It has been said so many times of late that it has almost become a cliché, but the NFL is a passing league, and it is obvious that a passing league is going to be driven by one position moreso than any other in the NFL, the Quarterback position.
Now more than ever the Quarterback position is driving the top teams in the league, you have a QB you are exponentially more likely to have success, in both the regular and postseasons. Look at the Quarterbacks who have participated in the Superbowl in the past decade.
2010 – Rodgers and Roethlisberger
2009 – Brees and P.Manning
2008 – Roethlisberger and Warner
2007 – E.Manning and Brady
2006 – P.Manning and Grossman
2005 – Roethlisberger and Hasselbeck
2004 – Brady and McNabb
2003 – Brady and Delhomme
2002 – Johnson and Gannon
2001 – Brady and Warner
With three exceptions the winning QB has been among the elite in the NFL at the QB position in each game, the two exceptions, Johnson in 2002, Roethlisberger in 2005 and Eli Manning in 2007 all were playing with one of the leagues best defenses that season and arguably one of the best defensive units ever assembled (2002 Bucs). On the opposing side, there are three examples of non-elite QB’s making it to the game, Delhomme in 03, Hasselbeck in 05 and Grossman in 06. Grossman was aided to the Superbowl by the leagues 2nd best defense. Hasselbeck, despite never being considered an elite QB put up an elite style season with 24 TD’s to 9 INT’s and was backed by the record breaking Shaun Alexander to post the NFL’s highest scoring offense. Delhomme in 2003 is really the only unexplainable, and while he did get 1400 yards from the legs of Stephen Davis he was not backed by a great running game or a great defense, yet they made it to the big game. Really they caught lightning in a bottle, over the course of the season including the playoffs the Panthers played 14 games decided by 7 or less, and they finished 11-3 in those games (Including the Superbowl) it really was a season in isolation as the next year the fell back to 7-9 and 3rd place in their division.
You want to see long term NFL success a Franchise QB like Manning or Rivers is needed.
History has shown, you want to compete in and therefore have a chance to win a SuperBowl the fastest and surest way to get there is an Elite QB. 14 of the last 20 to compete in the game or 70% of them have been deemed elite QB’s. Of the 6 that were not elite and reached the game, 4 of them were backed by a defense that ranked in the top 3 of the NFL in PPG allowed, and one posted a great QB season backed by a record breaking running game.
Now more than ever success in the NFL is reliant on having a Quarterback who is regarded as being among the elite of the league, and in the situation that your QB is not elite, unless you then post one of the best defenses in the NFL, you are out of luck, only 5% of the last ten years SuperBowls participants filled neither of those two criteria.
But it is not only prolonged success in the postseason in terms of SuperBowl appearances and wins, but indeed long term success in the regular season. Among the current crop of NFL’s QB’s we have the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan all considered as elite or there or thereabouts in their careers as an NFL QB. Combined these QB’s have started the majority of the games in 48 seasons of NFL football. Of those combined 48 seasons of football, teams Quarterbacked by those QB’s have experiences a season with a record of less than .500 just five times, including a 7-8 season from Big Ben in Pittsburgh and a 7-9 season from Brees in New Orleans. Combined over their careers the aforementioned Quarterbacks have accumulated a combined record of 508-246, a .673 winning percentage, they have in their 48 combined seasons been to the playoffs 46 times or 75% of the time and they hold and 8 combined Superbowl rings with 10 appearances.
If you have doubted it in the past, doubt it no more, an elite QB in today’s NFL is the fastest way to a winning season, the playoffs and to the SuperBowl.
But what does this all mean in the context of the Arizona Cardinals and the 2011 draft? Well it is quite simple. The Cardinals are in a position right now to select one of the best QB prospects in the draft. Sitting at the 5th overall selection and currently without a Quarterback that one would describe as "elite" or as a "potential franchise QB" it would see to be the perfect place to start a turnaround for the team, to try and get the team into a situation where winning not only becomes a habit, but a realistic expectation year in and year out. However the 2011 draft is one that poses issues, the first is the strength or lack thereof of the Quarterback position in the draft is an issue that must be taken into account, because we are not talking about taking a great prospect and inserting them for instant results it does take a transition period and it does take a player who can really warm to the task a dedicate the next 10-15 years of their life to a team and a lifestyle conducive to winning. It is a long and slow and drawn out process, but if you as a team feel you have a shot at a legitimate franchise QB in most situations you take the shot.
So sitting at 5th overall what are the options for Arizona in this draft. The obvious is Blaine Gabbert a fast rising Junior from Missouri. He has the look of a franchise QB and he would be a tremendous fit for the spread offense that the Arizona Cardinals have taken a liking to over the past couple of seasons, but he like any QB prospect has his issues, mostly around a transition to taking more and more snaps under center and a reworking of his footwork to be more conducive to taking 5 and 7 step drops from under center.
Cam Newton from Auburn the athletic specimen and Heisman trophy winner is another option, probably a more long term option with the large amount of development that he will need to go through to reach a standard worthy of starting in the NFL, but if the team sees enough in him and enough in their coaching staff he could be an option.
Could Newton or Gabbert be the QB to lead the turnaround in Arizona?
At #5 those are likely the only two to come to mind in the draft, and both are very realistic options with the amount of raw talent in the upper part of the draft, particularly on the defensive side of the ball with Daerus, Fairley, Peterson, Miller, Bowers among others, but also players like AJ Green and Juilo Jones at WR could be on the mind of teams picking very highly in the draft.
Personally the only option I would even consider at #5 would be Blaine Gabbert, but I have no say in any drafting matters.
Other methods of acquiring a Quarterback or any player are the Free Agency route and the trade route. Neither of these is an option I would really pursue if I was in the market for a franchise QB, because rarely if ever does a team put a player who has proven quality at the NFL level on the Market, and trading for a young backup QB is just the same as drafting one, who is likely younger and gives your staff to do all of the molding themselves. Of the 7 QB’s I listed above as Elite, 5 of the 7 were first round picks (Brees was the first pick of the 2nd round) and 6 of the 7 were drafted by their current teams. You need a new signal caller; the first round of the draft is always your first port of call.
So finally what does this mean for outcomes come late April and the NFL Draft? It means that if Arizona has a shot at taking a Blaine Gabbert, I think it is a very good chance that they pass on a defender like a Peterson or a Miller for the Quarterback from Missouri, because this league is driven by the guy throwing the football, and if you don’t have one on your roster that is going to get the job done, week in week out, year in year out, then you are not going to win a whole lot of football games.