Ben Roethlisberger didn’t start the last game of the 2016 regular season against the Cleveland Browns, as the Steelers were preparing for the playoffs and their match up with the Miami Dolphins. Landry Jones was respectable filling in for Big Ben against the Browns in the comfy confines of Heinz Field in Week 17. Jones hasn’t always been solid in relief, but he did a commendable job versus the 1-15 Browns. With that performance, he heads into free agency and isn’t assured of returning to Pittsburgh as backup QB. He could seek too much money for the Steelers’ budget, or he might even decide to vie for a starting gig in a QB–hungry league. The Steelers didn’t give Zack Mettenberger a single snap on that day, instead electing to give Landry a long look to see what they’ve got in their backup signal caller.
One thing is clear, though—NFL QBs certainly are not a dime a dozen. Draft picks outside of the first-round rarely find long-term success in this league.
Steelers fans know Big Ben cannot be the face of the franchise forever, no matter how long he wants to play. He's performing at a high level now but hasn’t been able to avoid the injury bug the past three seasons. Many fans are urging the team to draft a successor as early as 2017 but, for the most part, they seem uninterested in spending a first-rounder to find one. This is a risky proposition, though. Drafting a QB outside of the first round has seen limited success, despite a few success stories. Here’s a brief look at recent history on this topic:
QBs with at least 10 career starts drafted after Round 1 since Big Ben in 2004:
(*Note: The number beside the year is how many QBs were drafted that year and the number by the player is the round in which they were selected.)
Dak Prescott (4)–Looks the part of a franchise QB. An impressive rookie year at 13-3 as a starter with more than 68% completions to go along with a TD-to-INT ratio of 23/4.
Trevor Siemian (7) – Has had some solid games but also has struggled down the stretch. The potential battle to watch as 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch, waits in the wings.
Zack Mettenberger (6) – Poor first two seasons and a 0-10 record as a starting QB has him entrenched as the Steelers’ third-stringer.
Geno Smith (2) – A 58-percent career passer with eight more interceptions than TDs, he doesn’t appear destined to be more than an injury-prone backup.
Mike Glennon (3)–A 5-13 career record is misleading given his 30-15 TD-to-INT ratio. Will likely compete for starting duties elsewhere in 2017.
Brock Osweiler (2) – Looks to be flaming out in Houston after landing what many felt was an over-generous contract. Osweiler has only 15 passing TDs in 14 starts. Not very impressive for his $18 million-per-season price tag.
Nick Foles (3) – Had a monster year in 2013 and was voted to the Pro Bowl – but it's been downhill ever since.
Kirk Cousins (4) – A 66-percent career completion rate but only a 19-20 overall record. The face of the Skins franchise despite his record.
Andy Dalton (2) – Say what you want about him – his 55-35-2 record speaks volumes.
Colin Kaepernick (2)–A 59.5% career passer with 71 TDs through the air and 13 on the ground. Borderline franchise QB but has been disruptive and he’s assured of nothing in 2017.
Tyrod Taylor (6) – His 14-14 career mark leaves the Bills with a tough decision to make in the off-season.
Jimmy Clausen (2) – 1-13 as a starter, but has had a long career as a backup.
Colt McCoy (3)–His 7-18 record isn’t what you’d want for a franchise QB. Only three more TDs than interceptions.
John Skelton (5) – An interception machine with 25 in 17 career starts – not surprisingly out of the league.
Chad Henne (2) – Has lost 35 of 53 career starts, along with a 59.3% completion rate. All the earmarks of a career backup.
Kevin Kolb (2) – Out of the league with a career 9-13 record.
Drew Stanton (2) – A 53.2% career completion rate – Bradshaw would be jealous.
Trent Edwards (3) – Four more interceptions than TDs sums up his 14-19 record.
Tyler Thigpen (7) – Can't remain in the NFL much longer with a 1-11 record as a starter.
Kellen Clemens (2) – Owns a career 8-13 record with a 54% completion rate.
Tarvaris Jackson (2) – His 17-17 record was decent, but he only had four more TDs than interceptions.
Bruce Gradkowski (6) – With 14 losses in 20 starts along with a 52.9 completion percentage, it's a wonder he lasted with the Steelers as long as he did.
Charlie Frye (3) – Interception monster who tossed 29 in 23 starts. Seven wins to show for them.
Kyle Orton (4) – Bounced from team to team – racking up 101 career TD passes in 82 games. A hired gun in the league but never the future of a franchise.
Dan Orlovsky (5) – Amassed a 2-10 record on some atrocious teams.
Derek Anderson (6) – Has as many career TDs as interceptions (60), but a 54.2% rating meant his career never flourished as a starter.
Matt Cassel (7) – Never lived up to the hype from his big year with the Pats. Career record of 35-44.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (7) – Started 16 games three times during his career. Record of 45-69-1 as Fitz became a journeyman for much of his career.
Matt Schaub (3) – Established himself as the franchise QB in Houston, but then the wheels came off and he couldn’t stop throwing pick-sixes. Shaub’s 63.9-percent rating allowed him to have a long career.
Luke McCown (4) – In 10 starts, McCown only won 2 games.
What can we learn from this list? Of the 32 currently starting QBs, 20 are first-rounders. Seventeen of them are top-18 picks, therefore drafted by non-playoff teams. Of the 12 non-first-rounders, five (Kaepernick, Fitzpatrick, Osweiler, Siemian, and Taylor) hardly can be considered locks to remain the future faces of their franchises. That leaves just seven “diamonds in the rough” (eight if you include Schaub). Either these seven have all been overachievers or NFL teams dropped the ball on their evaluations. The statistic showing that only seven of 126 picks panned out makes selecting a non-first-rounder QB a huge shot in the dark. The success rate is a paltry 5.5 percent.
While it's scary to think about life after Big Ben, Steeler fans and the organization both have to face the reality of the future. Reaching and (likely) wasting draft picks on a QB after Round 1 is too much risk for the rare reward. For every Kirk Cousins, there are 20 Brian Brohm QBs out there. It’s much wiser to spend non-first-round draft picks on real gems – not to chase a dream. Steelers fans want a new face for the franchise, not a journeyman – or worse yet, a Brock Osweiler who kills the team's salary cap while doling out mediocre production.