clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Do Buffalo Bills need a top-5 pick to get a franchise quarterback?

New, comments

Some historical analysis.

NFL: 2017 NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With two first-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, many think the Buffalo Bills have situated themselves for a trade up scenario to jump into the first few picks and take their elusive franchise quarterback. Is that necessarily the right move?

A few years ago someone did an analysis on quarterback success by round. To little surprise, first-round QBs were significantly more likely to work out than QBs taken in later rounds. Second-round QBs were successful less often than first round picks but more often than third-round picks. The success stories of mid-to-late round picks and undrafted QBs was reduced to a short list of names. The post was spelled out what most people knew.

A recent comment here suggested that later first-round QBs worked out more often than the guys taken at the top of the initial frame. The comment that inspired this post was made as part of the debate about what Buffalo needs to do in order to get the long sought franchise QB. Do the Bills really need a pick in the top-3 to land the true heir to Jim Kelly?

Let’s take a look at the QBs taken in the first round from 2000 through 2014.

Drafted in the top 5

Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith, Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Blake Bortles, Robert Griffin III, Vince Young, JaMarcus Russell

Lesser Manning may not be elite but he is undeniably a franchise QB with a pair of Super Bowl rings. Rivers hasn’t been to the Super Bowl but has led his team to the playoffs numerous times and carried the team in 2016. Any doubts about Carson Palmer being a franchise QB were laid to rest when the team collapsed without him. Matt Ryan had the Falcons poised to smite New England before the offensive coordinator went into a shell. Matthew Stafford has been hugely productive in Detroit, never mind the 0-16 season. Alex Smith is somewhat polarizing but he hasn’t been below 89.1% QB rating since the 2010 season, throwing single-digit INTs each of those seasons, all while leading the Chiefs to the playoffs three of the last four seasons. Whether he’s just a game manager or a franchise QB, he’s been more effective than the guys Buffalo has fielded. We’ll skip Vick, though he was successful in Atlanta before being undone by running an interstate gambling ring and dog fighting. Cam Newton took his team to the Super Bowl. With not much of a team around him, Andrew Luck has been near or over 4000 passing yards 3 of the last 4 seasons…and that one season he was on IR for most of the season after trying to play through an injury. A lot of people don’t realize it but Sam Bradford has flirted with 4000 yards each of the last 2 seasons, with 2 different teams. Getting free of Jeff Fisher has been good for Bradford, who looks to be making good on his first round draft status. That’s a lot more than can be said for Mark Sanchez, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Blake Bortles, Robert Griffin III, Vince Young, and JaMarcus Russell. Those seven are unquestionably busts against 9 good QBs (skipping Vick), which is a surprisingly poor 56% success rate for top 5 picks.

Drafted 6-15

Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, Ryan Tannehill, Byron Leftwich, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Matt Leinart, EJ Manuel

Roethlisberger is, at a minimum, a franchise QB even though he doesn’t get mentioned as often as guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady when talking about elite QBs. He has carried his team, generally while also carrying defenders. Cutler was a stronger armed Fitzpatrick, who put up a good amount of passing yards along with way too many INTs. Was he worth a pick in the 6-15 range? Ultimately, yes, he was even though he never was really great. Tannehill was trending upwards, though he hasn’t broken through to true franchise QB status. He was on pace for 3900+ yards for the last 4 seasons until he missed 3 games in 2017. Leftwich showed dreaded potential but never really realized it. Gabbert, Ponder, Locker, and Leinart had some good moments but ultimately came up short. Manuel, well, you know. Even being generous that is 3 good QBs vs 6 that weren’t, or about a 33% success rate for QBs taken picks 6-15. That’s a big drop off in the odds of finding a franchise QB.

Drafted 16-32

Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Chad Pennington, Jason Campbell, Josh Freeman, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, Brandon Weeden, J.P. Losman, Teddy Bridgewater, Patrick Ramsey, Brady Quinn, Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel

Aaron Rodgers is unquestionably one of the best QBs in the league, even though he happily didn’t show it when he visited Orchard Park. Joe Flacco is one of those good-but-not-great QBs that Bills fans should be happy to have. He parlayed his best season (Super Bowl win) into a big contract. Pennington was a heady, noodle armed QB who beat defenses with short passes. He averaged about 200 yards per game, which doesn’t put him on the right side of the line for the purposes of this post. Campbell had a couple of decent seasons in Washington but on the whole his career was a disappointment. Freeman, Grossman, Boller, Weeden, Losman, Ramsey, and Quinn were all misused selections. Tebow took a quirky Denver offense and awesome defense to the playoffs but ended his career on the punt coverage unit. Manziel busted out of the league almost immediately. Bridgewater was moving in the right direction before shredding his knee. He had 2900 yards and 3200 yards in his first two seasons and kept his INTs down. He was just getting to the point where he was capable of carrying his team and he may or may not be the same guy after the injury. For the purposes of this post he’ll be added to Rodgers and Flacco as one of the 3 good QBs picked in the second half of the first round. With 14 taken in the second half of the round, that puts the success rate at no better than 21%.


Of first round QB picks, a top-5 QB works out a little over half the time (56%), while a top half of the round pick (6-15) succeeds less often (33%), and a bottom half of the round pick doesn’t pan out very often at all (21%). If the Bills are wanting a franchise QB in the 2018 draft, a higher pick would be helpful. The Bills will have the firepower to move up – perhaps not to first overall but into the top 5 – without tanking.

Many variables come into play, obviously. Al Davis chose Russell, for example, and Buffalo hopefully doesn’t have anyone analogous in the front office. We can only hope that the newly-constituted scouting staff doesn’t make the types of mistakes that led teams to draft Losman, Young, or Leinart. Still, it comes as no surprise that teams with the pick of the litter tend to come away with better QBs than teams that are picking from the leftovers.