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10-yr analysis identifies the "sweet spots" for drafting QBs, which may indicate a strategy for WFT in the '21 draft

Washington Football Report

Research shows 2nd & 3rd overall picks are the worst place to draft QBs; great news for WFT fans who hope to draft a young QB in ‘21

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A researcher and statistician who also happens to be a Washington Football Team fan wrote and published an article this week that is part of a series of off-season projects he has been working on to statistically evaluate relationships between the draft and the quarterback position.

In this latest article, the author attempts to quantify the relative balance of potential reward to opportunity, which simply means that he looks at the likelihood of success when drafting a quarterback at given picks in the draft and compares that to the likelihood of success for a team picking a non-quarterback with the same pick.

The focus is on the opportunity cost, and his stated goal is to find the “sweet spot” – that is, the draft positions where the team is statistically likely to incur the lowest opportunity cost, measured as the difference in likelihood of success between the two choices (quarterback or non-quarterback).

What jumped out at me when I read the article, though, wasn’t the ‘sweet spot’, but what appears to be the sour spot. In this author’s analysis, Caron Wentz represents to only “success” for a team drafting a QB with the 2nd or 3rd overall pick since 2011.

The hit rate on QBs selected second and third overall in these ten drafts has been appalling, and represents a huge drop from the first overall pick. Of the six QBs selected at these picks only Carson Wentz met the long-term starter criterion, and there is reasonable doubt about whether he will turn things around in Indianapolis. The QBs who failed to catch on as long-term starters are Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, RG3, and Mitch Trubisky. I am projecting Sam Darnold to join the list of failures at the third overall pick, based on the horrible first three years of his career with the Jets (59.8% completion percentage, 45 TD, 39 Int, 6.6 Y/A, 2020 QBR 40.1).
The low QB hit rate at these picks does not appear to be just some kind of statistical anomaly of using a small sample, either. Reaching back to the beginning of the salary cap era (1994) brings the sample up to 14 drafted QBs, of which only Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Matt Ryan join Wentz as long-term starters. The others read like a list of famous draft busts including Heath Shuler, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Vince Young. While that would bring the hit rate up to a more respectable hit rate of 29%, it is still far short or what one might expect, and what teams have achieved picking slightly later in the draft.

This was like a slap in the face from reality when I read it. It turns out that teams who take a quarterback with the first overall pick have the highest success rate, as you would expect, but the 2nd (and sometimes 3rd) guy off the board is almost a guaranteed bust. When you take into account how many teams traded significant capital to get into the position to make that draft selection, it becomes even more appalling.

Aside from the obvious first-overall selection, where did the author identify the “sweet spot”?

Well, he identified two sweet spots really.

[F]or teams not holding the first overall pick, the least risky places to spend draft resources on finding a QB of the future would appear to be the fourth through 15th picks of the first round, followed by the second round.

For fans who want Washington to select a quarterback in this month’s draft, this seems to be good news.

From a statistical standpoint, Washington’s 19th overall pick isn’t in the “sweet spot”, but a small trade up into the top 15 seems to be a statistically good bet, though the analysis shows that the team would still have a higher expectation of success by drafting a non-quarterback; the “sweet spots” are simply where the opportunity cost is mathematically the lowest.

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Source: Hogs Haven

Even more encouraging for those who would like the WFT to draft a developmental QB this year is the idea that they should be able to make use of the second ‘sweet spot’ by selecting a quarterback in the second round without the necessity of trading up. While the likelihood of that QB becoming a long term starter is actually lower than that of a player taken in the first round, you can see from the chart above that the risk reward ratio as calculated by the author is virtually identical to using a pick in the 4 to 15 range, and is dramatically more attractive than the results seen from the 2nd & 3rd overall picks in the draft.

The author had this to say:

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how relatively modest the falloff of Risk Ratio is from first to the second round, and even from the second to the middle rounds. While the hit rate for drafting QBs declines as the draft progresses, with a few bumps and dips through the first round, so does the hit rate for drafting starter.
The unprecedented demand for QBs on rookie contracts is showing signs of driving a panic rush on QBs in the top end of the first round in 2021, with QBs who might have previously carried a second round scouting rating being discussed as top ten prospects. The problem with this scenario, if it truly plays out like that, is that the supply of starting quality QB prospects is showing no signs of increasing to meet demand.
By trading into the top ten to target a prospect whom they might previously have expected to find in the late first to second round, they aren’t actually increasing their chance of drafting their QB of the future. But what they are doing is driving up the cost of looking for him, measured in terms of the opportunity cost of blue chip players passed up at other positions plus additional draft picks given away to trade up.

Last month the Washington front office made the move to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starting quarterback. That acquisition combined with the presence of two capable backups in Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke, make it perfectly reasonable to draft a 2nd round quarterback this year and allow him to develop behind Fitzpatrick.

Related: Ron Rivera answers questions about the QB position in Washington

If Washington chooses this route, the most likely candidate for the selection at #51 overall seems to be Kellen Mond from Texas A&M, who is seen as a talented QB with upside who may need a bit of time to develop. He seems to be the type of quarterback that the Washington coaches like, as he can throw the ball well but also possesses good mobility.

Consider this comment from Charlie Campbell at Walter Football:

Mond considered entering the 2020 NFL Draft, but he wisely decided to return to school,as NFL sources felt he needed more development in college before going pro.
Mond completed 63 percent of his passes in 2020 for 2,282 yards, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions. The senior added four rushing touchdowns and some solid yardage on the ground….
From the perspective of physical skills, Mond has the tools to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He is tall enough and has a strong arm capable of making all the throws required. To go along with arm talent, Mond is a good athlete who has running ability to avoid pressure and can create some positive plays for his offense using his feet. He is a threat in short-yardage situations and is a dual-threat quarterback who can hurt defenses on read-option plays... Mond does a nice job of moving in the pocket to buy time and scramble his way into a positive play when blocking breaks down.

If Washington decides to forgo drafting a passer this year, they are set with Fitzpatrick, Heinicke and Allen, but if they decide to pull the trigger on a rookie signal caller, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them do it on the second day of the draft instead of the first, and that could well mean Kellen Mond joining the Washington Football Team. If so, the statistics say that it would represent a good decision with a good chance for a successul outcome.

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