Whenever we've seen great quarterback classes emerge in the NFL -- think 1983, or 2004 -- there was genuine consensus coming into those drafts about how they might be watershed moments in football history.
In '83, it was John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly who set the stage for what might have been the greatest quarterback class ever, with all three of them combining for 10 Super Bowl appearances, two championships and three Hall of Fame busts. You saw greatness before the draft, and then after.
In 2004, it was Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, with Roethlisberger winning two Super Bowls and getting to one more, Manning winning another, and Rivers becoming one of the dominant quarterbacks of our era. Again, the projections were epic before draft day, and none of them have disappointed.
This year? There was no consensus coming into Thursday night's first round of the draft that we were on the threshold of a remarkable crop of passers. In fact, there may have been more questions about this class than any in recent memory. Could Cam Newton, despite a Heisman Trophy and a BCS Championship on his resume, go from the spread offense of Auburn to the complicated schemes of the NFL? Could Blaine Gabbert overcome pedestrian numbers at Missouri and be a big-time pro quarterback? Would Jake Locker put his disappointing senior season at Washington behind him and attract enough attention? Was Christian Ponder, who never threw more than 20 touchdowns in a season, be considered a blue chip prospect?
The answers came just a few picks into the draft: By the time the Vikings took Ponder with the 12th overall pick, all four quarterbacks were off the board. It was an astoundingly quick selection process, especially with all the iffy projections on all of them. But thanks to a perfect storm of factors, this turned into one of the strangest quarterback harvests in recent memory.
Or maybe ever.
Start with team needs. The Panthers, who took Newton first overall, were sorely in need of a quarterback to lift the woebegone franchise into competitiveness in a division that already features Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Newton will need a ton of work to adjust to the NFL, and there have been wildly divergent views about how well he'll do at the next level.
The Titans, who took Locker, are looking to replace Vince Young, who ran afoul of the coaching staff last year and played his way off the team, were impressed enough with Locker's overall body of work, despite last year's struggles.
The Jaguars were convinced they needed an upgrade over David Garrard, and traded up with Washington's 10th pick to take Gabbert, another spread quarterback with questions about whether he can transition into the NFL. Last year, he threw just 16 touchdowns in that wide open attack.
Beyond the needs, though, was the uncertain labor situation. Because of the lockout, teams weren't permitted to trade players in the draft. That meant veterans such as the Redskins' Donovan McNabb, who drew interest from the Vikings, and Philadephia's Kevin Kolb were off the market. And with no free agency moves allowed due to the labor situation, the draft was the only guarantee of bringing in talent at the most critical position on any team.
This year's class might very well wind up with a commendable collective performance. But the likelihood leans more toward a collective disappointment, mostly because this was a class based more on need and circumstance than sheer talent.