NEW YORK — Quarterback has become the overwhelmingly essential position in pro football. Simply look at the guys behind center for recent Super Bowl winners.
When a team owns the first spot in the NFL draft, it’s nearly a given that a quarterback will be selected, or at the very least in the running to be the choice. Since the NFL and AFL fully merged in 1970, 19 QBs have been selected No. 1 overall. In the last 14 drafts, 11 quarterbacks have gone first, ranging from such champions as the Manning brothers to such busts as JaMarcus Russell and David Carr.
NFL Network’s show “The Ones” examined the careers of those 19 top picks, gathering their memories. Some are tinged with a title — four, actually, for Terry Bradshaw, the 1970 top pick; three for Troy Aikman (1989); two for John Elway (1983), Eli Manning (2004) and Jim Plunkett (1971), one for Peyton Manning (1998).
Others have few positive recollections from their pro careers.
“When you are the first pick in the draft, the bar is set so high,” said Tim Couch, the Kentucky quarterback taken in 1999 by the expansion Cleveland Browns. “If you are not winning Super Bowls or not going to Pro Bowls year-in and year-out, you are considered a bust.
“The most frustrating part is they really don’t take into consideration what you were surrounded by. I never played with a Pro Bowler on offense. You look at the guys who have had success, Troy was surrounded by a Hall of Fame receiver (Michael Irvin). That’s how things fall into place.”
Carson Palmer, chosen first in 2003 by Cincinnati and now with Oakland, think some top picks try too hard and wind up struggling.
“There’s a reason that you are being talked about that highly in the draft,” Palmer said. “Just be you, don’t try to be somebody you think they want you to be.”
DON’T PLAY THE QB: Sam Dorward, a junior at Yale studying economics and statistics, believes it’s unwise to play a rookie quarterback — don’t tell that to the Colts and Redskins, who plan to do exactly that with the top two picks Thursday night, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Dorward’s statistical analysis covering more than a decade shows that “benching quarterbacks during their rookie year causes them to play much better throughout their entire career.” He argues that they complete a higher percentage of passes (6.5 per 100 passes) and have a higher defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) rating than quarterbacks who did start during their rookie year (by 9.5 points).
DVOA is a metric that compares the performance of quarterbacks in similar situations. For example, how does Tom Brady perform on first-and-10 at his 30-yard-line compared to all other quarterbacks in that same situation?
“Look at Drew Brees and Kyle Orton,” Dorward said. “They completed about the same percentage of passes, threw about the same percentage of interceptions, and played about the same number of games at the same college. They took the starting spot for teams that had the same record in the previous year.
“But Kyle Orton started during his first season, while Drew Brees started during his second season. Orton’s first season was a disaster, while Brees’ first season was respectable. And Orton has never fully recovered. In his career, Brees has had a DVOA that is 20 points higher and a completion percentage that is 7.5 points higher.”
NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt, the former general manager of the Cowboys, understands the rationale behind Dorward’s studies. He’s not sure it applies any longer.
“I think eight to 10 years ago, that was a valid thing,” Brandt said. “I think that now, the quarterback that comes to college, then to the NFL, is so much more advanced than before. They have the 7 on 7 scrimmages or workouts they do in the summertime even before they get to college.
“The quarterbacks who go into the colleges are so much more ready to play, and then the same thing happens when they come into the pros, so much more than just a few years ago.’
Brandt once believed a quarterback needed 30 or more games in college before he was ready to play in the NFL — whether immediately or soon after. That thinking has changed, too.
“I think with Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, you saw it last year how it is beneficial to play right away,” Brandt said. “Dalton led his team to the playoffs and Newton destroyed just about every rookie record previously set for quarterbacks.”
FAMILY AFFAIR: Several players in this year’s draft crop have family connections to the NFL, starting with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
The Colts have told Luck, the son of former NFL QB Oliver Luck — now the athletic director at West Virginia — he will be the first overall choice Thursday night.
He also apparently has a more obscure relationship, to a Pro Football Hall of Famer, William “Link” Lyman, a tackle for four pro teams, including the Bears at the end of his career (1933-34). According to Ancestry.com, Luck is an eighth cousin to Lyman, who made the Hall of Fame in 1964 and died in 1972.
Northwestern running back Drake Dunsmore’s father, Pat, played tight end for the Bears, and Maryland RB Davin Meggett’s dad, Dave, won a Super Bowl with the Giants. Ohio State RB Dan Herron’s brother, David, played for the Chiefs last season and now is with the Saints.
Jeff Fuller the Texas A&M receiver, is son of Jeff Fuller, the former 49ers safety who won two Super Bowls. Wisconsin wideout Nick Toon is the son of Al Toon, a first-round pick in 1985 and a star for the Jets before concussions cut short his career.
Southern California tackle Matt Kalil, projected to go in the top five on Thursday, is the younger brother of Ryan Kalil, a center for the Panthers.
Syracuse defensive lineman Chandler Jones is the younger brother of Baltimore’s Arthur Jones. Texas LB Emmanuel Acho’s brother Sam was taken in the fourth round of the 2011 draft by Arizona. Linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi of Troy has two cousins in the league: TE Visanthe Shiancoe of the Vikings and WR Mohamed Massaquoi of Cleveland.
Virginia CB Chase Minnifield’s father, Frank, was a Pro Bowl cornerback for Cleveland.
EXTRA POINTS: It was a busy Wednesday for the 26 players who’ll be attending the NFL draft Thursday night. They started the day at the Chelsea Waterside Park in Manhattan and played football with a few dozen kids for the NFL’s Play 60 Youth Football Festival. They also conducted their last set of interviews for a half-hour before heading to Radio City Music Hall, the site of the draft, for a group photo. The day also included a reception on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. “Doing things like this and enjoying the experiences make it all fun,” Alabama safety Mark Barron said. “We’ve all been working toward this all our lives. There’s a little anxiety to it as well, but it’s fun, too.”