Coller: Is a 'developmental' quarterback worth it?

Matthew Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for BMTN, with more of his work found at Purple Insider.
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Matthew Coller is an experienced football writer who covered the Vikings for 1500ESPN and Skor North for four years. Also a published author, Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, and you can find more of his work at Purple Insider.

On paper, the Minnesota Vikings have every reason to draft a “developmental” quarterback this year.

For starters, Kirk Cousins is set for the immediate future but his long-term outlook is unclear.

In 2022, he is set to carry a $45 million cap hit, which creates a pivot point for the Vikings and Cousins to make a decision. Will they trade him? Will they sign him to a contract extension? Will he play out the final year of his deal and become a free agent again?

At the moment, the Vikings might not have any sense for where they end up at the quarterback position in two years. Uncertainty with Cousins alone would justify a QB pick anywhere in the draft.

There’s also the fact that the Vikings presently do not have a backup quarterback who has ever been active for an NFL game. Jake Browning and Nate Stanley are the other two QBs on the roster.

Some national voices are reading the tea leaves and suggesting a QB at the top of the draft. CBS Sports’s Pete Prisco just mocked quarterback Trey Lance to the Vikings this week.

But there is a distinct possibility that the top five quarterbacks are all gone by the time the Vikings pick at No. 14. Even a trade up for a QB would be difficult because of the sheer number of teams that might be interested in moving up i.e. New England, Washington, Chicago etc.

That means if the Vikings want to pick a quarterback, they may have to look to the middle rounds for a quarterback to develop behind Cousins.

There are a handful of interesting prospects in this year’s draft that may be available when the Vikings pick five times between the 78th and 134th picks. Stanford’s Davis Mills has a small sample size of performance for the Cardinal but showed he was a quick decision maker with downfield passing ability. Before Jamie Newman of Wake Forest opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, he flashed athleticism and arm strength that might have made him a higher rated prospect if he played last year. And Kellen Mond of Texas A&M is a highly experienced QB who ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at his pro day.

All three of the mid-tier quarterbacks (and there might be a few more depending on how the league feels about Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks) have enough talent to believe there’s a chance they could eventually become NFL starters. But is it worth taking a shot on one of them? Well, recent history has not been kind to the “project” quarterback.

Back in 2012, Cousins was picked in the fourth round as a development QB and turned out to be a Pro Bowler. Likewise, Russell Wilson was selected in the third and ended up becoming a star. That draft, however, looks very much like the outlier when we examine the mid-tier quarterbacks that have been taken in the subsequent years.

Since 2012 there have been 30 quarterbacks taken between the second and fourth round. Three of them -- Dak Prescott, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo -- have become multi-season starters. The jury is still out on Drew Lock and Jalen Hurts. A handful have turned into passable backups like Jacoby Brissett, Sean Mannion, CJ Beathard, Geno Smith and Matt Barkley and the rest busted.

The big-picture takeaway from the recent picks is that taking QBs outside of the first round is not usually a worthwhile venture, especially if it’s outside of the second round. Prescott is the only success story in recent years to come in the third or fourth. You are vastly more likely to land the next Ryan Finley or Connor Cook than someone who has any chance at being an above average starter.

You could look at it another way: If the odds are 1-in-10, maybe there’s a case for it. After all, the chances of landing a third-round star cornerback or linebacker aren’t much better and the upside is tremendous if you land the next Prescott, Carr or Garoppolo (all of whom have had 12+ win seasons in their careers).

But how would they go about guessing which of these project QBs would be worth the effort? Do they have anything in common with the hits?

On a surface level, the answer is… maybe?

Trask, for example, threw 43 touchdowns and just seven picks in his final year at Florida. Carr had a 50:8 touchdown to interception ratio. Both were flawed prospects whose ridiculous success in college made them at least worth consideration.

Mond and Newman have an athletic element to their game and aren’t perfect when it comes to accuracy, like Prescott.

Mills isn’t super athletic but has an NFL arm and makes quick decisions. Maybe there’s a dash of Garoppolo there.

Of course, you could also compare Trask to Will Grier’s college stats (37:8 TD:INT ratio). You could compare Mond and Newman’s athletic ability and arm strength to Davis Webb or Josh Dobbs. You could compare Mills’s quick mind with Sean Mannion and Ryan Finley.

It stands to reason that taking someone with a bigger arm or a running element to their game would raise the chances at landing that 1-of-10 but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of “model” for scoring a successful mid-tier quarterback. The Cowboys, Raiders and 49ers more or less hit the lottery.

The question the Vikings have to ask: If the lottery had a 10% hit rate, would you play? The answer is probably yes. The issue is that the cost to get into the lottery is whatever other third-rounder or second-round pick they might be passing up.

If the Vikings traded back in the first round and picked up a second-round pick, they could fill needs at offensive and defensive line or add another weapon for Cousins. The third round has sometimes produced immediate impact players for the Vikings like Danielle Hunter, Pat Elflein or Cam Dantzler.

Is it worth passing up on a chance to fill another need for someone that has almost no chance to ever start for the Vikings?

On paper, yes. In practice, it’s probably equivalent to lighting a pick on fire.

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