NFL First Round QB’s Face Uphill Climb


The odds of a QB making it in the NFL are slim.  A QB drafted in the first round is slimmer.  Ryan Tannehill will need to defy some pretty steep odds if he wants to become an NFL franchise QB.  The good news is, Tannehill is not alone.  No I don’t mean his wife, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, III, and Brandon Weedon will also face that uphill climb.

In 1983, six QB’s were taken in the first round in what many believe to be the best QB class in history.  It produced three Hall of Fame players.  John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino.  Two others had solid if unspectacular careers.  Ken O’Brien with the Jets and Tony Eason of the Patriots.  Todd Blackledge, taken at number 7 overall is often labeled the worst of the six.

Since that draft, many QB classes have come and gone and in the year that followed, many analysts penned the class as “the best since 83”.  Of course, it never really worked out like that.  In the 29 drafts since that stellar class, 68 QB’s have been selected with a first round pick.  Of those 68, only Steve Young and Troy Aikmand have been elected to the HOF.  Peyton Manning is a lock and Drew Bledsoe and Eli Manning have decent shots to make it in the future.

If you think that the climb from first round pick to greatness is steep, you would be right.  Here is a look at the QB’s taken since 1983.  Can Ryan Tannehill stand out from this years class?  Will any of the QB’s step up to stardom?  Time of course will tell, as it has for 29 years.

1984 – No quarterbacks were taken in the first round.  Boomer Esiason was taken 38th overall or 10th in round 2.  The NFL did hold a USFL dispersal draft following the collapse of the league.  Steve Young was taken number one overall followed by two other QB’s that never amounted to anything at the NFL level.  Wayne Peace and Ken Hobart.

1985 – No quarterbacks were taken in the first round.  Randall Cunningham was taken with the 37th pick.  9th in round 2.  Frank Reich was taken by the Bills at the top of round 3.

1986 – Jim Everett was taken 3rd overall by the Houston Oilers and went on to have a serviceable career with the Rams.  Chuck Long was drafted 12th by the Lions and never became anything but an average at best starter.

1987 – Vinny Testeverde was taken number one overall by the Buc’s and found marginal NFL success but never achieved the lofty expectations that comes with being the first selection.  Kelly Stouffer was taken by the Lions at pick 6 and never achieved much while Chris Miller was less than adequate for the Falcons.  Late in round one, the Chicago Bears drafted Jim Harbaugh.  Harbaugh found little NFL success despite the pedigree he left Michigan with.

1988 – Tom Tupa was the first QB off the draft boards.  He was taken in round 3.

1989 – HOF QB Troy Aikman was the first overall selection by the Dallas Cowboys.  The next QB to come off the board was in the top five pick of round 2 when the Chiefs took Mike Elkins.

1990 – Jeff George was the first player taken in the draft followed shortly by Andre Ware.  Ware busted out of the league quickly while George bounced around the NFL.  George possessed all of the tools to be an NFL QB but was proof that even the best prospects physically, needed the mental make-up as well.

1991 – Taken 16th and 24th respectively, Dan McGuire and Todd Marinovich were wasted first round picks.

1992 – David Klinger was taken 6th overall while Tommy Maddox went at 24.  Neither player came close to providing their teams with first round talent.

1993 – Drew Bledsoe is not in the Hall of Fame but he may be someday.  Bill Parcells took the QB number 1 overall.  The Seahawks however did not find the same success with their first rounder, Rick Mirer, who they took one pick later.

1994 – Heath Shuler was taken third and is considered a bust while at number 6, the Baltimore Ravens found an average QB who led them to a Super Bowl victory in Trent Dilfer.  Dilfer never truly lived up to the high first round talent tag, but he did his job leading the Ravens to their first Super Bowl.

1995 – Steve McNair had a long solid career with Tennessee and eventually Baltimore after being selected third.  Kerry Collins was taken with the sixth overall pick and battled more than just depth chart issues.  Bouts with depression and alcohol almost ruined his NFL career.  Somehow he managed to resurrect his career with the Giants but never truly became a standout QB, simply a reliable bridge QB.

1996 – No first round QB’s were taken.  Tony Banks was drafted with the 11th selection in round 2 by the St. Louis Rams.

1997 – Jim Drunkenmiller was taken 26th overall by the 49’ers and never came close to solving the 9’ers QB issues.  The Cardinals, in round 2, selected Jake Plummer who had an average career with the Cards’ and later the Broncos before walking away from the NFL.

1998 – The number one overall pick became a story in and of itself when Peyton Manning refused to sign with the San Diego Chargers prompting a move by the Colts to draft the future HOF QB.  Ryan Leaf however was selected at 2 overall and is labeled one of the biggest busts in draft history.  Some say he is far and away the biggest.

1999 – In what was supposed to be the best class since 1983, five QB’s were off the board by the 12th pick including three with the first three selections.  Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith went 1, 2, and 3.  Couch was brutalized in Cleveland by opposing teams and hometown fans.  McNabb had a very solid career but seem to mentally fall off the wagon over the last five becoming a journeyman QB who teams have overpaid for.  His one SB appearance is still considered a low light to his career.  Akili Smith never became anything than a bust.  With the 11th pick, Daunte Culpepper was taken by the Vikings where he found solid success in one of the NFL’s most potent offenses.  However, many will argue that most of his success could be attributed to WR Randy Moss.  After his stint with the Vikings, he landed in Miami for a second round pick and was out of the NFL a year later.  Cade McNown became a semi-decent back-up after being taken with the 12th pick by the Bears.

2000 – 2001 – In 2000, Chad Pennington was taken 18th by the NY Jets and found success in the NFL but never led his team to consistent playoff appearances.  In 2001, the Falcons spent a 1st round pick on Michael Vick.  Vick is still finding success in Philadelphia but has never come close to being a number one overall talent.  His off-field issues while with Atlanta landed him in federal prison and his story is still unwritten completely.

2002 – Another three QB draft class that never panned out.  The Houston Texans made David Carr the first overall selection but never developed an offensive line to protect him.  Carr was sacked more in his three years with Houston than any other QB in the same span of time.  The Texans would later abandon Carr for the back-up in Atlanta.  Things never got much better for Joey Harrington who was taken in the 3rd spot by Detroit.  Harrington, like Carr never found solid support and became a journeyman who busted out of the league.  Washington however found decent talent late in round one when they drafted Patrick Ramsey.  Far from a major impact player, Ramsey became an adequate back-up.

SO FAR – from 1990 to 2002 25 QB’s were taken in the first round with an average draft spot 8.  Compared to their teams previous season record, these first round QB’s gave their teams a net win total in their rookie season of zero when averaged together.  Meaning the QB’s taken in round 1 from 1990 – 2002 were unable to increase their teams win totals from the previous season when averaged together as a whole.  Not even by one game.

2003 – Carson Palmer was the first overall pick by the Bengals.  While he is with the Raiders today, Palmer has had a decent statistical career but never became what is expected from a number one overall pick.  Like many players before him, Palmer was never truly given an adequate team to work with.  At 7, the Jaguars took Byron Leftwich.  Then at 19, the Ravens took Kyle Boller and at 22 the Bears took Rex Grossman.  Leftwich and Grossman found marginal success in the NFL while Boller never came close.

2004 – The 2004 draft class has come the closest to equaling the 1983 draft.  Eli Manning has two Super Bowl trophies under his first overall pick belt while Phillip Rivers has played up to his fourth overall pedigree.  Dropping down the first round, the Steelers found Ben Roethlisberger who has led his team to Super Bowl victories, while J.P. Losman floundered in Buffalo after being taken 22nd over all.

2005 – While Alex Smith is still trying to prove his detractors wrong after being selected number one overall, the Green Bay Packers got the steal of round 1 when they took Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick.  Rodgers has had to this point a stellar career while Jason Campbell taken one pick later at 25 is still trying to latch on as a bona-fide franchise player.

2006 – Vince Young became the latest bust for number one overall selections.  He wasn’t alone in 2006’s first round.  Matt Leinhart taken 10th overall can’t find a job as a back-up today.  Jay Cutler taken number 11 is playing his career out much like that of Jeff George without the attitude.  He has the tools to be better than average and puts up great numbers but his inconsistency is hard to overlook and he has yet to take either of his two teams deep into the playoffs.

2007 – Jamarcus Russell is one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.  Unlike the Ryan Leaf fiasco, Russell was a number one overall bust with a 75 million dollar guaranteed contract.  Russell was so bad that at this year NFL Draft, a banner of first round overall picks from the last 10 years did not include an image of Russell.  Russell could only hope to have had the fall that Brady Quinn endured.  A projected top 10 selection, Quinn fell all the way to 22 in what was an epic “green room” watch on the televised draft.  While Russell got the money from the top spot, Quinn still is employed as a back-up in the NFL.

2008 – Matt Ryan is well known in Miami circles as the QB that was passed over for Jake Long.  Long has has become a perennial Pro-Bowl player and Ryan has yet to win a playoff game for the Falcons.  Ryan has the mechanics and the mental make-up to succeed but some are beginning to wonder if he will ever be anything better than above average at best.

2009 – The Detroit Lions, for all their misses appear to have finally found a franchise QB in Matt Stafford.  Stafford is putting up number one overall numbers and his helped by the presence of number one WR Charles Johnson.  He still has not led to the team to a playoff birth and there are concerns about injury.  However, Stafford himself is playing at the level that Lions had expected him to when they drafted him.  The same however can not be said about Mark Sanchez who the Jets traded up for.  A five overall selection, Sanchez has yet to impress the Jets fanbase and pressure on him is mounting.  Ironically, Sanchez has led the Jets to two AFC Championship games.  Taken at number 17, Josh Freeman is raising eyebrows in Tampa where a new regime has loaded him with talent on offense.  Freeman is well respected in the league and appears to be more than adequate when compared to his draft slot.

2010 – For the second year in a row a QB goes number one overall when the Rams make Sam Bradford their selection.  Bradford has been injured often and has been surrounded by average talent along the line and with his coaches.  Jeff Fisher will try and change that now.  After Bradford, the next QB taken was a surprise selection by Denver when Tim Tebow was taken at 25.  The selection of Tebow will never pay dividends for Denver who traded him this off-season.

2011 – Cam Newton had a stellar first year in Carolina and looks to be a solid addition to a young Panther team.  Truth be told, it’s simply too early to tell what Newton will become or won’t become.  Taken at the 8 spot, Jake Locker is still sitting behind Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee and indications are that he will remain there.  Christian Ponder was drafted at the 12 spot and showed promise for the Vikings.  The same could not be said of Jaguar QB Blaine Gabbert taken at number 10.  Gabbert has struggled to learn the NFL systems and speed of the game.  Of all the QB’s taken last season, Andy Dalton a 2nd round pick of the Bengals has shown the most in such a short period of time.

Supplemental Drafts – 1985 Bernie Kosar, 1989 – Steve Walsh and Tim Rosenbach, and in1992 – Dave Brown.

2012 – Here we are today with four QB’s taken in round 1.  In the 29 years since Dan Marino and the other two HOF QB’s were drafted, a total of 68 QB’s have been selected in either round 1 of the NFL Draft, or VIA the supplemental draft, or by the USFL dispersal draft.  Of those 68 QB’s, two have been elected to the HOF as mentioned at the top of the article.

The overwhelming odds of a player making it in the NFL is huge.  Those odds only go higher when that player is a QB drafted in round 1.  Of all top five drafted QB’s taken since 1984 to 2007, only a select few, the Manning brothers, McNabb, Bledsoe, Aikman, Young, and McNair have taken their teams to Super Bowls win or lose.  While many QB’s find success in round 1, most often never come close to becoming NFL stars, let alone starters.  The last two drafts however have given NFL teams a new lease on buying QB’s early.  The rookie pool.

No longer will teams be saddled with franchise crippling contracts like that of Jamarcus Russell.  No longer will teams be financially burdened by having to replace a QB who simply doesn’t transition to the NFL.  It’s this pressure for both teams and the players themselves that may turn over these numbers to more positive figures.  Players will no longer feel as loaded down with the pressure of early success from a round one selection with the added burden of large contracts.  Hopefully, players will be able to focus more on playing football than living up to lofty expectations.

Of course the new CBA will not change the ability of bad GM’s and scouts from making poor decisions with their first round selections.  This year, four NFL rookies will try and buck a long trend of multiple first round QB drafts that have seen more failure than success.

It’s safe to say that the Dolphins and their fans are also hoping that the 8th selection finds that success as well.