INDIANAPOLIS – Early in the evaluation process, with the draft still two months distant, one school of thought has gained traction that the 2016 quarterback draft class in fact does not have the headline-grade talent that graces some classes.
This could bode well for the Bears, who are widely expected to invest more than a throwaway late pick on a quarterback to be either/both backup and successor to Jay Cutler. Fewer quarterbacks regarded now as elites point to more quarterbacks drifting down into mid rounds, and developing into winners.
Besides the obvious first-rounders like Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer, playoff quarterbacks in 2015 came from second rounds (Andy Dalton, Cincinnati), third rounds (Russell Wilson, Seattle), fourth rounds (Kirk Cousins, Washington) , sixth rounds (Tom Brady, New England) and undrafteds (Brian Hoyer, Houston).
“I know Ron Wolf used to draft a quarterback every year,” Bears GM Ryan Pace has said. “It’s such a critical, critical position, that that’s something we’re always going to look at. And we want competition throughout the entire team, so competition at that position is just as good as competition anywhere.”
But where to find them in a game already desperately thin on pro-grade quarterback talent?
The marquee quarterbacks of the 2015 draft class – Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston – were gone in picks 1-2. And only seven quarterbacks were even drafted among the 256 players selected in the seven rounds, including compensatory picks. After Mariota and Winston, no quarterback was taken until Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson went to the New Orleans Saints – as Drew Brees’ backup.
In the same vein of possible templates for the Bears, the Green Bay Packers selected Brett Hundley out of UCLA with pick No. 147, in the fifth round. No threat to Aaron Rodgers, obviously, but the personnel strategy is one that has worked, no more so than when the Packers used a 2005 No. 1 to draft Rodgers with Brett Favre securely in place.
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The various quarterbacks in the 2016 draft appear to recognize what more than one team official said this week during the NFL Scouting Combine: That players, particularly quarterbacks, need to be developed, not automatically be started.
“You got to go in there and prove yourself,” said North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, projected by Pro Football Weekly’s draft guide as a pick in rounds 1-2. “You’ve got to earn your respect. No matter if you go into a situation with a Hall of Famer in front of you or a situation with nobody in front of you and it's supposedly given to you, I don't think that's true. You got to earn every bit of it. That's how I'm going handle that situation.”
The notion of serving an apprenticeship is not a complete negative to members of this year’s draft group.
“You've seen guys do it before and be extremely successful with it and you've seen the opposite,” said Cal’s Jared Goff, projected to go as early as the first or second pick overall to as low as the early second round. “It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I mean you always want to play. But at the same time, if that's the situation you go into, that's the situation. You get better and you deal with it and you go through the couple of years or whatever it is and do your best and continue to be ready whenever the time comes.”