There are few, if any, positions of such relative importance to their sport than the quarterback.
American football hinges on the signal-caller, and teams with good ones win Super Bowls and teams without them flounder, spending years and millions of dollars in pursuit of a guy who can stand under center and lead their team to success.
Indeed, it is such a difficult position to play that there aren’t enough to serve the 32 teams in the NFL. Nearly half of the franchises in the league are on the lookout for a guy, if not to play right now then to succeed the ageing passer they have in situ or to supersede their current middle-of-the-pack option at the position.
Even the most basic of statistical analysis shows that the league is, with every year that goes by, becoming more and more of a passing league. Unless you have the best defense in the league, like the Denver Broncos in 2015, then any thought of a Super Bowl is out of the window without a top-10 or, at worst, a top-15 quarterback.
Of course, the teams who are struggling with poor quarterback play tend to lose a lot and the NFL draft then ensures that they can pick one of college football’s prime talents to make themselves better.
With the importance of quarterbacks, both the last two seasons have seen passers go first and second overall. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were, respectively, the top two picks in 2015 and have proven to be top NFL prospects capable of ascending into the league’s top bracket. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are only a season into their careers after going top two 12 months ago, but the early signs are that the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles – both of whom traded a huge amount of draft picks to go up and get their man – may have given into desperation and reached a little.
So what to think of this year’s quarterback class, of whom none are considered to be even of Goff or Wentz’s quality?
Draft analysts predict that any of the 2017 class’ top five quarterbacks could go first, with nobody clear on which will be snapped up when and by whom.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has claimed that only one of the current crop is ready to begin their NFL career as a starter, the rest need time to be coached into the role and, as is the way with many college QBs, may never make it.
Nonetheless, the importance of the position dictates that quarterbacks will go in the first round this year – it is just a case of how many. It will depend on which teams need what, and when. It will depends on how teams perceive each quarterback’s unique skillset and how that might fit with the system they use.
Favourite to be the first QB off the board is Deshaun Watson, the boy wonder from Clemson - one of college football’s biggest programs – and a serial winner. Plenty are bowled over by his mental traits, his leadership and his physical gifts, but there are enough flaws in his game to bring his ‘ceiling’ down. He may be the safest pick but, in terms of potential, others may surpass him.
One of those is Mitchell Trubisky, a player whose stock has risen quickly in the same way as Carson Wentz’s did last year but who won’t be drafted quite as high. His limited experience with North Carolina will scare some teams off but he reads the field and has all the arm traits teams are looking for.
Deshone Kizer came into the start of the college season as a guy being tipped as a first-rounder but the Notre Dame signal-caller has accuracy questions. His physique, however, will entice the more old-fashioned NFL front offices.
Patrick Mahomes is a boom-or-bust circus act of a quarterback, renowned for completing off-platform, off-balance throws that he had no right to get to their target. He boasts “ridiculous arm strength,” says leading analyst Daniel Jeremiah but there is “an irresponsibility” to his game. Turnovers can crush you in the NFL, so whoever takes the high-upside option of Mahomes knows that they will have to coach him into a player who can also keep things simple. He would suit a team like Arizona, Kansas City, Buffalo or the New York Giants, who need a successor rather than a day one starter.
Then there is Davis Webb, a passer whose stock has surged despite knocks on him for being unable to anticipate play. Jared Goff’s struggles in converting from the California ‘Bear Raid’ offense won’t have helped his stock.
Such is the confusion over this quarterback class that teams avoiding early-round investments and instead taking a flyer on Nathan Peterman or Josh Dobbs on day two or three might reap the greatest rewards.
In a year where there is so much uncertainty, the only certain thing is that two weeks from today, we will know.
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