By Jeff Hunter
Cold, Hard Football Facts stat hunter-gatherer
Training camps are only a month away, and we have yet to see any of the first-round quarterbacks sign with their teams.
Four quarterbacks went in the first 32 picks, including the first two of the draft (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, pictured
). As the hype machines for these players keep spinning, one has to wonder how much of an impact first-round quarterbacks have on their team.
Do quarterbacks picked early really make that much of a difference on the success of their team?
Historically speaking, yes, first-round QBs are incredibly valuable when it comes to team success. They have accounted for more than half of all Super Bowl starts since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970.
Forty different quarterbacks who were drafted since the merger have started a Super Bowl, and they have combined to do so 67 times. Twenty of those quarterbacks, a clean half, were first-round picks. Thirteen of them were top-10 picks, and seven of those were drafted first overall.
Here's a quick look at how draft positions relate to Super Bowl appearances:
– 7 QBs combined for 19 starts
– 13 QBs, 25 starts
– 20 QBs, 36 starts
– 4 QBs, 5 starts
– 5 QBs, 8 starts
– 3 QBs, 4 starts
– 4 QBs, 8 starts
7th Rd or later
– 2 QBs, 2 starts
– 2 QBs, 4 starts
The average draft position for these quarterbacks is 55.5, placing them near the end of the second round.
The weighted average draft position (accounting for multiple Super Bowl starts) is 83.7, which would be near the end of the third round – consider that the Tom Brady/Kurt Warner (pictured
) factor, the sixth-round pick and undrafted free agent who have accounted for eight of the 14 starts by post-merger QBs drafted in the sixth round or later.
Looking at those numbers, it's easy to see why such an onus is placed on quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall. They account for more than one quarter of all Super Bowl starters since the merger (28.3%) and include some of the greatest names in Super Bowl history: Terry Bradshaw (4 starts, 4 wins), Troy Aikman (3/3), John Elway (5/2), Jim Plunkett (2/2), Eli Manning (2/2), Peyton Manning (2/1), Drew Bledsoe (1/0).
First-round quarterbacks, meanwhile, have made over half (53.7%) of all starts in the big game.
Obviously, not every first-round quarterback has gone on to greatness, but most of the teams that do make it to the final game do so with a top pick running their offenses.
It's interesting to see that, outside of the first round, the appearances are spread out rather evenly.
Sixth-round picks are just as likely to make it to the Super Bowl as second-round picks, and third rounders are even a step ahead.
Third- and sixth-round picks do boast more starts than second- and fourth-round, picks largely due to the influence of Joe Montana (third round) and Brady, respectively.
Undrafted free agents have also made four starts, three by Warner and the other by Jake Delhomme, all of which have come since the 1999 season.
No fifth-round or seventh-round QB has started a Super Bowl, yet an eighth rounder (David Woodley, 214th overall in 1980) and a ninth rounder (Brad Johnson, 227th overall in 1992) have done so.
In recent drafts, the greatest success has come from the top. The most recent draft to produce a Super Bowl starter from outside the first round was 2001, when Drew Brees was drafted at the top of the second round, 32nd overall.
If one wishes to discount that pick, since 32nd overall would be a first rounder in today's NFL, they could go back one year earlier to find Tom Brady in the sixth round.
In fact, Brady is one of just two quarterbacks in the last 20 drafts
who was selected outside of the top 32 and started a Super Bowl. The other was Matt Hasslebeck, a sixth rounder in 1998.
So, what have we learned? While there are many, many factors that go into a football team's success, fielding a quarterback who was picked near the top of the class is typically a common thread between the best of the best.
A highly drafted quarterback is not an absolute necessity. But the reality is that players like Brady and Warner are rare anomalies and that a significant portion of the quarterbacks who have started a Super Bowl were drafted very early.
Teams would be wise to strive for that first-round guy, and when they do get him they should put plenty of resources at his disposal to develop him.
The process starts by getting that potential Super Bowl quarterback signed to a contract, which the Colts, Redskins, Dolphins and Browns would be wise to do right now.