What 2011 can teach us about drafting QBs

February, 7, 2014
2/07/14
6:00
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The Houston Texans need a quarterback, but need is a dangerous word around this time of year.

Bad things can happen when a team considers need disproportionately to what's available. The 2011 NFL draft provides a good case study on the matter. That season those who waited fared better than those who didn't, showing that if you're not sure about the quarterbacks available to you, it's better not to force it.

Back then the Panthers, Bengals, Cardinals, 49ers, Titans, Vikings, Redskins and Jaguars all had clear quarterback needs. The Panthers had the top pick and an infatuation with Cam Newton that worked out to the benefit of both parties.

Things got murkier after that. Newton and Blaine Gabbert were widely talked about as the top two quarterbacks in that draft. The Panthers did quite a bit of work on Gabbert back then, too, but nothing they saw drew them away from Newton. The rest of the quarterbacking field was a group that came with talent and many questions.

The Cardinals traded for Kevin Kolb later that offseason, a gamble that didn't work so well and ultimately contributed to the firing of coach Ken Whisenhunt.

The other teams can be divided into those who waited and those who didn't.

Among those who waited were the Bengals, 49ers and Redskins. Cincinnati took receiver A.J. Green fourth overall, and he became a critical part of their offense and helped them become a playoff team. They waited until the second round to take quarterback Andy Dalton. While there are plenty of legitimate questions about Dalton's viability as a franchise quarterback, he's done significantly better than Jake Locker, Gabbert and Christian Ponder, all first-round quarterbacks who were available to the Bengals with their first-round pick.

San Francisco's patience paid even better dividends and was aided by the fact they had a veteran holdover on the roster in Alex Smith. The 49ers took pass-rusher Aldon Smith with the seventh pick and quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round. They won their division that season and lost in the conference championship game. That preceded a loss in the Super Bowl the following season and another conference championship game appearance this season.

Washington, meanwhile, traded out of the top 10 and took defensive end Ryan Kerrigan rather than take a chance on one of the remaining quarterbacks. They waited for Robert Griffin III in the following draft.

The other group includes the Jaguars, Titans and Vikings, three teams that didn't wait, took the wrong guy and eventually fired their coaches.

The Jaguars were so high on Gabbert that they considered him the best quarterback in that draft. They were wrong, and it cost them. Gabbert was thrown into the starting role before he was ready, and the Jaguars went 5-11 and fired their head coach during the season. Under new ownership, Jacksonville spent 2012 with the same general manager who picked Gabbert and kept him and Chad Henne as their quarterback options. They went 2-14 and fired their coach again.

Mike Munchak was in his first season as the Titans' head coach when the team selected Locker. Munchak was fired this season after the Titans went 7-9. You could argue that Locker needs more time. He spent his rookie season as an apprentice and finished 2013 on injured reserve.

Finally, the Vikings took Ponder, who has since started 35 games, thrown 38 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. Minnesota made the playoffs in 2012 on running back Adrian Peterson's back but slid backward in 2013 and are once again looking for a quarterback.

Of course, if there's one quarterback about whom the Texans are sure, they'll get him regardless of anyone else's plans. That's the beauty of having the top pick.

Tania Ganguli

ESPN Houston Texans reporter

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