Drafting a Quarterback No. 1: Boon, Bust or In Between

With the 2020 NFL Draft quickly approaching, it seems more and more likely that a quarterback will be the No. 1 pick. Drafting a quarterback first overall has happened 33 times in the 53 years of the NFL Draft in the common era. 

Halfbacks were once the most sought after collegiate players, being drafted No. 1 six times in the first ten years. But in recent years, drafting a quarterback has become the way to go. 15 times in the last 25 years a quarterback has gone No. 1 overall. 

But with the first pick comes the most risk. Sometimes, the No. 1 pick is a boon to the team, a surefire hall-of-famer. But some of those No. 1 overall selections were busts, setting the franchise back years. 

The Cincinnati Bengals hold the No. 1 pick this year and will likely choose Joe Burrow, quarterback from LSU. He may be boon, a bust, or fall somewhere in between. 

Here’s a look at where the 15 quarterbacks drafted first in the last 25 years land on the boon, bust or in between spectrum. 

Drafting a Quarterback
Peyton Manning was the No. 1 overall pick in 1998. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Drafting a Quarterback: Boon

Peyton Manning, Indianapolis 1998 – 

The Colts won the lotto with this one. Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, despite throwing 28 interceptions his rookie year. It’s hard to believe there was a debate between Manning and the No. 2 pick that year, Ryan Leaf. He was a Pro Bowler in his second year and went on to win five MVP awards. He also won two Super Bowls, one with Indianapolis. He threw for the third-most passing yards (71,940) and touchdowns (539) all-time.

Eli Manning, San Diego 2004 – 

Peyton’s little brother belongs on the Boon list as well. He might not be a first-ballot hall-of-famer like his brother, but Eli’s steady, sometimes spectacular career in New York. He’s better than the player he was traded for on draft-day (Philip Rivers), and he beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl twice. He stayed with the Giants for 16 seasons and brought two championships to the Big Apple. Eli has thrown the seventh-most passing yards (57,023) and touchdowns all-time (366).

Cam Newton, Carolina 2011 – 

The Mannings are the only quarterbacks with rings that were chosen No. 1 overall, but Newton led his team to the Super Bowl. He lost in Super Bowl 50 to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos defense. And while his play has been up-and-down for the Panthers over the years, the NFC Championship is something not many other quarterbacks chosen No. 1 have accomplished. At this point, Cam has thrown for over 29,000 yards and 182 touchdowns. As a dual-threat quarterback, Newton has the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (58) and the most rushing attempts by a QB all-time (934). His 4,806 rushing yards are third-most by a QB all-time.

Drafting a Quarterback
HOUSTON – OCTOBER 10: Quarterback David Carr #8 of the Houston Texans is injured during their game against the Minnesota Vikings on October 10, 2004, at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Drafting a Quarterback: Bust

JaMarcus Russell, Oakland 2007 – 

The Raiders talked themselves into this pick in 2007, hoping Russell was a Neo-Roethlisberger or Dante Culpepper. But he wasn’t. Russell only lasted three seasons in the league, throwing 18 TDs and 23 INTs. He also fumbled the ball away 15 times. His bust set the Raiders franchise back several years. 

Tim Couch, Cleveland 1999 – 

Coming one year after Peyton Manning’s selection, Couch was supposed to be the savior in Cleveland. But he took a pounding as a rookie, suffering a league-high 56 sacks. Then a serious arm injury in 2000 derailed everything. He managed to get the Browns into the playoffs in 2002, but got injured again. He was out of the league shortly thereafter. In his five-year career, Couch finished 22-37 with 64 touchdowns and 67 interceptions.

David Carr, Houston 2002 – 

The Houston Texans were brand new and pinned their franchise hopes on Carr. But then they didn’t block for him. Carr was annihilated his rookie year, suffering a whopping 76 sacks that season, an NFL record. He also fumbled a ton. He led the Texans to their first win in their first game, but that might have been the high note. Gone after the 2006 season, Carr had been sacked a total of 249 times during his tenure in Houston. In his 10-year career, Carr threw 65 touchdowns and 71 interceptions and was sacked 267 times.

Sam Bradford, St Louis 2010 – 

Injuries and changing scenery have typified Bradford’s career in the NFL. He’s had some nice seasons, and some dreadful ones, and none of those came with the Rams. He’ll never live up to the No. 1 overall hype. He’s played for four teams and is 34-48-1 in his career. He’s thrown 103 touchdowns and 61 interceptions.

Drafting a Quarterback: In Between

Michael Vick, Atlanta 2001 – 

If this list could incorporate the Madden video game, Vick would be a Boon. He revolutionized the position with his speed and athleticism. But off-field issues derailed his once promising on-field career. With the Falcons, he did orchestrate the first-ever postseason loss for the Packers at Lambeau and an appearance at the 2004 NFC Championship Game. He was the Comeback Player of the Year in 2010, but mostly a journeyman in the second half of his career. Vick has the most rushing yards by a quarterback all-time (6,109).

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis 2012 – 

The Suck for Luck campaign in 2011 seemed to yield a potential hall-of-famer in the new quarterback. But injuries and an early retirement keeps Luck from the Boons section of this list. He was a great player when he played and when he was upright. But the Colts could never fully square away protection for Luck. He led the Colts to the postseason four times and is 20 games over .500 as a starter. If he has a surprise return to the league, Luck may be a Boon. 

Alex Smith, San Francisco 2005 – 

Another quarterback plagued with injury issues, especially of late, Smith was a surprise No. 1 selection. Constant changes in the coach staff early in his career sabotaged any semblance of continuity. And Smith has since become something of a journeyman. He led the league in passer rating in 2017, but hasn’t seen the field in more than a year. 

Matthew Stafford, Detroit 2009 – 

The selection of Stafford in 2009 started a string of four-straight seasons with QBs as No. 1 overall picks. He’s had injury issues at different times in his career but he’s a fixture in Detroit. To avoid sliding into the Busts section of this list, Stafford will need a solid bounce-back season and some post-season success. 

Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay 2015 – 

His time in Tampa may be at an end, and it’s fitting his last season saw him throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Off-the-field problems have existed going back to his FSU days. But being outplayed by Ryan Fitzpatrick, at times, makes it difficult to put Winston’s career in context. He’s probably ticketed for Bust. 

Drafting a Quarterback
Kyler Murray poses with Commissioner Roger Goodell at the NFL draft in Nashville. (Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Drafting a Quarterback: We’ll See

Jared Goff, Los Angeles 2016 – 

Goff helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018, but the team missed the playoffs in 2019. Not many of the No. 1 overall quarterbacks can say they have a Championship Game win and a Super Bowl appearance, so Goff has that. But he’s been very uneven in his three years. He has potential, but needs to take the next step. 

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland 2018 – 

The Browns thought they had something special after Baker’s rookie year. But a dreadful 2019 has some rethinking that assessment. Hopefully, Mayfield tempers his swagger, considering his subpar performance. Cleveland will need to sort out it’s coaching situation and find someone to guide Mayfield so he might reach his Boon potential. 

Kyler Murray, Arizona 2019 – 

Murray came out of nowhere during the 2019 draft season. He’s a two-sport athlete, and has the potential to be a dynamic quarterback despite his diminutive stature. Time will tell whether or not Murray, with Kliff Kingsbury, has the stuff to be a Boon. 

With the 2020 NFL Draft nearing, the Cincinnati Bengals will evaluate their choices. Most people think Joe Burrow stands to be the selection. Time will tell if he’s a boon, bust, or in between. 

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