Bill Parcells’ four rules for drafting a quarterback

As announced on Monday Night Football, via Blatant Homerism:

  1. He must be a senior, because you need time and maturity to develop into a good professional quarterback.
  2. He must be a graduate, because you want someone who takes his responsibilities seriously.
  3. He must be a three-year starter, because you need to make sure his success wasn’t ephemeral and that he has lived as “the guy” for some period of time.
  4. He must have at least 23 wins, because the big passing numbers must come in the context of winning games.

Blatant Homerism also notes that, of the seven quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in the 2000s, five — Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Trent Dilfer — met all four requirements when drafted.

So readers, discuss: When drafting a quarterback are these non-negotiables, helpful guideposts, or completely irrelevant?

  • I really enjoy your site.

    Was wondering if; going by these rules, which QBs look primed for success on current rosters and in the upcoming draft?

  • Rajat

    This means Colt McCoy should be golden in the NFL

  • Steve

    aka Chad Henne

  • So this year, Parcells would choose from among Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Dan LeFevour, and Zac Robinson,

  • MarcusR

    Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson, Tom Brady don’t fit the list, I make that 3 of 8.

    Good news is the majority of them do fit that system, as you’ve mentioned. Bad news is you miss out of two of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time.

  • Marcus: I think the theory is intended for high draft picks. Warner and Brady were late picks/free agents who proved themselves as fantastic, but the initial investment was basically the league minimum. So I think that’s just a different calculus. Undoubtedly there will be exceptions who prove to be great, but I think his point is you can’t bank on finding those diamonds in the rough in advance and if you’re going to use a high draft choice (and therefore spend a lot of money) you don’t want to risk getting nothing in return.

  • Brad

    I have also read that experience in cold weather is a must for the Tuna.

    Moderate correlation on those though. In addition, super bowl winning qbs are probably a bad way to look at this as well. There are a lot of very good qbs who do not fulfill those requirements though.

    None of those are causing guys to be good qbs. Winning 23 over 22 in college probably doesn’t mean too much. Most of these seem like good ways to make sure that the success has been consistent throughout a career and will lead to nfl readiness.

  • billsfan

    Football Outsiders ran some numbers on this a while back, and they found a correlation between “NFL success” two factors: number of games started and completion percentage. All of Parcells’s factors could produce those two results–a QB with a low completion percentage who doesn’t win games isn’t likely to be a three-year starter. Personally, I like it when the numbers guys and the conventional wisdom agree on something.

  • DrB

    I would agree with it, for a high draft pick QB I would never draft someone who wasnt a graduate and started multiple years. #3 could be a bit shaky at a good program with depth though.

  • Jim

    Tom Brady is still a pretty close fit, though. He was a senior who got his degree and had a high winning percentage. The only criterion he doesn’t fulfill is three seasons as the full-time starter — but as Charlie Pierce and other observers have pointed out, he fulfilled the law in spirit, if not letter, at Michigan, by soldiering through and excelling despite getting yanked around by UM coaches during the Drew Henson fiasco. Brady definitely came out of college knowing how to succeed in the spotlight and handle the burdens of scrutiny.

  • Evan

    So I should take Todd Reesing over Sam Bradford in the first round?

  • bubqr

    Games started, Completion %, injuries, ability to play under pressure (visible), and maturity/leadership.

  • TOD22

    Haven’t seen it mentioned, but Parcells violated these rules himself when he took Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft. Bledsoe had left Wazzou after his junior year. So it seems that even for Parcells and even for the highest of picks, they are really more for guidance than hard and fast rules.

  • TOD22: Not sure if he graduated but Bledsoe had started 28 games by the time he left Wazzou, thus even if he didn’t fill all the criteria I think Parcells was comfortable in knowing “what he had.” Though I agree that they are intended more as guidelines than as hard and fast rules — i.e. if they don’t meet all four criteria, you better have a damn good reason why not and be pretty comfortable that you’re not misjudging the kid.

  • I would say that they are helpful guideposts at best. But there are probably way too many variables to effectively determine what makes for a successful prospective QB.

    Because if I looked at the criteria listed above and went strictly by it, I’ve got to wonder what Graham Harrell would think.

  • Mike

    I’d say it depends on what kind of offense you’re running in the short-term.

    If you want to run a balanced scheme where your guy will be throwing 30+ times a game, complete with seven step drops and reads, then Parcells’ guidelines sound like a good place to start.*

    If you’re a ground and pound team, and you want your guy throwing 20 balls a game, with the majority of that being play action and some kind of quick game, then I bet it’s fine to draft on tools alone, i.e., Mark Sanchez, and then hope that the pick will grow into a complete player.**

    * Of course, no guidelines are fool proof, see Joey Harrington (though in his defense it’s not fair to start out on a Matt Millen team).

    **It’s interesting that before the Mike Tomlin era, Big Ben, one of amazing decision-making abilities, also benefitted from this kind of scheme.

  • Jonesie

    These make a lot more sense than taking a guys height and a radar gun to see if he can play.

  • jianfu

    I don’t think these guidelines mandate you take a Todd Reesing or Graham Harrell in Round 1; they’re merely intended as another lens to look at a quarterback prospect, to be used among all the other variables that determine a prospect’s value. If a team believed arm strength is the most important attribute a QB must have, they still don’t have to think Jevan Snead is a first round prospect. It just means if he’s there in some later round and they need QB depth, they’ll take him over a guy with a lessor arm.

    Anyway, none of last year’s first-round QBs met this criteria. And the two potential first round guys in this draft both fall short in at least one of them.

    In my opinion, I’d lean somewhere between “non-negotiable” and “helpful guides.” There will always be exceptions to any rule, so you can never rule anything out. But there is a long history of underclassman QBs that fail to stand out at the NFL level. Roethlesberger is one lonely exception, at the top of my head.

    And of course you never know. Brian Brohm obliterated both these rules and the Football Outsiders Career Forecast (based on compl % + starts), and apparently the scouts had him right, as he slipped to late round 2, couldn’t beat out a 7th round pick for the backup job with the Packers, went to the practice squad and was freely available for months in a QB starved league before the Bills finally brought him in to be part of their carousel.

  • A different Brad

    Philip Rivers also meets these criteria (in fact I think he was the poster boy for FO/Lewin prediction system)

    As my father who is a coach always says “Play’em before you weigh’em”. To often the pros get too hung up on the measurables for QBs. Once a guy has crossed a threshold level in his ability to throw the ball lots of other things are more important.

    Parcells rules probably keep you from making a big mistake since they screen for

    1) Lots of film/not flash in the pan (3 year starter)
    2) Character/Work Ethic/Intelligence (Graduate)
    3) Intangibles (Wins)
    4) Maturity and confidence of coaches (starting early)

    They also may make you miss out on the occasional outlier, but since QB is the most important position on your team will cost you a ton if it is a first round guy best not to pick one unless you are sure.

  • Coach H

    So teams should start taking a hard look at acquiring Chase Daniel? How come that formula hasn’t worked for Matt Leinart.

  • Rafael

    Joe Montana doesn’t meet the rules either. He only had 18 wins as a starter but he’s like Sam Bradford this year (hurt for one year). If we’re all agreed on their actually ‘guidelines’ and not hard fast rules then Sam Bradford would fit all 4 & Montana would too because of their injury year. Jimmy Claussen however ‘should’ qualify, as well, because he is actually graduating a year early (he’s scheduled to graduate in May) so the ‘senior’ aspect shouldn’t apply. By starting as a true freshmen & being a starter for 3 years means he does qualify as well. So I would say that both top prospects for this years draft do qualify under Parcell’s rules.

  • Rafael

    Another question could be how do you rate the ‘power house’ school qbs like Mark Sanchez. Would Sanchez qualify under Parcells rules because he graduated & was a red shirt senior for the first two rules, but didn’t start because he was behind two older top prospects in Leinart & Booty when he could’ve started at arguably 95% of all other top schools as a freshmen? So he never got to 23 wins & didn’t start for 3 years but it was his choice to get the ‘practice’ experience of competing against the nations top defense everyday in practice.

  • Mr.Murder

    Rafe says:
    March 11, 2010 at 10:33 am
    “So this year, Parcells would choose from among Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Dan LeFevour, and Zac Robinson,

    LeFevour scared a lot of people off refusing to throw. He’s a gamer, hope he gets this righted.

  • I’m sure he (they) looked at this formula when they drafted Pat White last year in the 2nd round, he fits all the requirements listed.

    I hope Pat White gets to be more of a Cordell Stewart ‘slash’ type player starting in 2010, he needs more of the ball in space. Not that he can’t make some timely passes…

  • As Chris mentioned, I think Parcells’ rules are intended for situations in which you’re considering drafting a QB in something like the first half of the draft. In that sense, a prospect’s physical skill set would be the primary criteria for “draftibility.” Guys like Chase Daniel and Graham Harrell may meet the four requirements, but that’s irrelevant, because they wouldn’t be under consideration in the first place.

    Evaluating intangibles like maturity and character in a player — let alone a QB — is about as inexact a science as you can get. Every evaluator brings their own personal biases to the table. College coaches may not be removed far enough to give an accurate assessment. Prospects go through so much interview training to help put their best foot forward. Parcells’ rules offer a relatively objective framework that is both easy to implement and easy to communicate — a useful rule of thumb.

    Clausen actually wouldn’t meet two of the requirements: not a senior and didn’t really come close to winning 23 games.

  • phil

    those are probably good rules for drafting all 22 positions

  • Buck

    There are also some famous busts who met all those criteria. The other day I heard a couple of radio sports talk show guys discussing how everyone could have missed on Brady Quinn. He may have been a reach in the first round, but still everyone had him going in the early second round and right now you’d be hard pressed to find a team that would give up a fourth or fifth for him, even though he’s been in the league and started some games.

    I remember having this discussion back when Quinn was drafted (he would have also have met FO/Lewin criteria, by the way). At the time I took a look at his stats and remember there was a huge difference between his numbers against lower level teams, i.e., teams with losing records. In the NFL, all the defenses you face are great (relative to college), and even though your skill players are better too, there’s not a huge differential between the talent of your offense and the talent of the defense you are facing, in most cases. In college, against really poor teams a QB can rack up big numbers.

    I’m not a GM or an NFL scout, but I’d want to know what a QB’s numbers were against competition equal to the level of talent on his college team. If he is Tarzan against the cupcakes and Jane against the upper level teams, that would raise a red flag for me.

  • AndrewC

    2 stats would be interesting and might better evaluate the Tuna Rules. First, it would be interesting to see what percent of high draft QBs meet all 4 rules. The stat that 5 of the 7 Superbowl winning QBs met all 4 rules would be meaningless if 80% of draft QBs met the rules, but very important if that number was only 20%.

    Second, I always hate when QBs are judged on superbowl wins. Even if superbowl wins is the end-goal and the quarterback position is the most important position, football is a game where a team can rarely be carried by only one player. Evaluate the Tuna Rules to some other criteria besides superbowl wins. Pro Bowl nominations are still flawed but might be better.

  • David Allen

    This is merely a system of reducing risk. Not guaranteed to work 100% of the time (what is?) but is intended to get the odds in your favor.

  • Josh Reiter

    Did Romo meet all these qualifications?

  • I believe that Romo would have met all of the qualifications, albeit at the I-AA level.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind, though, that these are guidelines for drafting a QB — and presumably drafting one in the early rounds. The Cowboys took a flyer on Romo when he went undrafted.

  • MrClean

    ” TOD22 says:
    March 11, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Haven’t seen it mentioned, but Parcells violated these rules himself when he took Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft. Bledsoe had left Wazzou after his junior year. So it seems that even for Parcells and even for the highest of picks, they are really more for guidance than hard and fast rules.”

    Did Parcells have final say in the draft decisions when the Pats took Bledsoe? It was the same power structure in place there, I think, when he made his famous comment a few years later, about if he is asked to cook the meal he should be able to shop for the groceries. Oh, I think given the Pats situation at the time, that he would have most likely still taken Bledsoe if did have final say so re the draft. Then again to a guy like Parcells, played like Marvin “Shade Tree” Jones and John Copeland must have looked very tempting.

  • Bill Parcells

    I was drunk.

  • Derekiscool55

    i completely agree

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