Once again, a Washington HC/GM has found himself in a bind and made a questionable move for a veteran QB to make up for the team’s chronic inability to draft quarterbacks. Carson Wentz becomes the latest in a series of veteran QBs brought in to rescue the franchise that includes Jeff George, Mark Brunell, Donovan McNabb and Alex Smith. Here’s hoping that this time will be different.
I recently made a case that the best way to find a franchise quarterback is through the draft. Most of the best NFL teams over the last 20 years have been built around drafted quarterbacks. The main exception are the New Orleans Saints, who benefitted from perhaps the best value free agent signing in league history when they acquired Drew Brees on injury discount from the Chargers.
Washington fans have come to believe that their team is cursed when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. However, when I made a deep dive into the team’s draft history, I discovered a more rational explanation for the team’s struggles. While the team has expended its fare share of draft picks on quarterbacks in the 28 drafts since Mark Rypien left town, only three of their selections have been made in the top 15, where quality starting QBs are most abundant. Instead, the team has looked to the veteran market and later in the draft to find its starting QBs.
I have argued that best way for Washington to break the curse is to commit to a consistent and disciplined effort to draft its starting quarterbacks. To put that assertion to the test, I enlisted the help of my friends at BrisVegas Systems to program up a simple draft bot to take over draft duties whenever the team has a need for a rookie quarterback and the draft capital to do something about it.
The BrisVegas Draft Bot
The draft bot runs a simple algorithm to make decisions about drafting quarterbacks in the first round. The basic principles of its programming are as follows:
When we are in need of a quarterback, and we have a pick in the top 15, draft the best quarterback available, provided that he is not a reach.
How It Works
The draft bot just runs a few lines of code to execute this simple rule set:
1. Never Trade Up in the Top 10
The best way to reduce your chance of drafting a franchise QB is to give away multiple first-round picks to make a single selection. Teams that trade up in the first round only marginally increase their chance of hitting on a QB with their trade-up pick, and in doing so give away multiple additional shots with nearly the same chance of success. Teams make this mistake because they have convinced themselves that the prospect they are targeting is a sure thing. In fact, the highest hit rates that NFL teams can achieve drafting QBs tops out at 50% at the first overall pick. The bot’s code does not allow it to make this mistake.
2. Do we have a pick in the top 15?
If no, return control to the humans. If Yes, go to step 3.
3. Are we set at quarterback?
- Is our starting QB playing on a franchise tag? If Yes, we are not set. If No:
- Is our starting QB over 33? If Yes, it is time to start planning for the future. We are not set. If No:
- Do we have a QB ranked top-15 by QBR (Passer Rating before 2006) under contract for at least two years? If Yes, we are set. If No:
- Do we have a QB with at least 2 years on his rookie contract, and QBR trending up? If Yes, we are set. If No:
- Is our starter a rookie who wasn’t a complete disaster? If Yes, we might not be set, but give him a year to see if he improves. If No: we are not set.
If we are not set at QB by any of the above criteria, go to step 3.
4. Pick the best quarterback available if he’s not a reach
Does the best available QB at Washington’s pick have a first-round grade? If Yes, take his name to the podium. If No, hand control back to the humans, but don’t let them draft a QB in the first round.
Ideally, the bot’s decision on who is the best QB available, and whether he has a first round grade would be based on the Washington team scouting department’s prospect rankings. Since those are not available to me, I scoured the internet for pre-draft prospect rankings, from various media analysts. When insufficient data were available, I sometimes resorted to mock drafts. Prior to 2010, the data are very sparse. After that, there was an explosion of online analysts and I was spoiled for choice.
The Draft Bot Re-Drafts from 1999 to 2021
Before I get to the draft results, I need to stress that this is not what we typically think of as a re-draft. The draft bot makes decisions based only on information that was available at the time of each draft. Decisions on whether or not the team was set with its starting QBs are based on performance in the years prior to the draft year, not after. Similarly, evaluations of best QB available are based entirely of prospect rankings and ratings published before the draft. None of the bot’s decisions are influenced by what we have learned about the QBs after each draft.
Secondly, I am not trying to reinvent timelines. Each draft decision is approached as it appeared at the time. Results of any alternative draft decisions made by the bot do not flow into the next draft year.
1999: Washington picks 5th
Charlie Casserly arranges an historic trade deal with New Orleans: The Saints traded their entire 1999 draft plus 1st and 3rd round picks in 2000. In the actual draft, the Redskins traded back up to 7th for Champ Bailey. The draft bot does not trade up, so the Redskins end up picking 12th.
Are we set at QB? The Redskins started the offseason by trading the 11th overall draft pick, a 1999 3rd and 2000 2nd to Minnesota for QB Brad Johnson. Johnson was coming off decent seasons in 1996 and 1997. He only started two games in 1998 and posted a Passer Rating of 89.0, which slots in between 7th-ranked QB Mark Brunell and 8th-ranked Troy Aikman on the leaders board. We are set at QB.
Washington Pick: Another position (actual pick, Champ Bailey, is probably gone by #12)
2000: Washington picks 2nd
Are we set at QB? Primary starter is Brad Johnson who was the 5th-ranked QB by passer rating in 1999. We are set at QB. Return control to the human draft team.
Original Pick Stands: La Var Arrington, LB
2001: Washington picks 15th
Are we set at QB? Jeff George was signed to be the primary starter in the 2001 offseason. His 79.6 Quarterback rating, in five starts in 2000 would put him between 16th ranked Steve Beuerlein and 17th ranked Brett Favre on the leaders board if he had enough qualifying snaps. He is also 34. We are not set at QB.
Best Available QB: The only remnant draft board from 2001 I could find was Mel Kiper’s top 25 Prospects, featuring Michael Vick ranked 1st and no other QBs. Kiper’s first-round projection has Drew Brees as next QB off the board 28th overall, which just counts as a first-round rating. Therefore, he is only just not a reach.
Washington Pick: Drew Brees, QB (actual pick: Rod Gardner, WR)
2002: Washington picks 18th - no QB
Redskins’ Actual Pick: Patrick Ramsey, QB, after trading down to 32nd overall
2003: No first-round pick
2004: Washington picks 5th
Are we set at QB? The Redskins traded with Jacksonville for Brunell in the 2004 offseason, after he had been benched in favor of Byron Leftwich in 2003. His 89.7 Quarterback Rating in three starts slots right in between 6th-ranked Brett Favre and 7th-ranked Matt Hasselbeck on the leaders board. However, Brunell is 34. Patrick Ramsey is entering the third year of his rookie contract. His QB Rating of 75.8 shows only modest improvement over his rookie year and ranks 17th in the league. We are not set.
Best Available QB: Mel Kiper and Walter Football’s mock draft both agree that Ben Roethlisberger is the best available QB after Eli Manning went 1st overall. Kiper ranks him 5th-best overall prospect, and Walterfootball correctly picked him going 11th overall to Pittsburgh.
Washington Pick: Ben Roethlisberger, QB (actual pick: Sean Taylor, S)
Note: The draft bot prioritized QB Roethlisberger over Washington’s actual pick, Sean Taylor (also correctly predicted by Walterfootball), one of the few elite talents drafted by the Redskins under Snyder. I’ll let you debate whether this was the right call.
2005: Washington picks 9th
Are we set at QB? Starting QB Mark Brunell’s 63.9 QB Rating ranked 31st in 2004 and he is now 35. Patrick Ramsey is going into the fourth year of his rookie contract. His QB Rating has hovered around the low 70’s throughout his first three years in the league. We are not set.
Best available QB: Mel Kiper’s and Walterfootball’s mock drafts both agree that Aaron Rodgers is the 2nd-best QB after Alex Smith was selected 1st overall. Kiper has Rodgers going 3rd to Cleveland, while Walterfootball has him going 5th to Tampa and also correctly called Washington drafting Carlos Rogers.
Washington Pick: Aaron Rodgers (actual pick: Carlos Rogers, CB)
2006: No first-round pick
2007: Washington picks 6th
Are we set at QB? Primary starting QB Jason Campbell going into his second year. His QBR of 52.3 recorded in seven starts his rookie season slots him in right between 15th-ranked Vince Young and 16th-ranked Joey Harrington. That is good enough to earn a pass. We might not be set at QB, but Campbell showed enough promise as a rookie to give him another season.
Original Pick Stands: LaRon Landry, S
2008: Washington picks 21st – No QB
2009: Washington picks 13th
Are we set at QB? Primary starter Jason Campbell ranked 16th (QBR 58.5) in 2008 and is in the final year of his rookie contract. We are not set at QB.
Best Available QB: Mike Mayock and Walterfootball’s mock draft both agree that Josh Freeman is the next ranked QB off the board after Matt Stafford (WalterFootball QB1, Mayock QB2) and Mark Sanchez (WalterFootball QB2, Mayock QB1) are off the board. Mayock ranks Freeman 18th and Walterfootball correctly picked he’d go to Tampa, but missed that they’d trade from 19 to 17 for him. All available ratings have him in the first round.
Washington Pick: Josh Freeman, QB (actual pick: Brian Orakpo)
2010: Washington picks 4th
Are we set at QB? The Redskins traded a third-round pick for 34-year-old McNabb who ranked 16th in the NFL in 2009 with a total QBR of 58.2. The bot disagrees with Bruce and Dan. We are not set at QB. Draft a rookie.
Best Available QB: Mel Kiper, Mike Mayock, Gil Brandt and Walterfootball are unanimous that Jimmy Clausen is the best QB available after Sam Bradford goes first overall. All but Mayock agree that he is a top-10 pick. Mayock mocks him at 30th.
Washington Pick: Jimmy Clausen, QB (actual pick Trent Williams, LT)
2011: Washington picks 10th
In the actual draft, Washington traded down to 16th with Jacksonville and picked Ryan Kerrigan. The bot does not trade down when QBs with first round ratings are available.
Are we set at QB? Primary starter is Rex Grossman who notched up a QBR of 33.0 in three starts in 2010. We couldn’t be less set at QB.
Best Available QB: Cam Newton and Jake Locker went 1st and 8th. Four available sources agree that Blaine Gabbert is the best available QB and that he is within the top 11 prospects. Mel Kiper, Mike Mayock and Sports Illustrated (Tony Pauline) rank him as the top QB in the class. Only Walterfootball has him 2nd after Cam Newton.
Washington Pick: Blaine Gabbert, QB (actual pick: Ryan Kerrigan, DE)
2012: Washington Picks 6th
Are we set at QB? Primary Starter is Rex Grossman, 26th ranked, QBR 41.5. No, we are not set.
Best available QB: The draft bot doesn’t trade up, so we stay put at 6th. Amongst analysts whose prospect rankings are still available, Robert Griffin was a near consensus 2nd overall prospect in this draft: Gil Brandt, NFL.com: 2; Mike Mayock: 2; Bucky Brooks: QB2, 3rd overall; WalterFootball: 2; Tony Pauline, SI: 2nd QB, 4th prospect). It is safe to say he would have been drafted by someone in the top 5.
A nearly equally strong consensus had Ryan Tannehill as the third-ranked QB with a first-round grade: Gil Brandt QB3(4th overall), Mike Mayock QB3 (19th), Tony Pauline/SI QB3 (29th overall), Bucky Brooks QB3 (31), Walterfootball QB3 (top 25).
Washington pick: Ryan Tannehill, QB (actual pick Robert Griffin III)
2013-2014: No first-round picks
2015: Washington picks 5th
Are we set at QB? Primary starter Robert Griffin’s QBR of 28.3 in 9 starts doesn’t even rank on any leaders’ boards. Backup QB Kirk Cousins had a QBR of 52.0 in 5 starts, placing him between 23rd-ranked Andrew Luck (injured) and 24th-ranked Blake Bortles. He is also in the final year of his rookie contract. We are not set.
Best available QB: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are off the board at Washington’s pick. The third-ranked QB on most available draft boards is Brett Hundley who is ranked as a mid-round prospect. NFL.com ranks him 86th overall prospect with a 6.10 rating, “good backup with potential to develop into a starter.” Other analysts overall rankings and ratings: Mayock 77th, Tony Pauline 73rd, Kiper QB3 (overall?). Walterfootball correctly picked Garrett Grayson as QB3 (Rd 2-4) and Hundley as QB4 (Rd 2-4).
Hundley and actual QB3 Garrett Grayson are too much of a reach in the first round.
Original Pick Stands: Brandon Scherff, OT
2016: Washington picks 22nd pick – no QB
2017: Washington picks 17th pick – no QB
2018: Washington picks 13th
Are we set at QB? Trade acquisition/primary starter Alex Smith is ranked 7th overall, QBR 65.6, and under contract for three years, which would make us set. However, he is 34 years old. The draft bot thinks it’s advisable to start looking for his eventual successor.
Best available QB: The 2018 draft was loaded with QBs. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen were off the board by pick number 10. The clear consensus best available QB at 13 was Lamar Jackson: NFL.com QB5, Mayock QB5, Daniel Jeremiah QB5, Bucky Brooks QB4, PFF QB4, Walterfootball QB5, Kiper QB5. However, there was less agreement of whether he was worthy of a high first-round pick, and one notable analyst didn’t even have him in the top 32 prospects: NFL.com tied 28th, rating 6.4 “starter within first two years”; Mayock 23rd, Daniel Jeremiah 39th, PFF 19th, Walterfootball Round 1, Kiper 15th.
The draft bot’s criterion is that the prospect must carry a first-round grade, and all but one analyst place him there. Jackson is not a reach.
Washington Pick: Lamar Jackson, QB (actual pick Daron Payne)
2019: Washington picks 15th
Are we set at QB? Alex Smith went down with a horrendous lower leg fracture in game 10 and may never walk again. Josh Johnson was the next best starter in 2018 with a QBR of 47.4, which would make him the 27th ranked QB if he had enough starts to qualify, and put him just ahead of Smith (46.9 QBR). We are not set.
Best available QB: After Kyler Murray, selected first overall, the clear consensus QB2 on all available analysts’ boards is Dwayne Haskins: NFL.com QB2, Daniel Jeremiah QB2, Bucky Brooks QB1, PFF QB2, Sporting News QB2, Tony Pauline QB2, Walterfootball QB2, Mel Kiper QB2.
There is less consensus about whether he is a top-15 prospect, but little doubt that he belongs in the first round: NFL.com 21st, rating 6.7 “year 1 starter”; Daniel Jeremiah 22nd, PFF 10th, Sporting News 14th, Tony Pauline 28th, Walterfootball Top-20, Mel Kiper 7th.
Washington Pick: Dwayne Haskins, QB
Note: This is one case where all the media analysts got it wrong, and the WFT scouting department and coaching staff got it right, to no avail. In this case, it has been reported that the Redskins’ draft team thought that Haskins was a reach at this pick. The bot is obviously not perfect and might perform even better if it had access to Kyle Smith’s draft board.
2020: Washington picks 2nd
Are we set at QB? Primary starter Case Keenum had a QBR of 45.6 in nine starts. If he had qualified for ESPNS’s leaders’ board, a 45.6 QBR would have him tied with Sam Darnold in 25th position. Rookie Dwayne Haskins has a miserable QBR of 28.0 in 7 starts. We are not set.
Best available QB: The overwhelming majority analyst opinion is that Tua Tagovailoa is the best available QB after Joe Burrow was picked first overall: NFL.com QB2 (9th), rating 6.77 “year 1 quality starter”; Daniel Jeremiah QB2 (6th), Bucky Brooks QB1, PFF QB2, Sporting News QB2 (6th), Pro Football Network (Tony Pauline) QB2 (7th), Mel Kiper QB2(5th). Amongst the analysts I sampled, only Walterfootball had Justin Herbert ahead of Tua at QB2 (Top-10). There was no doubt amongst any of the analysts that Tua was worthy of a high first-round pick.
Washington Pick: Tua Tagovailoa, QB (actual pick Chase Young)
2021: Washington picks 19th – no QB
2022: Washington picks 11th
Are we set at QB? The Commanders traded a third-round pick and 2023 conditional second/third for new starter Carson Wentz. The bot is dispassionate and its programming does not take into account off the field concerns or reporting of locker room discord. It goes strictly by the numbers. Wentz’s 54.7 tied him with Russell Wilson as the 9th ranked QB in 2021. The bot concludes we are set at QB.
Commodores Pick: BPA or trade down
This is one case where I disagree with the bot’s programming. While the bot just looks at last year’s numbers, I think Washington’s new starter has a lot to prove this season. Ron Rivera appears to agree with me, because he only committed to a single season’s salary and has said he wants to add a rookie to the mix. I would hit the bot’s off switch and pick the best available QB at #11, provided that Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis or Matt Corral is available.
Summary and Conclusions
Had Washington applied the bot’s simple rule set throughout Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner, the team would have picked the following QBs:
2001: Drew Brees (actual pick: Rod Gardner)
2004: Ben Roethlisberger (actual pick: Sean Taylor)
2005: Aaron Rodgers (actual pick: Carlos Rogers)
2009: Josh Freeman (actual pick: Brian Orakpo)
2010: Jimmy Clausen (actual pick: Trent Williams)
2010: Blaine Gabbert (actual pick: Ryan Kerrigan)
2012: Ryan Tannehill (actual pick: RG3)
2018: Lamar Jackson (actual pick: Daron Payne)
2019: Dwayne Haskins – actual pick
2020: Tua Tagovailoa (actual pick: Chase Young)
The bot is not a perfect decision maker, and it is limited by the expertise of the media analysts I polled. It picked Jimmy Clausen instead of Trent Williams, Blaine Gabbert instead of Ryan Kerrigan, and Josh Freeman instead of Brian Orakpo, and it stuck with the Redskins original pick in 2019.
Nevertheless, it is vastly superior at finding franchise QBs than Washington’s draft experts. Four of the ten selections made by the bot were elite QBs – three more than Washington has picked in the first round since 1937. Five of the 10 QBs selected by this simple approach are quality starters. That could increase to six if Tua Tagovailoa continues developing. Six out of ten hits is actually a 20% higher success rate than the NFL average for teams picking in the top 15.
Only four of the QBs selected were true busts. That is a quantum step better than the Redskins’ 100% bust rate using five picks in the first round during the same period: Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell, RG3 (cost three first-round picks).
Of course, the team would not have actually drafted all 10 QBs that the bot picked. If it had hit on Drew Brees in the 2001 draft, for example, the algorithm probably would have decided we were set at QB for all of the following drafts until 2013, when he turned 34. The first round picks in 2005 to 2012 could then have been used on other positions. The point is not to spend all of our top-15 picks on QBs. Just those that we have in years when we do not have a long-term solution at QB and first-round worthy prospects are available.
These results demonstrate that drafting franchise quarterbacks is not nearly as difficult as the Washington team makes it appear. All that it really takes is what has been missing: a commitment to the draft and patient, disciplined use of high first-round picks to address the most important position on the roster.
Acknowledgement: As always thanks to James Dorsett for editorial assistance
Following the Wentz trade, what should Riverboat Ron do with the 11th overall pick?
This poll is closed
Pick the best player available
Pick the best available QB, provided it’s not a reach
Pick the best available non-QB
Pick a specific position or player – tell us in the comments
Trade down for more picks – God knows we need them
Trade up for an elite prospect
Ask Dan who he wants