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Seattle's Great Opportunity to Draft that Rarest of Players

In the long list of explanations for Seattle's dismal 2008, one is yet unmentioned. In week one, Buffalo defensive coordinator Perry Fewell aggressively blitzed Seattle's "A" gaps. It worked, and Seattle's offense sputtered. Every opponent since has done likewise. In Seattle's final possession, Bill Belichick uncorked a safety blitz up the middle ending Seattle's series and nullifying its remaining 26% chance of winning. Over most of a season, Mike Holmgren and Gil Haskell have never adjusted. The three step shotgun they devised has had limited success, mostly because of its limited use. It's almost exclusively an audible. I don't know that Seattle's next offensive mastermind will be better at making in-game and in-season adjustments, but I hope so. If not, we may soon long for Holmgren's precision, dedication and emphasis on execution.

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Football Outsiders gives Seattle a 51.7% chance of drafting in the top three and a 91.4% chance of drafting in the top five. The two teams most likely to draft ahead of Seattle are Cincinnati and Detroit. Cincinnati will not draft a quarterback. Detroit might. Depending on who declares, 2008 might be the first draft class since 2000 without a quarterback taken in the first ten picks.

There's this pervasive lie that a team can acquire a quarterback from any point in the draft. Luckily, I do not need to do any independent research on this one. Brian Burke did it for me. The results are remarkably straightforward. Quarterbacks taken in the first round are the most valuable. The average quarterback drafted first overall is worth a half win more and has an 81% chance of being a better than the quaretback drafted second overall. This does not mean should Seattle have the opportunity to take the first overall quarterback they should definitely do so. The reason the first overall quarterback is so much better than the second overall quarterback isn't because there's some cosmic law dictating so. It's because, like 2000, sometimes the first overall quarterback is a first round talent like Chad Pennington while the second overall is Giovanni Carmazzi. It's because the team that selects the first overall quarterback can take any quarterback available while the next is left with Byron Leftwich or Ryan Leaf. Burke found that quarterbacks show a linear decline in quality in all but the fourth round (where, for some reason they dip below the fifth and six rounds). Burke also found that quarterbacks taken outside the first two rounds average less than two years as their drafted team's primary starter. Obviously, that's part opportunity, but it's also part talent. Scanning the history of late-drafted signal callers reveals a lot of Billy Joe Hoberts, Bill Joe Tolivers and an occasional Stoney Case. NFL teams spend huge resources scouting quarterbacks. When they're done, they usually have a good idea who's Peyton Manning and who's Moses Moreno. Even great busts are as much about makeup and opportunity as talent. Can we know that a stable Vince Young couldn't have been a great quarterback or that if David Carr or Tim Couch were drafted by anything but the worst and worst run teams that either or both wouldn't have been successful?

Quarterback talent is rarely found. Finding a Tom Brady or Kurt Warner is mostly luck. Like the universe is mostly space. Both Brady and Warner made their first start following a fortuitous injury. Neither was an act of prescience or genius by their team's GM. Brady barely beat out Tim Rattay on New England's draft board. Warner signed with Saint Louis because of the four states bordering Iowa with a professional football team, Missouri's Rams were most in need of a quarterback.

The real story of finding a great NFL quarterback is written: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer...and not Drew Stanton, Jeff Rowe, Jordan Palmer, Charlie Whitehurst, Ingle Martin, Stefan LeFors, Adrian McPherson. Seattle has an excellent shot at the best overall quarterback in the coming NFL draft. It should not have such an opportunity again for at least a decade. A good team with a backbone of talent has the opportunity to draft a great quarterback to build its future around. I've yet to read a compelling argument why it shouldn't. This is no slight of Matt Hasselbeck, who, beyond being 33, expensive, fit only for a short passing system, and perhaps chornically injured, is a free agent in 2011. It's an acceptance of a need and an awareness of a great and truly rare opportunity.