The quarterback is universally understood as the paramount position in the game of football. Teams may win or lose solely based off of the play from the man under center. Subsequently, this makes a franchise quarterback practically priceless, and once a team has one, it is up to the front office to build a competent team around him so they can win.
When a team only has a quarterback, winning almost never follows as seen with Sam Bradford in St. Louis, Drew Brees, and Carson Palmer. Building a supporting cast around a quarterback is just as important as the passer himself, and this includes both sides of the football.
Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Luck. Whoever they are playing, their team has a chance because they have an amazing quarterback at the helm. When teams compete, their actual play can be embellished by an impressive record reached by ugly wins and “lucky” upsets (see the Raiders last season).
The more times bad teams play close games, the more games they will eventually win, like the Jets so far this year. When passers are given a supporting cast that helps carry the load, they become dangerous. Wins, playoff appearances, dynasties. No quarterback can do that by himself.
So, a team has its franchise quarterback. What do they do now? Obviously, it is silly to ask for a perfect team to be build around a single passer. However, the better that cast is, the better that team’s chances of winning are.
Over the years, we have seen that there are certain ways that lead to winning in a quicker or more efficient manner. Once a team gets their quarterback, a defense is the next most important piece to acquire. A good quarterback can carry the load offensively and when that is paired with an adequate defense, wins occur. Building a defense starts with the draft, where it is imperative to add defensive talent in the top two rounds.
This, when added to free agent acquisitions, makes for an awesome defense. One of the epitomes of rebuilding a single side of the football is in Jacksonville, where young talent like Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack is added to Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye.
Furthermore, an example of this would be the Detroit Lions. After acquiring Matt Stafford with the first pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, the Lions began to build their defense. Since drafting the Georgia gunslinger, they have used 19 draft picks in the first two rounds. Nine of those were spent on the defense.
With less than half of their picks being added to the defense, I can see why this method is questioned. However, out of all possible top fifty picks they had, 15, they selected nine defensive players. The most skilled defenders in the draft, players taken in the top fifty, were picked by the Lions when they had the chance more often than not. This has resulted in two winning seasons and two playoff bearts.
This may not seem like any tall feat, but when it is seen through the scope of the Lion’s continuous despair and poor luck with injuries and controversial calls, the team’s success offers a bright spot. The defense was built up to support a franchise quarterback, and the Lions are consistently a playoff threat.
Moreover, a similar process occurred in Carolina. The 2011 draft began with the selection of Cam Newton, a dynamic talent at the quarterback position. Since then, they have used seven top two round picks on defensive talents, more than 58% of the team’s top 64 picks since acquiring the mobile passer.
Their defense has been viewed as elite when amazing talents like Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short began to mesh with veterans. With Cam, they have had two winning seasons and three playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl run that almost granted Carolina a ring. The Panthers won many of their games by letting Cam Newton dominate on his side of the ball and limiting the opponent to miniscule scores.
When franchise quarterbacks are found, and an adequate defense is put behind them, good things happen.
In addition, another team that found its superstar with the first pick in the draft was the Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck has played at an elite level with no one around him, bringing his team to late playoff runs and wins against quality opponents.
Unfortunately, with Luck being seemingly the only capable player on the roster, the Colts continuously fell short. Who’s fault was this? Well, most of the blame falls on the joke of a general manager named Ryan Grigson.
Over the course of Grigson’s shameful time in Indianapolis, he spent only a fifth of the team’s first round picks on defensive assets. The one defender he picked up was Bjoern Werner, a bust who never came close to playing well with the Colts. He also spent two second rounders on defensive backs, both who turned out to be nothing special whatsoever.
Grigson attempted to build up the offense around Luck, but that went poorly as well, especially when the historically bad offensive line leads to the franchise player getting hurt semi-frequently. Thankfully, Grigson was removed from his duties, leading to the hiring of the current general manager, Chris Ballard.
If you have read my other Colts articles here at Breaking Football, you would understand that my infatuation with Mr. Ballard knows no bounds. While it has only been one draft, the signs of competence are arising from Indianapolis and now progress can be made.
Ballard spent the first two draft picks of his Colts career on defensive backs that lay the fabric for the new Indy defense. Malik Hooker already looks like a franchise piece, and we have all seen the talent in which Quincy Wilson possesses. He spent an additional four more draft picks on defensive talents attempting to build up this defense. This is significant because when the Colts have even an average defensive game, they are seemingly unbeatable. In games where the Colts have allowed less than 19 points, Andrew Luck has never lost, going 25-0.
If and when Ballard builds a defense for Andrew Luck, the AFC better be on the lookout for a Super Bowl competitor.