A quarterback won the Heisman Trophy this year and he'll likely end up the No. 1 pick of the 2003 NFL Draft. That's enough to say it's a good year for the quarterback position in this draft. Of course, I'm referring to Carson Palmer, the top player in this weekend's selection process.
Palmer isn't alone as a first-round QB selection. With three other signal-callers probably going in the first round, it has to be considered an excellent draft for the most important position in football. Byron Leftwich (Marshall), Kyle Boller (California) and Rex Grossman (Florida) should know which team is their new home early enough on Saturday afternoon to go celebrate.
But what about the curse of the first-round quarterbacks?
It's a popular opinion that teams shy away from taking quarterbacks in the first round because it's 50-50 they will turn out to be busts. Smart teams perpetuate that kind of thinking in hopes good quarterbacks fall to them in the draft. Green Bay would love for all 28 teams above them in the first round to shy away from a QB. Oakland would have easily given up its two first-round picks for a shot at Palmer.
Here's a reason you might not want to wait too long to grab a quarterback in this draft. Last year, three were taken in the first round -- David Carr (Houston), Joey Harrington (Detroit) and Patrick Ramsey (Washington). The trio started 33 games between them. Sure, they threw more interceptions than touchdowns (30 TDs to 39 INTs), but they showed they belong at the helm of their club's offense and will be much better this year.
Just look at the development of Michael Vick from year one to year two. The key to listening to the line about taking quarterbacks later in the draft is to be cautious not to buy into that logic. A dozen quarterbacks were selected after the first round last year. Among those, there were just two starts (Randi Fasani in Carolina and David Garrard in Jacksonville). At this point of their careers, all 12 are considered backups at best. In fact, one is now listed as a kick returner/safety, two are on teams that brought in a player via free agency and at least six are on teams that intend to select a QB on the first day of the draft. So much for the "draft-them-later" theory.
Want to tell me about Ryan Leaf, Cade McNown or Akili Smith? Fine, but what about Donovan McNabb with the city of Philadelphia booing as the Eagles selected him, or Chad Pennington, Peyton Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Steve McNair or Vick. The truth is, when a good one is staring a team in the face and club personnel know they need one, they better not pass on taking him.
With Palmer looking to become the next Boomer Esiason in Cincinnati, it leaves Chicago (No. 4), Dallas (No. 5), Arizona (No. 6), Jacksonville (No. 8) and Baltimore (No. 9) to figure out how important taking Leftwich or Boller is to the future of their team. I'm sure the Ravens hope all those other teams think some other position is more critical.
When we get deep into the second half of the first round, teams like Pittsburgh and Green Bay have to ask themselves that if they pass on Grossman, Chris Simms or Dave Ragone, who will be there when they select again? If the Steelers skip a QB at No. 27, they have to wait until No. 59 to pick again. If the Packers pass at No. 29, they don't have another selection until No. 94. At that point, it probably is over for 2003 as far as finding a long-term answer to Brett Favre.
Speaking of Favre, he was a second-round selection of the Falcons in 1991. Teams that passed on him have paid dearly for that mistake. Believe me, I know. We [the New York Jets] thought we traded up high enough to get him that year. He went the pick before us and we took Browning Nagle instead -- big difference for all concerned.
How many people recognize the names Seth Burford, Jeff Kelly, Wes Pate, Craig Nall or Brandon Doman? They were all quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 5-7 last year. Most still haven't thrown a pass in the NFL, while other have been cut.
There is more depth at the position this year, so some better players should be selected. Brian St. Pierre (Boston College) is my favorite to be the next A.J. Feeley. Feeley was drafted in the fifth round in 2001. He played in one game as a rookie and threw two touchdown passes in one quarter. As a second-year player, he had to play in five games due to injuries to Philadelphia's other quarterbacks, and ended up throwing for over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. He may be available in a trade if a team wants to give up a second-round pick to the Eagles.
For a real longshot, keep an eye open for Rob Adamson from little Mount Union College. He's 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and has a strong arm. I saw some game tape of him and asked around the league and there is some genuine interest in this kid.
Finally, I always think of my starting quarterback as a one-man pitching staff for a Major League Baseball team. Imagine how good any baseball team would be if Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson pitched every game. That's how important a QB is to an NFL team, and this year's draft could produce two or three of the superstar variety.
Kirwan's Hot Topics
Some key points to keep in mind as we watch the draft unfold:
- Will Carson Palmer turn around Cincinnati's fortunes in the next few years? I have great faith he will.
- How can any team in need of a QB in the top 10 pass on Byron Leftwich? If you think Terrell Suggs is a 15-sack-type rusher or Terence Newman is the next Deion Sanders, is it still worth it?
- Last year, not one QB was taken in the second round. How many players will come from that round and what will their impact be? Chris Simms and Dave Ragone have a chance to do what San Diego's Drew Brees has done.
- How long can Rich Gannon, Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia and Mark Brunell keep going?
- Does it look like running quarterbacks appear to have taken a back seat to classic pocket passers like Palmer and Leftwich? It sure does.