Are first-round busts better quarterbacks than day 3 steals?

Los Angeles Rams Minicamp
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

What history says about the best day three picks and the worst first round picks

When the Los Angeles Rams drafted Stetson Bennett in the fourth round of the 2023 draft, they had to accept that the decision would draw the most attention of any pick that the franchise has made since their last first rounder and also the most recent quarterback drafted, Jared Goff in 2016. And therefore that put more pressure on Bennett to succeed than any pick since Goff.

In many ways, Goff and Bennett couldn’t be more different as prospects. Goff went first overall and Bennett went 128th, implying that one of them is supposed to carry the franchise to a Super Bowl and the other is merely fighting for any job in the NFL. Yet in other terms, the two have something in common that puts them in the spotlight regardless of their position on the depth chart: Stetson Bennett is a quarterback.

He’s the third quarterback on L.A.’s depth chart, and no other position will have backups who get more demand from fans to have stories written about them than most starters.

Many people think of fourth round picks to be players that franchises want to develop into starters and therefore Bennett has fans expecting him to be one day take over for Matthew Stafford. This expectation flies directly in the face of historical facts: Day three quarterbacks do not succeed often enough to believe that any of them will ever become perennial starters.

Any team that’s using day three picks on quarterbacks with the hopes of finding the next Tom Brady is probably wasting those picks. Not because they drafted a quarterback—some players need to be day three picks—but because it’s only rational to do so if you are looking for the next Chase Daniel. If you’re looking for a quarterback like Case Keenum or Daniel, you might not be disappointed.

If you expect a day three quarterback to help the team as a starter’s heir apparent, you’re apparently not erring on the side of caution.

For example:

Quarterback A career: 34-40 record, 62.7% completions, 93 TD, 55 INT, 89.2 passer rating, 7.2 adjusted net yards per pass attempt, 2,064 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns, 5.8 yards per carry

This player has been a starter for six different seasons since 2015. He has finished three of those seasons with a winning record as the starter. He is a dual threat. He has also been a backup for three of the last four years and will be a backup in 2024.

Quarterback B career: 15-22 record, 62.6% completions, 59 TD, 24 INT, 90.2 passer rating, 7.1 adjusted yards per attempt, 621 rushing yards, 5 TD, 4.3 yards per carry

This player has been a starter for roughly three seasons, and in one of those seasons he went 6-6, plus last year he went 7-6. Unlike player A, he will be a starter in 2024 but his position is tenable. He’s not as much of a dual threat, but he can scoot a little bit. He’s been a backup for two of the past three years, but again he is being trusted with a bigger role in 2024.

These quarterbacks are second overall pick Marcus Mariota and sixth round pick Gardner Minshew.

As you can see, their career stats are almost identical in certain areas and I don’t think you could say with any certainty that one is certainly better than the other. In fact, Mariota replaced Minshew’s job as the backup in Philadelphia and now Minshew is competing to start for the Raiders three years after Mariota was the backup in Las Vegas.

This is starting to sound like an argument for day three picks, but that would be ignoring the proper context here:

Marcus Mariota is a first round bust. Gardner Minshew is a day three “steal”. Yet they’re almost identical in career rate numbers and Minshew would still need to start for three more years just to catch up to Mariota in career playing time and that’s only if Mariota doesn’t start again.

With the context that one is a bust and one is a steal, it tricks you into thinking that Gardner Minshew is a better player who has had a better career. When in fact, they’re roughly equal quarterbacks in value, but at least Mariota has been able to start for twice as long. It is highly improbable that Minshew will start three more seasons in the NFL, but if he does then his absolute dream scenario would be to play as well as Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Not Tom Brady.

Let’s divide this by ranking first round picks and day three picks

Marcus Mariota is one of 87 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2000. By career Adjusted Value, he ranks 30th out of 87 quarterbacks, with the caveat that he’s ahead of such players as Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Jordan Love, Caleb Williams, etc. because they haven’t had enough time to pass him yet.

Let’s say that Mariota winds up as the 40th best quarterback drafted in the first round since 2000. Ok?

Gardner Minshew is one of 134 quarterbacks drafted on day three since 2000. So the pool of players to choose from, day three picks should have about a 1.75x chance of finding a good player, right? Based purely on the quantity, there are way more day three QBs than first round QBs. Way more.

Minshew’s AV ranks 14th out of 134 quarterbacks already and he’s barely played three seasons. He’s 14th on the list. He’s ranked just behind Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, and Mark Brunell. If Minshew doubled his career AV to 62, he’d also pass Rich Gannon and be a few points behind Marc Bulger.

The top-seven day three quarterbacks of the entire 2000s are Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins, Matt Hasselbeck, Dak Prescott, Fitzpatrick, Aaron Brooks, and David Garrard. Soon, Brock Purdy will be in the top-5. Yes, the top-5. He’s already 16th.

This basically means that in the past 23 years, day three has produced Brady, Cousins, Dak, Hasselbeck, and Purdy if he doesn’t implode.

First round busts are still better than day three steals

With the exception that once every 8-10 years there is a really good day three quarterback pick, it’s not even a close race between most disappointing first rounders and most surprise day three picks: Mariota’s 61 career AV is higher than Rich Gannon’s, a fourth round pick in 1987 who made four Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl and was the 2002 MVP.

Now, do you want to make an argument that Gannon is better than Mariota? OF COURSE YOU DO! That’s true. Rich Gannon is better than Marcus Mariota. Again, do not be confused by the context.

Gannon is a steal, Mariota is a bust, but what are they really separated by? Gannon didn’t even become a good player until he was 34, so how do we know Mariota wouldn’t do something similar? The context for these players says that you must fear Mariota and instead scour the day three market for steals, but the reality is that most busts are really the same quarterbacks as steals yet packaged with a “first round label” that confuses what they are:

Blake Bortles and Kyle Orton had almost the same career numbers, but one is blamed for practically ruining a Super Bowl contender and the other is praised for being underrated and unappreciated.

Stetson Bennett won’t become an NFL starter and that’s actually the most fair thing you can say about his future. It’s not criticism, it’s what history says will most likely happen in his career. He can overcome the odds, but no fan should get mad at what the odds say about drafting quarterbacks: A below-average first round QB could become a really good backup and a well above-average fourth round pick could become a really good backup.

If Bennett is an average fourth round pick, he won’t become a backup.

Go to Source
Title: Are first-round busts better quarterbacks than day 3 steals?
Author: Kenneth Arthur

You May Also Like