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Thursday, May 1, 2014
Draft a QB? Sure ... Start him? No chance

By Michael DiRocco

Blaine Gabbert
If they draft another QB, the Jaguars don't plan to play him early, as they did with Blaine Gabbert.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have been adamant for months that whichever quarterback they draft next week will not play right away.

Chad Henne will be the starter. That is why they signed him to a two-year extension in March.

The rookie’s only responsibilities in 2014 are to learn the offense, adjust to the speed of the NFL game and develop his skills. It’s tough enough to do that without also having to worry about winning games each week.

The offense belongs to Henne, and it’s the right move for the Jaguars. None of the quarterbacks in this draft are in the Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III/Cam Newton category. Draft experts are divided on whether any of this draft's QBs are ready to play right away, and the pieces are not yet in place for a young quarterback to succeed in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars still need a playmaking wide receiver and have to continue to upgrade the offensive line, especially in the middle. The pass rush has been last in the league the past two seasons (51 sacks), and the speed on defense needs to improve.

It’s hard for a young quarterback to succeed without a strong supporting cast, and the Jaguars certainly can’t put a complete one on the field in 2014.

Sitting a rookie quarterback drafted in the first or second round is not an approach shared by every NFL team. Of the 40 quarterbacks drafted in the first two rounds over the past 10 years, half started at least eight games as rookies. Of the remaining 20, five started between three and seven games. Only one (Brian Brohm in 2008) failed to take a single snap as a rookie.

Granted, the group that started at least eight games includes Luck, Griffin, Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. That is a pretty good list. It also includes Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Leinart. That is not as good a list.

But among the players who started fewer than eight games as rookies are Aaron Rodgers (none), Eli Manning (seven), Philip Rivers (none) and Jay Cutler (five). However, it also includes Brady Quinn (none), J.P. Losman (none) and JaMarcus Russell (one) – three of the bigger first-round quarterback busts of the past decade.

This shows there is no correlation between playing a lot as a rookie and success, so that doesn’t mean the Jaguars’ decision to keep the quarterback they draft (expected to be in the second round) on the bench will ensure that he develops into an elite player. But it certainly can’t hurt.

And if a QB isn’t really ready for the burden, it can be devastating. The Jaguars are all too aware of that.

Gabbert certainly had his issues in the pocket, was unable to transfer what he did on the practice field to Sundays, and had trouble staying healthy. The first two were certainly related to being put on the field before he was ready.

Then-general manager Gene Smith traded the Jaguars' first-round pick (No. 16) and second-round pick (No. 49) to Washington to move up six spots to take Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011. The Jaguars' starter that season was supposed to be David Garrard, who was in the fourth year of a seven-year, $60 million contract, but in a surprise move the team released Garrard just five days before the 2011 season opener.

Luke McCown started the first two games, but then-coach Jack Del Rio made the switch to Gabbert. He was robbed of minicamps and OTAs because of the lockout and was just 21 years old when he stepped on the field for the first time. It’s no surprise he struggled and went on to win just five of his 27 starts before being traded to San Francisco in March.

There is at least one other organization that agrees with the Jaguars’ new approach. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair recently told the Houston Chronicle that having rookie David Carr start 16 games in 2002 was a mistake. Carr was sacked a league-high 76 times and threw nine touchdown passes and 15 interceptions in ’02. McNair says it would have been better for Carr and the Texans if coach Dom Capers had gone with veteran Tony Banks that season instead.

The Texans, who own the No. 1 pick this year, are expected to draft a quarterback in the first or second round next week, but the team’s starter will be Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum or T.J. Yates.

What the Jaguars are hoping for is what happened in Green Bay. The Packers took Rodgers with the 24th pick in the 2005 NFL draft, but he didn’t start a game in his first three seasons as he learned and developed behind Brett Favre. Rodgers became the starter in 2008 and has led the Packers to a 58-29 record and a Super Bowl title.

That might be asking too much. But avoiding what teams went through with Russell, Losman and Leinart isn’t.

So the Jaguars are going to sit the rookie and wait … and hope.