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The Week In Sports

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for sports.

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MARTIN: The NFL draft starts this Thursday, and a couple of teams have made some high-stakes moves to secure a better position in the draft and thus, better picks - picks they hope can transform their teams or at least put them in a winning position. No pressure on these guys to live up to these lofty expectations, right? Here now is draft-watcher, not draft-dodger Mike Pesca of "The Gist." Hi.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

MARTIN: Explain to me what the Rams did and why it got so much attention.

PESCA: They moved up to No. 1 because there are two quarterbacks out there. And quarterbacks are the most important position in football, more important to that sport than any other position in any other sport. Jared Goff of Cal and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz - and if you get a good quarterback and that quarterback pays off, well, then that is your opportunity to win. Without a good quarterback, you can't. So the Rams, with this move, traded a whole bunch of second and third-round picks to get this No. 1 pick.

MARTIN: Wow. And the Philadelphia Eagles did the same thing or something similar?

PESCA: And then days later, the Philadelphia Eagles, who have two quarterbacks signed to hefty contracts, said we need a quarterback, too. And they made a similar move. Now Philadelphia owns the second pick in the draft. This is a lottery ticket.

MARTIN: Yeah, this seems risky. I mean...

PESCA: It is because even though it's true that you very much do need a good quarterback, there is far from a guarantee that the No. 1 or No. 2 quarterback will be that good quarterback. And there are studies that show that general managers overestimate their ability to get a good quarterback. And further complicating this is the fact that the picks they gave up might not wind up being great players or even very good players down the road, but they might.

And as second and third round picks, those are guys that will start on your NFL team. Those are guys that will be useful and fill out the roster. And the way the NFL structures its salaries, the second and third-round players, for the couple years they're under those original contracts, are really affordable. So in terms of return on investment, that's exactly where you want to go. So an analogy would be is if you and I were talking about our stock portfolios and I said I'm going to spend all my money on Apple or Google or one really sexy, expensive stock.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: And you said I'm going to diversify. I'll buy some Caterpillar. I'll buy some Microsoft. I bet you in the long run, you'd be doing better off than I would.

MARTIN: See.

PESCA: But maybe not. Maybe I'll hit the home run.

MARTIN: Plus, isn't there - this little factoid is trotted out all the time. And it's one of the few things I know about the NFL draft - is that Tom Brady, legendary Pats quarterback, was, like, the fifth or sixth round of the draft...

PESCA: Yes, he was...

MARTIN: ...To be picked.

PESCA: ...The sixth - the 199th overall. So that is true. And often, the great quarterbacks who are drafted low, we say that over and over, and so it affixes itself in our mind. But I did an analysis. And I looked at every quarterback who was a top 20 quarterback over the last three years, according to an ESPN metric. And 14 of those 26 quarterbacks - so some were a top 10 quarterback one year and not in the top 10 the next. Fourteen of those 26 quarterbacks were No. 1 picks. It is more likely you'll get a very good quarterback first, but it's far from guaranteed. And I would say you don't want to mortgage your future on it.

MARTIN: So I wouldn't say there's a whole lot of difference between No. 1 and No. 2, except there kind of is in the NFL draft. And so who's going to get it, Carson or Jared?

PESCA: Well, I think Jared Goff will go first, and Carson Wentz will go second, not because of any special insight I have. I just think that teams are more comfortable with a guy who played at the big-time school. And Cal is a big-time school. And North Dakota State is, essentially, what these used to call the Division II of college football, not that that's disqualifying. Plenty of great quarterbacks came from the lower tiers of college football.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca - he hosts "The Gist" on Slate. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.