As the college football regular season heads into its final two weeks, NFL draft analysts are updating their lists of the game’s top prospects. Not surprisingly, no quarterback appears within anyone’s top seven.
One of ESPN’s most prominent draft analysts didn’t include a quarterback among his top 13 picks. Todd McShay has Ole Miss’ Matt Corral at No. 14 and Liberty’s Malik Willis at No. 18.
Not that general managers worry themselves with the predictions of media personalities. Still, most draft lists provide a relatively accurate read on who will get taken in the first round.
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This means the Lions almost certainly won’t take a quarterback with their first pick, which grows ever more likely to be No. 1 overall. At the least, it will be in the top three, unless the Lions start winning — a lot.
What’s more, the Lions’ other first-round pick — owed by the Los Angeles Rams via the Matthew Stafford trade — will almost assuredly come too late to grab one of the two or three quarterbacks expected to go in the middle of the first round.
Talk about timing.
Nothing new, right?
General manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell do Stafford a solid and send him to Southern California in a pick-heavy deal — in a year without an obvious franchise quarterback. The good news is, Holmes and Campbell need talent all over the field and can wait to find a quarterback.
But wait, there is even better news: “Can’t-miss” franchise quarterbacks often can, and do, miss (Peyton Manning notwithstanding). Look at last year’s draft, when the consensus best quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, went No. 1 to Jacksonville.
The former Clemson star may well turn out to be the best of his class. Right now? Mac Jones is. He plays for New England. He was taken at No. 15.
The Lions may regret not drafting him. Take solace that 13 other teams may, too.
Again, this is nothing new. The NFL draft is an educated crapshoot. The proof is in the playoffs. More specifically, the proof is in the Super Bowl.
The Lions’ current quarterback, Jared Goff, once played in the Super Bowl. I know what you’re thinking: How? Because he looks far from Super Bowl-worthy now.
Yet Goff is an outlier. Not just because he led his team to the title game as a No. 1 pick (only to get traded two years later). But because he led the team that nabbed him at No. 1.
This has happened only two other times in the past decade: Eli Manning, who went No. 1 in 2004 (technically to the San Diego Chargers, but he was dealt immediately to the New York Giants), guided the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2008 and 2012 and Cam Newton, who was drafted in 2011 and led the Carolina Panthers there in 2016.
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Over those same ten years, 17 other teams got to the Super Bowl relying on a quarterback taken later in the draft, including five who were selected after the first round. The most famous of those, of course, is Tom Brady, who was taken in the sixth round — No. 199 overall — in 2000.
But consider this list of Super Bowl quarterbacks who were taken nowhere near the top pick: There’s first-rounders: Joe Flacco (No. 18 overall in 2008) and Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 in 2017). There’s second-rounders: Colin Kaepernick (No. 36 in 2011) and Jimmy Garoppolo (No. 62 in 2014). There’s even a couple third-rounders: Russell Wilson (No. 75 in 2012) and Nick Foles (No. 88 in 2012).
Fine, the No. 10 pick isn’t that far from No. 1. But Mahomes is as talented as any quarterback who has ever played, and nine teams passed on him.
If you go back one more year past our 10-year window, you’ll find another future Hall of Famer that slipped by most of the league: Aaron Rodgers, who took the 2010 Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl, in which they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh’s QB, as it happened? Ben Roethlisberger, a first-rounder, yes — but one who was selected at No. 11 in 2004.
Rodgers, if you’ll remember, was taken by the Packers at No. 24 in 2005. He stewed as he waited at draft headquarters.
“It’s not so funny when you’re the last one in the green room,” he said at the time.
No, it’s probably not. Whiffing on the most physically gifted quarterback who has ever played is another reminder of the luck involved in building a Super Bowl contender, especially the fortune needed to find a title-capable quarterback.
If nothing else, the last decade — plus a year — shows there is no pattern to where the best quarterbacks reside in any given draft. Except that the best quarterbacks are rarely found at the top of the first round.
This is partly explained by the top “prospects” frequently landing with organizations with a recent history of losing. Most teams drafting in the top few spots obviously have lots of issues, too many for one player to fix.
True, the NFL is set up — in theory — to help the worst teams get better through draft order and scheduling (teams with losing records play easier schedules). But all organizations aren’t created equally. Not that anyone needs to tell a Lions fan that. Or that anyone needs to remind you that Matthew Stafford was drafted No. 1, too.
He was a good quarterback in Detroit, sometimes great. He was also inconsistent — and not enough to overcome the Lions’ institutional dysfunction.
What’s more critical to next year’s draft — and the two or three after — is that the institution keeps working to improve the overall talent deficit. So that when the franchise brings in its next quarterback — no matter what pick — he’ll have the best chance to thrive.
Yeah, Mac Jones would’ve been a clever pick last spring. Then again, he is playing for one of the best coaches in the history of the league, with one of the NFL’s best defenses supporting him.
Jones would look different here. Just as Goff looks different here — remember, he won a playoff game (albeit in relief) just last season with the Rams.
Goff may not be the Lions’ quarterback for the future, but they still have a long way to go to get ready for said quarterback to arrive. Try not to fret about the draft rankings that will pepper your timelines for the next few months.
The future is far off. And a quarterback can come from just about anywhere.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.