The only thing that scares coaches and personnel people more than selecting a first-round quarterback who becomes a bust is not taking one who develops into a franchise player. Think about the teams that needed quarterbacks, yet passed on Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady.
Brady will forever be the poster child for missed opportunities by teams in the draft. In the 2000 NFL Draft when Brady was taken in the sixth round with the 199th pick, he was selected after the likes of: Chad Pennington to the New York Jets (first round, 18th overall pick); Giovanni Carmazzi to the San Francisco 49ers (third, 65th); Chris Redman to my Baltimore Ravens (third, 75); Tee Martin to Pittsburgh Steelers (fifth, 163); Marc Bulger to New Orleans Saints (sixth, 168); Spergon Wynn to Cleveland Browns (sixth, 183). Only Redman remains in the league as a backup in Atlanta. In fairness, you can't look at tape of Brady then and blame anyone for missing on what could be the greatest QB of all time. He was only a two-year starter at run-oriented Michigan, with modest stats. And he was as physically unimpressive as any drafted QB in the history of the NFL. One report on Brady read, "If Brady can stick on the practice squad and perhaps spend a season in Europe, he could emerge as a potential backup to Bledsoe, but this is about it." That was five Super Bowl trips and three world championships ago. So, the truth is, everyone missed on Brady -- even the New England Patriots, in the first five rounds.
One of the most interesting misses was in the 2005 draft when Aaron Rodgers fell to the 24th pick. Few people who follow the draft can forget the agony of watching Rodgers sit in the green room in Radio City Music Hall, with team after team passing on a player who'd been expected to go in the top 10. When you look at many of the teams at the front end of that year's draft, it is easy to wonder where they would be now if they had taken Rodgers instead.
The Washington Redskins have made the most dramatic move in this year's draft, giving up three first-rounders and a second-round pick for the second overall pick, where they'll almost certainly take Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. In 2005, they had the ninth pick and took Carlos Rogers. He was a solid pick at cornerback, but their starting quarterback at the time, Mark Brunell, was already on the back end of his career. The Redskins have since had four different starters and three different coaches.
The Minnesota Vikings passed on Aaron Rodgers twice that year, with the seventh and 18th picks of the draft. They took WR Troy Williamson and DE Erasmus James (neither is currently in the league) and have since been through five starting quarterbacks and are on their third head coach.
The Miami Dolphins, by all accounts, might be positioning themselves to take a chance on Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. In 2005 they had the second overall pick and took running back Ronnie Brown. Jay Feely and Gus Frerotte were their quarterbacks then, and they have since run through six starting QBs and four head coaches.
Buffalo is a particularly interesting case study. In 2004, they traded away their 2005 first-round pick so they could move up to get Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman. The pick they dealt ended up being the 20th pick in the 2005 draft, four ahead of where Rodgers was taken. Losman started only one year (2006) in Buffalo and has a career completion rate under 60 percent with more interceptions than touchdowns. The Cowboys ended up taking Marcus Spears with the pick. The Bills suffered through four different starters at quarterback and as many head coaches on the way to a 42-74 record. Only the Browns and Raiders have been worse over that period of time.
The Cleveland Browns were selecting third in 2005 and took Braylon Edwards, who wore out his welcome in Cleveland and was traded to the Jets in 2009. The Browns have suffered through five different starting quarterbacks and three head coaches on the way to a 38-74 record and double-digit losses in six of the seven seasons since.
The Oakland Raiders picked 23rd that year and took Fabian Washington -- the selection before Green Bay took Rodgers. Washington has proven to be a solid defensive back in this league, but was with the Raiders for only three years before moving on to Baltimore and then New Orleans. The Raiders' starting quarterback at the time was an aging Kerry Collins, and they have been through six starters and as many head coaches on their way to a 36-76 record.
Because the consequences of missing are so dire, coaches and general managers often talk themselves into reaching for quarterbacks. And as we'll see in Part 4 of this series, that brings its own special kind of agony.
Much of the material above has been adapted from the book, "More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL," written by Brian Billick and Michael MacCambridge. Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick