Territorial Quarterbacks, Part 1 of 2

Getting right back into football with a wacky little exercise that may not fit into any of Sport Change’s typical categories, but is a heck of a lot of fun nonetheless.  What would the NFL look like if each team featured quarterbacks who grew up in the same area that the team is located?

NFL: Not For Locals. Except for John Skelton….

I first got this idea when I stumbled upon the long-defunct NBA practice of the “territorial pick.”  The territorial pick was a drafting method used by the NBA from 1949-1966.  The basic premise was this: each team had the option of forfeiting their first round pick in exchange for exclusive drafting rights to one player from a local college.  Over the time period that the NBA used this process, 22 players were territorial picks.  Exactly half of those 22 are now in the Basketball Hall of Fame.  One example is Oscar Robertson; who went directly from the Cincinnati Bearcats to the Cincinnati Royals.

Despite the myriad red flags that shoot up when considering this system, it’s easy to appreciate the spirit behind the practice.  Most of us sports fans have experienced the awesomeness that occurs when a local pro sports franchise drafts a player from a local college; especially when that player becomes a starter, finds lasting success with the club, and engages in positive community activities.  Of course, the danger there is when a once-in-a-generation talent gets miraculously scooped up by their local long-beleaguered franchise; only to go Benedict Arnold and chase more money and accolades elsewhere.

And he was drafted 37 years after the territorial pick was abandoned. A once-in-a-generation opportunity: squandered.

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I’ve been a huge fan of the NFL draft for many years and first got into the practice of mock drafting in the nineties–before it was cool.  I used to genuinely try to make accurate mock drafts, but anyone who has done so knows the unpredictability of the draft and the futility of the practice.  These days, I still make mock drafts (and did all 7 rounds last April) but rather than try to match up “most likely,” I just match up “most appropriate.”  My favorite criterion for “most appropriate” is definitely something that resembles territorial picks.  For example, in my 2012 mock draft, I had defensive end Whitney Mercilus going to the Bears.  Why?  Because the Bears needed a pass rusher and Mercilus is an alum of the Fighting Illini.  The Bears chose DE Shea McClellin instead.  Presumably, the Bears saw more in McClellin than Mercilus.   But if Mercilus has a better career, the Bears will be smacking themselves in the head with both paws.

Whitney Mercilus should’ve been a Bear. Why? Because sports are about more than just winning.

In my 2010 mock draft I wasn’t the only one who had the Jaguars taking local hero Tim Tebow with the 10th pick, and was shocked when they chose unknown pass rusher Tyson Alualu.  Alualu turned out to be a solid pick, but honestly: Jacksonville absolutely should’ve chosen Tim Tebow.  The Jags were (and still are) languishing at the bottom of the NFL barrel with unsold tickets, losing records, and rumors of relocation to LA.  Tebow would’ve instantly solved the ticket problem, and would’ve at least temporarily tamped down LA talk.  It’s doubtful that he would’ve become the franchise quarterback of the Jags, but at least he’s a serviceable backup, team leader, wildcat guy, and special teamer.  Alualu was perhaps a better pick, football-wise, but Tebow was the common sense pick.

Tebow could’ve been Jacksonville’s messiah. Or at least sold a boatload of tickets and memorabilia for the Jags.

Do NFL teams actually factor in the “hometown hero” attribute?  Since most franchise decisions are secret, it’s hard to say.  However, I gleaned one nugget from an excellent ESPN article this past spring written by Andrew Brandt, former draft man of the Green Bay Packers.  It was just a passing comment near the end:

“I also remember one of our scouts yelling to the group in 2003 about a quarterback from Eastern Illinois: “Anyone want to sign this Romo guy for free? He’s from Wisconsin.” He got no response.”

I’ll take that as a shred of proof that GMs and their think tanks at least take notice when a local boy is available, even if the notice is generally ignored.  It’s important to remember that scouts almost always take the safe route.  If a player is a bust, somebody is going to take the blame.  Imagine if a Chicago scout piped up and said, “Let’s take Mercilus over McClellin.  Go Illini!”  Phil Emery listened and made the pick only to have Mercilus become a total bust.  Who takes the fall?

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A project like this teaches a person about previously unknown entities, such as Thaddeus Lewis. Who knew?

Enough reality, already.  This is Sport Change!  In this Territorial Quarterback simulation, I imagine who would be the starting and (if available) backup quarterbacks for each NFL team in 2012.  There is a lot of grey area there, so here are some of the criteria used:

-Player Pool.  Every NFL player listed as a quarterback on the rosters of each team was evaluated.  The total comes to 85 quarterbacks researched, as well as one sometimes quarterback and one currently unemployed quarterback.  So that works out well; enough quarterbacks for most teams to have three and some have two, right?  Well…not so fast.

-Matchmaker.  Each quarterback was researched to find out where they are “from.”  Once that was determined, their home area was matched up with the NFL teams closest to their home area, with a few exceptions.  There is a lot of grey area here…

-Origin.  To me, being “from” somewhere can mean several things: place of birth, place where player grew up, and even just place where player went to high school.  For some, it was easy.  Matt Flynn, for example, was born and raised (attended high school) in Tyler, Texas.  Tyler is near Dallas, so Matt Flynn is obviously in the Cowboy category.  Others were much more challenging.  Andrew Luck was born in Washington DC and lived there for a number of years before his family relocated to Houston, where he attended high school.  So is he a Redskin or a Texan?  In cases like this, I took the liberty of freely choosing which team the player goes to; with an eye for dispersing talent more evenly.  In some cases, I used the quarterback’s college alma mater as another factor in the decision making process.

The pride of Tyler Texas would definitely be a Cowboy in our fantasy. Competing with 10 other North Texans, will he even make the cut?

-Geography.  So what about players who hail from areas that are bereft of an NFL team?  Closest distance was still measured, but many players (such as those from Alabama or Arkansas) were roughly equidistant from two or more teams.  In these cases, I also took the liberty of deciding where to put the players.  What about areas that host an NFL team but have no quarterbacks that hail from there?  It gets a little tricky there, and a little finagling was necessary.

-Feast and Famine.  There are no NFL quarterbacks from the Buffalo area or from the state of Minnesota, but there are a whopping thirteen who would belong on the Cowboys. That is something to say, especially considering that Houston could absorb another five within the same state.  That means over 20% of all quarterbacks on active NFL rosters are from Texas or surrounding areas.  There are also nine from Southern California, most from the Los Angeles area.  If LA had a team (or two) it would be much simpler to slice the bread.  For now, they’re all Chargers.

-Home, Sweet Home.  Five quarterbacks play for the teams that are located closest to where they grew up.  Sometimes it even seems intentional.  I’m always surprised when I am reminded that Charlie Batch still plays in the NFL.  I doubt he would choose to play anywhere else than his hometown of Pittsburgh, even if he is an aging clipboard-holder.  In addition to those 5, there is one additional quarterback that plays for that team in real life, but that’s a special circumstance.

Brad Smith: Buffalo’s Wildcat Wildcard

-Sent Packing.  Other than Brad Smith on the Bills, there are no current NFL teams with more than three quarterbacks on their roster.  That is a method used here, as well.  That means that several quarterbacks in our fantasy (especially Cowboys and Chargers) did not make the cut and are sent packing.  Two of the players who were let go are currently starting in the NFL.  I’ll list them after we’ve gone though each team.

Here’s a link to Part 2 of this post, where the results are revealed.

Thanks for reading.  Feel free to leave comments.

SPORT CHANGE

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