Geno Smith is starting for the NY Jets at QB in Game 1 of the 2013 season. That much has been established. Geno fans and Sanchez detractors alike can rejoice.
Mark Sanchez's injury dispensed with the debate of whether Geno should start Week 1. It is now a moot point. One of the more heated points of contention in that debate was whether Geno would benefit from sitting on the bench for a time prior to taking the reins. On the side of starting Geno immediately were some who looked at the 2014 class of QBs and drooled at the prospect of getting a Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd or Johnny Manziel, among others. The thinking is that the Jets need to know if Geno is the answer as soon as possible, so as to be prepared to pull the trigger on a QB early in the 2014 draft if it turns out Geno doesn't have what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
This struck me as a peculiar way of thinking of your rookie quarterback. Very few first year QBs look particularly good in their rookie years. Yes, 2012 was a spectacular exception. But rookies generally go through some rather severe growing pains. There is little reason to suspect Geno will be any different, the 2012 class of QBs notwithstanding. And if he struggles, as seems likely, will we know whether he is the long term answer at QB after one year, regardless of whether he starts all of the games, most of the games, or few of the games? I don't think it is likely we will.
Certainly there are some limited exceptions. Jimmy Clausen comes immediately to mind. Anyone who saw him play his rookie year had to have entertained grave doubts as to his ability to ever perform adequately as a starting QB in the NFL. But most struggling rookies don't look quite that bad. They give you some good things you hope to build on, and some bad things you hope will be corrected in the future. Few look like studs from day 1, and few look hopeless from day 1. Most fall somewhere in between, and leave you hoping time and experience will allow your guy to clean up the bad stuff and build on the good stuff. But there really is no foolproof way of determining which guys will and which guys won't develop that way. So in all likelihood at the end of Year 1 we will be left with major question marks about Geno whether or not he starts. And if he is still such an unknown, and therefore still has the potential to possibly be The Man, it seems to me unlikely the Jets will spend an early draft pick in 2014 on another QB unless said QB is thought to be an absolute lock a la Andrew Luck. Those kind of guys don't come around too often, so in my mind the idea of the Jets capitalizing on the supposed 2014 bonanza of top QBs early in the 2014 draft seems rather unlikely.
In order to test just how unlikely it is for a team to give up on a high draft pick (1st or 2nd round) QB and choose another one a year later, I took a look at the history of such situations. Here is what I found.
From 1960 through 2012 there were 178 QBs chosen in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. The following are the only instances where a 1st or 2nd round QB was followed up in the next year with another 1st or 2nd round QB.
In 1960 the Redskins chose Richie Lucas in the first round, and in 1961 they chose Norm Snead in the first round. However, Lucas ended up with the Bills prior to the start of the 1960 season, so while this technically fills the bill, in reality the Redskins were not trying to replace Lucas with Snead.
In 1962 the Rams drafted Roman Gabriel in the first round, second overall. Incredibly, they followed that up by drafting Terry Baker first overall in 1963, and Bill Munson first overall in 1964. No team has ever done anything like this before or since. And while Gabriel worked out well for the Rams, the strange draft strategy probably didn't, as the Rams failed to make the playoffs in all but 2 of the ensuing 11 years.
In 1969 the Steelers drafted Terry Hanratty in the 2nd round of the draft. They followed that up by drafting Terry Bradshaw first overall in the 1970 draft. That team went on to reverse years of futility by making the playoffs for 8 straight years from 1972 through 1979, and win 4 Super Bowls in the process. Bradshaw went on to become a Hall of Fame QB.
We then have to move forward all the way to 2007 before any NFL team did this again. In 2007 the Dolphins chose John Beck in the 2nd round of the draft. They followed that up with Chad Henne in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft and Pat White in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft. None of those QBs worked out, leading eventually to the selection of Ryan Tannehill in the 1st round of the 2012 draft.
The final example is the Panthers. In 2010 the Panthers chose the aforementioned Jimmy Clausen in the 2nd round of the draft. He proved to be such a disaster the Panthers followed up in 2011 with the selection of Cam Newton as the first overall pick in the first round of the 2011 draft.
That's it. The entire list of instances in the last 52 years where NFL teams followed up 1st or 2nd round QBs by choosing another QB in the 1st or 2nd round the following year. Not counting the 1960/1961 Redskins, it happened twice in back to back years with the Rams. It happened once with the Steelers, twice in back to back years with the Dolphins, and once with the Panthers. A total of 6 instances out of 178 QBs chosen in those years, or a rate of a bit more than 3% of the time. In 4 of the 6 times the follow up QB was the first overall pick in the draft.
What does this tell us about the Jets and Geno Smith? Well, who knows? The Jets aren't history; they're here and now. And in the here and now maybe they break with historical precedent. But if history is any guide, the chances of the Jets choosing one of the prized 2014 QBs in the 1st or 2nd round of the draft would appear to be rather slim. And if they do it, it would likely be because they somehow managed to secure the first overall pick in the draft. This isn't written in stone, but it seems a pretty safe bet. Regardless of Geno's performance in 2013, barring a complete disaster, the Jets will likely not be selecting another QB early in the 2014 draft. And, I think, this is the way it should be. No matter how much this is a results oriented, now kind of league, one year is simply not enough time to properly evaluate the long term prospects of a QB. Two years is pushing it. And until you can properly evaluate your young QB it makes little sense to spend high for another unknown, UNLESS that new shiny unknown is, like Luck, considered an absolute can't miss.
The QB class of 2014 may or may not turn out to be one for the ages, as some are predicting. But for better or for worse, the Jets are unlikely to get a first hand view of its bounty. For the next few years it seems likely Geno Smith is our only real hope at QB, unless you're already on board the Matt Simms Express. In all likelihood if Geno doesn't work out, the class of 2015 (Brett Hundley, anyone?) would appear to be the first realistic opportunity to once again move on in what seems sometimes to be an endless quest for the Jets' long term answer at QB.