Matt McGuire's NFL Draftology 234:
Positional Value Pyramid Tier 1 - Quarterbacks
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Updated June 15, 2010
Here we are at the very top of the pyramid - think of it like fats, sugars, and oils at the top of the food guide pyramid (although it seems like this has become the base of the American diet). This is the creme de la creme.
Only one position belongs on the top tier, and after reading the Introduction to the Positional Value Pyramid (or PVP for short) you already know this tier is reserved for quarterbacks.
Quarterback is the most important position in football - on EVERY single level: high school, college, arena leagues, Canada, NFL, etc.
In the PVP we are going to breakdown the four attributes later on, but first I need to touch on what a quarterback brings to the table (as I will with every position) and this is our positional analysis - basically what he does on the field in terms of intangibles and skill.
Quarterback Positional Analysis: The quarterback is the most important player on the field. Everything goes through him. Every play (except special teams and gadget plays) starts with the center-quarterback exchange and it develops from here.
Why is the running game so important? Because it gives the quarterback better windows to throw the ball, threatens the defense on the ground so they can't tee off for sacks and pressures (a good running game provides significant pass protection when the offense elects to throw the football - however, this isn't a factor on obvious passing downs), and forces the defensive coordinator to respect the offense's ability to run the football. If a defensive coordinator knows the offense can't run the football, then he can dial up a variety of blitz packages, mix up the coverages, and/or assign more defensive backs and linebackers to defend the pass as opposed to giving them potential run stopping responsibilities.
Why is the pass rush for a defense so important? Because it can cause the quarterback to make errant mistakes - specifically putting the quarterback, offensive coordinator, and other offensive personnel on a lot of stress - and stress can be a very bad thing especially when you're feeling threatened.
My point with these two questions is everything in the non-special teams vacuum revolves around the quarterback. Teams draft pass rushers, offensive linemen, running backs and receivers to either make their own quarterbacks more effective or make their opponent's passing game less effective.
The reason I am establishing this (because you are probably getting sick of this article and saying "No ****, McGuire") is to stress how important the position of quarterback is - and if you have a very good starting quarterback, then it completely changes how many potential wins your team can get in a regular season and how far it can get in the playoffs.
Would the Saints have beaten the Colts without Drew Brees? Absolutely not - they would have gotten obliterated because they wouldn't be able to put up any points, but here we are in an era when drafting a quarterback in the first round is thought to be a "risky move" and you are better off taking a pass rusher or some other position that ridiculously less valuable than a quarterback.
I haven't even gotten into what a quarterback does for a team in terms of team morale, fan morale, marketing, publicity, franchise fiscal value, etc. How good would the Colts have been over the last 10 years without Peyton Manning? Maybe the Packers still suck if they never would have traded (and developed - because he was a bust in Atlanta as a rookie) for Brett Favre. The Chargers are probably struggling to get out of the AFC West if it wasn't for Philip Rivers.
I could think of hundreds of examples about the value of a quarterback. Left tackles don't change a franchise like quarterbacks. Ask Browns fans - they know they have absolutely no chance at the playoffs this year. Nobody believes in Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace - PLEASE - Joe Thomas can't lead them to the playoffs single-handedly as the best left tackle in the game.
On the other hand, I don't want to make it seem like all it takes is having a great quarterback; they can't do the job by themselves either (I'll get to this in a couple seconds). Jay Cutler can't win games with a mediocre defense, terrible receivers and no time to throw in the pocket. Archie Manning had a terrible career in New Orleans - hey, Peyton's talent and work ethic had to have come from somewhere. Any other team, and Archie might have been a big-time producer.
However, the counter-argument to the "quarterbacks can't do it by themselves" is that if a franchise is so inept that they can't surround a very good quarterback with just average talent (because we know a productive passer can turn a 7-win team into an 11-win team easily), then drafting that defensive linemen or wide receiver wouldn't have made a bit of difference because no one player makes or breaks a team.
My only point is that in this positional value pyramid we are measuring the value of positions to one another. No one position is the end-all-be-all, but the closest thing there is to an end-all-be-all position is quarterback, and this is by lightyears.
Like I've mentioned before in the introduction, taking a quarterback is a risk, but every position is a risk. The only difference with quarterbacks is it is a more visible position. You know the draft busts at quarterbacks because the media only talks about quarterbacks, and the reason they do that is because the position is so vital to a football team. However, the media doesn't ever condemn the busts of defensive linemen, running backs, offensive tackles, etc. The only reason you think taking a quarterback is riskier is because you haven't spent the time to evaluate other busts at other positions - and neither have those overpaid, ignorant NFL analysts who say taking a quarterback is a "big risk."
I'm going to repeat myself here - if a team grades out a quarterback and believes he is good enough to be one of the top 15 in the NFL, then they have to take him. I don't care if the public feels that the No. 1 pick is a reach, until you have a top-15 quarterback in the league, you don't have a chance of consistently making the playoffs (and this is what every fan wants - for their team to be competitive and respected; not winning Super Bowls).
No left tackle or pass rusher you take at No. 1 overall can be as effective or valuable as one of the 15 best passers in the game. I'd take Tony Romo and Matt Schaub over Jared Allen seven days a week - and you know what else, I'm sure any Chiefs fan looking back would have taken Romo or Schaub over Allen. They had to put up with Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, and Tyler Thigpen - Chiefs fans, how far did Jared Allen get you?
But you won't here this on Draft Day if a team "reached" slightly for a quarterback at No. 1 overall. Todd McShay would grill any team for “reaching” on a quarterback because all he cares about is public perception.
As an NFL Draft analyst, my theory is you draft the best possible players to help your team maximize their winning percentage. The goal in the NFL Draft shouldn't be about sticking to your overall board as much as it should be about winning games when you debate about whether you should draft a quarterback or not.
I'm done with my quarterback rant. Onto the four attributes (graded out of 3, 1 being "worst," 2 being "average," and 3 being "best" dependent on the attribute):
Scarcity - 3. Finding a top-15 quarterback isn't easy, but it should be the goal of EVERY NFL franchise. Once you have a top-15 quarterback, you have a great chance to make the playoffs. However, draft history says you don't find these talents after the first round and we all know that very good quarterbacks never hit the free agent market. Maybe you can trade for or sign a quarterback at the tail end of his career (Joe Montana, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair), but this doesn't help your football team in the long term, which should always be the goal to achieve consistent success. The talent and makeup of this position is hard to come by, and this adds to the value of the quarterbacks. This is why quarterbacks go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft so very often.
Effectiveness - 3. I've already established what a quarterback can do for a team on the field above. He moves the chains, he can get big chunks of yardage in the passing game, he can maintain possession for his team, he puts up touchdowns, and he leads the team on and off the field. No position has more effect on the outcome of a game or season than quarterbacks.
Money - 1. Quarterbacks get paid a ton of cash because they are worth it, but they still get insane (and well deserved, unless you are Marc Bulger or Matt Cassell) money. All I am doing in this attribute is evaluating the gross cost of the position, and if you want a big-time quarterback then you are going to have to "show him the money."
Durability - 3. Sure, quarterbacks can suffer serious injuries (Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, etc.), but for the most part they stay relatively healthy and their careers can be highly productive going into their mid 30s.
Summary: It's the most important position in football, and I don't really feel like this is debatable. Therefore, since we know how valuable quarterbacks are, you need to start defending the position on message boards once we get to January every year, and start attacking the myths that taking quarterbacks are a "big risk" and you can be consistently successful without a very good player at the position.
Introduction to the Positional Value Pyramid
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 1 - Quarterbacks
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 2 - Left Tackles, Right Defensive Ends, Cornerbacks, Rush Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 3 - Defensive Tackles, No. 1 Wide Receivers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 1 - Safeties, Nose Tackles, Left Ends, 4-3 Inside Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 2 - Running Backs, Right Tackles
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 1 - No. 2 Wide Receivers, 3-4 Ends, Weakside Linebackers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 2 - 3-4 Inside Linebacker, Interior Offensive Linemen, Tight End, No. 3 Wide Receivers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 6 - Strongside Linebackers, Kickers, Punters
Positional Value Pyramid Spreadsheets
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