On the heels of the conclusion of the 2015 NFL Draft, I began to realize the need to enhance my understanding of each team’s draft history; what they’ve built or attempted to build over the past ten years and how they’ve went about that process.
This may seem tedious to you, the reader, but I think as analysts of a great game, it can be hard to criticize or praise a team without understanding the full context of how their roster and positional depth has been constructed. For example, the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills are often ridiculed heavily for their drafting incompetence at the quarterback position, but while often grouped together, a review of their past 16 classes suggest two vastly different front office mindsets. The Jets have spent an incredible 12 picks on quarterbacks (by far the most in the AFC), while the Bills have used just four selections on signal callers over the same time period. So two teams that have had similar results at the quarterback position since 2000, but have attempted to address those issues in vastly different ways.
Similar comparisons can be made in the AFC North, a process which we began to endeavor upon with an examination of each team’s offensive and defensive draft classes over the past ten years. Today we will look at all four team’s selections from 2006-2015 at quarterback, before moving on to the running back positiontomorrow.
Cleveland Browns: 4
Cincinnati Bengals: 4
Baltimore Ravens: 4
Pittsburgh Steelers: 3
The analysis of each team’s drafting at the quarterback spot might be the simplest we’ve done, but it is also probably the most important. No other position sets one NFL team apart from another like the quarterback does, a fact that has never been shown more clearly than in the AFC North.
The Browns’ struggles to find their next franchise quarterback are well-documented, but at least fans can take solace in the fact that it hasn’t been for lack of trying. No other team in the AFC has taken more than two quarterbacks in the first round in the past 16 years, while Cleveland has brought in three top-round passers in the last nine drafts. Neither Brady Quinn nor Brandon Weeden lasted long, while Browns fans now cling to the hope that Johnny Manziel can make tremendous strides from a dismal rookie campaign. Had Marcus Mariota fallen past the Tennessee Titans on draft day, we could have seen the Browns make a move for their fourth first round quarterback in ten years.
You can look all over their roster and see adequate talent (except at wide receiver), but Cleveland is a perfect example of the exceptional value the quarterback position holds. Without competence at the helm of your offense, even the most talented rosters can struggle.
The Bengals haven’t used any first round picks on a quarterback since spending the top overall selection on Carson Palmer in 2003. They nabbed Andy Dalton in the second round in 2011, but have only taken late round fliers (two 5ths, one 6th) on other passers in the past ten years. With a long-term deal in place for Dalton, it could be awhile before we see Cincy spend a first rounder on a quarterback again, depending on the TCU product’s continued development.
The Ravens haven’t been in existence as long as the rest of the North, but until landing Joe Flacco in 2008, the team was a jumbled mess at the position. Baltimore stayed competitive over the years thanks to a ferocious defense, but NFL-hopefuls Kyle Boller and Chris Redman never panned out, forcing the team to constantly be in flux at the game’s most important position. Flacco changed all that in ’08 however, and the team has only used two sixth rounders to search for his backup in the past eight years.
Few teams have been the picture of stability at the quarterback position like Pittsburgh over the past decade-plus. Outside of selecting Ben Roethlisberger in the first round in 2004, the team has not selected a 1st-3rd round quarterback since bringing in second-rounder Kordell Stewart in 1995. In fact, the team has not taken another quarterback in the first round since Mark Malone in 1980, and before that, Terry Bradshaw in 1970. If you’re keeping track at home, that is three first round quarterbacks for Pittsburgh in the last 45 years, and three for Cleveland in the past nine years.