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2011 NFL Draft: Drafting Quarterbacks Isn't An Exact Science (Just Ask Bill Parcells)

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A formula that Bill Parcells developed to weed out quality NFL Draft quarterback prospects is still held in high regard, even after the formula has produced disastrous results over the past six years. Can science be applied to the NFL Draft? Even Parcells knows better.

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Bill Parcells is famous in NFL Draft circles for the well-established criteria he used to select quarterbacks on draft day. That list of requirements - which has reached a level of mythology in some circles - most recently came into play for Parcells when, as the Miami Dolphins' Executive VP of Football Operations, he oversaw a team that passed on Matt Ryan with the first overall pick to take Chad Henne in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

Parcells' four requirements for drafting a quarterback are as follows:

  1. Must be a senior: Parcells preferred quarterbacks that were seniors, as those players tend to be more mature than underclassmen entrants.
  2. Must be a graduate: The thought here is that a prospect that has graduated takes his responsibilities seriously, and sees things through. This requirement and the first criteria go hand-in-hand.
  3. Must be a three-year starter: This is rare these days, obviously, but Parcells wanted players that had been the "big man on campus" for a long period of time, and had handled the pressures of that role.
  4. Must have 23 college wins: Stats are great and all, but Parcells wanted a player that had produced while winning football games. Wholly reasonable.

Ryan, a Boston College senior, did not meet all of these requirements. He was technically a two-year starter, having split time earlier in his career with Quinton Porter, and as the nominal starter, he had 21 wins under his belt. Still, Ryan came very close to meeting those requirements, getting off on a technicality, when it comes right down to it.

Henne, however, met all of them: he was a graduated senior, a four-year starter and had amassed 34 wins at Michigan. He also had a significant amount of talent, which made him an ideal QB prospect for Parcells.

Three years later, Ryan is a budding star, having led the Falcons to three straight winning seasons and a 33-13 regular season record over his first three seasons. (He's also 0-2 in the playoffs, for the record.) Henne, meanwhile, is barely hanging onto his starting job in Miami, and at one point was benched for crumbling veteran Chad Pennington during a disappointing 2010 campaign.

Clearly, Parcells' list of requirements isn't a perfect filter for average (or worse) quarterbacks.

Looking past a 2004 NFL Draft quarterback class that featured Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger - easily the best group of quarterbacks in recent years - 15 more quarterbacks have been first-round picks in the six selection meetings that have since occurred. Of those 15 players, just three have met Parcells' list of criteria.

Matt Leinart, USC (three-year starter, 37 wins): Lost his starting job in Arizona to future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner, then never got it back. Went 7-10 as a starter, threw 20 interceptions to just 14 touchdowns, and is now a third-string quarterback for the Houston Texans.

Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (four-year starter, 30 wins): Struggled to get playing time in front of Derek Anderson, of all people, in his brief stint with Cleveland. Went 3-9 as a starter, threw 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and is now buried on the Denver Broncos' depth chart behind the next guy on this list.

Tim Tebow, Florida (three-year starter, 35 wins): The sample size is small - and as such, the jury is still very much out - but there have been flashes of promise here. Though he's just 1-2 as a starter, Denver's offense averaged 25 points per game to close a dismal 2010 season, and Tebow put forth a 7-3 TD-to-INT ratio (three scores were runs) and a 77.8 QB rating in three well-played contests. Still, he has a long way to go as a pro passer.

Meanwhile, several players that were near-misses on the Parcells criteria - Ryan, Jason Campbell and Joe Flacco - have all had their moments in the league. Flacco has 32 regular season wins under his belt, as well as an AFC Championship Game appearance and four playoff wins. Campbell seems to have finally found a home, and a consistent offensive system, with the Oakland Raiders. Sam Bradford is another example of a player who fell just short of meeting all of these requirements, and who appears set to become a star.

One graduated senior entrant - a four-year starter in college - fell well short of Parcells' win requirements. Jay Cutler, who won just 11 games at Vanderbilt, is in the midst of arguably his best professional season and will be playing in this weekend's NFC Championship Game.

Alex Smith was a junior entrant out of Utah, but left that program with a diploma and having had a great deal of success under Urban Meyer. A two-year starter, Smith has been a rather massive disappointment as a pro.

In the 2009 NFL Draft, three quarterbacks were taken in the first round, and all of them were junior entrants. Matthew Stafford has shown glimpses of potential, but his career has thus far been derailed due to shoulder injuries. Josh Freeman had a break-out campaign in 2010 for a surprising 10-6 Buccaneers team, throwing for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Mark Sanchez has been very up-and-down with the New York Jets, but he's now 4-1 as a playoff starter and will be competing in his second straight AFC Championship Game this Sunday. Sanchez was just a one-year starter, but both Stafford and Freeman had the bulk of three years of experience.

Vince Young was a junior entrant out of Texas, and despite early successes in the win column, a falling out with Jeff Fisher will result in his release later this year. JaMarcus Russell was a junior entrant out of LSU, and on this one, the Parcells criteria worked its magic, as Russell may just be the biggest bust in the history of the NFL Draft.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, California junior Aaron Rodgers has a legitimate claim to being the best quarterback in football at the moment; he was a two-year starter as a Golden Bear, but did benefit from sitting for three years behind... well, you know who he was behind.

For whatever reason, Parcells' system is still held in almost religious regard by some followers of the NFL Draft. Clearly, the criteria has merit: NFL general managers want talented quarterback prospects, but the more mature, responsible and experienced those players are, the better. Taken as a strict whole, however, this system is antiquated: as the NFL has evolved into a league that lacks patience at almost every level of its operation, so, too, has the NFL Draft become a place where greener-than-you'd-like quarterback prospects are abundant.

Despite the changing nature of the league, people will insist that 2011 NFL Draft senior quarterback prospects such as Iowa's Ricky Stanzi (three-year starter, 27 wins), Florida State's Christian Ponder (three-year starter, 22 wins - close enough, right?), Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (three-plus-year starter, 32 wins), and TCU's Andy Dalton (four-year starter, 42 wins) are better investments than the likes of Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett. Maybe they're right. It's certainly not a given.

You don't need to be told this, but there is no scientific formula that can crack the complexities of the NFL Draft. Even Bill Parcells knows this. We're talking about the guy who took Washington State junior Drew Bledsoe with the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, after all.