Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks!

Welcome to the 2024 NFL Draft.

The NFL is a quarterback league, and America is a quarterback nation.
Teams can’t help themselves. The scouts obsess over the quarterbacks, overrate the quarterbacks, underrate quarterbacks, draft quarterbacks too high, draft quarterbacks too low.

Front-office football executives who run the draft lose sleep over quarterbacks, win Super Bowls because of quarterbacks, and get fired because of quarterbacks.

The coaches who are given a high-profile drafted quarterback to develop are happy to have him – at least on the surface – but they know that their careers will change … and if the quarterback goes down, they will take the hit, get run out of town and will be back on the trail in search of a new job.

Coaches will spend countless hours wondering what the team was thinking in taking him so early. That’s the bad scenario. On the other side of the quarterback craziness – the best scenario – the coaches will gain an enhanced reputation, get big raises and land better gigs if the young quarterback succeeds.

And the offensive coordinators out there. Oh man. Buckle up for the wild ride. These baby quarterbacks can ruin offensive coordinators or turn offensive coordinators into hot candidates coveted for head-coaching jobs.

It’s almost time to grab the Quarterback Lotto Ticket.

Quarterbacks will be in the spotlight when the annual 2024 NFL star search gets underway Thursday night. The pursuit of quarterbacks is relentless and borderline insane as always, but we may see something that hasn’t happened since 1983: six quarterbacks come off the board in the first round.

In 1983, the sensational six were John Elway (1st), Todd Blackledge (7th), Jim Kelly (14th), Tony Eason (15th), Ken O’Brien (24th) and Dan Marino (27th)
Elway, Marino and Kelly turned into Pro Football Hall of Fame legends who started 10 Super Bowls and were tabbed for 23 Pro Bowls.

It’s bonkers to look back and remember that Blackledge went seventh overall, grabbed by the Kansas City Chiefs – 20 spots ahead of Marino’s name being called by the Miami Dolphins.

One QB starred for 17 seasons, passed for 61,361 yards and threw 420 touchdown passes. That golden arm was Marino, who is still considered among the best pure passers in league history. Why did he last so long? Gossip about too much partying in college. That was exaggerated; the dumb teams that passed on Marino lived to regret their gullibility in listening to rumors.

Blackledge was rated higher than Marino in the draft, but started only 29 NFL games and went 15-14. He had 391 fewer touchdown passes than Marino in his NFL career.

Eason was a reach at No. 15, but the New England Patriots made that lunge. The Illinois football alum had talent, and even started the Super Bowl for the Patriots to cap the 1985 season. At that moment Eason’s career peaked … and that peak lasted for a few minutes before the ferocious Chicago Bears defense turned Eason into its next victim. He attempted six passes, completed none, was sacked three times, and was knocked out of the game. Eason started 14 games for the Patriots in 1986, and made it to the playoffs, but that was a one-and-done postseason for him. Eason didn’t do much over his final four seasons.

O’Brien had a good career, making it to two Pro Bowls and receiving Offensive Player of the Year votes in 1986, so there’s no reason to criticize the NY Jets for choosing him 24th overall. But the Jets were mediocre, O’Brien could only take them so far, and he had a 50-51-5 record as their starting quarterback.

As for 2024 Quarterback Class … 

I’ll be surprised if we don’t see six quarterbacks selected in the first round Thursday night. Caleb Williams (USC), Jayden Daniels (LSU), Drake Maye (North Carolina), JJ McCarthy (Michigan), Bo Nix (Oregon) and Michael Penix Jr. (Washington.)
In Las Vegas, the sportsbooks have an over/under of 4 and ½ quarterbacks taken in the first round. Take the over.

Three will likely go 1-2-3: Williams to the Bears, Daniels to the Commanders and Maye to the Patriots. There’s an outside chance of a team trading up to get McCarthy into the top six or so.

There have been three drafts with quarterbacks going on the first three selections. That was the case in 1971 with Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning and Dan Pastorini. It happened again in 1999 with Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith. And in 2021, quarterbacks went 1-2-3 with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance.
Just look at those names again.

It just shows you about the volatile nature of identifying quarterback talent. It’s a challenge, and there is no magic formula for making the right decision.

Of course there are rumors … there are always rumors in every draft, and most of those rumors swirl around the quarterbacks. Trades, trades, trades. Maybe. But probably later in the first round than early in the first round.

Sorry to mix sports here, but home runs will be hit. But there will be more strikeouts than homers.

And let the second-guessing begin. That’s one of the fun parts of the draft – watching the overreactions from draftniks who praise or rip teams based on whether the teams took their “advice” and selected the QB that the draftniks predicted they would take. These are the same people that blasted the Chiefs for drafting Patrick Mahomes.

Williams, Daniels, Maye and McCarthy are certain first rounders. Penix and Nix may last until the second round, but I doubt that.

(Update: Penix went 8th to Atlanta, McCarthy went 10th to the Vikings and Nix was taken 12th by the Broncos. Yes. Six of the first 12 players chosen were quarterbacks. That’s never happened in the NFL Draft. History was made.) 

What we don’t know is how many of these quarterbacks will make history of their own. Positive history. Negative history. Appalling history. Laughingstock history, Pleasant surprise type of history. Who will be the JaMarcus Russell, an all-time epic bust for the Raiders as the first overall pick in 2007? Is there a Johnny Manziel (bust) or Matt Leinhart (bust) or Ryan Leaf in this group? Who will be the Tom Brady, a sixth round pick by New England) in 1999. Is the next Brock Purdy out there? He was the last man drafted (any position) in 2022.

Too many teams have the quarterback fever. Too many teams will fall in love with a quarterback they probably shouldn’t take. And when the franchise owner gets involved and starts giving orders to the football people, chaos usually ensues.
But as these things go, this is a deep quarterback draft.

“I think when we say it’s deep, we’re talking about the top six guys,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a draft analyst for the NFL Network, who spoke to reporters on a conference call. “And six is a big number.”

“Last year I … talked about how the 2024 draft really has a chance to be a special (quarterback) class,” said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik, an NFL analyst for SiriusXM. “I still think it does.”

We have recent examples of boom-or-bust decisions.

* The early 2021 quarterback class was a bomb. Lawrence went No. 1 to the Jaguars, Wilson was picked second by the Jets, and the 49ers aggressively traded up to draft Lance, who didn’t last long. He was traded to Dallas. OK, now look deeper in the first-round list: Justin Fields went 11th to the Bears, and Mac Jones was tabbed 15th by the Patriots.

In the three seasons since that draft, only Lawrence has demonstrated the ability to be a successful quarterback, but he regressed late in the 2023 season. And Lance, Fields, Jones and Wilson have been traded by the teams that chose them in the ‘21 draft.

* Drafting quarterbacks paid off in 2020. Joe Burrow went No. 1 to the Bengals, Tua Tagovailoa was grabbed at No. 5 by the Dolphins, Justin Herbert was selected sixth by the Chargers, Jordan Love went to the Packers later in the first round, and the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in round two. I’m not saying these guys will become Hall of Famers, but they’re viewed as franchise quarterbacks by their teams.

Compared to previous QB draft disasters, 2020 looks pretty damn good.

What about 2024?

“Only time will tell,” Dominik said. “But I do think this class not only has the top three or four guys, but I think there’s other quarterbacks in this class that are going to certainly be guys that you’re going to hear about and have a chance. So I think there’s good quality and quantity in this class that I think does make it more toward that 2020 possibility than it is 2021.”

He may be wrong. He may be right.

Quarterbacks. Gotta have ‘em.

Might as well just flip a coin.

Thanks for reading …

– Bernie

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.