Published January 30, 2017

Always take the quarterback.

It’s a lesson that still hasn’t been learned in NFL circles.

The history of the NFL Draft is filled with instances of teams trying to outsmart the rest of the league, often to their own detriment.

Sometimes you just have to do the safe, smart thing.

Always take the quarterback.

It’s a lesson that the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis, er, Los Angeles Rams are likely learning this week. If not, they should be.

The Dolphins and the Rams will be at home with 28 other NFL teams, watching Super Bowl LI next Sunday on television.

Quarterbacking the two teams will be Matt Ryan for the Atanta Falcons and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Brady’s story has been well-documented. To hear some tell it, you’d think that Brady wasn’t drafted at all—but he was, though not until the sixth round in 2000, out of Michigan. One-hundred and ninety-eight players were selected ahead of him.

It’s a fabulous example of finding the so-called diamond in the rough, but when you draft a quarterback in the sixth round, you’re not necessarily shrewd—you’re just getting down to that position on your off-season checklist.

The Patriots in 2000 had Drew Bledsoe entrenched at quarterback. Bledsoe himself was a number one overall pick, in 1993. He was only 28 years old when the Pats took Brady off the board in 2000. Bledsoe’s window of opportunity was far from closed—hence why the Patriots didn’t choose a signal caller until almost the 200th player.

But Brady didn’t take long to supplant Bledsoe in New England, and the rest, of course, is history.

So yeah, it’s a good story. But the Pats got a little lucky, too—which is part of any team’s success, particularly when it comes to the draft.

In 2008, the Dolphins and the Rams drafted number one and number two overall, respectively. Each team had a crack at Ryan, the brilliant QB from Boston College.

The Dolphins, perhaps trying to be too cute, drafted the hulking offensive tackle Jake Long, from Michigan, with the first overall pick.

The Rams were next and they went with defensive tackle Chris Long (no relation) from Virginia.

It was a rare occasion where neither of the top two draft picks were skill players.

It was also a colossal mistake by both teams.

The Falcons drafted third overall and they made the right choice. They snapped up Ryan.

Always take the quarterback.

The two Longs are both still in the NFL, but so is Ryan, and he was a far better choice. It’s not even close.

Image result for Matt Ryan
The Dolphins or the Rams could have had Ryan in 2008, but drafted linemen instead. Neither franchise has done much since.

First, you don’t build a team around linemen. Never have and never will.

Again, it’s a lesson that doesn’t always sink in with teams.

You also never build a team around a linebacker, like some Lions fans foolishly wanted to do in 2009. They wanted the Lions to select LB Aaron Curry out of Wake Forest with the first overall pick.

Curry, by the way, played exactly 48 games in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks and the Oakland Raiders. He made 190 tackles, and had zero interceptions and 5.5 sacks. Curry retired from the league in 2013 after being cut by the New York Giants during training camp.

The Lions made the right choice (for a change) in 2009, going with QB Matthew Stafford from Georgia.

Always take the quarterback.

Stafford, for all his detractors in Detroit, is by far the best quarterback the Lions have ever had. Yes, I’m including Bobby Layne in that statement. Layne won some titles, but as far as talent goes, Layne couldn’t hold a candle to Stafford’s passing ability.

Was Layne a better winner? Sure. But Stafford is the better pure quarterback. Stafford is 0-3 in the playoffs—just like Matt Ryan was. But Stafford hasn’t had a running game or Hall of Fame players on defense, like Layne had. Ryan has a running attack as well.

Here’s the funny thing about Layne, though, and the so-called “Bobby Layne Curse” (which doesn’t exist).

The last time the Lions won the championship, in 1957, Layne wasn’t the quarterback. He was injured. It was Tobin Rote that led the Lions to a miraculous comeback against the 49ers in the divisional playoff and the NFL title one week later.

Funny how that gets lost in the shuffle.

But this isn’t about Stafford and Layne, per se.

The Falcons will strap it on against the Patriots on Sunday and Ryan will be matching skills with Brady. This is Ryan’s first Super Bowl and it will be Brady’s 24th (actually it’s his seventh; it just seems like 24).

Matt Ryan is no one hit wonder; he’s not Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson or Rich Gannon, who were all accidental Super Bowl quarterbacks.

Ryan, 31, is 3-4 in the playoffs in his career, but that’s after an 0-3 start. His post-season numbers show a 98.8 QB rating, with 16 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His post-season completion percentage is 67.6.

Brady, by comparison, is 24-9 in the playoffs/Super Bowl and his QB rating is 88.7 and his completion rate is 62.4. Brady has thrown 61 post-season touchdowns against 30 picks.

You might say, “Maybe the Dolphins and Rams were set at quarterback in 2008? That’s why they didn’t draft Ryan?”

The Dolphins had Chad Pennington. The Rams had Marc Bulger.

Let that sink in.

Now, does every quarterback who’s drafted high become successful in the NFL? Of course not.

Ryan Leaf, anyone?

But I’d rather take a flyer on a quarterback in the top three and miss, than not take that quarterback and wish that I had, down the line.

You can find offensive and defensive tackles (and linebackers) later on—including those who may become Hall of Famers.

You can also—obviously—find Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the sixth round. That’s fair.

Matt Ryan was sitting there at the 2008 Draft, and the Chad Pennington-led Dolphins and the Marc Bulger-led Rams went another direction.

Neither of those two franchises have done much since.

This is Ryan’s fifth trip to the post-season in his nine-year career.

Always take the quarterback.