Destination Determines Destiny for NFL QBs

Location, Location, Location

Date: May 2, 2024
Author: Michael Salfino
Topics: How To Collect, Michael Salfino, NFL Draft, QBs
Length: 745 Words
Reading Time: ~4 Minutes

The first thing collectors do after the NFL Draft is assess the quarterbacks’ landing spots, the positions where factual forecasting can lead to the greatest returns on investment.

If it was as simple as ranking the QBs based on the order in which they were drafted, The Hobby wouldn’t be nearly as fun and NFL GMs would have a lot more job security.

Witness the most valuable rookie cards this century: Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Brady was the seventh QB drafted in the 2000 draft — in the sixth round. Mahomes wasn’t the first QB drafted either and was taken with the 10th overall pick. And just this decade, Brock Purdy’s rookie card is rocketing up the sales charts despite Purdy famously being “Mr. Irrelevant” as the last player drafted in 2022. The common denominator is that all three landed with great coaches: Brady with arguably the best ever in Bill Belichick, Mahomes with sure-fire Hall of Famer Andy Reid, and Purdy with the NFL’s current offensive mastermind, Kyle Shanahan.

So, let’s look beyond the top three picks in the draft for their raw talent. Instead, we’ll focus on Bo Nix (the sixth QB selected), who has the clearest path to starting Week 1 for a coach who had a big hand in developing two great quarterbacks, one of whom is the most productive in history. And another, 10th overall pick J.J. McCarthy, who may be redshirted this year but who is playing for a very quarterback-friendly coach with arguably the best receiver in the NFL, Justin Jefferson, who has not yet turned 25.

For reference, according to SportsCardPro, the same version of a Williams card trades for about 14 times a Nix and eight times a McCarthy. (Remember that the prices paid for active players are constantly changing—and often dramatically—with news.)

Nix is 24. He has 1,934 pass attempts in five seasons in college (61 games). In 2023, Nix had 45 touchdowns and just three picks for Oregon. He’s playing for a coach in Sean Payton, who worked with undrafted Tony Romo as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Romo was well prepared to start at age 26 in 2006, the year that Payton left for New Orleans and began his relationship with Drew Brees. Over the next 11 seasons, 174 games, Brees’ average 17-game performance in a pass-heavy Payton offense was 5,253 passing yards and 38 TDs (or 309 passing yards and 2.2 passing TDs per game).

Nix’s No. 1 scouting comp is Drew Brees, even down to the massive hand size they both share. In his new role as NFL analyst, Bill Belichick talked to Payton about Nix and said he’s the best in the pocket, the most accurate, and most pro-ready. Payton said Nix learned the Broncos playbook overnight.

McCarthy is with a similarly offensive-minded head coach in Kevin O’Connell. He had Kirk Cousins playing like an MVP candidate before Cousins tore his Achilles in November. In his past three seasons as offensive coordinator and head coach for the Rams and Vikings, respectively, O’Connell’s teams have finished in the top four in TDs every year and top six in passing yards.

The issue with McCarthy, and why he’s mentioned here after a player picked two spots later, is that Sam Darnold is expected to start at least Week 1. If you believe in McCarthy, you have to think Darnold, a former No. 2 overall pick, has a chance to play well enough to indefinitely delay the 21-year-old rookie’s NFL debut.

But according to his college coach Jim Harbaugh (the last first-round QB from Michigan in 1987), McCarthy will be the best QB in school history. That’s quite a statement, given that the Wolverines produced Brady. Belichick, who of course developed Brady, had effusive praise for the No. 10 overall draft pick’s decision-making and athleticism.

A later-round QB who has a plausible path to starting within a couple of years for a big-market team is Jordan Travis of the Jets. Travis was the 36th pick in the fifth round (Brady/Purdy land). Aaron Rodgers will be 41 this year and coming off an Achilles tear in Week 1 of 2023. Travis is similar to Purdy in that people question his arm, but coaches praise his intangibles and ability to quarterback as opposed to wowing people with his size or arm strength. While it’s exceedingly rare for a late-round QB to emerge as a top player, former FSU teammate and current Bills WR Keon Coleman raved about Travis’s leadership and ability being second to none in college.

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