Does Drafting a Quarterback With the First Pick Overall Guarantees a Winning Season?

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 7:56 PM UTC

Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015 7:56 PM UTC

Just days away from the spectacle that is the NFL draft, the overwhelming consensus among league insiders is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select a quarterback with the first pick overall. 

Debate stirs whether Florida State's Jameis Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota will be the lucky (or unlucky) recipient to captain a team who has earned only three winning seasons in the last 12 years, nor visited the playoffs since 2007. The idea of drafting a quarterback with the first pick is a popular one in the modern NFL. Since 1990, 12 teams have done so (see chart below). Indeed, these are organizations typically coming off several seasons of poor offensive play who are hoping their investment in the sport's most important position is a potential franchise changing asset. As a sports bettor, I was curious to see how these teams performed the following season. Putting aside the many different variables and individual characteristics of each team, I wanted to find some trends these squads may share, and compile betting information to set the stage for an anticipated wagering series entitled: Betting the Bucs.

Let's look at some standard figures for the season played in which a team drafted a quarterback with the No.1 selection overall. For one, their win-loss record was a combined 77-117. This figure is a tad shocking, as the overall record for the team's prior season was a combined 29-147. With the NFL's salary-cap structure and the parity it produces, however, maybe it's more surprising that these teams won only 17% of the time to earn them the first pick! Only two made the playoffs: the 2004 San Diego Chargers, led by Drew Brees (Philip Rivers played briefly in only two games, throwing eight pass attempts in total), and Andrew Luck's 2012 Indianapolis Colts—both of whom lost in wild-card matchups. Futures bets anyone?

As far as your standard against the spread (ATS) and game total wagers, there is little value to be found on the surface, as backing the former hit at 53%, and the latter at 54% when favoring the under on the NFL odds. Isolating games started by the first overall pick produced almost identical percentages with a little more edge in the under at 56%. Tinkering with some conditions, though, can provide some leans worth considering. If you subscribe to the “they're only as good as their last game” belief, for example, than when these squads come off an under as a dog, the under for the next game is 44-24, or 65%. Averaging 17 points in these contests, one can assume a sputtering offense is not something that fixes itself overnight. More analysis should obviously be taken into consideration before wagering, but this angle is a decent foundation to build off.

Focusing on some key statistics driven by quarterback play, like interceptions, may help us find a more lucrative wagering edge. The passing game is more valuable in the NFL than ever before, placing even more pressure on the position to perform. Pass attempts are up, completion percentages are increasing, and interception rates are dropping season after season. Turnovers, however, are definitely a challenge for many of our first-pick teams for the coming season, as an inexperienced rookie quarterback, or not-up-to-snuff, non-franchise fill in is captaining the offense. Our 12 organizations averaged 18.6 interceptions for the draft season as a group, and only one team compiled less than 15 for the year (2004, Drew Brees). In games where the first-pick started, the average interception rate is 1.1. Football analysts estimate turnovers are worth roughly 3.5 points a game, a vital number for the sports bettor and ATS wagering since the average margin of victory in the NFL is three points. Over the last 25 years, if a team does not throw an interception in a game, they cover the spread in 68% of those contests. Conversely, quarterbacks who throw two or more interceptions in a game lose ATS 73% of the time, so keep that in mind when placing your NFL picks.

One stat that stands out for our first-pick teams is that when they threw zero picks in a contest they covered the spread 53 times versus nine against, or 86%. This could be a product of the fact that they were underdogs in 75% of the games; the league average is 71% ATS wins for dogs with zero interceptions. If one isolates the games started by the first-pick quarterbacks only, contests in which they throw zero interceptions are 29-7 ATS versus a 7-26 ATS when they throw two or more picks. Predicting when interceptions will or will not happen is the hardest part for sports bettors. If Winston or Mariota go number one in the NFL Draft as projected, the Betting the Bucs series has a few data-supported angles to help us forecast such events. Stay tuned.

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