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A little quick trivia challenge for you: Name the last B1G quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
If you answered Kerry Collins … congrats … you either have Google, are Kerry Collins, or have significant disposable time on your hand to think about things. (When the NFL draft hits next year, that will mean it’s been a staggering 20 years since it happened.)
However, in a text group of friends I have, it should be said in his defense that @GooseGyorko got it within seconds, and he doesn’t really have that much time on his hands … so maybe the question is just easy.
Let’s go back to the bigger point: It’s been 20 years since a B1G quarterback was selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Since then, 11 conferences and two divisions have been represented with first round picks in the draft.
So what the hell is going on? Or is anything going on past teams being lousy at drafting? It has to be a telltale sign of either poor recruiting at the position or a lack of player development, right?
That’s hard to really quantify. Over the years, the B1G’s teams have recruited fairly well, including heralded signal callers such as Drew Henson (Michigan) and Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) that were the passing envy of everyone in the nation when they signed.
But is it really a referendum on the B1G?
In the 20 years since Collins was drafted, there have been five Super Bowls that ended with B1G graduate quarterbacks holding up the Lombardi Trophy, though in fairness, Tom Brady, who could reasonably retire as the default Greatest Of All Time and at very least if he retired today, top 3-5, sort of skews that number a bit (Drew Brees, Russell Wilson).
By comparison, the closest conference in the same time span in terms of ring winners is the Pac-12 with four (John Elway twice, Aaron Rodgers, Troy Aikman).
Wilson in and of himself is a bit tough to place at the sole hands of B1G development, seeing as he took his fifth and final year to Wisconsin after spending his undergrad time at North Carolina State, but that’s for lawyer types who just like to go back and forth arguing semantics.
So part of this article doesn’t really matter. The ends justify the means when it comes to the talent of athletes no matter where they’re drafted. It does beg the question, though, of “What gives?” and “When will that drought possibly end?”
The truth is, the B1G does as well as anyone when it comes to putting together quarterbacks who end up succeeding. In 2013, only the ACC saw more teams with starting quarterbacks than the B1G in the NFL.
Yet, it’s worthwhile looking at why these quarterbacks are going into B1G schools heralded, coming out as unheralded by NFL scouts, and then succeeding in the pros. The end result is more an indictment of the scouting process than anything related to the development of players.
Then again, who will be that next first-round pick in the B1G? And how important, really, is that sort of stuff to recruits? What ends up being more impressionable to a recruit — Tim Couch being a top-five pick out of college because of how he was coached there and viewed coming out? Or pictures of Brady or Brees in the athletic hallways holding up the Lombardi?
So too is it potentially an indictment of recruiting rankings, because the guys from the B1G making hay in the NFL were not highly sought coming out of high school, as opposed to three SEC quarterbacks who have made the Super Bowl in the same time — Eli and Peyton Manning as well as Rex Grossman — who were all highly touted.
Likely, it’s the latter. The B1G is on the cusp of almost assuredly breaking this streak, however. It could be another Penn State guy who does it too. Christian Hackenberg seems like the prototype guy the NFL looks for.
No matter how trendy spread option offenses become … and with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson both in that vein and in Super Bowls the last two years, it will only expand … the NFL will always and forever place a premium on traditional drop-back, strong-armed quarterbacks that prefer a pocket to open grass to move the ball down the field.
The first-round streak isn’t likely to end this year, but certainly with guys like Hackenberg and maybe even Connor Cook of Michigan State, it’s a trend that should end soon. In the meantime, the position at the NFL level will be what it always is, and that’s mostly a crapshoot in terms of where the true elite prospects are coming from.
There are many more Ben Roethlisbergers or Eli Mannings (guys entrusted to a franchise with a highly expected first-round pick) than Bradys, Kurt Warners, or Drew Breeses. Scouting, recruiting, and team building will always be inexact sciences. No number-crunching exercises will ever change that.