The 2021 NFL Draft is hours away. Rumors are rampant. One of them has the Washington Football Team making inquiries about trading up into the top 10 to perhaps grab a quarterback.
This madness must end. I’ll say it one final time.
DO NOT DO IT!
And because in seventh grade, Mr. Campbell always insisted that I show my work, here’s the math to back it up.
Why the Washington Football Team shouldn’t trade up for a quarterback
In the last 25 years, 50 teams have made it to the Super Bowl. Of the 25 that won, 18 of them had quarterbacks who were acquired through the draft. Seven had quarterbacks acquired via trade or free agency.
Among the teams that lost the Super Bowl, 15 had quarterbacks acquired through the draft. Ten had quarterbacks acquired through a trade or free agency.
You do not need to go back very far to see this long-term trend. Lest you forget, Super Bowl LV was won by Tampa Bay with some washed-up free agent has-been by the name of Tom Brady under center.
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Overall, in the last 25 years, teams with quarterbacks acquired through the draft have accounted for approximately 2/3 of Super Bowl participants. That’s a sizeable number and suggests a clear advantage. But it also means that approximately 1/3 of the time – or two Super Bowl teams over a three-year span – have quarterbacks who were not acquired through the draft.
So it may be preferable to find your franchise quarterback through the draft. But if your goal is to win a Super Bowl, it is far from essential. And you do not have to mortgage your franchise’s future on a dart throw to try and find that golden boy.
He may be lying on the scrap heap, like Kurt Warner or Drew Brees. He may be a venerable QB in the twilight of his career, like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. All won Super Bowls for teams that did not draft them, as did Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Brett Favre.
He may be a journeyman who caught lightning for a season or two, like Chris Chandler, or Rich Gannon, or Jake Delhomme. Those players may not be as glittery as big-name draftees like Matthew Stafford or Philip Rivers or Carson Palmer. But you know what they did? They quarterbacked their teams to a Super Bowl.
If you think the Super Bowl standard is unrepresentative, look at simply getting into the playoff. At the end of the 2020 season, 14 teams qualified for the playoffs. Eight were quarterbacked by homegrown draft picks.
Five – eventual champion Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Tennessee, and the Washington Football Team – were quarterbacked by players brought in through trade or free agency. (I’m counting Alex Smith for the Washington Football Team, but if you prefer Kyle Allen or Taylor Heinicke, the numbers don’t change. If you are counting Dwayne Haskins – well, we may have to end our correspondence.)
The final 2020 playoff team, the Chicago Bears, used a draft pick, Mitchell Trubisky, and a trade acquisition, Nick Foles, roughly equally. You could argue that Trubisky was more instrumental, but depending on how you weigh things, teams that made the 2020 playoff had between a 35 and 40 percent chance of being quarterbacked by a player they did not draft.
Those numbers are consistent over a long period of time and over varied methods of defining success. Use a truncated mean to lessen the influence of Brady and they look slightly better. But even if you do not, the math does not lie.
Check Vegas for the odds on the 2022 Super Bowl winner. In the top 10, you have three teams – Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Rams, and Indianapolis – who will be led by quarterbacks they did not draft. There is another top 10 contender – San Francisco – who will be led by either a TBD draft pick or a player acquired in trade (Jimmy Garoppolo). I’ll assign a half-point to each option.
You come out with the exact same 35 percent chance of success with a quarterback you did not draft.
Say it with me – MATH DON’T LIE!
And it says pretty clearly that it is better to get your quarterback through the draft.
But it is not essential. Nor must the drafted quarterback be a first-round pick.
Other factors go into any decision to move up for a QB, and there is nothing wrong with the Washington Football Team doing due diligence to be prepared in case the improbable happens. If a quarterback slides this year – and odds are if that happens it will be Ohio State’s Justin Fields – Martin Mayhew should already have trade partners and relative values in mind.
But this is highly unlikely.
For those of you who still insist that a franchise quarterback needs to be found via the draft, and who argue that the 2021 draft is more loaded than the projected crop of QBs in the upcoming years, I would just point out that heading into the 2020 season, nobody had Mac Jones as a first-rounder. Zach Wilson was a bit of an unknown. Trey Lance was an even bigger one. Only Fields and Trevor Lawrence were considered surefire locks for the first round.
So if Sam Howell and Spencer Rattler and JT Daniels do not look quite as good as the signal-callers at the top of this year’s draft right now, wait ‘til next year. I promise you there will be a few names flying up boards.
And though it seems inconceivable right now that Buffalo and Baltimore would not pick up the options on Josh Alen and Lamar Jackson, you never know what may happen. Just like you never know if pending free agents like Jameis Winston or Mitch Trubisky might revive their careers. Is that really more of a long shot than Dilfer or Warner or Gannon, etc, etc?
The Washington Football Team may make a small move to take a QB like Davis Mills or Kellen Mond on Day 2 of the draft, or an even smaller one for someone further down the board on Day 3. But I doubt very much there will be anything happening on Day 1.
At least, I hope not.