The Myth of "Grooming" a QB from the Draft

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Given our recent bad luck, there has been a lot of talk around here lately about the draft next year and whether or not Cutler should be in the plans or not. There has been talk about drafting a quarterback, usually in the mid rounds, to "groom" behind Cutler if we bring him back via the franchise-tag or even a long-term deal. So let's look at the success rate of quarterbacks who have undergone the much alluded "groom" and their success rates.

Day 1 Starters

You can't be groomed if you come into the league as the starter from day 1. Here's that list

Player Pick

1. Matt Stafford (1st overall)

2. Andrew Luck (1st overall)

3. Sam Bradford (1st overall)

4. Peyton Manning (1st overall)

5. Cam Newton (1st overall)

6. Michael Vick (1st overall)

7. Robert Griffin III (2nd overall)

8. Matt Ryan (3rd overall)

9. Ryan Tannehill (8th overall)

10. Ben Roethlisberger (11th overall)

11. EJ Manuel (16th overall)

12. Joe Flacco (18th overall)

13. Brandon Weeden (22nd overall)

14. Andy Dalton (Round 2, pick 3)

15. Geno Smith (Round 2, pick 7)

16. Russell Wilson (Round 3, pick 11)

That already knocks out 16. Half of the current NFL QBs were drafted and planted as the starter day 1.

Now let's look at QBs drafted who took over during their first NFL season.

Player / Pick / NFL debut

17. Eli Manning / (1st overall) / (Week 11)

18. Alex Smith / (1st overall) /(Week 2)

19. Jake Locker / (8th overall) / (Week 11)

20. Blaine Gabbert / (10th overall) / (Week 2)

21. Jay Cutler / (11th overall) / (Week 13)

22. Christian Ponder / (12th overall) / (Week 6)

23. Drew Brees / (Round 2, pick 1) / (Week 8)

24. Mike Glennon / (Round 3, pick 9) / (Week 4)

These guys, (excluding Glennon) were all drafted in the first round to be the future of the franchise. Most were behind struggling veterans and poor play pushed them into the starting lineup. All but 2 were drafted in the top 12 picks. Brees was drafted 1st in the second round. The other guy, Mike Glennon, has played for 4 weeks and is winless. He emerged as the starter because Schiano is destroying the franchise and didn't like Freeman, their 1st round pick. I expect the Bucs to have a top 5 pick and select another first round QB to replace him. These guys also started their first year and were not groomed for the future.

So that leaves 8 QBs who were drafted and didn't play their first year. Only 8. All have different situations as to why.

The Backup Surprises

These 3 guys sat behind starters for a couple of years and became starters in different scenarios.

25. Matt Schaub (Round 3, pick 27)

Sat behind Vick a couple years, played well in relief, and was traded to the Texans. He wasn't drafted to be "groomed" as a replacement, as they were set at QB with Vick. They used him as trade bait and it paid off.

26. Tom Brady (6th round, pick 33)

We all know this story. Came in for relief in year 2 for Bledsoe and never looked back. Regarded as the best draft pick in the history of the NFL, a once in a lifetime value pick. He wasn't drafted to be a Bledsoe's replacement, just a late round guy that they liked.

27. Tony Romo (undrafted)

Another extremely rare situation, the only undrafted starting QB in the NFL. Sat behind Bledsoe, (like Brady, strangely enough), and supplanted him as the starter after he started playing bad. A UDFA signed off the street in a crazy underdog story. Not drafted to be the future.

The Wildcard

28. Terrelle Pryor (Round 3, supplemental)

Terrelle Pryor wasn't "groomed" either, even though he's been around for 2 years. He is the starter right now by circumstance. Flynn failed as a starter and couldn't get the job done, and Pryor did well enough in training camp to beat him out. I don't know how many people expect him to start next year. He will most likely be replaced by a high 1st round draft pick.


There are always failed QB draft picks year after year. The Chargers thought they had one in Drew Brees. So they selected:

29. Phillip Rivers (4th overall)

They also didn't draft him to "groom" him as the QB of the future, but expected him to provide competition and start eventually over Drew Brees who was struggling. Anyway, Brees became the QB he is now, and Rivers rode the pine. It wasn't until Brees hurt his shoulder that they decided to give Rivers a shot. His good performance coupled with Brees injury risk opened the door for him to start and for Brees to move on and win a Superbowl with the Saints.

30. Colin Kaerpernick (Round 2, pick 4)

Similar to Brees, Alex Smith was underperforming on a stacked 49ers team. They spent a high draft pick on Kaep to push him and compete for the job, similar to Rivers.

You could say these guys count as being "groomed" because he didn't start until the next year, but it's not the case. Injuries pushed them both into the starting lineup. An injury kept Rivers there, and Colin Kaepernick's play kept him there.

So finally we're here and there's only 2 QBS left who were groomed.

Carson Palmer (1st overall)

Palmer didn't play at all his first year. Jon Kitna was the QB, and he was specifically told that part of his job was to prepare Palmer for next year when he would take over. They became good friends, and it worked out well. Palmer took over next year and made the Bengals contenders. Keep in mind though, this was a first overall draft pick. It wasn't a mid round guy who sat on the bench for years learning the system to take over when the starter retires.

Aaron Rodgers (24th overall)

Here it is. The one guy who sat on the bench for multiple years learning behind one of the greatest of all time. He is the definition of grooming. He was a first round draft pick though, and like Palmer picked to be the future. Would Rodgers be the guy he is now if he was thrown under the fire day 1? We'll never know. But this is the one situation where true grooming happened.

The overwhelming point here is that late round QBs don't make it in today's NFL. 22 current starters are 1st round picks. Four are 2nd rounders, and four are 3rd round picks. Of those four 3rd round picks, it is likely that 3 of them won't even be starting next year. Fans are burning Schaub jerseys, and Pryor and Glennon are failing experiments. Most likely they'll be replaced by, you guessed it, 1st round QBs next year.

There are only 2 players, Brady and Romo, that were drafted after the 3rd round currently starting for an NFL team. And these are both extremely rare occurrences.

So if you want to draft a QB to replace the starter, you do it in the first 2 rounds. But what are the odds?

16/38 first round QBs since 2000 failed.

Chad Pennington, David Carr,Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Tim Tebow

And honestly, it's 19, because Ponder, Weeden, and Gabbert are all on their way out. That puts it at an even 50%, 19/38.

11/15 second round QBs since 2000 failed. (excluding Brock Osweiler here because he is being "groomed" by Manning supposedly)

Jimmy Clausen, Pat White, Brian Brohm, Chad Henne, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Kellen Clemens, Tarvaris Jackson, Quincy Carter, Marques Tuiasosopo

Ok, that's a lot of statistics, so what's the point?

Bears fans want different things. Some want Cutler to sign a long term deal, me being one of those. Some want that long term deal, but also want us to draft a mid round guy to "groom" to take over when the contract ends. But based on the current trends of the NFL, no team has successfully done this in the last 14 years (It could be longer, but I haven't looked back further than that). Wilson and Glennon came in as starters year 1. Pryor is an experiment who isn't playing that well, and he became the starter because he is the best of a bad situation. And Schaub was an above average backup who was traded to another team, and has had mixed results in his career. He may not be the starter next year. The only players who have been successfully groomed were first round or borderline first round picks.

Some fans don't want to re-sign Cutler, but spend a first round pick on a young QB who has a 50/50 shot of making it as a starter (according to the last 14 draft results). Of the 22 first round successes, all but 2 were drafted in the top half of the draft where we likely will not be drafting. If we do happen to get one of those first round QBs, how do we know he will be better than Cutler? Let's look at those current first round QBs. Most would agree Cutler is better than Manuel, Tannehill, Weeden, Ponder, Locker, Gabbert, Palmer, Bradford, Alex Smith, and you could argue that he's better than Vick, RG3, Newton, and even Stafford. That means Cutler is probably better than at least 9 to maybe even 13 of the 22 succesful 1st round picks. That puts him any where from top 9 to top 13 of the 38 1st round picks of the last 14 years. But that's not good enough for fans?

Some even say maybe a second round pick where the odds are even slimmer, 11/15 failures since 2000. Of those 4, Dalton, Geno, Kaepernick, and Brees, I would say he's better than 3 of those (not Breesus Christ). So 1 or at most 4 second round quarterbacks in the last 14 years have been better than Cutler, and you want to bet on those odds?

Some say we should franchise-tag Cutler and draft a guy in the first or second round. Again, no team has done this. The teams that drafted a first-round pick to take over were teams that:

A- had an old QB that was going to retire soon or

B- had a struggling QB that they were sick of. Usually that QB had a losing record, giving them a high draft pick

C- a mixture of both

Cutler posses none of these characteristics. He is 30, which is about the midway point of his career, and he has a record of 34-20 in games he's started and finished.

Then What Do We Do?

In summary, this offseason we can

  • Give Jay a long term deal and draft a mid round guy, who will almost definitely fail, therefore wasting a pick
  • Franchise-tag Jay and draft a 1st round guy who has a 50/50 shot of failing and even less odds of being better than Cutler
  • No deal for Cutler and draft a first-round guy who has a 50/50 shot of failing and even less odds of being better than Cutler
  • Give Cutler a long-term deal and keep McCown, a proven, smart veteran and friend of Cutler as the backup. Ding-ding-ding, we have a winner.


We have a top 16 quarterback in the league. You could argue he's top 10. Teams would kill to have him. We would've killed to have him, or have we so quickly forgotten the Rex/Orton/Griese days? He was having one of his best seasons of his career this year, and he is out for a few weeks and all of a sudden we need a new guy? It makes no sense. Quarterbacks aren't groomed. They can either play and play well or they can't. When you have one who can play well, you don't give him up for a risky draft pick just because they're younger and cheaper. I don't care what the cap implications are, when you find that rare, good, franchise NFL quarterback, you re-sign him for market value. You also don't waste mid round picks on quarterbacks sure to be career backups or out of the league in a few years when you have a defense that needs fixing.

Yes it would be nice to have Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Yes it would be nice to have Andrew Luck cheap for a few years. But we can't get greedy. We have the best QB in Bears history. We have one of the top 15 QBs drafted of the of the last 14 years. It's not time to tank the season, it's not time to move on from Cutler, it's time to stand behind our quarterback and count down the days until he comes back.

The season is just getting started. We're one game out of first place. Let's enjoy the rest of the season and put these talks to rest.

(Editor: Congrats on the front page bump!)

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