In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals did something very rare: they used a 1st round pick in back to back drafts on quarterbacks–and in their case, two picks in the top ten. After drafting Josh Rosen 10th overall in 2018, they drafted Kyler Murray 1st overall in 2019. This has only happened two other times–one of them we’ll get to later, but the other had extremely unusual circumstances: 1982 draftee Art Schlichter was suspended for gambling, leading to the Baltimore Colts following up that selection with the (in)famous drafting of John Elway in 1983.
While nowhere near as extreme, the circumstances in Glendale may not have been strictly related to quarterback play. Steve Wilks was fired after only one season as head coach, and was replaced with Kliff Kingsbury, he of the Air Raid fame. The change of the offensive system led the Cardinals to bring in Murray, someone Kingsbury was familiar with in the Big 12 back in his Texas Tech coaching days, and to ship off Rosen to the Miami Dolphins for a 2nd round pick. So far, this rare move has turned out better for the Cardinals: Murray was Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Rosen, coming off arguably the worst rookie season in at least 35 years, failed to hold off Ryan Fitzpatrick from the starting job in Miami in 2019.
Intuitively, the rarity of back to back 1st round quarterbacks by the same team seems straightforward: entering the NFL is a tough task, and teams want to give a quarterback the benefit of the doubt in his rookie season, hoping that he will significantly improve in his second season. However, after taking a glance at the excellent DYAR and DVOA statistics from Football Outsiders, this may be wishful thinking. Looking at its history of quarterback ratings going back to 1985, results like Rosen’s may be much closer to the rule than the exception; thus, perhaps drafting someone like Murray should the opportunity arise also should be more the rule than the exception.
And if that’s the case, as we approach the 2020 NFL Draft, it should leave two teams in a potentially similar situation–the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants–seriously considering drafting someone like Tua Tagovailoa.
The rarity of “false negatives”
In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Giants drafted Daniel Jones 6th overall, while the Redskins drafted Dwayne Haskins 15th overall. By DYAR and DVOA, both quarterbacks had very poor rookie seasons. Haskins was dead last in both measures among quarterbacks with at least 200 passes, at -443 and -42.0%. Jones wasn’t much better: at -256 and -19.2% he was respectively fourth worst and fifth worst.
This leads to the question as to how many “false negatives” at quarterback come out of the 1st round, where a quarterback who had a poor rookie season nonetheless was able to put together a good NFL career. What are the odds that Haskins and Jones can consistently bounce back from that rough start?
The table below shows all quarterbacks taken in the 1st round since 1985 that had either DYAR or DVOA that was worse than Jones’s 2019 numbers in the first year that they threw at least 200 passes, as well as their DYAR and DVOA in the subsequent three seasons, for a total of four seasons. Haskins and Jones are highlighted in teal. All blank cells indicate that the quarterback did not throw 200 or more passes in that season, with exceptions highlighted in yellow: Andre Ware and Dan McGwire never threw for 200 or more passes in any season, so their under 200 pass seasons are included.
|Player||Draft Year||First Season||Season 1||Season 2||Season 3||Season 4|
A quick, subjective look at that list of 35 quarterbacks does…not look good–including the observation that Rosen had the worst rookie quarterback DYAR ever. Among that list, there are five quarterbacks that a reasonable consensus could agree had at least decent NFL careers Those five, highlighted in green and marked with an asterisk, are as follows, in descending order from most to least recent:
- Jared Goff, who had to suffer through Jeff Fisher’s last stand in the Rams’ return to Los Angeles before quickly logging four digit DYAR in his next two seasons upon the arrival of Sean McVay.
- Matt Stafford, who suffered a rough rookie season in the year after the 0-16 Lions, and then had an injury filled second season before taking off considerably in Seasons 3 and 4.
- Eli Manning, whose career was a roller coaster as a matter of DYAR and DVOA, but at least logged above average and above replacement in Seasons 2 and 3, and did of course win two Super Bowls.
- Donovan McNabb, who hovered below average but at least above replacement after a rough rookie season before really taking off for three seasons, starting with his Super Bowl appearance season of 2004.
- And finally, Troy Aikman, the only Hall of Famer on this list. But it’s at this moment that the final rarity of first round quarterbacks taken in consecutive drafts by a team shall be mentioned. In fact, Jimmy Johnson didn’t even bother seeing one down of Aikman’s rookie season before using the Cowboys’ 1990 1st round pick in the 1989 supplemental draft on Steve Walsh–who also is on this list. Therefore, among these quarterbacks, the only one whose team immediately used a 1st round pick on a competitor was the only one that made the Hall of Fame.
Pitting those five quarterbacks against the 30 others on the list that came before Haskins and Jones (although there is still some time to determine the ultimate fates of the likes of Rosen and Josh Allen), it translates into a 1 in 7 chance for the careers of Haskins and Jones to come out as good as the quarterbacks mentioned above–and a 1 in 35 chance of ascending all the way to Aikman’s level.
Where the Redskins and Giants are at
This leads us to the predicament the Redskins and Giants find themselves in for the 2020 NFL Draft. Both teams had terrible 2019 seasons–bottom six in overall DVOA, and bottom ten in offensive DVOA–contributing to records of 3-13 and 4-12, and being given the 2nd and 4th overall picks. That puts them in the position where highly regarded quarterbacks are considered.
Assuming for the sake of argument that the Bengals take Joe Burrow 1st overall, the consensus next best available quarterback, one that has been mentioned as such well before any 2019 action in football, was Tua Tagovailoa. Now, just like any other quarterback entering the NFL from college, there is no guarantee on how he’ll perform, and you should not be drafting a quarterback that high if he’s deemed to not meet that value. And with Tagovailoa in particular, there is the added risk factor of his serious hip injury from last season. Furthermore, it would be painful to pass up on a highly regarded prospect at another position–like Chase Young, who, in the Redskins’ case, could easily go to a division rival in the Giants should they take a quarterback at 2nd overall.
However, if, after weighing all factors and coming to the determination that Tagovailoa has a very good chance to be a successful NFL quarterback, given the importance of the position it may behoove both the Redskins and Giants to at least consider indemnifying what they have now with Haskins and Jones with a prospect like Tagovailoa.