Being a general manager is really, really hard.
I say that with only a little bit of sarcasm, because it’s true. It’s one of the most unforgiving jobs in sports, and fans are willing to judge a front office—whose job requires building with the long view in mind—on short term results contingent on high-variability picks. That is, if an FO makes long-term moves but misses on a high profile player, they suddenly get judged as “bad,” even though well-known GMs like Ozzie Newsome only ever drafted a good quarterback late in their careers (for Newsome, it was 2008, after 12 years with the organization and eight previous quarterback picks—including Kyle Boller in the first).
That difficult may have encouraged Rick Spielman to recently indicate that the Vikings are not set to necessarily pick a quarterback with the eighth selection in the NFL draft—though he didn’t rule it out either—in a presser held yesterday.
“The torture part of it, is you see a player sitting there when you pick who you know can help you right away, a significant player at another position, an impact player as a rookie. Then you ask yourself, ‘How do we feel about our options at quarterback in the second or third round? Is it close? Is there a big separation? Or is it close?’ We’ve broken them down in all the ways we could think of. Analytically—measuring them against their five toughest opponents, indoor-versus-outdoor, by psychological testing, and it is such a mixed bag.
“That’s a big reason why we made it a high priority to sign Matt Cassel back. Every one of these quarterbacks … nothing is a sure thing. There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player—every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feelings, why don’t you just wait till later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?
“I agree with that coach, whoever it is. It is torturous this year.”
Spielman was responding to a query that included comments from an anonymous quote from an NFL head coach who indicated that picking a quarterback this year was a “torturous” process. Spielman took that and ran with it, further adding:
“It’s a very tortuous process this year trying to figure out these quarterbacks because there’s a lot of different flavors of quarterbacks. There’s mobile quarterbacks, there’s pocket passers, so you really have to home in and decide what type of quarterback you want, what kind of quarterback and what traits fit the kind of system you’re about to run.
“You look at the traits of the quarterbacks in here and work in our offensive scheme and adjust to some of the traits that that player possesses. It’s going to be a very interesting process as we go through our own evaluation of these quarterbacks and try to home in on the particular type of quarterback that may be best for us.”
With Matt Cassel locked down, it’s true that the Vikings don’t have a gaping black hole at the position, but I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the Vikings as a team that’s not “boxed in” to selecting a passer, as Spielman indicates. The Vikings have had one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL for the past several years, and despite the fact that Cassel at times looked better, also had several wildly bad games to go along with his spotty career.
If the Vikings want to wait on a quarterback because they don’t think any of them are franchise passers, that’s fine. But if they’re waiting on a quarterback because none of them are “Andrew Luck,” that’s asinine—no quarterbacks are Andrew Luck, and if the Vikings want to wait on a once-in-a-decade prospect before selecting one, they’ll have to find a way to make sure they can do it at the same time they have the worst record in the NFL, because no one is trading out of that spot.
Functionally, that means Spielman has told people he is waiting for the impossible before he selects a quarterback.
In my view, it’s a good thing Spielman loves to lie. Not only is picking a quarterback in the first round a vastly more successful proposition, doing so in the first 13 picks makes a huge difference.
It may depend on what your definition of “success” is, but over 40% of the quarterbacks selected in those first 13 picks are successful. Contrast that to the top of the second round, where the likelihood remains around 14%.
That’s not to say they should pick a quarterback early in order to pick one early—perhaps there is no one they grade at having a first- or early second-round talent who is available—but they shouldn’t eschew it just because they see value there.
Peter King thinks the Vikings will really be tantalized by this option, though:
RT @MeatSauce1: Vikings at 8. Your thoughts? … Not a quarterback. They want a sure thing.
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) April 21, 2014
There are no sure things in the draft. I don’t know why people think that if the Vikings ignore a quarterback, they’re guaranteed to get a good player, especially at the eighth pick. The odds are better, but not much (the generalized success rate for non-quarterbacks over 21 drafts between picks one and thirteen is 48%, marginally more than quarterbacks at 42%).
In this specific draft, there is a deep quarterback class but it’s not necessarily flat like the receiver class is. While I could change my view of the quarterbacks based on further study, my scouting has indicated there is a clear drop-off after Bridgewater followed by a massive drop-off after Carr, Bortles and Manziel.
There is also a good amount of quality at the top for non-quarterbacks, so it may be safe to say that the success rate there is above 50%, but not by much. This is a particularly interesting consideration because the positions where it has elite players are also positions where the draft is historically deep (and the talent distribution is much flatter). The Vikings can grab a first-round quality receiver in the third round, and a top-tier cornerback in the second. Every seven-round mock draft I’ve participated in has had first-round quality guards fall to the fourth round, and even a second-round quality guard in the seventh (though that particular mock may have been a fluke).
Nothing can improve the team more than improving the most important position on the team. A quarterback is responsible for more than half of the offensive production on a team (even when you include the contributions from non-skill players, like linemen) and may be responsible for over 25% of a team’s success. There is no other player on the team responsible for more than 5% after that, unless you scheme in order to highlight who you already know is good (like Adrian Peterson). Picking a player to improve that 5% over picking a player to improve that 25% is short-sighted.
The point is, I really hope he’s lying again.