TAMPA — Where are all the great quarterbacks in the NFL draft?
Bruce Arians, the self-proclaimed quarterback whisperer, and Clyde Christensen, who has coached both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, were wondering the same thing as they watched tape of college football’s latest passel of passers.
As many as three quarterbacks are likely to go in the first round Thursday. Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Mississippi’s Matt Corral appear in the opening round of the final mock drafts by ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. But that doesn’t mean their talent warrants the tender.
“I think there is a shortage of pocket guys and things are kind of changing,” Christensen said. “College guys are changing like high school. ‘Hey, who’s the best athlete on our team? Okay, you’re the quarterback now.’ I think that’s what it looks like.
“It’s shocking because everybody is throwing the ball so early. These kids are all in 7-on-7 tournaments. You start developing quarterbacks right away. But how do you use a great athlete? You’ve got to get the ball in his hands in high school so you put him at quarterback where you know you can snap it to him every snap. But I think it’s a worry. It’s hard. I think every team is the same. Then all of a sudden, you inflate somebody’s stock.”
That’s not to suggest there aren’t some young guns on the doorstep of greatness. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, 26, has won a Super Bowl and played in another. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow, 25, played in one. The Bills’ Josh Allen (25), the Chargers’ Justin Herbert (24) and the Browns’ Deshaun Watson 26) all are capable of one day lifting a Lombardi Trophy.
But the old guard is still collecting most of the Super Bowl rings.
Last season, the Rams won it all with 34-year-old quarterback Matthew Stafford, whom they acquired in a trade with Detroit.
In the 20 years before that, a quarterback named Tom Brady, Manning (Peyton and Eli) or Ben Roethlisberger won 13 Super Bowls. The outliers were Brad Johnson, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and Mahomes.
Six times in the past seven years, a quarterback has been taken No. 1 overall. The list includes the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, Burrow, the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray, the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, the Rams’ Jared Goff and the Bucs’ Jameis Winston. Burrow and Goff led their teams to a Super Bowl but didn’t win it.
Arians suggests some better quarterbacks are just a couple years away. Things such as the college game’s transfer portal and COVID-19 have had an impact.
“I think last year was a solid year,” Arians said. “This year, they’re all sophomores, you know what I mean? Next year should be a big year with all the kids that transferred to different places.
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“I think it’s helped in a way because everybody is playing 7-on-7. They’re throwing the football all the time. It’s all pass, pass, pass. That’s the thing, they get the best athlete, put him at quarterback and let him run all over the place. But there’s still enough when Arch Manning comes out and the kid at USC (Caleb Williams), Ohio State (C.J. Stroud) and Alabama (Bryce Young). Next year, the year after.”
Seventeen quarterbacks have gone No. 1 overall since Peyton Manning was selected first by the Colts in 1998.
In 1996, no quarterback was selected in the first round. That will probably never happen again, regardless of how good those players are.
Four quarterbacks were taken in the first round in 2020, including the Bengals’ Burrow. Three QBs were selected in the first round in 2019. There were five in 2018 and three in 2017.
Not only is the position the most important in the game, but the advent of the rookie salary scale has also minimized the financial risk for a swing and a miss.
Football has morphed into a passing game at every level. Arians and Christensen are right; kids are throwing the football more than they ever have from the youth level upward.
Mobility is always a welcomed skill, but you still must be able to win from the pocket in the NFL due to the risk of injury.
The pressure to play a young quarterback has never been greater. That’s why the Bucs were glad to be able to use the last pick of the second round in 2021 on Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask.
“If you’re a third-round quarterback and you get drafted 12th, you go to a town that’s struggling and they think you’re the savior and it’s hard,” Christensen said. “You’re labeled a choke and a bust and a loser and it’s just not true. Whereas, if you let him fall to the third round and let him develop for three years, you see some of these guys having success.
“I think it’s really a problem. And it’s hard because you have these towns scream, ‘We need a new quarterback,’ and you have to draft them. That doesn’t make him a first-rounder because you have to draft one. It’s a curse for some of these quarterbacks who could otherwise be okay,. They get labeled as a bust so early, they don’t develop. I think if Kyle were in this draft, he would go in the first round to the worst team and all of a sudden, it’s on you.”
Mahomes spent a year on the bench behind Alex Smith before taking the reins of the Chiefs offense and won a Super Bowl in his third season. The Niners spent three first-round picks to move up in the draft and take Trey Lance, who may take over as a starter in his second season. Jordan Love, the 26th overall pick in 2020, still is stuck behind Rodgers, the league’s MVP.
Maybe the Bucs got it right with Trask. But for now, they’re happy to see if the 44-year-old Brady can win his eighth Super Bowl.
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.