Baltimore's Joe Flacco and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick are the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. Neither has reached a Pro Bowl -- yet. (Kaepernick is in his first season as a starter.) During the next two weeks, the talking point topic of "elite quarterbacks" will become popular.
It generates debate, but there's no consensus on what an "elite" quarterback is. Is it someone who wins 60 percent of his games? Is it someone who makes the Pro Bowl every year? Does an elite quarterback require a Super Bowl ring?
I've stated before, in chats and on Twitter, that the Eagles' decision at quarterback this offseason is the most important one they'll make -- even more important than their coach. (Shameless plug -- there's a chat at 1 p.m. tomorrow) While this might be a slight overstatement, the fact remains that the Eagles have a great unknown at quarterback.
The Eagles need a solution at the position, and the rise of the Redskins this season illustrates what can happen when a team finds the right player. The option might not be Michael Vick or Nick Foles, as Jeff McLane pointed out last week. And there's much discussion about this being a relatively weak year for quarterbacks in the draft and free agency.
Of course, the 49ers had a similar situation to the Eagles when Jim Harbaugh inherited the 49ers, and all they've done the past two seasons is win. So the right player in the right system could be the solution.
But where does a team find him? That topic was analyzed in a November Inquirer story:
Of the 32 opening-day starters in the NFL this season, 26 were selected in the first and second rounds. And most of the elite quarterbacks are high-first-round picks. Of the 16 Pro Bowl quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last 20 years, 13 were taken in the top 11 picks. In April, general manager Howie Roseman said a team is "betting against the odds" when taking a quarterback after the first round
The goal is to make the postseason, of course, so an examination of this year's playoff quarterback shows that a first-round pick is helpful -- but not a neccessity. (See detais below) Neither Super Bowl quarterback was a top 11 pick, but neither has reached the Pro Bowl. Seven of the 12 starters were first-round picks, and nine of 12 were taken in the top two rounds.
This is fairly similar to the season-opening percentage in the NFL, and Tom Brady has long been an outlier. Perhaps more noteworthy is when the quarterbacks started with their teams. Only Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Brady, and Matt Schaub did not become regular starters during their rookie seasons. Only Peyton Manning and Schaub have switched teams. So half of the starters in the playoffs were identified as the team's potential franchise quarterback in the draft and given the starting job for their first career game.
There will be reports in the coming days that the Eagles are looking at quarterbacks in the draft. And they should. The Eagles have prime draft position, and if they find a quarterback they like, they should strike. The two Super Bowl quarterbacks is evidence that there's no clear formula for finding a winning quarterback, but the best teams still find a quarterback early -- and never let him go.
That's where the stories of Kaepernick and Flacco are worth analyzing. Neither quarterback drew a consensus as a probable franchise player, or else he would have been a Top 10 pick. But published reports from both years show that the team targeted the quarterback, and were determined to get him. In fact, both teams traded up in the draft to get the player. So watch closely if Chip Kelly or the Eagles targets a particular quarterback in the first two rounds this spring, and if so, the moves made to get that quarterback.
49ers - Colin Kaepernick, 2nd round (No. 36 overall); Year 2, Game 10
Ravens - Joe Flacco, 1st round (No. 18); Year 1, Game 1
Falcons - Matt Ryan, 1st round (No. 3); Year 1, Game 1
Patriots - Tom Brady, 6th round (No. 199); Year 2, Game 3
Packers - Aaron Rodgers, 1st round (No. 24); Year 4, Game 1
Seahawks - Russell Wilson, 3rd round (No. 75); Year 1, Game 1
Texans - Matt Schaub, 3rd round (No. 90); Year 1, Game 15 (Became a regular starter Year 4, Game 1) [NOT ORIGINAL TEAM]
Broncos - Peyton Manning, 1st round (No. 1); Year 1, Game 1 [NOT ORIGINAL TEAM]
Vikings - Christian Ponder, 1st round (No. 12 ); Year 1, Game 7
Redskins - Robert Griffin III, 1st round (No. 2); Year 1, Game 1
Bengals - Andy Dalton, 2nd round (No. 35); Year 1, Game 1
Colts - Andrew Luck, 1st round (No. 1); Year 1, Game 1