Do the Steelers draft a QB now or wait one more year?
April 20, 2017 12:00 AM
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
Clemson's Deshaun Watson is one of the top QB prospects in this year's NFL draft.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes II visited the Steelers facility ahead of the NFL draft.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When, why and where do NFL teams draft quarterbacks?
Some do it often. Some, like the Steelers, have virtually ignored the position once they had their man, Ben Roethlisberger, in the fold. Then there are the Washington Redskins, who drafted two within their first three choices in 2012.
This is not a strong class of quarterbacks heading into the three-day NFL draft that begins next Thursday night, and 29 teams pick before the Steelers — barring trades. A number of them need and might draft a quarterback in the first round.
It might be prudent, though, to wait one more year, when the prospects at the position supposedly will be deeper and of higher caliber. That is what Gil Brandt believes San Francisco will do.
“Here’s San Francisco sitting there at No. 2,” said the longtime personnel man for the Dallas Cowboys and now NFL Media. “People like San Francisco are saying there are four guys who could be the possible No. 1 pick at quarterback next year. Why should we take a quarterback this year because we might be in position next year? Why not wait until next year and we can help our team elsewhere this year?”
That could be the same thinking going on over at the UPMC Rooney Complex on the South Side, although the chances of the Steelers going, say, 5-11 in 2017, to climb high enough to take one of those elite quarterback prospects next year would seem to be slim.
This year, three or even four quarterbacks could be drafted in the first round — or none at all — and there’s always a chance the Steelers could draft one at No. 30. But drafting one in the first round guarantees little.
Teams selected 26 quarterbacks in the first round over the past 10 years, and as NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock notes, few became quality starters. He discounts the five quarterbacks taken in the first round the past two seasons as they establish themselves, or don’t. That leaves 21 of the previous eight drafts.
“Out of that group,” Mayock said, “there are either four or five franchise quarterbacks.”
Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco. There are eight starters of the 21 and four backups.
“After that, there are nine first-round kids not even in the league anymore,” Mayock noted. “So it gives you a pretty good feel for the hit rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round.”
It’s not very high.
There are some who were successful going later in those drafts — Derek Carr and Andy Dalton (second round), Russell Wilson (third), Kirk Cousins (fourth) and perhaps Jimmy Garoppolo (second) at some point.
There are four quarterbacks with the potential to be selected in the first-round next week: Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes. The Steelers have had their eyes, somewhat, on Mahomes but could take one in the later rounds — Davis Webb, Nate Peterman, Joshua Dobbs? — or none at all and wait for the supposed deeper and better ‘18 class.
Tom Donahoe was part of the Steelers draft decision makers from 1986-99, most of that as their director of football operations. In that time, they drafted seven quarterbacks, including starters Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart. He believed quarterbacks should be drafted often, no matter who is the team’s current starter.
“Sometimes you just take a flyer on a guy at some point later in the draft if you feel he has ability,” said Donahoe, now a senior personnel executive with the Philadelphia Eagles. “It’s probably not a bad idea every year to take one somewhere because you don’t know who might develop. If you end up having extra quarterbacks, someone is always looking for one. There’s always the possibility you could trade them.”
The Steelers have not taken that philosophy. Since 2000, they’ve drafted six quarterbacks, none higher than Landry Jones in the fourth round, except for Roethlisberger’s selection with the 11th overall pick in 2004.
Mayock has a similar philosophy to Donahoe’s.
“You’re looking at about a 20 percent chance of drafting a franchise quarterback for the first-round pick,” Mayock said, citing those drafts between 2007 and 2014. “My message to NFL teams would be you’ve got to keep trying. You’ve got to keep swinging.”
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