Setting Some Values Straight on Kaepernick, Ponder, and Dalton
One time, perhaps a few years back, I did research on a message board about third round draft picks and their washout rates. I concluded that in a few of the most recent drafts, third round picks washout about half the time compared to second round picks who only washout about 1/3 of the time and first round picks that only washout about 20% of the time. This was counter-intuitive to some who feel that when you look at all rounds in the draft, about half of all players picked just never make it. Do 80% of first rounders really perform at the NFL level? Wouldn’t this suggest that the draft is hardly a crapshoot at all?
In a way, yes. I used a fairly conservative definition of washout. For example, the Jaguars haven’t exactly struck gold with first round picks Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, and Derrick Harvey, but none of them were washouts by my definition. All were adequate NFL starters while on their rookie contracts. The fact that the Jags didn’t bring Jones or Williams back had no bearing on my assessment on them as picks. Clearly, not all successes are created equal. In 2006, the team with the first overall pick selected Mario Williams, the next team selected Reggie Bush. Neither washed out of the league, but, y’know.
This not-so-academic study is how I now base my player evaluations on NFL draft prospects. If it is known that half of all third round draft picks will wash out and never lock down a starting job in the NFL, then no player who has any degree of confidence (in my evaluation) of future success can be rated lower than a 2nd-3rd round fringe prospect. After all, a 3rd round grade on a player, while it doesn’t suggest that said player will fail, does not project any sort of meaningful success at the professional level beyond the normal surplus value of a draft choice. So while there’s an inherent value in all players selected with any pick, draft analysis isn’t advanced enough yet to look at third round prospects and separate the successes from failures EXCEPT in the case of first or second round players who have fallen (see: McCoy, Colt).
In the cases of quarterback prospects Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder, and Andy Dalton, each of the three has more than a reasonable chance for success as a pro quarterback based on college accomplishments. They all possess a greater likelihood for a reasonable level of success than Auburn’s Cam Newton, based on the types of players that have historically “made it.” I am not suggesting that Cam Newton will fail, but his reasonably high chance of washing out sits him as a third round grade on my board — and I would consider myself pro-Cam Newton as a successful pro prospect. He’s just in a draft class where it makes absolutely no sense to make him a first or second round choice. Kaepernick, Ponder, and Dalton on the other hand all would rank above 3rd round level because their chances at obtaining a successful level of play, given opportunity, is closer to two-thirds than 50%.
Christian Ponder, to me, could be the best quarterback in the class. I would not take him over Blaine Gabbert at the top of the draft, but outside of the top five picks, I think Ponder is fair game. If Ponder ends up being the class’ best passer, it will have been a rather weak class. But his success at the pro level will surprise no one. Top of the second round would be a really, really good time to add Ponder, and by the middle of the round, he’s a steal.
Andy Dalton is a bit more perplexing as a prospect. Kaepernick and Newton’s stock has skyrocketed since the season, but going back to last summer, I don’t think any player has done anything to raise their stock more than Dalton. Dalton is a four year starter at TCU who has great film. My concern with Dalton, why I wouldn’t spend a first round pick on him, is that when he struggled against inferior competition at TCU, he would struggle so horribly that the entire offense would be unable to move. Dalton was able to create quite the highlight reel over his senior year, and he really looks like he could be the franchise quarterback for someone if 1) selected in the second round and 2) given three full years to develop both in practice and later in the lineup. In today’s NFL, I think Dalton may be bound to fail because he won’t be able to find a situation like that to hone his skills in, but then again, the Colts, Eagles, and Patriots are all working out quarterbacks, and I see no reason that Dalton can’t be the next Matt Schaub someday.
The case of Colin Kaepernick is a little bit tougher. He’s another four year prospect who lit up a mid-major conference as a senior with less-than-stellar talent around him. His skill set projects him to a starting lineup a little bit earlier than Andy Dalton, and he won’t likely have to wait as long to achieve “successful NFL quarterback” status. Kaepernick’s problem is that even given the most perfect situation to develop in, it’s doubtful he’ll ever develop into a Matt Schaub-type like I suggested Dalton will. Kaepernick’s deep accuracy, ball security, intangibles, and athleticism are all off the charts, but if college is any indication, Kaepernick will never throw all the routine short outs and ins as well as timing ins and outs with relative ease. Kaepernick is always going to be marginalized in a move-the-chains type of passing attack without a strong running game. That makes him probably a late two or three because his chance of making it depend on the system as much as Kaepernick himself. I would still draft him over Newton because we know a lot of positives about Kaepernick’s decision making and all we know about Newton is the last time he played football, the national championship game, it didn’t look like he knew how to run his own offense.
Delaware’s Pat Devlin is the one other guy I would have a second round grade on because of his accuracy, if not velocity, to all fields. Devlin could probably make the transition relatively quickly, though not as quickly as Ponder because of Ponder’s familiarity with pro style offense.
Here’s what I have so far on this quarterback class (dated 4/5/2011):
First Round Grades
- Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
- Christian Ponder, Florida State
- Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Second Round Grades
- Andy Dalton, TCU
- Pat Devlin, Delaware
- Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Other QBs who I think May Succeed (better than 50% rate)
- Cam Newton, Auburn
- Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
- Ricky Stanzi, Iowa
- Greg McElroy, Alabama
- T.J. Yates, North Carolina
With 12 or 13 guys who I have as likely to succeed, the lack of a top overall type could be obscuring the best QB class in years.