Why Ben Fell(Note that I've also posted a CORRECTION to this article.)
As Ben Roethlisberger enters the Super Bowl with a 26-4 career record and playing the best football of his career, it’s worth noting how lucky the Steelers were to get him with the 11th pick of the 2004 NFL Draft.
This is not a case of Tom Brady drifting under the radar to the 6th round of the draft, because he had been forced to battle for his starting job in college. Big Ben was a known commodity coming out of “the other”
He fell to the Steelers because of two reasons: 1) He came out as a junior, so he didn’t get to participate in the Senior Bowl events, which, among quarterbacks, helped catapult Philip Rivers above him and cemented Eli Manning as the top pick in the draft; 2) Teams picking before the Steelers for the most part had committed to a quarterback and weren’t going to use a top pick on the position when other needs were more apparent. Some of them might look back now and wish they'd done it differently.
Let’s take a quick look at how teams above him came to their decisions:
QB Situation Then: Drew Brees was struggling and the team felt it needed a franchise quarterback, so it looked to Manning. Trouble was, Manning refused to play in
The Pick: Manning, QB,
QB Situation Now: After Manning went to
QB Situation Then: Kerry Collins was signed before the draft after revitalizing his career in
QB Situation Now: Collins was benched for Marques Tuiasosopo at one point this season and the Raiders appear to be starting over at quarterback.
QB Situation Then: Josh McCown appeared to be the quarterback of the future after showing some promise in 2003, and new coach Denny Green wasn’t going to pass up the chance to draft Larry Fitzgerald, his former ball boy in
The Pick: Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh, who combined with Anquan Boldin to give the Cardinals a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, even if they weren’t sure who would throw them the ball.
QB Situation Now: Injuries have limited McCown’s performance. Kurt Warner was signed in the 2005 off-season to stabilize the position but was injured during the season. McCown and John Navarre split time the rest of the year. Another situation in flux.
QB Situation Then: Collins was out, and his long-term successor was yet to be identified. Warner was signed before the 2004 season to keep the position warm.
The Pick: Rivers, QB, NC State, who has appeared in mop-up duty only since the trade to
QB Situation Now: Rivers went to
QB Situation Then: With new coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins signed veteran Mark Brunell to go with youngster Patrick Ramsey.
The Pick: Sean Taylor, S,
QB Situation Now: Ramsey fell out of favor with Gibbs, who seemed more comfortable with the veteran lefty Brunell. A game competitor, Brunell led his team to a five-game winning streak to finish the season and a victory over
QB Situation Then: Signed veteran Jeff Garcia before the draft to a long-term contract.
The Pick: Kellen Winslow, TE,
QB Situation Now: Garcia was nearly killed behind a bad offensive line last year. Trent Dilfer came in for this season but by the end of the year, new coach Romeo Crennel had handed the offense to promising rookie Charlie Frye.
QB Situation Then: Joey Harrington, the third overall pick in the 2002 draft, had struggled but the Lions were still counting on him to succeed, especially with guru Steve Mariucci as the new coach.
The Pick: Roy Williams, WR,
QB Situation Now: Garcia was brought in for the 2005 season as the starter under his former coach Mariucci but broke his leg in the preseason, making Harrington the starter. Garcia and Harrington split time during the year and Harrington showed enough signs of life that he’ll probably get one more chance. He certainly has enough receivers.
QB Situation Then: Michael Vick had led the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 but was recovering from a broken leg that had limited him to five games in 2003. Still, a singular talent and a former No. 1 overall pick who was sure to nail down the position for years to come.
The Pick: DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech, who has blossomed into one of the better young corners in the NFC. He had six interceptions in 2005 and is headed to the Pro Bowl.
QB Situation Now: Vick’s numbers over the past two years: 29 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, 56 percent completions. The Falcons got to the NFC Championship Game in 2004, but Vick’s are hardly stellar numbers for a quarterback who has struggled to overcome his natural inclination to run. Matt Schaub, drafted in the third round in 2004, figures to get at least a look, to provide the Falcons with trade bait if nothing else.
QB Situation Then: Byron Leftwich was entrenched in only his second year.
The Pick: Reggie Williams, WR, Washington, who has 62 catches in two years but only one touchdown for an offense that prefers to grind it out with the run.
QB Situation Now: Leftwich had solid numbers in each of the past two years and showed the ability to make big plays in clutch situations. Worth watching, though, is the broken leg that cost him the final five games of the 2005 regular season and led to a bad performance as the Jags lost to New England in the wild-card round.
QB Situation Then: David Carr, the first pick of the 2002 draft, would be given every chance to succeed. Given the Texans' offensive line, he’d need it.
The Pick: Dunta Robinson, CB,
QB Situation Now: Carr is likely to remain the Texans quarterback despite the temptation for them to draft hometown son Vince Young with the first pick in the 2006 draft. Give Carr a backfield with Reggie Bush and Domanick Davis, plus Andre Johnson at wideout, and he’ll have some weapons. But how can the Texans leave a player of Carr’s talent such a sitting duck (68 sacks last year) behind the worst offensive line in football?
QB Situation Then: Tommy Maddox had led the Steelers to the playoffs in 2002 and was penciled in as the 2004 starter despite a below-average season the previous year.
The Pick: Roethlisberger, QB,
QB Situation Now: Quarterbacks are paid to win games, and Roethlisberger has a better winning percentage than any quarterback over the past two years, including Brady and Peyton Manning.
The point here is that teams face an age-old drafting problem: Do you take the best player available or do you take the best player that fits your need? Many of the players taken before Roethlisberger have already shown signs of becoming NFL stars, particularly Fitzgerald, Taylor, Roy Williams and Hall. But several of the teams who picked before the Steelers, particularly Oakland, Arizona, Cleveland and Detroit, have seen their quarterback situations get worse over time.
Bottom line: A handful of NFL teams can say they know who their quarterback will be five years from now (assuming no injury or contract dispute). None of the teams who picked before them can say so with as much certainty as the Steelers.