Quarterback Jalen Hurts showed flashes of promise during his second NFL season in 2021, but the eye of Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is wandering. The Eagles have repeatedly shown a desire to upgrade the quarterback position both in their tendencies as an organization and their pursuit of available veterans on the trade market during the past two offseasons.
Just days after trade talks to land a veteran quarterback fizzled, quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson took prospect Kenny Pickett out to dinner the night before his pro day in Pittsburgh.
The overwhelming majority of the Philadelphia fan base doesn’t want the Eagles to select a quarterback with one of their three highly-valued first-round picks. Virtually no NFL scouting experts have talked up the strength of the 2022 quarterback draft class. The hope to avoid reaching for a mid-first-round bust like Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, or E.J. Manuel is certainly logical.
However, the call for Roseman to avoid selecting a quarterback based simply on the supposed weakness of the draft class is oversimplified. It relies too heavily on a common misconception that most of the best NFL quarterbacks are former top picks, and it ignores the unpredictable nature of the NFL Draft that has been proven time and again.
Best Quarterbacks in the NFL
Gregg Rosenthal ranked Hurts as the 17th best quarterback in the league in 2021 according to his NFL QB Index. The Eagles want to upgrade at the most important position in the sport. They believe a signal-caller in the top half of the league is the primary piece to lead them back to Super Bowl contention.
How do NFL teams acquire quarterbacks in the top half of the league? They don’t draft them with top-5 picks very often, and most successful NFL quarterbacks weren’t considered the top prospect at the position in their respective draft classes.
Quarterback scouting during the pre-draft process is inaccurate a lot more often than it is accurate.
The New England Patriots selected Tom Brady, first in Rosenthal’s rankings and the greatest football player ever, with a sixth-round pick in 2000. The anomaly will never again be used by an NFL franchise as a blueprint for roster construction, but it properly exposes the flaws of the pre-draft process and provides an extreme example of how one successful draft pick can change a franchise forever.
Brady is one of five quarterbacks in Rosenthal’s top 16 selected outside the first round. Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, and Kirk Cousins all entered the league as picks from rounds two, three, or four between 2012-2016.
The Seahawks took Wilson in the third round in 2012 while Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went first and second overall. Luck was highly-touted as a prospect. He was as close to a sure thing as the NFL Draft can offer, and Griffin looked like he could revolutionize the league with his tremendous athleticism.
Neither of the top-two picks even played in the NFL last season, and Wilson has been among the league’s best quarterbacks for the past decade.
Josh Allen (3rd according to Rosenthal), Justin Herbert (4th), and Patrick Mahomes (6th) are arguably the three most coveted quarterbacks in the NFL based on age, skill, and future potential. They were all selected in the top 10 of their respective drafts. However, the pre-draft process severely underrated all three.
In 2017, Mitchell Trubisky came off the board eight picks before Mahomes. In 2018, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold came off the board before Allen. In 2020, Tua Tagovailoa went one pick ahead of Herbert. The benefit of hindsight should impose serious regret on the franchises that passed on Mahomes, Allen, and Herbert with top-five picks in favor of quarterbacks who have underperformed in the NFL.
Matthew Stafford (5th), Joe Burrow (6th), Kyler Murray (8th), and Matt Ryan (15th) are the only four players ranked higher than Hurts on Rosenthal’s list who were the first quarterback taken in their draft classes.
Arguments to the Contrary
The history of flaws in the pre-draft process doesn’t directly correlate to the success of Pickett, Malik Willis, or any other quarterback entering the 2022 NFL Draft. Plenty of organizations have reached for quarterbacks with first-round picks and regretted it later.
In 2014, unimpressive starters Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Teddy Bridgewater were the only three quarterbacks selected during the first round. The following year, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta went with the first two picks but have fallen severely short of expectations during their careers.
Roseman and the Eagles enter the draft with significant needs at other positions on the roster. Just because they have three first-round picks doesn’t mean one should go to waste on a player who they don’t feel is very likely to succeed in the NFL.
Draft position doesn’t determine the success of NFL quarterbacks, whether it is early in the first round or on the third day of the draft. The simple factor that should determine all draft selections is player evaluation. Good organizations can evaluate quarterbacks well, and they aren’t afraid to select them at different points in the draft. Bad organizations struggle to evaluate players and often miss on quarterbacks and players at other positions.
Roseman’s Quarterback Factory
Are the Eagles one of the organizations capable of evaluating quarterbacks accurately?
Early in his tenure as general manager, Roseman’s input factored heavily into the decision to select Nick Foles in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Foles succeeded to epic proportions in two stints in Philadelphia, first with a remarkable stretch in 2013 with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions and later with a Super Bowl MVP performance.
Roseman has also gotten serviceable value from Hurts, a second-rounder in 2020.
The Carson Wentz saga rocked the Eagles with as much chaos as they could handle, but the player evaluation of a quarterback whose fantastic play led his team into position as the NFC’s top seed through 13 games in 2017 was never the issue. The decision to trade up and select Wentz with the second-overall pick in 2016 paid major dividends for the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles.
The choices to select all three quarterbacks provided substantial value to the organization.
Selecting Matt Barkley with the first pick of the fourth round in 2013 was a mistake, and Roseman also missed on his evaluation of Clayton Thorson in 2019. Neither pick was detrimental. It’s unclear how much his input factored into the selection of Mike Kafka in 2010.
The philosophy of the Andy Reid regime has had major influence on Roseman’s team-building strategies. The best player evaluation of the Reid era was the selection of Donovan McNabb with the second-overall pick in 1999. Most Eagles fans wanted nothing to do with McNabb, but the Syracuse star became far and away the best of the five quarterbacks taken with top-12 picks that year.
Large factions of Eagles fans don’t want Roseman to select a quarterback in the first round in 2022, but they also vehemently disagreed with arguably the best player evaluation in the 89-year history of the franchise when the Eagles chose McNabb 23 years ago.
If Roseman identifies a quarterback who can help the Eagles re-enter the conversation as Super Bowl contenders in the coming seasons, he might elect to ignore the input of his fan base just like the organization did back in 1999.
He traded Wentz, the expected long-term franchise quarterback whom he reportedly worshipped, for draft capital just over a year ago. He will now enter the 2022 NFL Draft with as much flexibility as he’s had during his time with the Eagles. It’s unrealistic to think that he won’t consider ways to draft his next franchise quarterback.
Will Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis turn out to be successful NFL quarterbacks just like McNabb did? I don’t know. Neither do you, and neither do the “experts” telling you what to think about the NFL Draft.
However, Roseman will explore the option of drafting his coveted franchise quarterback. His player evaluation will decide the future of the most important position in professional sports.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire