As I peruse the mock drafts that many of us have posted over the last couple weeks, I've noticed a trend - quarterbacks. This pick is usually third round or later and if the mock draft has an accompanying explanation then the author makes it clear that they think a QB would be good for depth, or to groom behind Ben Roethlisberger, or to develop as trade bait. So let's look at those options.
Drafting for Depth
Back-ups Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch did not exactly instill confidence in their combined three starts when Roethlisberger was injured in Weeks 11-13 (Batch's fantastic win at Baltimore the obvious exception) but as much as many of us were clambering for Brian Hoyer to be the savior how many of us can say we would have been more confident in a mid to late round rookie starting those games? Maybe that's not the point, maybe you draft a kid now so he can be the back up for a few years but even then are you more comfortable in a kid with a handful of plays and fewer starts coming in and outperforming veterans at quarterback?
Grooming a Starter
Best I can tell, the idea here is the Steelers draft a quarterback now so he can learn for a few years behind Roethlisberger and eventually become the starter. I looked at the starting quarterbacks for every team. Discounting the Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert type debacles (I think we can all agree that the Steelers should not take a QB in the first) I didn't find much to convince me that this is a workable idea.
There were three quarterbacks last season who sat for more than a year and ended up starting for the team that brought them into the league. Those quarterbacks are Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Tony Romo. Three out of 32 does not seem like a great success rate to me. Plus, Rodgers and Rivers were first round picks and Romo was undrafted, neither of those options have been presented in mock drafts.
Developing Trade Bait
This one falls apart pretty quickly. The poster boy for this strategy - if you can call it that - is Matt Cassel. Cassel was drafted in the seventh round in 2005 and played here and there until Brady's injury in 2008. After a good year, despite not making the playoffs, Cassel was franchised by the Patriots, then he was traded along with outside linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for the 34th pick. I should also mention that the front office for the Chiefs were recently Patriots people and thus this deal seems odd from every vantage point.
The Cassel trade seems to be what people have in mind when they say "trade bait." The problem with that is you're spending a pick on a kid and hoping the worst case scenario of your franchise quarterback missing significant time takes place. You're hoping that the back-up plays well enough that teams are interested but your own team is not. You are also hoping that you get a significantly higher pick than you used to originally draft him, all of this four years after you picked him up.
Does that seem like a gamble to anyone else? A pretty unlikely gamble? An unlikely gamble that takes years to pay off?
I don't know. I just don't see the advantage in drafting at a position where you have no chance of upgrading your current starter or replacing a jettisoned contract. Ben will be here. We all hope he stays healthy and plays well. I am not in favor of drafting an insurance policy or poker chip given how low a chance there is that it works out. I'm not saying you never draft a quarterback but even with Ben's injury history he is the unquestioned starter and should be for several more years. You don't draft based on the chance of major injury. You draft based on the player with an eye toward position. And luckily, starting quarterback is one position for the Steelers that doesn't need work.