No Snap Decision

Knowing NFL's history of first-round QB picks, Ravens drop back with caution before possibly drafting a passer.

Nfl Draft

April 20, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The team that has become the surest bet of the draft could be taking the riskiest gamble of them all.

The Ravens, whose only constant since their inception has been unparalleled success in the first round, are contemplating selecting a quarterback with their 10th pick overall in next weekend's NFL draft. But selecting a quarterback prospect such as Marshall's Byron Leftwich or California's Kyle Boller is a precarious hit-or-miss proposition.

Recent history stresses buyer beware. In analyzing the past 10 drafts, there is only a 45 percent success rate for taking a quarterback in the top 10, with six busts overshadowing the emergence of five franchise quarterbacks. For every Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb, there is a Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith.

That's why front offices take a deep breath before taking a quarterback in the first round.

"To put it bluntly, if we do draft a quarterback and [coach] Brian Billick, [player personnel director] Phil Savage and I are fired in three years, we'll understand why," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "When you pick them at that position, what has been done before can be easily forgotten."

The Ravens have been near flawless in the opening round, selecting four future Pro Bowl performers in seven drafts. All of their first-round picks from 1996 to 2000 - excluding an injured Travis Taylor at the time - were starters in their Super Bowl triumph, including four on their record-setting defense.

But that reputation could be put to the test in venturing in the potentially high-dollar, low-return investment of drafting a quarterback. The San Diego Chargers paid more than $3 million for each of Leaf's four career wins, and the Cincinnati Bengals doled out more than $2 million for each of Smith's five total touchdown passes.

Whether it's a lack of patience, the wrong offensive system or misjudgment in scouting, teams part ways with franchise quarterbacks as often as they keep them. Of the 12 quarterbacks chosen in the top 10 from 1993 to 2000, only half remain with the team that drafted them. In fact, that supposed blue-chip group has as many members out of football (Leaf and Heath Shuler) as those who directed their original teams to Super Bowls (Drew Bledsoe and Steve McNair).

"When you talk about the quarterback position, all bets are off," Billick said. "All you have to do is look at the history of it. Taking a guy in the first half of the first round - no matter how good an evaluator you are, no matter how much due diligence you put into it and no matter how good you feel about the pick - it's a 50-50 crapshoot as to whether the guy will turn out or not.

"But that's the anxiety everyone gets in choosing a quarterback early in the first round. You are talking about putting a lot of money into a player who may never play for you."

Intelligence quotient

Drafting in general is not an exact science, and rating a quarterback involves the most guesswork.

Though physical skills can be easily evaluated on game film or practice, teams do their best to hedge their bets in determining a quarterback's psyche. Scouts keep an eye out for leadership by watching how a prospect interacts in the huddle and can get a glimpse of how he deals with pressure by the way he handles himself in front of the media.

The best resource can be the scouts' sources at the school from coaches to trainers to secretaries. They can find out how much the quarterback audibilizes, comes in to watch extra tape and works out with his receivers in the offseason.

"There's some speculation involved," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "It's a tough thing to judge."

A couple of pop quizzes can help teams get a feel for intelligence and awareness.

During a personal workout or a pre-draft visit, the coaching staff puts in the quarterback's game film and listens to him explaining the protection schemes, the routes being run and the decisions being made.

Another mental hurdle that should be passed is an intelligence test that is given out by the league to all prospects at the February scouting combine. Players have 12 minutes to complete 50 multiple-choice questions that range from: "The 10th month of the year is" to "What is the value of a car that cost $1,490 and has now depreciated 33.3 percent in a year."

The general rule is that teams want a quarterback who gets at least half right and stay away from those who have 15 or fewer correct.

"Intelligence is an important aspect of the quarterback position," DeCosta said. "Quarterbacks have to be able to see things, effectively process what he sees very quickly and get rid of the ball in three seconds. [These tests] give you pieces of the puzzle."

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