The Washington Times - April 2, 2012, 12:06AM

The scuttlebutt so far is that the Colts will take Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III with the first pick in the NFL draft. But as we all know, the quarterback position is considered the hardest to evaluate. There are so many more variables involved, so many more intangibles. And obviously, the stakes at the QB spot can be incredibly high. The very fate of a franchise can hinge on them.

Because Indianapolis is part of this equation, many are revisiting the Colts’ decision in 1998 to draft Peyton Manning No. 1 instead of Ryan Leaf, who went second to the Chargers and turned out to be one of the biggest busts in league history. Indy made the right choice that time – by light years – but that’s hardly the norm in pro football. After all, just look at what happened in the next eight drafts:

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● 1999 – Tim Couch was the first quarterback selected (by the Browns with the first pick). But Donovan McNabb, who was next off the board, had a much better career, leading the Eagles to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl.

2000 – First QB selected: Chad Pennington (Jets, 18th). Best available: Tom Brady (Patriots, 199th).

2001 – First QB selected: Michael Vick (Falcons, 1st). Best available: Drew Brees (Chargers, 32nd).

2002 – First QB selected: David Carr (Texans, 1st). Best available: David Garrard (Jaguars, 108th).

2003 – First QB selected: Carson Palmer (Bengals, 1st). Best available: Tony Romo (Cowboys, undrafted free agent).

2004 – First QB selected: Eli Manning (Giants*, 1st). Best available: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers, 11th). That’s not to say the Giants regret the pick. Manning has won two Super Bowls and, at 30, seems to be coming into his own. But Big Ben also has won two Super Bowls – and played in a third. He also has a 90-36 record as a starter (regular season and postseason), compared to Eli’s 77-53, and has put up better passing numbers.

2005 – First QB selected: Alex Smith (49ers, 1st). Best available: Aaron Rodgers (Packers, 24th).

2006 – First QB selected: Vince Young (Titans, 3rd). Best available: Jay Cutler (Broncos, 11th).

The point of this exercise? Simply that having the second crack at the quarterbacks shouldn’t concern the Redskins in the least. On plenty of occasions, the first QB taken hasn’t ended up being the best QB in the draft. The Colts hit the lottery with Peyton in ‘98, but will they be as fortunate this year?

* Eli was actually drafted by the Chargers, then traded to the Giants when he balked at signing with San Diego.