I love the history of sports.
I wouldn't call myself a sports historian like Elliot Harrison, who could tell you the final score of the 1978 NFC Championship Game and who scored all the touchdowns without looking at Google. (Seriously, he's ridiculous). I just appreciate what's happened in the past, and I like to look at how I might learn from it as it pertains to doing what is often a very difficult task ... predicting the future.
That's what I do after all, for better or worse.
These days, fantasy fans can find all kinds of statistics and analytics (check out Cynthia Frelund's stuff, she's brilliant). From how many air yards every NFL quarterback averages to the percentage of targets opposing slot receivers see against particular defenses and a million things in between, we now have any number of options in our quest to correctly predict what is going to happen in sports.
But as someone who loves history, I'm also interested in what we can learn from the past in an effort to help us better prognosticate the future. If you dig deep enough, you can sometimes find trends that for some reason or another have developed over the years. In turn, learning from the past can help us make more educated decisions in the future.
In this case and with the assistance of NFL Research, I looked at all of the quarterbacks selected in the first round (since 2000) of the NFL Draft to find out if there was a historical trend that could better help predict what might happen in the future.
The results are very interesting and at the same time ... downright frightening.
Excluding the 2018 NFL Draft, there have been 48 quarterbacks selected in Round 1 since 2000. While the jury is still out on the long-term impact of signal-callers who have been in the league three or fewer years, we will nonetheless use them to determine the impact of rookies at the position.
Interestingly enough, just five (10.4 percent) first-round quarterbacks have finished better than 15th in fantasy points as rookies. That list includes Vince Young (2006), Cam Newton (2011), Robert Griffin III (2012), Andrew Luck (2012) and Jameis Winston (2015). These quarterbacks all have one thing in common that put them into the upper echelon at the position ... success running the football. In fact, all five rushed for at least five scores. Three of them (Young, Newton, Griffin III) rushed for 500-plus yards as well.
If we look at the five quarterbacks in the 2018 class, Jackson is the lone member of the group who has the skills to make a huge impact with his legs ... and he's likely to be stuck behind Joe Flacco during his first year in the pros. Baker Mayfield also had some success on the ground, but he too has a veteran (Tyrod Taylor) who will start ahead of him as a rookie. Darnold and Allen were able to find some success in the rushing touchdown department in college, but no one would mistake them for "running" quarterbacks. As for Rosen, we all know his strong and accurate right arm is his best asset. As a runner, he compiled minus-154 yards during his three seasons at the collegiate level.
So, the past has shown us that the two quarterbacks who might have the best chance to make an impact as rookies have major obstacles to even seeing the gridiron. As a result, it's hard to see any of the first-round rookie quarterbacks having much value in re-drafts based on this historical data.
Now, let's move on to our next interesting trend. Of the 48 quarterbacks who have combined for 325 NFL seasons in their collective careers, there have been 64 top-10 finishes. That's just 18 percent. Furthermore, almost half of those seasons have been produced by just five quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers - 8, Philip Rivers - 7, Newton - 5, Matt Ryan - 5, Matthew Stafford - 5).
If we include quarterbacks who have had top-15 fantasy seasons, we find 104 such campaigns (32 percent). That's not a whole lot. Here's where it gets even worse ... of the combined 325 NFL seasons in the collective careers of our 48 quarterbacks, we find 193 instances (almost 60 percent) where they've ranked 20th or worse in fantasy points at the position.
Now is where it gets even scarier.
Looking at the same 48 quarterbacks, we find that 28 (58 percent) have never finished a single season ranked better than 15th in fantasy points. That list includes some big names like JaMarcus Russell, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Johnny Manziel, Matt Leinart and Sam Bradford. Another five quarterbacks (Young, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, RG3, Ryan Tannehill) had just one such season, and another (Jason Campbell) had two.
So, let's do the math ... that's 34 out of 48 first-round quarterbacks (71 percent) who never finished a fantasy season ranked 15th or better. That's a huge failure rate considering how highly most of these players were ranked headed into their respective drafts. We can all look back at this in retrospect and laugh now, but a lot of scouts and draft experts were ga-ga over these player. Even Russell!
If this historical trend holds water, then three or four of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round this year will be average or worse at the next level. Think about that ... at least three or four teams will see their franchise held back for another five seasons (on average) because of the decisions made in this single draft alone. Trying to predict who out of Mayfield, Darnold, Allen, Rosen and Jackson will succeed might be the bigger challenge. I like the latter two in the long term for fantasy purposes, Jackson for his skills a runner, but there are very few "sure" things at the position as we've seen from this data.
And remember ... "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana.
As a sort of add-on feature to this column, let's take an individual look at the 2018 first-round quarterbacks and the historical trends of the NFL team that picked them. Can a franchise somehow affect the value of a quarterback and how he'll perform? Skeptics will bring up that we're talking about different eras, different personnel, different players, etc., all of which is true. But as you'll read, it's pretty funny (or not if you're a fan of these teams) to see that some franchise have continued to fail, time and time again, when selecting quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL draft.
During the Super Bowl era, the Browns drafted five quarterbacks in the first round before Mayfield. That list includes Mike Phipps (1970), Tim Couch (1999), Brady Quinn (2007), Brandon Weeden (2012) and Manziel (2014). Of these five, the best finish based on fantasy points came in 2000 when Couch ranked 22nd. So, out of 19 combined seasons with the franchise, none of their first-round quarterbacks finished as more than a low-end QB2 in 12-team leagues. That's brutal. The Browns have also drafted just one quarterback (Brian Sipe, 1972) who attempted 950-plus passes and finished with more career touchdown passes than interceptions ... and he wasn't selected until the 13th round.
New York Jets
Before the selection of Darnold, the franchise had picked four quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL draft since 1966 ... Richard Todd (1976), Ken O'Brien (1983), Chad Pennington (2000) and Mark Sanchez (2009). Todd had a few decent seasons in the stat sheets, but he finished his career with more interceptions (161) than touchdown passes (124). O'Brien had one solid year (1985), throwing for 3,888 yards and 25 touchdowns. He threw for 25 scores the following season as well, but he also tossed 20 interceptions. Pennington and Sanchez combined for one top-10 finish based on fantasy points in their combined 12 seasons with the franchise, and the latter is best known for being a part of the now infamous butt fumble. Of the nine quarterbacks the team has drafted in the first two rounds during the Super Bowl era, including Christian Hackenberg (2016), their combined record is 181-211-2. Sanchez (33-29) and Pennington (32-29) are the only two with winning records.
The Buffalo franchise had drafted just three first-round quarterbacks before Allen, and one (Jim Kelly, 1983) finished his career as a Hall of Famer. Of course, he didn't play a down with the Bills until the 1986 season (after his time in the USFL). The other two first rounders, J.P. Losman (2004) and EJ Manuel (2013), were colossal busts. It's not a very big sample size, however, so let's look at some of the quarterbacks the teams has drafted since 1995. That list includes Todd Collins (bust), Losman (bust), Trent Edwards (bust), Manuel (bust), Cardale Jones (backup) and Nathan Peterman (backup). If we look even deeper into Bills lore, we find that Kelly and Joe Ferguson (1973) are the lone drafted quarterbacks (regardless of round) who had any level of success. Can Allen reverse this bad trend?
Since 1966, the Cardinals have drafted just three quarterbacks in the first round (before Rosen). Those signal-callers are Steve Pisarkiewicz (1977), Kelly Stouffer (1987) and Leinart (2006). The trio combined for 17 touchdown passes and 27 interceptions (Stouffer never played for the franchise). From a fantasy football perspective, the two best quarterbacks the team has ever drafted regardless of the round are Neil Lomax (1981) and Jake Plummer (1997), and the latter had most of his success in Denver. Here's another interesting little note for all of you trivia fans out there ... the Cardinals have drafted 12 quarterbacks in the third round or higher in the Super Bowl era. Their combined record with the franchise is 99-139-2. The dozen also combined for 275 touchdown passes ... and 292 interceptions. In fact, Lomax is the only one who had more touchdowns passes than interceptions as a member of the Cardinals. Maybe Rosen can break this curse. We'll see.
The Ravens have only been around since 1996, during which time they've drafted just two quarterbacks (Kyle Boller - 2003, Joe Flacco - 2008) in the first round. This duo has just one top-10 finish at the position between them. What's more, their combined 17 seasons have resulted in three top-15 campaigns (all Flacco). The franchise has also drafted Derek Anderson (2005) and Tyrod Taylor (2011), but their best fantasy seasons came with different franchises and neither was selected in the first three rounds of their respective NFL draft years. Jackson will look to buck the trend.