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History shows that Raiders should draft a QB early

With the NFL season now over for the Raiders, I’ve turned my attention to the NFL Draft, set for May 8-10 this year, and what the Raiders should do to address their quarterback situation.

It seems very likely that the Raiders will do something. Coach Dennis Allen – who as of now appears likely to return for his third season in 2014 – indicated the same in his end-of-the-year press conference, saying, “I think that’s a position that we’ve got to make sure that we address. I’m not sure that we have the quarterback of the future in the building right now. Again, I think we’ll go through the offseason evaluation process – we’ll comb through all the tapes, we’ll go through everything. I do think we have a better idea of what we have at the quarterback position.”

Specifically, the question is whether the Raiders should take a quarterback high or pass on a QB and focus on the offensive and defensive lines, instead.

My opinion has been that the quarterback position is the most important position in football and while you can have middling talent at most every other spot, a superstar QB is almost a must in today’s NFL.

In order to be objective, however, I wanted to see if this was, indeed, the case. I tried to look at the topic a few ways, which I will outline below.

 

First, I took a look at recent Super Bowl winning teams, thinking that because the Super Bowl is the ultimate prize in the NFL, it’s best to model after teams that have been to the Super Bowl. I looked at both the winning and losing teams to get a sense of what type of quarterback was leading his team to play in the Super Bowl.

First, there are only a few quarterbacks that have achieved the designation of being a Super Bowl starting Quarterback. In fact, in the last 10 seasons, only 13 different quarterbacks have been able to make it to the big game.

In part, this is because a few quarterbacks have been able to make it multiple times including Brady, both Mannings and Ben Roethlisberger.

Of the 13 QBs that have made it to the Super Bowl, seven were 1st round quarterbacks which accounts for 53% of the quarterbacks. If you look at 1st and second round quarterbacks – especially those taken in the top 40 picks – the number jumps up to 9 of the 13 quarterbacks, which is 70%.

This seems like a big deal to me – that 70% of the quarterbacks in the Super Bowl in the last 10 years were taken in the first or second round – but I wanted to check it another way to see if a larger sample size would affect the numbers.

 

I looked at all the teams that made the playoffs over the last 10 seasons – 2004 through 2013, now that the 2013 playoff teams are known. This is a much larger sample size with 120 total possible teams (12 teams for 10 seasons).

Every time a quarterback took his team to the playoffs he was counted, so if a quarterback took his team to the playoffs in 3 years in a row, he would be counted 3 times. I tried to look at the data in a number of different ways.

First, I wanted to see how many quarterbacks had been drafted in the first or second rounds and took the team that drafted them to the playoffs. So, for example, Peyton Manning’s trips to the playoffs with the Colts would count but not his trips with the Broncos.

The data showed that 57% of the teams in the playoffs were taken there by a quarterback that was selected in the first or second round by that team. That seems to be a fairly large number, still, to me. More than half of the teams that make the playoffs, make the playoffs with a quarterback that they selected in the top 64 picks.

I expanded the data to include players taken in the 3rd round of the draft (like Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, etc). When they were included, this brought the number to 60%. That is, of the teams that made it to the playoffs in the last 10 years, 3 out of every 5 were quarterbacked by a player taken by that team in the first 3 rounds of the draft.

So, if 60% of the teams are quarterbacked by players taken in the first 3 rounds, how many are quarterbacked by teams that took a quarterback in the draft regardless or round (think Tom Brady here)? The total percentage of teams quarterbacked by a player they drafted was 67.5%, more than two-thirds of the teams that made playoffs. Obviously, the largest contingent of that is players taken in the first two rounds, still.

I was curious, then, how other playoff-caliber teams got their signal callers, so I looked at free agency, trade and UDFA percentages. Of those, UDFA players was by far the lowest, at only 2.5%.

Teams that found their playoff quarterbacks in free agency or via trade were remaining, then. After looking at the numbers, 17.5% of the teams in playoffs had a quarterback they signed in free agency. That number includes players like Drew Brees with the Saints, Peyton Manning with the Broncos and Chad Pennington with the Dolphins.

Another 12.5% of teams got to the playoffs via quarterbacks they traded to get. This number includes players like Green Bay’s Brett Favre, Houston’s Matt Schaub, and Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck.

 

It seems clear, based upon the numbers, that the Raiders are best served by drafting a quarterback in the first 3 rounds – preferably in the first or second round.

But, if they want to sign a quarterback in free agency, 68% of the quarterbacks in the playoffs the last 10 years that were signed in free agency were former first or second round picks. Of the players that weren’t former first or second round picks, Kurt Warner and Jeff Garcia were very accomplished former undrafted free agents.

So, if the Raiders target a quarterback in free agency, they should go after a quarterback that was taken in the first or second round – they are more likely to be able to get the Raiders back to the playoffs, quickly, than others, speaking statistically.

But, it can’t be just any first or second round quarterback. The Raiders should, instead, target a quarterback that has been to the playoffs prior to hitting free agency. In fact, every single free agent quarterback that made it to the playoffs with their new team had been to the playoffs with their previous team except one. Mark Bulger was the only exception to this rule – all others already had gotten to the post season at least once (the stat was 86% if you’re curious).

What does this mean to the Raiders? If they are going to target a free agent quarterback, playoff experience is the most important attribute to target. That would make Josh Freeman a bad target even though there are many rumors that they like him.

Instead, a quarterback like Jay Cutler or Matt Schaub is a better bet, statistically, although I’m not a fan of signing either, personally. Another possibility is Jets QB Mark Sanchez, who seems unlikely to be retained by the team. All three of these players have the pedigree and the playoff experience that history shows makes them more likely to be able to take another team to the playoffs.

There is also always the possibility that a proven veteran quarterback will be released unexpectedly – a la Peyton Manning or Drew Brees – and the Raiders could target that player.

The Raiders could also try to trade for a quarterback but I strongly doubt this happens, given Reggie McKenzie’s love of draft picks.

 

With a lack of quality options in free agency, then, the Raiders should turn to the draft. They have 3 selections in the top 75 picks and should use one of those selections on a quarterback. While there may not be a signal caller they like with the fifth overall selection, there have been a number of quality quarterbacks taken early in the second round including Brees, Dalton, Kaepernick and others in recent memory.

It is here, I believe, the Raiders should focus their attention. A review of the last 10 drafts found that NFL teams draft an average of 2.8 quarterbacks in the first round.

The highest number of QBs taken in the first round in the last 10 drafts was 4, which happened a few times – most recently in 2012 when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffen III were the top two picks.

The lowest number of QBs taken in the first round was 1, which happened only once during the last 10 years in last year’s draft, when EJ Manuel was the only QB selected in the first round.

I was surprised to find, when reviewing the last 10 drafts, that it’s unusual for QBs to be taken at the top of the second round, too. Likely that is because teams have shown a tendency to trade back up into the first round to draft a QB they really like but there may be other explanations, too.

These numbers indicate that the Raiders can expect to have a quarterback in the top 5 when they get their selection early in the second round. Depending on who and how many QBs are selected in the first round, there are a number of possible quality signal callers that could fall to them including Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr or A.J. McCarron.

If the Raiders like any of these players as their long-term signal-caller, they should jump at the opportunity to draft their franchise quarterback of the future. As history shows, it’s by far the most common way for teams to make it to the playoffs.

About Asher Mathews

Head writer for TFDS Sports, covering the Oakland Raiders and NFL at large. Proud Purdue alum. Follow me on Twitter!

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