The Importance Of Drafting “The Right Quarterback”

I was reading something about the Vikings last week.  As you may or may not know, they cleaned house over the last few weeks and are now looking to start over.  The GM was in place, but the head coach is brand new, and it looks like the quarterback position is going to get a once-over.  In this article I read, it was mentioned that they “need to find the right quarterback”.  I don’t know why, but that particular phrase stood out to me.

What is the “right quarterback”?  I would suggest it’s the quarterback that takes you to – and hopefully WINS – the Super Bowl.  Now, does it matter how you get that quarterback?  Actually, it does.

This latest Super Bowl is one of those rare exceptions of a game that didn’t feature a matchup of quarterbacks who were drafted by their respective teams.  Russell Wilson was, but Peyton Manning wasn’t.  In looking backward, you’ll notice a trend; among Super Bowl participants, the overwhelming majority drafted “the right quarterback” and rode him all the way to the end.

  • Baltimore/San Francisco – Yes/Yes
  • NY Giants/New England – Yes (technically no, but he was traded on Draft Day by San Diego)/Yes
  • Green Bay/Pittsburgh – Yes/Yes
  • New Orleans/Indianapolis – No/Yes
  • Pittsburgh/Arizona – Yes/No
  • NY Giants/New England – Yes/Yes
  • Indianapolis/Chicago – Yes/Yes
  • Pittsburgh/Seattle – Yes/No
  • New England/Philadelphia – Yes/Yes

In the last ten Super Bowls, you’re looking at only 4 teams who didn’t draft their quarterbacks.  Three of those teams – Denver, Arizona, and New Orleans – picked up future Hall of Famers via free agency (the 2005 Seahawks, of course, had Hasselbeck, who we picked up in trade from Green Bay, where he was drafted while Holmgren was still their head coach).

So, when Minnesota talks about “finding the right quarterback”, they mean “drafting the right quarterback”.  And, since there’s no time like the present, you can expect them to draft one this May, in the hopes that they will have found the next Russell Wilson or Joe Flacco or Aaron Rodgers.

Obviously, the quarterback doesn’t do it all.  But, it’s next-to-impossible to get where you want to go without one.  That’s why we REALLY need to sit back and appreciate just how rare of a find Russell Wilson is.  I’m not even talking about the fact that he’s a 3rd round pick (though, that is amazing in and of itself); I’m just talking about the fact that the Seahawks found a quarterback of his calibre at all!

It’s absolutely no coincidence that the Seahawks finally won their first Super Bowl only after they found their franchise quarterback.  Dating back to the 1992 season (where free agency coalesced into the free agency we more-or-less know today), there have been only six Super Bowl winning teams that did NOT draft their quarterback:

  • 1994 49ers
  • 1996 Packers
  • 1999 Rams
  • 2000 Ravens
  • 2002 Bucs
  • 2009 Saints

Again, you’re talking about four of those teams who managed to pick up current or future Hall of Famers (Steve Young, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, & Drew Brees), with the other two teams featuring a couple of the best defenses of the last generation.  Literally anyone, living or dead, could have quarterbacked those 2000 Ravens to a Championship.

But, look at that!  16 of the last 22 NFL Champions somehow lucked into their quarterback via the draft.  And, just because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went back and checked out every single Super Bowl winner.  Of the 48 NFL Champions, 36 drafted their quarterbacks.  Among the notable champions who weren’t drafted by their Super Bowl-winning teams are Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas (both originally drafted by the Steelers of all teams), Jim Plunkett (twice a champion for the Raiders), Joe Theismann and Doug Williams (both champions with the Redskins).

I don’t know what the point of this post is, other than to emphasize how much of a crapshoot it all is.  When you’ve tried and failed to craft a championship football team for decades upon decades, it can really feel hopeless.  You tend to question every single move your team has ever made and every single move they make going forward.  Then, in an instant, all of that changes.  You don’t know it right away, of course; think back to where you were when Russell Wilson was selected by the Seahawks in April of 2012.  You surely didn’t think, “That’s it!  We’re going to win a Super Bowl within two years!”

Yet, here we are.  And, the best part?  When you win so early, there are always opportunities for multiple.  In looking back at past winners, you’ll notice a lot of repeating names:

  • Starr
  • Staubach
  • Griese
  • Bradshaw
  • Montana
  • Aikman
  • Elway
  • Brady
  • Roethlisberger
  • Eli Manning

Those ten quarterbacks account for over half (26) of the 48 Super Bowl champions.  Only Jim Plunkett has managed to win more than one Super Bowl while not being drafted by the team that won them.  I think that says a lot.  About how lucky the Seahawks are, for starters.  And about how important it is to find your guy and cultivate him from Day 1.  The right quarterback can immediately turn around a franchise.  That means recognizing what you have and not giving him away.  That means building around him to put him in the best position to succeed.

And that means, if you’re currently a franchise in need, don’t try to go for the quick fix by picking up some doofus off the street.  I can all but guarantee the Chiefs, for instance, will never win a championship with Alex Smith at the helm.  That says nothing of Smith’s abilities.  That’s just playing the percentages.  The only chance you have to succeed through free agency is to obtain a future Hall of Famer, and what are the odds of that?  As I said before, if you’re smart, you hang onto those guys for dear life.  So, in reality, you have to be EXTREMELY lucky.  Even luckier than you have to be to just draft the right guy in the first place.

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