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The Vicious Cycle of Drafting Quarterbacks

The mock drafts available at — Mel Kiper’s and Todd McShay’s, for example — suggest that the Cleveland Browns will probably select a quarterback with the fourth pick in this year’s NFL draft. In Kiper’s view, the Oakland Raiders will pick a quarterback early, too.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because the Browns took a quarterback in the first round two years ago, and spent a third-rounder on one in 2010, and used another first-round pick on a passer in 2007. The Raiders took quarterback Tyler Wilson in the fourth round a year ago. They also, infamously, spent the first overall pick on JaMarcus Russell in 2007.

If a team’s in the market for a quarterback early in the 2014 draft, the odds are good that it has picked one highly in the recent past (the Houston Texans being the exception).

If we assume the Browns and Raiders both take passers in this year’s top five, then no other franchises will have devoted more of their draft resources (according to’s draft value chart) to the quarterback position over the past decade. But for all the investment in passers, those two franchises were also among the least efficient passing teams (as measured by adjusted net yards per attempt) over the past 10 seasons.

Team Draft Pts Spent on QBs Adjusted Net YPA
OAK 47.4 4.85
CLE 46.5 4.54
NYJ 35.7 4.80
MIN 34.7 5.42
MIA 34.6 4.92
WAS 34.4 5.54
TEN 33.8 5.35
CAR 33.0 5.45
SFO 32.3 5.03
DET 32.1 5.25
DEN 29.6 6.59
STL 23.7 4.93
IND 23.6 6.87
ATL 18.6 5.78
PHI 18.3 6.26
TAM 18.3 5.30
GNB 18.0 6.77
ARI 16.0 5.19
BUF 15.7 4.88
BAL 13.5 5.26
JAX 13.3 5.29
CIN 10.6 5.68
SEA 10.2 5.61
NWE 8.8 7.18
DAL 7.0 6.39
KAN 6.7 5.38
PIT 6.1 6.30
SDG 6.0 6.96
CHI 6.0 4.82
NYG 5.7 5.76
HOU 2.0 5.88
NOR 1.9 6.80

It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg dilemma. Teams who pass poorly will continually turn back to the draft to grab a potential franchise quarterback. But does investing early draft picks in quarterbacks make any difference to a team’s future passing performance? This needs a bit more research. I’m looking into it and will get back to you.

But as the Browns and Raiders have discovered, it’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle: Draft a highly touted quarterback, watch as he performs poorly, draft another quarterback, repeat ad infinitum.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.