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The Chicago Bears Should Not Try to "Develop" a Quarterback

The late-round developmental quarterback is a myth, and for Bears fans who want Chicago to find Cutler's successor sooner rather than later, it's time to face the reality of the modern NFL.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In 2001, the Patriots signed their starting quarterback to a nine-digit contract and then went on to lose that starter in the second game of the season on their way to the Super Bowl. In doing so, they demonstrated for all time that the key to winning the Lombardi is to play against Mo Lewis and to lock up as much of your cap as possible in one player before trying to replace him with a late-round pick from the Big Ten.

Whenever the issue of quarterback comes up, it seems like at least a few people will suggest that the best approach is to draft a quarterback in the later rounds and then to develop him. However, this is not a thing that happens. In the modern NFL, the late-round developmental quarterback is an urban legend that does not have a basis in fact so much as it does in illusion.

Consider Tom Brady himself. He went late in the 2000 draft, but he was starting by the third game of the 2001 season. His ‘developmental period' was little more than one year. Leaving aside how unreasonable it is to think that someone with Brady's skill set could slip to the sixth round after sixteen years of improvements in scouting, and leaving aside how many more sixth-rounders never really become anything at all, he did not ‘sit on the bench' in order to slowly age and develop his arcane talents. He sat for all of one year.

The next example is Aaron Rodgers. He truly did develop, in that he was drafted in 2005 and he did not start until 2008. This, then, would seem to be proof that Bigfoot exists that late-round developmental quarterbacks are a thing. Except Rodgers never fell out of the first round (drafted 24th), and at the time he was mocked as going much higher than he did, and his fall was remarked on even then. In other words, he is the opposite of Brady. He's an early pick who was able to develop over time.

How close we can get to the urban legend depends on what we want out of our modern quarterback. I am going to specify that I want a quarterback who is in the Top 20 in both passer rating and adjusted net yards per attempt. These two stats are pretty closely linked to how much value a quarterback adds to a team, and while they are approximations, they are decent ones. Among active quarterbacks, 19 fulfill both criteria. Alex Smith falls short in ANY/A and Matt Hasselbeck doesn't get there with passer rating.

Of these nineteen men, almost a third (6) were taken with the first overall pick. Whatever set of definitions a fan might use, "first overall" is not a description that is compatible with calling someone a late-round developmental guy. Another third (7) were taken in the first round as well, only later. The final six give us our best bet of finding our man. Chronologically, they are: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton, and Russell Wilson.

I've already talked about Tom Brady, so it's worth simply noting that he might be the best sixth-rounder to ever play in the NFL, but he got there on his own and with the help of a great coaching staff; he did not get there because of time spent holding a clipboard.

Drew Brees, taken 32nd in 2001 (but technically in the second round), didn't start until 2002. The full year Brees spent on the bench might be responsible for astonishing accuracy as a passer, but it's more likely that he's just that good.

Tony Romo was not drafted, but he was picked up shortly after the draft in 2003. He refined his craft for three years before starting ten games in 2006. If I desperately want to hold on to the legend of the late-round developmental quarterback, I can spin a tale where I imagine what might happen if a team risked a 7th-rounder on a guy like Romo instead of letting him go undrafted. Alternately, I could use him as an example of why there is no point to drafting a quarterback late when you can get a four-time Pro Bowler out of the ranks of the UDFAs.

A much better candidate for the role of "proof" is Matt Schaub. Owner of the tenth-best passer rating and ninth-best ANY/A among active quarterbacks, Schaub was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the third round (90th) of the 2004 draft and he did not play more than a single game as a starter until the 2007 season. Schaub seems like the front-runner for the idea of a team drafting their future quarterback in the late rounds and then grooming him. The problem is not, however, that this requires the third round to be considered ‘late.' Rather, the problem is that he did not start for the Falcons. His first season as a starter was with the Houston Texans.

Andy Dalton (2nd round, 35th overall) and Russell Wilson (3rd round, 75th overall) have the same problem as other candidates--€”namely, they didn't develop. They started immediately.

There we go. Tony Romo and Matt Schaub are the closest things to evidence for the idea that a team can get a quality quarterback by drafting one late and then letting him develop. Both work as evidence, but only if you loosen definitions a lot and are willing to take some liberties with the concept. It is true that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Maybe it is possible to find the right guy in the late rounds, sit him, and turn him into something amazing. However, there is more evidence that losing your starting quarterback in the second game of a season is the way to win the Super Bowl, and there is much, much more evidence that the men with the talent to play quarterback in the NFL get drafted early and start quickly.

Just in case, however, maybe Pace should take a flyer on a guy out of the Pacific Northwest. Bigfoot has prototypical size, and is as elusive as you could ask for.