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Does Drafting a Quarterback Change a Franchise’s Fortunes?

Does Drafting a Quarterback Change a Franchise’s Fortunes?

By Jamie Kelly

The Big Question

In the Quarterback-driven league that is the NFL, it seems every springtime the question is raised: “Would taking a highly-rated Quarterback in the NFL Draft help my franchise take the next step?” 

Conventional wisdom suggests that the only way to take that next step is to improve at QB, with drafting one being the simplest way of making that happen. It’s also a message of hope told by GMs and Head Coaches to Owners: “now that we have a new, highly touted QB we’re on the right track.” But are teams really on the path to success after selecting a QB? Is it the Franchise shifting move it’s billed and talked-up to be? 

Study Methodology

To investigate these questions, we conducted a new study that would analyze every drafted QB in the first two rounds of the 2000 to 2019 NFL drafts, looking at team performance in the five years before the pick, and the five years after the pick. In addition, we compiled:

  • Team W/L records for the five-year period before the pick and after the pick
  • Five-year W/L% Change between the two periods
  • Games the QB started for the drafting team
  • Playoff/Conference Game/ Super Bowl starts and Super Bowl wins for the drafting team
  • Whether the QB was still the starter in Year 6
  • Whether the team had drafted another QB in the first two rounds in the five years after the original pick (e.g., Cardinals selecting Kyler Murray a year after Josh Rosen)

We sought to aggregate this data into a simple Selection Score that rated every draft pick using these factors. The score rewards five-year W/L change%, so a player like Matt Ryan, who brought consistent winning records to Atlanta, scores well here. It also rewards postseason success, so Ben Roethlisberger with two Super Bowl wins in his first five years also scores well. On the flip side, we wanted to punish a drop in W/L% change and players without many starts for the drafted team or the ‘free riders,’ those that had little to with the team’s success. Brock Osweiler is a solid use case on this point. Although the Broncos did become successful following his selection, that was likely due to the Peyton Manning acquisition rather than Osweiler’s contribution.

The objective of the Selection Score isn’t intended to rate how good the player became, moreover, the objective is to grade how effective the QB selection was in changing the Franchise’s trajectory.

The Selection Score orientates around 0, so we can take away that a pick with a positive score has been a positive influence on the team versus the previous 5 years, and a negative score represents a negative influence. The further from 0 the greater success or setback the pick was.

To create another metric for comparison, we added a Pick Adjusted Selection Score, that considers where the player was drafted. To do this we’ve incorporated the Fitzgerald-Spielberger Draft Pick Value Chart in a way that rewards players selected further down the draft. A No.1 pick gets no boost, but each pick thereafter gets more of a plus to their score in accordance with the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart.

The formulas are calculated as follows:

  • Selection Score – {[(W/L Change%) + (Super Bowl wins x10) + (Super Bowl Starts x5) + (Conference Games x5) + (Playoff Games x2) minus (the number of potentially available starts missed)]}
  • Risk Adjusted Selection Score – {[Selection Score + (30 minus Fitzgerald-Spielberger Chart Value/100)]}

Dataset

The following is the complete findings of the study, ranked by the Pick Adjusted Selection Score. A few notes:

  • Players highlighted in yellow have not yet completed five full NFL seasons, so their results have been scaled to take that into account
  • All playoff/SB data is with the QB selected as the starter. For example, Carson Wentz, while recognized for the increase in W/L%, is not tagged as a SB winner
  • Quarterbacks have been color-coded into six tiers based on their Pick Adjusted Selection Score

Top 3/ Bottom 3/ Outliers

Top 3

  1. Joe Flacco (Ravens) 71.4 — While it would be hard to argue he’s the greatest QB drafted in this 20-year period, by this calculation the Ravens had the largest boost in team performance of any selection. With no starts missed, five consecutive playoff seasons in our surveyed five-year period, and of course the Super Bowl win in 2012, this selection delivered rapid success to the Ravens. When you factor in his selection at 18th overall in 2008, the selection and subsequent performance becomes even more impressive.
  2. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) 60.7 — The day-one starter in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger hit the ground running with two Super Bowl wins within five years.
  3. Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) 54.0 — If he’d started in year one and had the same on-field success as he had in the subsequent four years making the conference game every time, Mahomes likely would have been No.1 on the list. Mahomes has transformed an already competent Chiefs organization into a potential dynasty.

Bottom 3

  1. Jake Locker (Titans) -69.0 — Following this selection, the Titans W/L% nosedived by 23% in the five years following this pick compared to the five years prior. With only 23 starts to his name, Locker was ultimately replaced in 2015 by Marcus Mariota.
  2. Christian Hackenberg (Jets) -96.3 — Zero starts paired with a 14% W/L% decrease does not make for a successful selection.
  3. Paxton Lynch (Broncos) -108.5 — While Lynch had the unenviable task of following on from the Peyton Manning years, only four starts and a colossal 33 W/L% drop ensure Lynch has the lowest selection score in this study.

Outliers

  • Deshaun Watson (Texans) -19.0 — Missing the 2021 season due to the ongoing civil suits certainly didn’t help the grade, nor does the off-trend 4-12 season in 2020. Removing these two issues, Watson would have very likely had a positive selection grade.
  • Aaron Rodgers (Packers) -43.6 — The biggest anomaly in this study is of course Aaron Rodgers. The two-time MVP really fell victim to the study constructs that defined a five-year period. Given he didn’t play at all in the first three years, and his Super Bowl and wider postseason success began in Year 6, the formula wasn’t able to capture the success that ultimately came Rodgers’ way.

Key Study Findings

Here are some of the key findings to come from the study:

  • 29% of Drafted QBs finished with a positive pick-adjusted selection score
  • 32% of Drafted 1st Round QBs finished with a positive pick-adjusted selection score
  • 19% of Drafted 2nd Round QBs finished with a positive pick-adjusted selection score
  • 5.19% of Drafted QBs won a Super Bowl title within the five-year timeframe
  • 9.09% of Drafted QBs made it to the Super Bowl within the five-year timeframe
  • 19.48% of Drafted QBs made it to the conference championship game in the five-year timeframe
  • 80% of those with positive selection scores were still the starter for the team who drafted them in year 6 — Jared Goff, Mark Sanchez, Colin Kaepernick, and Blake Bortles are the four who weren’t
  • 39% of selections struggled to the point that their teams picked another QB in the first two rounds within the five-year window
  • 30% of picks were still starting for their drafted team in Year 6
  • Excluding Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson, no QB taken after No.11 received a positive selection score
  • Only 3 Second Round QBs had a positive pick adjusted selection score
  • No QB taken after pick 36 received a positive score

Scatter graph with Pick Number on X axis and Selection Score on Y

Takeaways

  1. The common wisdom of a 50/50 hit rate on QBs may be worth reviewing — this study indicates that a 30% ‘hit’ rate in the first two rounds is more likely if we’re only considering how the player works out for the team that drafts him.
  2. Picking a QB in the back half of the first round hasn’t worked out for many teams. Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson, and Aaron Rodgers are the only three that can be definitively pointed as clear successes, with Jason Campbell and Chad Pennington (injuries and not starting initially) the only other borderline prospects.
  3. Drafting a QB at the top of the Second Round could be a successful strategy so long as you hit on a special player in the first who can immediately contribute as the Raiders did with Khalil Mack (Derek Carr), Bengals did with AJ Green (Andy Dalton), the 49ers did with Aldon Smith (Colin Kaepernick), and the Chargers did with LaDainian Tomlinson (Drew Brees).
  4. Second Round QBs beyond 36th overall haven’t panned-out — it might be a better strategy to use that resource in another area to drive team success.