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Chad Pemberton: Teams in need of quarterback find little help in draft

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 12:17 AM

If last year's NFL Draft produced the best class of rookie quarterbacks ever, this year's is pretty much the opposite of that.

Opinions on the order of the top three quarterback prospects -- West Virginia's Geno Smith, USC's Matt Barkley, and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib -- are varied. However, the legitimate concerns over whether any of these quarterbacks can actually be great are unanimous. It doesn't seem like any of them can provide an immediate impact as a rookie, and the idea of them being a viable, long-term solution to a franchise that has hopes of winning a Super Bowl in the foreseeable future is, at best, suspect thinking.

Great teams are built on astute foresight. I'm not convinced drafting any of these quarterbacks in the first round is exercising that idea.

It's remotely possible that not a single team will draft a quarterback in the first round this year, which would be the first time that's happened since 1996, and only the second time since 1988. Moreover, let's say only one of these quarterbacks is taken in the first round -- most likely Smith. That would mark first time since 2001 (Michael Vick) that only one quarterback was taken in the opening round.

The truth of the matter is there are more teams than not that could stand to use an upgrade at quarterback, but not all of them are in a position to do so at the moment. Some are on the very last leg of figuring out if their relatively big investment is going to pay off (St. Louis, Philadelphia and the Jets). Some have to sit pat and give their young quarterback more time in order to assess whether he is going to pan out (Jacksonville, Minnesota, Cleveland, Tennessee and Miami).

But for some teams this weak pool of quarterback prospects complicates matters, specifically those that had high hopes of landing a franchise quarterback with their high draft pick -- or, hey, at least a little bit of optimism about the future for some fan bases definitely in need of some.

Because of the market inefficiency of having a high draft pick in a year where there's maybe not a quarterback worth taking that early, teams like Kansas City (first pick), Oakland (third pick), Arizona (seventh pick) and Buffalo (eighth pick) have reverted to taking flyers on quarterbacks who aren't long term solutions.

Kansas City acquired Alex Smith from San Francisco for the 34th pick in this year's draft and a conditional pick for the 2014 Draft. That may seem like a steep price for a player of Smith's caliber, but the Chiefs simply didn't have any better options. With Alex Smith, they got a much improved quarterback who is often capable of making the right plays, just rarely capable of making enough big plays. His last three seasons (37 games, 7,251 yards on 6.0 yards per attempt, 44 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, and a 62.7 completion percentage) prove he is qualified enough to lead Kansas City to a record of, say, 8-8 or 9-7, which is an improvement from their 2-14 finish last season.

But he is not -- how should I put it? -- their future. He's a placeholder until something better arrives, no more, no less.

I guess that's a common theme for these perennial bottom feeders right now. Arizona acquired Carson Palmer for a conditional seventh-round pick in next year's draft. He'll have Larry Fitzgerald as a receiver, but he also has that abysmal offensive line, which doesn't bode well for a 33-year-old statue.

Buffalo signed Kevin Kolb after he was released from Arizona (one team's trash is another team's treasure, I guess); and Oakland acquired Matt Flynn for two future draft picks (in his career, Flynn has only started one more game than Terrelle Pryor). It's as though these very bad teams are on a carousel of second-rate quarterbacks. Instead of getting off, they just pick another limping horse to ride.

Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at pemberton@herald-dispatch.com.

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