(Mettenberger photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans)
(Brunell cover photo courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars)
By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
When the NFL reduced its draft from 12 rounds to seven in 1993, that eliminated many of the luxury picks.
All 12 of your draft picks weren’t expected to make your roster back in the 1980s, so a team could take a flyer on a deep snapper or a backup quarterback or a kicker. But when you only have seven picks – just seven chances to improve your team – fewer teams are willing to burn them on backups or part-time players.
But that doesn’t mean teams should stop looking, particularly, for quarterbacks. Most are not ready to make the step from college campuses to NFL huddles as rookies. Some may need a year or two or even three to develop. If a team is willing to invest the draft pick and the time at that position, the reward can be great.
Tom Brady has become the poster child for late-round quarterbacks. The Patriots nabbed him in the sixth round in 2000, and he would step in as a starter in 2001 because of an injury to Drew Bledsoe. That sixth-round pick has become arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history with his four Super Bowl rings, 10 Pro Bowls, two NFL MVP awards, 53,258 yards passing and 392 touchdowns.
But Brady is not alone at the bottom of drafts.
Brady is not the only late-round quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Matt Hasselbeck, a sixth-round choice in 1998, also started one for the Seattle Seahawks. Brady isn’t the only late-round pick to win a conference passing title. Mark Brunell, a fifth-round pick in 1993, won an AFC crown in 1997 and Trent Green, a seventh-round pick also in 1993, won an NFC crown in 2000, as did Hasselbeck in 2005.
And Brady isn’t the only late-round quarterback to go to a Pro Bowl. There have been eight of them drafted from the fifth round on since 1993: Brunell, Green and Hasselbeck plus Elvis Grbac (7th round, 1993), Gus Frerotte (7, 1994), Marc Bulger (6, 2000), Derek Anderson (6, 2005) and Matt Cassel (7, 2005).
And last April, Tennessee used a sixth-round pick on LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who went on to start six games for the Titans. He passed for 345 yards in a game against Philadelphia and had two-touchdown games against the Steelers and Titans. He’ll compete for the starting job this season.
Some of these late-round picks lacked the prototypical size for the position (6-feet-1 for Bulger) or the experience (Cassel was a backup to Heisman Trophy-winner Matt Leinart at Southern Cal). Some came from small schools (Frerotte, Tulsa) or were coming off an injury (Mettenberger, torn ACL as a senior).
But all were worth the risk of a low-round pick, paying a huge dividend.
So keep an eye on the teams that draft quarterbacks late in the 2015 NFL draft this April. You’ll never find a Tom Brady if you aren’t looking for one.