Crisis Behind the Center?

Much has been made of the sudden influx of new starting quarterbacks in the NFL. In week 3, unfamiliar names of Gardner Minshew, Jacoby Brissett, Luke Falk, Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater and Mason Rudoph headlined depth charts rather than the quarterbacks who were expected to start this season.

Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement, injuries to Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton, Sam Darnold’s bout with mononucleosis – is this a sign of crisis?

I came up with a simple metric to take a look at this situation, since detailed injury data is very hard to find going back in time. I took the draft position of a team’s starting quarterback in every game and divided it by the number of games played in a season. For undrafted quarterbacks, I used the number 275 as an estimate. Just to use something – there’s no analysis behind the number.

I started the analysis with 1994, the first year of the salary cap.

Average draft position by year

What this graph shows, first and foremost, is that drafting a franchise quarterback became a big priority in the first decade of the new century. Going into this season, 13 of the 32 teams planned to start a quarterback who was drafted in the top four of the first round (Darnold is sick now and Eli Manning lost his job to this year’s sixth overall pick). Twenty teams planned to use a first-rounder. Only one team (and this may well change after last night’s performance), planned to start an undrafted quarterback.

This season’s average draft position of 55.0 is representative of the last eight seasons. But the question remains whether jump from 63.4 to 51.5 from 2017 to 2018 was an indication that the trend is continuing? Or did the shift effectively end around 2010 and this is just the new normal?

For now, I don’t think there’s a crisis. NFL coaches have complained about the lack of NFL quality quarterbacks for as long as I’ve been watching the game. Some of the new ones impress, some don’t. There have been highly drafted quarterback busts seemingly since the beginning of time itself.

High-profile injuries always seem to arrive in bunches (again, no analysis behind the comment). With Hall of Fame names like Roethlisberger and Brees going down in a space of hours and a third (I could write volumes on his candidacy, pro or con) losing his starting job a week later, there’s a lot of attention on young quarterbacks right now.