. You don’t spend high picks on guys you don’t believe in.

Cowboys Draft - How Kaepernick Trade Affects the Cowboys 2But what if they do believe in one of these guys?

Assuming Romo gets back to Pro Bowl form then Dallas won’t expect to be back in the top five or even the top half of a draft. This may be their best shot to find elite talent to eventually take over when Romo’s done. Future winning will limit their opportunities to roll the draft dice with the same chance of success.

If the Cowboys truly believe that Goff or Wentz can be the next name in line from Staubach, Aikman, and Romo then they may just have to make the move. Maybe it’s a year or two earlier than they’d like to make it but this fourth-overall pick, which only came because of a disastrous season with injuries, probably won’t be there for you again.

If they don’t love one of these players, or if the guy they love ends up drafted by Cleveland with the second pick, then Dallas can walk away from this draft without panic or regret. They can wait for the next opportunity to strike and hope that the talent is available when they’re on the clock.

If they do draft Goff, Wentz, Lynch, or someone else with a high pick then at least I’ll know that Jason Garrett and Will McClay both think that kid has “future star” written all over him. Given their track record in the draft so far, I’ll be confident in that.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!


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