Sucking For Luck

12/16/14  7:30 PM PST
by Brian Umbaugh

There has been a lot of discussion this week, as there has been in previous years, as to whether or not a fan should be content with the loss of their favorite team in order to gain or maintain draft position.  Of course, being content with a loss, or rationalizing that loss, is one thing.  Explicitly cheering for your team to tank in order to get that coveted pick is quite another. If I’m a Jets fan this week, am I happy they won? Am I perhaps a little downtrodden that other teams, including the Titans team the Jets just defeated, moved ahead of them?

It depends on what you need, I guess.  The only position that creates the fervor to lose is for a new QB, as displayed in the “Suck for Luck” campaign a few years ago.  Is it worth it to win 4 games instead of 3, or should a team just be content to go 2-14 and get that top slot?  It depends, I suppose.  With the updated CBA that improved rookie salary negotiations, the money that is assigned to the #1 overall pick is more manageable.  What, then, would keep a team from doing this?

The answer lies in the valuation of the upcoming draft-eligible QB’s.  Is Heisman winner Marcus Mariota worth the #1 overall? Or even more to the point, will the teams in front of you draft your guy, or can you get him at #5?  Can you get a comparable guy at #5, or is the drop-off so drastic that it seems ridiculous to mention that top prospect with any others?

Over the last 15 years (1998-2013), quarterbacks have been drafted #1 overall 10 times. Interestingly enough, these years are book-ended by the Colts drafting Manning in 1998 and then drafting Luck in 2012. So how does the quality of these #1 picks (Studs) compare to the QB’s drafted behind them in the 1st round (Challengers)?  It’s important generally to only consider QB’s with a first round grade.  Don’t give me “Tom Brady was a 6th rounder, blah, blah, blah.”  No one was taking him in the 1st round.  By the way, thanks to Pro Football Reference for the stats.

2012

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Andrew Luck QB IND 0 2 3 32-14-0 12688 84 41 Stanford
1 2 Robert Griffin QB WAS 0 1 2 13-20-0 7541 39 20 Baylor
1 8 Ryan Tannehill QB MIA 0 0 3 22-24-0 10597 58 41 Texas A&M
1 22 Brandon Weeden QB CLE 0 0 2 5-16-0 5376 25 28 Oklahoma St.

Andrew Luck has shown to be the real deal, and the Colts drafted a QB that has made the Pro Bowl both years in the NFL. Griffin made a Pro Bowl, but was benched this year.  Tannehill has started all 3 years for the ‘Fins, but hasn’t impressed just yet. And Weeden?  Let’s move on.  We’ll call this one a win for the #1 overall pick.  Score: 1-o, Studs.

2011

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Cam Newton QB CAR 0 2 4 28-31-1 14111 80 53 Auburn
1 8 Jake Locker QB TEN 0 0 3 9-14-0 4967 27 22 Washington
1 10 Blaine Gabbert QB JAX 0 0 3 5-22-0 4395 23 24 Missouri
1 12 Christian Ponder QB MIN 0 0 3 14-21-1 6658 38 36 Florida St.

 
While Cam Newton has not won many games for his team, that may be a function of what the GM has put around him, as he has gone to 2 Pro Bowls despite a 28-31-1 record.  The rest of the 1st round was terrible. While the 2nd round brought Dalton and Kaepernick, owners of 6 starting seasons and 1 Pro Bowl between them, we have to give this one again to the #1 overall pick. Score: 2-0, Studs.

2010
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Sam Bradford QB STL 0 0 4 18-30-1 11065 59 38 Oklahoma
1 25 Tim Tebow QB DEN 0 0 1 8-6-0 2422 17 9 Florida

 
It’s almost not fair to include this year, because while many had Bradford going #1 overall, most didn’t have Tebow in the 1st round.  Denver pulled an ill-fated fast one and paid the price.  Of course, if Tebow was a better NFL quarterback, maybe Manning wouldn’t have been brought in, records aren’t set, and last year’s Super Bowl wouldn’t have been so exciting.  Wait…

Neither QB made the Pro Bowl, nor did any of the QB’s drafted after these two, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy being the only names of note.  No one wins this terrible draft year, because if it was the Rams’ plan to lose in order to get Bradford, they definitely can’t consider themselves winners.  Score: 2-0-1, Studs.

2009
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Matthew Stafford QB DET 0 0 5 34-41-0 21254 128 83 Georgia
1 5 Mark Sanchez QB NYJ 0 0 4 36-32-0 13844 78 78 USC
1 17 Josh Freeman QB TAM 0 0 4 24-36-0 13724 80 67 Kansas St.

 
These three guys are the only QB draftees in 2009 that legitimately started for their teams (I don’t include Curtis Painter.)  How do they compare?  Stafford has the best stats, Sanchez has more wins. Not many will consider Sanchez “better” than Stafford, but it seems the Lions are getting on the right track this year.  Could the Lions have won with Sanchez?  Hard to say.  I don’t think Stafford is much of a victory for #1 overall, but I’ll give them a close win.  Score: 3-0-1, Studs.

2008 – Jake Long drafted #1, Matt Ryan (#3) and Joe Flacco (#18) in 1st round

Atlanta and Baltimore got their franchise guys, and they didn’t have to be the worst team in the NFL to get them.  Pundits didn’t consider either worthy of top picks, but they were considered 1st round worthy.  That makes them Challengers, so they will take the win.  Score: 3-1-1, Studs.

2007
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 JaMarcus Russell QB OAK 0 0 2 7-18-0 4083 18 23 LSU
1 22 Brady Quinn QB CLE 0 0 1 4-16-0 3043 12 17 Notre Dame

 
Cue up Tommy Boy:

This was not a good year.  Three starting seasons, no Pro Bowls.  One is a commentator for NCAA football, one is considered the biggest draft bust in NFL history.  This one is a wash, because both the Studs and Challengers never showed.  Score: 3-1-2, Studs.

2006 – Mario Williams drafted #1, Vince Young (#3), Matt Leinart (#10), Jay Cutler (#11) in 1st round

Not selecting Reggie Bush or Vince Young was a scandal then, if you remember.  It just proves that a starting QB can be found after #1.  Vince Young?  A starting QB?  Surely.  He went 31-19 and was invited to 2 Pro Bowls. Leinart couldn’t cut it. Cutler, however, was a bit of a surprise out of Vanderbilt.  Currently maligned, he has had success and showed enough ability to make Scrooge McDuck money before he imploded.  Score: 3-2-2, Studs.

2005 
 
My favorite example of the perils of owning that #1 pick whenever there’s a debate about who should get picked #1.  Here’s your 1st round:
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Alex Smith QB SFO 0 1 9 57-46-1 20547 122 76 Utah
1 24 Aaron Rodgers QB GNB 1 3 7 68-33-0 28034 223 57 California
1 25 Jason Campbell QB WAS 0 0 4 32-47-0 16771 87 60 Auburn

 
Green Bay fans everywhere thank you, Mike Nolan.  There isn’t much need to explain why the Challengers win this one.  Anyone could have had Rodgers.  While Smith has had his moments, having the #1 overall pick was not a requirement this year to get the best QB.  Score: 3-3-2, even.

2004
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Eli Manning QB SDG 0 3 10 90-75-0 38935 255 184 Mississippi
1 4 Philip Rivers QB NYG 0 5 9 87-55-0 36008 248 117 North Carolina St.
1 11 Ben Roethlisberger QB PIT 0 2 11 104-52-0 38520 248 130 Miami (OH)
1 22 J.P. Losman QB BUF 0 0 1 10-23-0 6271 33 34 Tulane

 
Man, I loved J.P. Losman coming out of Tulane; did I back the wrong horse there?  Regardless, 2004 was a great QB year. It seems like an obvious match here.  It’s not a question of whether Eli is better than Rivers or Big Ben.  It’s that San Diego didn’t need to be #1 overall to get their franchise QB. The Steelers didn’t even need to be Top 10.  Score a big win for the Challengers as they take the lead. Score: 4-3-2, Challengers.

2003
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Carson Palmer QB CIN 0 2 10 70-73-0 35365 224 155 USC
1 7 Byron Leftwich QB JAX 0 0 3 24-26-0 10532 58 42 Marshall
1 19 Kyle Boller QB BAL 0 0 4 20-27-0 8931 48 54 California
1 22 Rex Grossman QB CHI 0 0 3 25-22-0 10232 56 60 Florida

 
Other than perhaps the Luck and Newton years, the Palmer year was a great time to be terrible if you needed a QB.  Leftwich was a little suspect.  Boller was terrible and everyone except the Ravens front office knew it. I thought Grossman would be a little better, but hey, he had a winning record.

 
 
Years later, the other guys are remembered as busts, while Palmer doesn’t need to be remembered. He still has some left in the tank. Arizona could use his help holding off Seattle these days.  Score one for the Stud. Score: 4-4-2, even.

2002
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 David Carr QB HOU 0 0 5 23-56-0 14452 65 71 Fresno St.
1 3 Joey Harrington QB DET 0 0 6 26-50-0 14693 79 85 Oregon
1 32 Patrick Ramsey QB WAS 0 0 1 10-14-0 5930 35 30 Tulane

 
I thought about giving a point to the Challengers, because this year’s draft proved that a crappy QB can be drafted anywhere. Then I thought I’d take it easy on Carr because being thrown to the wolves by the Texans was a raw deal.  12 years later, little Derek is feeling that pain.  Score: 4-4-3, even.

2001

Only one QB was drafted in the 1st round: Michael Vick, drafted #1 overall.  Vick made 4 Pro Bowls and Madden lovers rejoiced. However, this year I’m breaking my own rules by considering QB’s drafted in other rounds as true Challengers.  The 2nd pick in Round 2 was on a guy named Drew Brees, who has been to 8 Pro Bowls and been an All-Pro once.  Even more so than Rodgers, anyone could have had Brees (except Dallas and Tennessee due to trading their 1st round picks that year.)  Despite the success of Vick, it was not essential to have that #1 pick for a QB when a franchise guy with a 1st round draft grade was also sitting there. Score: 5-4-3, Challengers.

2000 – Courtney Brown drafted #1, Chad Pennington (#18) in the 1st round

Chad Pennington stood alone this year, drafted #18 overall by the Jets.  Perhaps having Randy Moss at Marshall helped him out, but in all fairness, he had a 44-37 record and started for 5 seasons.  This is where people love to throw in Tom Brady, as I mentioned in the opening.  Nobody liked him out of college, so kudos to him for what he became.  He just doesn’t work as a Challenger.  Since Pennington was average and the pickings were slim at the position (the next QB drafted was Giovanni Carmazzi), I’m calling a draw.  Score: 5-4-4, Challengers.

1999
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Tim Couch QB CLE 0 0 3 22-37-0 11131 64 67 Kentucky
1 2 Donovan McNabb QB PHI 0 6 11 98-62-1 37276 234 117 Syracuse
1 3 Akili Smith QB CIN 0 0 1 3-14-0 2212 5 13 Oregon
1 11 Daunte Culpepper QB MIN 0 3 5 41-59-0 24153 149 106 Central Florida
1 12 Cade McNown QB CHI 0 0 1 3-12-0 3111 16 19 UCLA

 
What to do with this rollercoaster of a draft class?  Call one for the Challengers.  Tim Couch wasn’t as good as he was in the crazy offense of Kentucky, but does that automatically give one to the Challengers? McNabb made 6 Pro Bowls, but what about Akili Smith?  Ugh.  I’m giving one to the Challengers because even if McNabb had gone #1 overall, Culpepper and his 3 Pro Bowls still would have been available.  I almost transferred my Pennington theory to Culpepper (Moss is that good), but Daunte did a lot of damage on his own and won games when Moss decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I concluded that tanking for the #1 spot would have put a team in the same QB Russian Roulette as everyone else, which gives a point to the Challengers.  Score: 6-4-4, Challengers.

1998
 

Rnd Pick   Pos Tm AP1 PB St QBrec Yds TD Int College/Univ
1 1 Peyton Manning QB IND 7 13 16 178-76-0 69107 528 230 Tennessee
1 2 Ryan Leaf QB SDG 0 0 1 4-17-0 3666 14 36 Washington St.

 
Manning changed the position.  Leaf re-arranged the locker room.  Same difference.  It was essential that the Colts had the #1 overall pick here.  Point, Studs.

Final Score: Challengers 6, Studs 5 (4 draws)

Close match…well done, Challengers.  What does it all mean?  You can argue if you like, but it means that losing games to ensure the #1 overall pick is only rarely necessary to draft and develop a franchise QB.

The guy would have to be head and shoulders above the rest of not only the other quarterbacks, but also most other position players.  Only 5 out of 15 years did a QB present himself as being so tantalizing that a GM would be crazy to pass on him and draft a QB a little lower.  Where were those 5 QB’s?  Well, two of them were within the last 4 drafts.  Recency bias would indicate that people believe this happens all the time when it really does not.  Luck is special.  Newton is special.  Obviously, Peyton Manning is in that class.  Is Marcus Mariota?  Or maybe Jameis Winston?  It seems to be a toss-up whether or not one of these guys will even pan out…and which one?

That these questions stir a debate is not a good sign.  In addition, only two of the worst NFL teams, the Jets and the Bucs, really need a QB.  The Titans, Jags, and Raiders seem set for now.  It might not seem like a big difference, winning and losing.  But that kid in the stands that only goes to one game in his life…why would you be a fan of a team that would lay it down for a prospect. Even when you’re 2-12, dignity should still matter.  Fans should still matter.  Let the chips fall where they may, because history shows that it’s all one big crap shoot anyhow.

Thanks for reading!