In less than a month, teams build the futures of their franchises in the NFL Draft. With months of preparation, including meetings and workouts with prospects at all positions, teams have to decide between an immediate starter and someone worth investing in.
One of the more difficult positions to evaluate preparedness is at quarterback. There's a growing dialogue between coaches and GMs who think it's best to draft a trainable quarterback, someone to learn under the current starter for a few seasons, and those who think starting as a rookie is the best type of training.
With a deep quarterback class heading into this year's draft, there are few teams not interested in taking a quarterback, but there is a big difference between a want and a need. Some teams have the luxury of drafting a quarterback they can groom.
At the NFL Combine, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak spoke about Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor -- someone he had worked with before in Baltimore -- and specifically touched on Taylor's opportunity to be a starter in Buffalo.
"He's a great example of a young player coming up the way they used to back in the day, getting a lot of experience playing behind a really good player and then getting an opportunity."
Carolina Panthers GM Dave Gettleman echoed that players coming into the league aren't as ready or mature as they used to be, with so many choosing to declare before they graduate and coming out at 20 years old. He noted that development can take a few years, and expecting success after year one can be the downfall of a player or coach.
"When you have these guys you have to develop them. We're not getting instant oatmeal anymore," Gettleman said. "You've got to understand there's going to be growing pains. Nothing's easy. A guy can have all the talent in the world. But this game is about fundamentals and when we're getting them they don't have it. So our coaches have to really coach and teach, and it takes longer."
Other teams need a guy under center who could potentially come in and start right away. For them, they're likely keeping an eye on Jared Goff (Cal) and Carson Wentz (North Dakota State), the top two quarterbacks in the draft, and the two considered to be the most "NFL ready."
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians argued that the best way to improve is through experience -- and if that means having a down season with a rookie quarterback, you have to accept that.
"The only way to learn is to play. I say that, we might draft [a quarterback], and he's going to hold a clipboard for a year. But I don't believe in holding clipboards. You learn from practice. You have to get every snap," Arians said. "The trick with a young guy, especially if you're going to sit him for a year, is getting him enough practice work to where he's improving in your offense, not somebody else's offense. When they're sitting there and not playing, it's very hard to develop them."
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio spoke about the difficulty in finding and training a franchise quarterback, though his team has gotten lucky in that department.
"We have a really good quarterback in Derek Carr coming off his second year now. He took a significant jump last year, and there's a lot of room for growth," Del Rio said. "It's imperative that you find a guy to lead your franchise, and we feel like we have one."
No player ever wants to sit, but...
Of the 32 starting quarterbacks to start the 2015 NFL regular season, only two were rookies: Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, who were taken with the first two picks of last year's draft. There were seven total quarterbacks drafted in 2015, and the remaining five have served as understudies to some of the league's best passers.
There are two talking points for league-bound quarterbacks these days: 1) that they are able to and intend to start right away when they get to the NFL, and 2) that they know they might train for a few years before being handed the keys to an offense.
Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch spoke on both potential opportunities, "Whatever I need to do to help that team, I will do. But if it's coming in and sitting behind a guy, I'm still going to compete and push him. That's how teams get better in my opinion. But if it's a team where I need to start, I'm going to formulate a plan and stick to that plan and get to work."
Cardale Jones of Ohio State echoed the sentiment that the opportunity alone is worth it, regardless if that's as a first-round pick or not, "My goal is to get my foot in the door and let my preparation and leadership take it from there. The opportunity definitely is more important than being any pick."
Players who start as a rookie and underperform could become just another casualty in the quarterback carousel. But it's also not a great strategy for teams to put several years into training their next leader, only to lose him in free agency to a team with more cap space. There's something to be said about taking a viable backup and building him up to use as trade bait, but teams don't usually like to forfeit draft picks for someone to use in a trade later on.
Don't forget the most famous example. Tom Brady was selected in the sixth round with the No. 199 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, and for just over a season, he backed up Patriots starter Drew Bledsoe. Brady took the reins after an injury knocked Bledsoe out, and he has been the starter in New England ever since.
It's not just about the quarterback
It's not just quarterbacks who some expect to be ready right out of college. Linemen are often drafted with immediate need and some positions, like tight end and fullback, just aren't cultivated as much at the college level as they need to be for the pros.
Gettleman touched on the difficulty in finding fullbacks at the Combine. "It's not easy. Because you've got to remember there aren't any fullbacks at the college level. You don't have fullbacks. You don't have tight ends. It's hard. Take San Francisco what they did a couple years ago -- drafting the defensive lineman from Central Florida, was it? And they converted him and this kid's a darned good fullback."
There's something to be said about the value of in-game experience, but should it come at the cost of success? Players are often asked if they hope to have an immediate impact in the NFL, which seems like a no-brainer, with Taylor Decker even retorting, "I don't think anybody would want to come in and be like, ‘Oh, I'll ride the bench for a couple years.' I want to come in immediately. I want to be a starter".
Even with linemen, Del Rio discussed how the college schemes don't overlap with what pro teams are doing as much as they used to -- specifically in terms of three-point stances and combination blocks. When they aren't doing at the college level what is needed in the NFL, more development is essential to building a well-rounded player who understands the fundamentals.
"There is a little bit of development once you get to the league. I think that's the biggest part of it. You're still getting big, strong, talented young men with feet to move and the ability to play. But maybe their development isn't as far along as it was when colleges were more closely aligned with what we're doing in the NFL."
As with anything in the league, different managers and owners will have different ideas as to how best acquire and develop talent. Fans and analysts will continue to criticize these moves, but as of yet, there is no set way to do things, keeping the NFL as unpredictable as ever.