With all the talk surrounding the Miami Dolphins and whether they should tank for a quarterback or not, I decided to do a little research to see if intentionally tanking for a quarterback would be worth it. In order to do so, I separated quarterbacks taken in the top 5 of their respective drafts from quarterbacks taken with picks 6-32 in the first round. The thinking here is if you want a chance at an elite quarterback prospect, you most likely have to have a top 5 draft pick and tanking is the most surefire way of obtaining one. I didn’t consider any quarterbacks taken outside of the first round in my analysis because theoretically, every team in the NFL had the opportunity to draft that player, so tanking for draft position would be irrelevant for anyone drafted outside of the first round. In order to keep things relevant to the players currently in the league, I went as far back as the 2004 quarterback heavy draft, which produced the likes of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger. The breakdown was 20 quarterbacks taken in the top 5 and 24 taken between picks 6 and 32. From there, I broke down the win/loss record of both groups for the regular season and the playoffs. While my analysis does not take individual stats into account, wins and losses are generally a fairly good indicator of the effectiveness of a team’s quarterback play.
When comparing the two groups, the overall winning percentage in the regular season is almost identical. The top 5 picks compiled a record of 889-823-3 (51.92%), while the quarterbacks taken later in the first round compiled a record of 662-612-3 (51.96%). This stat may be a little misleading, however. While the winning percentages as a group may be similar, taking a deeper dive into the numbers is fairly telling. Out of the 20 quarterbacks taken in the top 5, 11 (55%) of them have a winning record. Out of the 24 quarterbacks taken between 6-32, only 8 (33.33%) have produced a winning record. Roethlisberger (144-69-1), Aaron Rodgers (100-57-1), and Joe Flacco (106-72) alone account for over half of their group’s win total and boast a winning percentage of (63.82%). Remove even one of these quarterbacks from this group and the results look much different.
While having a good record in the regular season is important, success hinges on getting to the playoffs and ultimately, winning the Super Bowl. As it turns out, both groups have the exact same number of playoff wins, at 35, but the actual winning percentage is fairly different between the two groups. Top 5 picks have posted a playoff record of 35-41 (46.05%), whereas picks 6-32 have posted a playoff record of 35-26 (57.38%). Much like with the regular season record, this stat is misleading as well. For top 5 picks, 14 out of 20 (70%) players have started at least one playoff game in their respective careers. On the other hand, only 9 out of the 24 (37.5%) players taken between 6-32 have started a playoff game. Like the regular season, Roethlisberger (13-8), Rodgers (9-7), and Flacco (10-5) do most of the heavy lifting for their respective group. Without these three, their group has a grand total of three playoff wins between them. Trips to the Super Bowl are oddly similar between these two groups as well, although the later picks have had far greater success in the big game. Top 5 picks have started in the Super Bowl five times, with two wins, while picks 6-32 have also started in the Super Bowl five times, although they won the Lombardi Trophy on four of those occasions.
So, what does this all mean? Well, much like your financial advisor will tell you when recommending a new portfolio, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” What it does do, however, is provide some insight as to how successful NFL front offices have been in evaluating the quarterback position. What this analysis shows is that teams don’t necessarily need a top 5 pick in order to find a franchise quarterback, although having one significantly increases your chances. Just how significant depends on which metric you use to determine success. If regular season success is your metric, then the likelihood of drafting a quarterback that will deliver a winning record drops by more than 20% once you are drafting outside of the top 5. If reaching the playoffs is your metric, then the likelihood of drafting a quarterback that will take you to the playoffs drops by more than 30% once outside of the top 5. As a Miami Dolphins fan, are you comfortable giving Chris Grier and Co. a 20%+ benefit of the doubt?