Early in the 2018 pre-draft process, when drafting a 6’0” quarterback at the top of the NFL Draft was still considered crazy (ah, to be young again), I had my eye on none other than Baker Mayfield as a potential first-round pick for the Bengals.
Did I think that the Bengals needed to move on from Andy Dalton at that time? No, I actually didn’t, but that is exactly why it was the right time to draft a quarterback.
In Part 1, I discussed the history of first-round quarterbacks over a 14-year span. Now let’s talk about how and when to draft a quarterback.
There are a couple of things that can really set up a rookie quarterback for failure. One is bad coaching and the other is bad offensive line play.
Let’s start with coaching. The Rams selected Jared Goff first overall in 2016 and under then head coach Jeff Fisher he looked like a bust. Sean McVay came in a year later, and the pick suddenly looked much better.
Now, I don’t really understand the logic of allowing a coach you are not committed to long term to have the first crack at a quarterback you are giving the keys to the franchise, but a year with Fisher didn’t screw Goff up long-term.
Goff didn’t have a great offensive line during his rookie campaign either, but the Rams took care of that before year two. So I guess the answer to the offensive line question is “Go fix it. No, no. Not with Bobby Hart. Go actually fix it. It is possible, Troy Blackburn.”
Some people say that teams shouldn’t take a quarterback when they have other needs. The Rams certainly had other needs, and that didn’t stop them. They drafted their quarterback and addressed their other needs in other ways.
Coaching and scheme changes have actually made it easier for rookie quarterbacks to transition to the NFL in recent years. In the modern NFL, most quarterbacks are thrown right into the fire and Patrick Mahomes sitting behind Alex Smith for a year was actually a bit of an anomaly.
Dalton was of course a day one starter, but when the Bengals selected Carson Palmer in 2003, he sat behind Jon Kitna for a year. That sort of thing was commonplace at the time.
Some people say that you should build around the quarterback you have, The Chiefs were in a good position at quarterback before drafting Mahomes. Smith was playing very well and they were winning a lot of games. They certainly could have built around Smith and put together a very competitive team, but there is no refuting that Mahomes took them to another level.
In fact, what the Chiefs did is the ideal strategy. The best time to draft a quarterback is when you don’t need one.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Most teams are desperate to find a franchise quarterback. Their jobs depend on it. This is why so many teams reach on quarterbacks. They are so strongly motivated to find “the guy,” that they make bad decisions. They fool themselves into believing that some scrub is the answer.
The Chiefs had Smith, who was fine, so they didn’t have to worry about clouded judgment.
The Chiefs knew that they found their guy and traded up to get him.
This brings us to the other right time to draft a quarterback: When one is available.
If the Bengals identify their guy, they must be willing to move aggressively to get him. Give up next year’s first-round pick if you have to. It doesn’t matter as long as your assessment is right.
It could be Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, or Joe Burrow; it could be somebody else in the Class of 2020; or he may not be in this draft.
If they don’t find their guy, they should not roll the dice with a top pick.
I didn’t love anyone in the 2019 quarterback class. That seemed like a perfect year to hold the first-round and take a shot on Will Grier, Drew Lock, Gardner Minshew II, or Ryan Finley as they did.
I just used the term “quarterback class,” which I actually hate. It is really irrelevant what the class looks like. It is about finding your guy. Personally I don’t care what the class looks like, if I can find my guy and get him. So let’s not worry about what a good year it is for quarterbacks in 2020.
It could very well be the case in 2020 that they don’t find the guy they want and they pass and take a shot in a later round. Don’t reach. He is the guy or he isn’t.
As stated above, Dalton is toast. He can probably play in the league and have a few more good years, but he is not going to be able to get it done in Cincinnati anymore.
So if Dalton isn’t the guy and they are uncertain about getting their guy in the draft, what are they to do?
Simple. Sign a veteran. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota seem likely to be available. They could provide a bridge to the right guy. If not one of them, it could be Case Keenum , Colt McCoy, or Ryan Tannehill. Honestly, this is a good year for bridge quarterbacks (written with intentional irony).
Quarterback is the most important position and if the Bengals have the opportunity to draft a franchise changing player at that position they must move heaven and earth to do it. (This is of course much easier if they already own the No. 1 pick in the draft. It is pretty much a brisk walk to the podium at that point). I am not saying they don’t have other needs (they do), that’s not the point. Quarterback is the most important position and if they can find their guy, then that takes precedence over anything else.
If they can’t do that, they need to put a band aid on it for a year and draft an elite offensive tackle, linebacker or Chase Young.