Here's why the top quarterbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft could fall to teams late

Basic supply and demand provides the fundamental issue underlying the quarterback market in the NFL. Because there are a limited number of quality quarterbacks in the league there is an increasing willingness to overpay for them. 

Want a few examples? Look at the 2011 NFL Draft, the height of irrational decision making at the position. The Panthers got it right with Cam Newton at No. 1, but who can forget the Titans taking Jake Locker at No. 8, the Jaguars taking Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 and the Vikings drafting Christian Ponder at No. 12? Newton, Locker, Gabbert and Ponder ... yeah, one of these things is not like the others.  Or just watch Brock Osweiler’s film from 2016. Bring tissues. You will cry. Hence, why the Texans took a cue from the NBA and executed the NFL’s first modern salary dump trade,  

The idea that quarterbacks will almost always be overpaid or overdrafted makes the 2017 NFL Draft particularly fascinating because, well, it might actually not be happening this year. A rare confluence of events has essentially managed to limit the upside of this class. 

It’s obviously quite possible we see several guys go early, but let’s look at why we could see the best prospects in this class land in surprising spots. 

Weaker quarterback class

This is the easiest reason to identify -- the crop of quarterbacks in this class just isn’t that great. There is value in all of the guys in this class, particularly the “Big Four” of Mitchell Trubiksy, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes. But unlike in years past, none of those guys is considered the top prospect in the class overall.

This class probably isn’t as weak as the ugly 2013 draft class in terms of quarterbacks (Geno Smith, EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon were the top guys), but it’s closer to that than other years. And with an overall class that’s strong, it’s easy to see how quarterback value is submerged. 

mitch-trubisky.jpg
Mitchell Trubisky, with just 13 college starts, is considered the top QB in a weak class. Getty Images

If you’re comparing the draft classes, a good one might be 2014. There’s a surefire No. 1 pick in Myles Garrett (Jadeveon Clowney), a super atheletic second banana who could be the best defender in the class in Solomon Thomas (Khalil Mack) and some quarterbacks with major question marks in Trubiksy/Watson/Kizer/Mahomes (Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr). 

The Texans needed a quarterback in 2014, but they weren’t passing up a shot at Clowney for Bortles. If Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota had been there, as they were in 2015, they would have gone at the top regardless.  

To confirm my suspicions about how all these guys would slot out, I checked with NFLDraftScout’s Dane Brugler about how the past three draft classes would rank if all mixed together into one big group based on -- and this is important -- their pre-draft rankings.

Here’s how Dane (who is a must-follow on Twitter this time of year) ranked the nine quarterbacks I gave him.  

1. Jameis Winston
2. Marcus Mariota
3. Jared Goff
4. Mitchell Trubisky
5. Carson Wentz
6. DeShone Kizer
7. Deshaun Watson
8. Paxton Lynch
9. Patrick Mahomes

And, when talking about it with Dane, it’s clear how much separation there is at the top. Winston is easy, Mariota isn’t much harder and then it sort of becomes personal preference. 

“This is based strictly on draft grades, not what we know now about these quarterbacks. Time will tell if Winston has the best career, but is an easy No. 1 on this list for me. And same goes for Mariota at No. 2,” Brugler said. “The next five spots are very close without much separating their final grades as prospects. And then the final two are Lynch and Mahomes, who are two of the most physically gifted prospects on the list, but their inexperience and raw skills are why they pull up the rear -- both are big projections with the highest bust potential.”

There are good names in the class this year and a lot of upside, but every single one of these guys is a projection. All quarterbacks are, but the potential risk of an investment looks like it could be higher than normal. 

Previous investments in quarterbacks

The teams at the top of the draft are, spoiler, not good. But a lot of them have also already invested reasonably in quarterbacks recently or have odd situations unfolding at the position.

The Browns (No. 1) badly need a quarterback but everyone knows they can’t pass on Garrett at No. 1. Obviously they could pull the trigger on someone at No. 12. More on that later. 

The 49ers (No. 2) could make a lot of sense for a quarterback, but they’ve given Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch six-year deals, are going to be patient and just invested in Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer. That’s not the solution, but it gives them some freedom not to panic.

The Bears (No. 3) just signed Mike Glennon to a deal they hope works out for more than just a single year and $15 million. Regardless, it would be surprising if they used the No. 3 overall pick on a quarterback. 

mike-glennon.jpg
After signing Mike Glennon for big money, the Bears are unlikely to draft a QB early. Getty Images

The Jaguars (No. 4) are all in on Bortles this season, for better or worse. 

The Titans (No. 5) got this pick from the Rams in the Goff trade, and have Marcus Mariota as a franchise quarterback anyway. 

The Jets (No. 6) just signed Josh McCown and previously drafted Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, but are certainly a viable landing spot for one of these quarterbacks early.

The Chargers (No. 7), Panthers (No. 8) and Bengals (No. 9) have starting caliber quarterbacks on the roster, although Philip Rivers is getting up there in age while Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have a lot of good football ahead of them.

The Bills (No. 10) just brought back Tyrod Taylor

That’s a pretty rare market situation when it comes to quarterbacks in the top 10 of the draft. You look at the top 10 picks in this draft, and barring a trade, you could argue there is only one team that has to take a quarterback to have a viable starter for Week 1 in 2017. That team, Cleveland, is taking a slow-burn approach to rebuilding the roster and really can’t pass on Garrett with the top pick.

Strong crop of 2018 quarterbacks

There is also a sense among the current teams at the top of the draft that they can potentially be patient -- and lucky -- and pick up a better quarterback prospect in the 2018 draft, a concept CBS Sports colleague Pete Prisco outlined from the owners meetings.

“Next year’s draft,” one NFL personnel director told Prisco in Arizona. “Next year’s draft is loaded.”

NFL scouts and front office folk are already drooling over Southern California phenom Sam Darnold. UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Washington’s Jake Browning are also considered top prospects. And those are just the underclassmen -- seniors Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Luke Falk (Washington State) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) are on the top of the NFL Draft Scout rankings as well

josh-rosen.jpg
Josh Rosen is among the talented QB prospects expected to enter the 2018 draft. USATSI

The concept of opportunity cost is real in the NFL -- if a team takes a gamble on a quarterback and whiffs, they’re not just missing on that prospect. They’re also missing on the opportunity to take a star at a different position and they’re going to lose on the opportunity to take a quarterback in the future because of their previous investment. 

Teams at the top of the draft don’t have time to be patient, because fans and owners want to win now. Invest a first-round pick in a guy like Trubisky or Mahomes and they better be ready to play sooner than later. This crop of quarterbacks doesn’t feel ready to play right off the bat. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians recently said there’s only one guy in this class ready to start now, which makes it a dangerous proposition for teams at the front end of the draft. 

Good teams need QBs too

And this is where things get interesting. Because there are a lot of quality teams that are in “need” of a quarterback. The Chargers qualify because, even with Rivers on the roster, they have to be thinking about the future. They are hardly alone in that respect, as the middle part of the first round is littered with teams that might be interested in taking a quarterback early.

The Saints (No. 11) have Drew Brees, who they would love to see play another few years, but they have two first-round picks and could consider taking a quarterback to groom.

drew-brees-2-1400.jpg
With Drew Brees getting up there, will the Saints draft their QB of the future? USATSI

The Cardinals (No. 13) are very much a candidate to take a young quarterback that Carson Palmer can help mentor early on.

The Redskins (No. 17) are a wild-card team to take a quarterback, but there’s hardly any guarantee they have Kirk Cousins on the roster past the 2017 season.

The Giants (No. 23) have to at least think about a solution for life after Eli Manning

The Texans (No. 25) are definitely in the market for a quarterback, now that Tony Romo is reportedly retiring instead of leaving the Cowboys to play for another team.

The Chiefs (No. 27) could consider taking a quarterback in the first round if the right guy falls; Alex Smith has a $20 million cap hit and just $3.5 million in dead money for the 2018 season, the final year of his contract.

The domino effect

So what could we see happen? Well, there has to be a perfect storm for all of these guys to fall out of the top 10. I don’t personally think Trubisky will make it out of the top five, because he has too high of a ceiling and could be more NFL-ready than people think. The Browns could make a move up to grab him after they take Garrett, while the 49ers could snag him at No. 2 (he would be a great fit in Kyle Shanahan’s system) and the Titans could be willing to move out of No. 5 for the right price for anyone interested in jumping the Jets for Trubisky. 

We could see three quarterbacks go top 10 if everything breaks a certain way. 

But if things go sideways because of the defensive talent in this draft, it’s very possible that the four quarterbacks fall out of the top part of the draft and we see them end up with teams who aren’t desperate for starting quarterbacks.

Here’s how it plays out:

  1. The Browns take Myles Garrett (feels guaranteed at this point).
  2. The 49ers and Bears take two of Solomon Thomas, Jonathan Allen, Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams, or another defensive player (entirely likely).
  3. The Jaguars and Titans don’t trade out to someone or don’t draft a quarterback (pretty likely).

And if that all happens, it just comes down to the Jets not seeing a quarterback they want at No. 6. They could see McCown as a bridge for them this season to get to another guy in 2018 while trying to see what Hackenberg can do. 

There’s a chance someone else could come flying back up to grab a quarterback, and if all the quarterbacks are available at No. 12, you can feel good assuming that the Browns will pull the trigger, but it’s certainly not guaranteed. 

It wouldn’t be hard at all to see the quarterbacks spread out across No. 12 (Trubisky to Cleveland), No. 13 (Mahomes to Arizona), No. 17 (Watson to Washington, followed by a trade of Cousins to San Francisco?!?), No. 25 (Watson to the Texans if he’s there) and No. 27 (Watson, again, to the Chiefs if he falls). 

If the Cardinals pass on one of these guys and take a position of greater need, you can quite easily push the next few prospects into the 20s. 

Quarterbacks are an expensive and valuable commodity in the NFL. The most valuable commodity, even. But for one year we might see their price dip a little bit. Stay tuned.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories