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Don’t Panic, Commanders Fans, Hit Rates for QBs at Pick #2 Could Have Been Higher

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By: MattInBrisVegas

Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A what-if analysis of QB drafts from 2012 through 2021

A few days ago, I published the results of QBs drafted in the first round over the decade from 2012 through 2021. The data showed that no QB drafted between the first overall pick and pick #5 in that period had achieved the kind of success that fans hope for when their team picks a QB that early in the draft. The most successful QBs picked 2nd or 3rd overall were Marcus Mariota, Carson Wentz and Robert Griffin III. In fact, no team has really hit on a starting QB in this range between the Falcons selecting Matt Ryan 3rd overall in 2008 and the Texans striking gold with C.J. Stroud in 2023.

Many Hogs Haven readers appear to have been as surprised as I was by that result. The comments section revealed a variety of reactions, and coping mechanisms, which should come as little surprise in a fanbase that has just endured 24 years of hopelessness in the hands of an inept, meddling owner. A few thoughtful readers pointed out a very real cause for hope, despite the dismal recent results.

While teams picking 2nd and 3rd all struck out, teams drafting from pick number 5 through 12 hit on a rather remarkable 78% of their picks. That almost certainly means that quality starting QBs that other teams had high on their boards would have been available when the teams picking 2nd and 3rd were on the podium. Clearly the issue was not with the availability of quality starters at pick #2, but rather with the decision making of the teams doing the picking.

A few commenters pointed out that the way the data were presented in the previous article didn’t allow readers to really get a sense of the choices the teams picking 2nd and 3rd had to make. Some QB needy teams might not have had better options with their picks, while others might have passed over better options that other teams would have picked.

To get a sense of how much better the draft outcomes near the top of the first round could have been reasonably expected to turn out, I had a look at what successful QBs that other teams picked just a little later were available when QBs were drafted 2nd and 3rd overall. I then did a What If experiment to see how much higher the hit rates would have been if the teams picking 2nd and 3rd had chosen QBs that other teams picked from 5th through 12th. The idea was to limit the alternative choices to QBs that other teams had rated highly on their boards, rather than allowing unrealistic hindsight picks which never would have happened, like the Redskins picking Russell Wilson instead of RG3.

Realistic Alternatives at the 2nd and 3rd Picks

The following table shows the better options who were available when teams drafted QBs 2nd or 3rd overall in the decade in question.

In five of eight cases (62.5%) a starting quality QB was available when a team picked a QB 2nd or 3rd. However, in only 3 out of 8 cases (37.5%) was the alternative option a QB that another team considered worth picking in the top 12.

The most interesting case to me is Ryan Tannehill in 2012. That is who I wanted the Redskins to pick in that draft, but at their original pick (#6), not by trading up to #2. While the Redskins could have defied the wisdom of the rest of the league and picked Russell Wilson at 2 instead of RG3, realistically there is no way Dan Snyder was going to be distracted from taking the very shiny #2 player in the draft.

The consensus of surviving draft boards I was able to round up with some quick Googling suggests that Tannehill was expected to go around the middle of the first round, and may have already been a bit of a stretch at 6th overall. Nevertheless, in the spirit of hopefulness and optimism, I decided to allow him as a viable alternative at 2.

Now, let’s see what happens to the hit rates in the range of the Commanders’ first round pick if we swap in the earliest picked of the alternative options, where available, for the players teams actually picked 2nd and 3rd overall. For purposes of this exercise, I’ll assume that the QB originally picked 2nd or 3rd would have been drafted where the alternative player was picked.

That is not a crazy re-imagining of the actual draft results. In my semi-realistic alternative draft universe, the hit rate at picks 2 and 3 has risen from 0% to 38%. As a result of pushing three of the long term starters earlier, the hit rate from 5 to 13 dropped to 44%. Everything else remains unchanged from the original article.

I’m sure that a 38% hit rate is still not as high as most Commanders’ fans would like to see it. But it is about as high as it could have plausibly turned out without resorting to obvious hindsight picks. And, it is a hell of a lot better than 0%.

What about if the team picking third in in 2018 had liked Lamar Jackson nearly as much as Sam Darnold and something nudged them to go the other direction? That team was the Jets, and I have already swapped in Josh Allen for Darnold in the re-imagined draft scenario. So making Lamar the pick wouldn’t make the slightest difference.

Aside from that, I can’t see a single case where it would have been plausible to swap in another QB for a team’s choice at 2 or 3, short of proposing that the Jaguars considered Derek Carr as an alternative to Blake Bortles. 38% would seem to be the limit of how high the hit rate for QBs drafted between picks 1 and 5 could have risen under any realistic re-draft scenario.

And keep in mind, the 38% hit rate was achieved by swapping Ryan Tannehill for RG3, which is already stretching the limits of plausibility. If we put Tannehill back at #8 where he probably belongs, the hit rate in the 2-3 range drops to 25%.

2018 NFL Draft
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images


Hopefully this exercise has given hope to a few Commanders’ fans who were shocked by the original article. There are reasonably plausible redraft scenarios which could have seen the hit rate for QBs in the range where Adam Peters is likely to be picking rise to 25% to 38%. But the truth remains that quality starting QBs are rare commodities and fairly hard to identify ahead of their NFL debuts.

As many commenters on the original article pointed out, what happened in previous drafts in no way constrains Peters when he is on the board. By most analysts’ estimations 2024 is one of the deepest QB classes in a decade and… um… er… um…

…if you think that means there are sure to be 3 or 4 viable NFL starters on the board when he picks, you might want to avoid my next article.

Just 30 days to the draft, people. It will be over before you know it.


Originally posted on Hogs Haven