Ten years ago, when Carson Wentz was still in high school, and when the NFL was on the cusp of an unprecedented offensive boom, the league was in the hands of royalty. Longtime franchise quarterbacks were its faces. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees. The generation behind them had become entrenched as well. Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers. The highly touted QBs of the early 2000s had become the faces of the early 2010s, just as NFL scouts and general managers had envisioned.
In fact, of the 32 Week 1 starting QBs in 2011, 18 had between four and 10 years of NFL experience. Half of the 18 had been first-round picks. The league's talent evaluators had done their jobs.
And then, around the turn of the decade, they forgot how to.
From 2009 to 2016, NFL teams drafted 22 first-round quarterbacks. As of Thursday, not a single one remains employed by his original team. The Eagles agreed to trade Wentz to the Colts, a few weeks after the Rams dumped Jared Goff to the Lions, meaning eight years of supposed franchise QBs have been jettisoned. None has won a Super Bowl as a starter. Eleven are out of the league. Of the other 11 still around, only four are locked into starting jobs next season.
Fluky occurrences, such as Andrew Luck's retirement, contribute to those numbers. But a real trend courses through them. NFL teams only have themselves to blame for a missing generation of quarterbacks.
The missing generation of QBs
The gaffes weren't just first-rounders either. The trend applies throughout the draft.
Yahoo Sports analyzed the age profiles of starting NFL QBs throughout the 2010s. Whereas 17 starters were in their 5th-11th season at the end of 2011, only seven – less than a quarter of the 32 – were in that range by the end of 2019. Those seven represent the draft classes of 2009-2015, and include three QBs who have since lost starting gigs (Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, Jimmy Garoppolo). Only Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr are locked in as starters going forward – and only two of those four are with their original teams.
Several factors explain the trend, including injuries, random chance, and the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. The new rookie scale incentivizes building around young QBs, and disincentivizes paying non-elite middle-aged ones.
But perhaps the biggest factor was that football evolved; and for years, the NFL resisted the evolution.
Why the 2009-2015 QB classes were so barren
Around the turn of the decade, college football began producing a different type of quarterback, who'd been schooled in a different type of system. But rather than eagerly adopt the "spread," the NFL moaned and groaned. This exciting amateur offense, some NFL coaches felt, was a “disservice” to them rather than an instruction manual. A former NFL GM who spoke to Yahoo Sports last year paraphrased the popular approach:
“It was West Coast no matter what. ‘I don’t give a s*** what quarterback you give me, we’re running the West Coast. You want to draft a run-around quarterback? That’s fine, but he ain’t playing for me. He’s gonna be on the bench watching.’ ”
Top college QBs, the former GM explained, would “have undefeated seasons running the spread, they’re having success running the spread. And then all of a sudden you bring ‘em to the NFL and say, ‘Great, it’s fun to watch – we’re gonna run the I [formation], you’re gonna be a dropback quarterback.’ ”
Great quarterbacks didn't just disappear for seven years. Rather, they were overlooked or misused. Football's production line kept humming. Many top college QBs, however, weren't given opportunities because they didn't fit an NFL prototype. Or, they were told to ditch the very style that had made them so successful their entire life.
"That’s changing now," the former GM continued. Lamar Jackson and the 2019 Ravens were the foremost example. A league that was once dead-set on fitting quarterbacks into schemes now molds schemes to quarterbacks more often. Recent draft classes have benefited. The sport is better off. The quarterback position has changed.
But not in time to save a variety of NFL teams from more than a half-decade of QB mistakes.
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