noun out·li·er \-ˌlī(-ə)r\
a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample
By their nature, drafts are unpredictable. No one truly knows what everyone else is going to do until they do it, leading to unpredictability on draft day. Scouting is an inexact science, so there are always busts and late round gems. Uncertainty is a theme in all drafts in all sports. But amid the chaos, there are some near certainties. In the NFL, one of those is that taking a QB beyond the third round is basically a waste of time.
Looking at QBs drafted since 1994, when the NFL implemented a salary cap that made draft picks much more valuable than ever before, we see that the most productive and longest lasting QBs are found mostly in the 1st round, with a fair amount in the 2nd as well. There's a lot of inexact science in the draft, but the top quarterbacks are almost always ones who were top prospects. After that, a handful of highly productive late round QBs are the outliers.
The 1st round is the most productive, every QB drafted in the 1st saw playing time, which actually skews the overall production of the round. Because coaches are a slave to a player's draft position, guys like Patrick Ramsey, Brandon Weeden, J.P. Losman, Brady Quinn and Blaine Gabbert not only get playing time that QBs drafted later would never get, they get extended careers as journeymen backups because coaches and front offices think they can fix the guy. Johnny Manziel and Jim Drunkenmiller are the only 1st round QBs to not start the majority of one season.
You don't even need the #1 pick to get a high quality QB. Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Donovan McNabb weren't the first QB taken in their draft, and Steve McNair didn't go 1st overall.
The 1st round has plenty of bad QBs, but that's the risk a team must take because there's a severe drop-off after the first and second tier of QBs, who almost always are gone by the end of the 1st round.
Which is best illustrated by the 2nd round have the least amount of QB selected. And yet it's quite productive. Only two 2nd round QBs have never started: Jimmy Garappolo, who sits behind Tom Brady, and Pat White, who was drafted too early as a gimmick by the Dolphins.
Best of the bunch: Drew Brees is head and shoulders the best 2nd round QB, he has 24% of pass attempts by all 2nd round QBs, but he's also an outlier. When he was drafted in 2001 the knock on Brees was that at 6'0" he was too short, that he didn't have enough arm strength, and that the then-new-fangled spread offense at Purdue was the primary reason for his success. But just a year before Brees was drafted in the 2nd, Chad Pennington, who had a weaker arm, played against weaker competition at Marshall and had Randy Moss to throw to, was taken 16th overall. Pennington is 6'3". Had Brees been just two inches taller, there's a pretty good chance he would have been taken in the 1st.
The next best 2nd round QBs are Jake Plummer, who had a couple of solid seasons in Denver after spending 6 years in the literal and figurative desert with Arizona; Tony Banks, Andy Dalton, Charlie Batch and Chad Henne are the only other 2nd round QBs to start three seasons worth of games, though Derek Carr will eventually get there and Colin Kaepernick needs just one more start to reach that threshold. You can get a QB to hold down the fort for a few seasons in the 2nd, but anything more is an outlier.
At this point, the results really drop off. 3rd round QBs make up 9% of all QB draft picks, and 8% of starts.
Best of the bunch: 5'11" Russell Wilson, who like Brees probably would have been drafted a round earlier if he was two inches taller. Though it ended poorly, Matt Schaub had a nice career.
The second tier of 3rd round QBs shows just how hard it is to find QBs here. Brian Griese had a couple of respectable seasons, and 2002 selection Josh McCown is still around. The best of the rest is your pick of Nick Foles, Trent Edwards, Colt McCoy and Mike Glennon. Chris Redman and Charlie Whitehurst have had lengthy careers as backups. The earliest picked QB in the 3rd round was Giovanni Carmazzi, who Bill Walsh took with the 65th pick in 2000, proving that even the greatest have trouble identifying QB prospects.
The steady decline continues with no one that lasted as a starting QB who was taken in the 4th.
Best of the bunch: David Garrard had a nice season in 2007, Aaron Brooks was a low-end starter for a few seasons as was Kyle Orton. The most games played by a 4th round QB is Brad Smith, who wasn't even a QB, he became a wide receiver and special teamer. Kirk Cousins might be the best of them when it's all said and done. Or he could be another Rob Johnson, Seneca Wallace, Danny Kanell or Sage Rosenfels. You might be able to get a respectable backup here, but you're more likely to wind up with a Mike Kafka, Matt Barkley or Danny Wuerffel.
The 5th round is the wasteland of QBs. Teams looking to draft a QB here should instead take a kicker or punter.
Best of the bunch: AJ Feeley. Or Dan Orlovsky. How bad is the 5th? Mike McMahon is tied for 2nd in TDs, is 4th in yards and 3rd in games started among 5th round QBs. Just stay away.
The 6th round is surprisingly just as productive on average as the 2nd round. And it's not entirely because of Tom Brady. But there's a catch.
Best of the bunch: Tom Brady is one of the greatest ever, but Matt Hasselbeck was really good for about five years. The two have 58% of pass attempts by all 6th round QBs. Marc Bulger looked like a starting QB for a few years and man was he paid like one, he gives a boost to the total as well. But here's the catch: neither Hasselbeck nor Bulger nor the other relatively productive 6th round QBs such as Jim Miller, Derek Anderson and Tyrod Taylor were drafted by the team that they had success for. Brady's not just an outlier in being a great QB taken so late, he's an outlier in being a QB who had remotely any kind of success who did so by with team that drafted him.
But beyond Brady and Hasselbeck, the 6th is much like the 5th round. Taylor's career is almost entirely the 2015 season and it makes him the sixth most valuable 6th rounder. Anderson has the fourth most touchdowns. Teams are most likely to draft a player the caliber of Curtis Painter, Jim Sorgi, Tom Brandstater or Ryan Lindley than Taylor. Like the 5th, a team would be better off drafting a punter or kicker.
A complete and total waste of time. The 7th round has had the second most amount of quarterbacks drafted as teams think they can get some developmental guy and coach them up. It almost never happens.
Best of the bunch: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel and Gus Frerotte are the oxymoronic cream of the crop of the 7th round, and all spent the majority of their careers playing for a team other than the one that drafted him. Fitzpatrick was traded after two seasons as a backup and has played for six different teams in his 11-year career. Cassell was somehow the subject of a bidding war in 2009, in 2015 he was a member of three teams. Frerotte made the Pro Bowl in his third year, in his seventh he was on a new team.
There's no reason to draft a QB in the 7th round, and pretty much no reason to draft one on the third day of the draft. Spend the pick on someone who can at least help on special teams and maybe turn out to be a contributor on offense or defense. There just isn't another Brady out there. He's the embodiment of an outlier.
Since the implementation of a salary cap, he's the only truly great QB taken past the 2nd round, though Russell Wilson could be there one day, and Wilson dropped because of a ridiculous concern about his height. If you lower the bar to just "good enough to be a starter" Brady is the only third day QB with any kind of staying power on the team that drafted him. One wonders what would have happened had Drew Bledsoe, who was seven months removed from a record contract extension, had slid instead of taking a hit that knocked him out and changed NFL history by putting Brady in the lineup.
Searching for a quarterback in the late rounds of the draft is a fool's errand. The best quarterbacks are almost exclusively the top prospects, with the second tier of prospects providing a reasonable return. A team like the Eagles, who need a long-term solution at QB and are not in a position to draft one of the top tier ones, should take a second tier QB, either in the 1st or by trading up into the 2nd, or not draft one at all. Otherwise, they're just wasting their time.