Ranking the No. 1 Overall Quarterbacks: Best to Bust

David Fernandez
A freelance writer with more than 10 years experience, David is based in sunny Miami, FL. He holds a master's degree in English and Creative Writing, and teaches Journalism. As a freelance writer, David concentrates on sports, health, education and entertainment.

Before the Cincinnati Bengals made Joe Burrow the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, there had been 15 QBs taken first in the last 25 years. Entering the 2020 NFL Draft, 24 quarterbacks have been drafted 1st overall in the Common Draft Era (since 1967). Of those 24, four have won an NFL MVP and six have won a Super Bowl MVP, but none since a Manning. Only Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Peyton Manning have won both. Bradshaw sported a .677 winning percentage as a starter, with Elway just behind at .641.

The Bengals taking Burrow No. 1 marked the third-straight year a quarterback went No. 1. The Cardinals took Kyler Murray No. 1 in 2019, and the Browns took Baker Mayfield No. 1 in 2018. And it’s very possible that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence could be the No. 1 overall pick in 2021.

While the jury is still out on some of these prospects, here’s a ranking of the last 15 quarterbacks to go No. 1 overall. We’re excluding Joe Burrow from this list because he’s yet to take a snap in the NFL.

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1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 1998

quarterback
Peyton Manning was taken No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts.

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.

Peyton’s the only starting quarterback in NFL history to win Super Bowls with two different teams, one with Indianapolis and one with Denver. He threw for the third-most passing yards (71,940) and touchdowns (539) all-time. His winning percentage (.702) is best for a starting quarterback drafted No. 1 overall since the Common Era (1967).

 

2. Eli Manning, San Diego, 2004 

quarterbacks
Eli Manning was drafted No. 1 overall by the San Diego Chargers.

Peyton’s little brother belongs high on this 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 made him one of the best in recent years.

Eli’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).

 

3. Cam Newton, Carolina, 2011 

quarterbacks
Cam Newton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers.

On this list the Manning’s 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. Don’t let the fact that he remains unsigned fool you, Newton was one of the best No. 1 overall picks on this list.

 

4. Michael Vick, Atlanta, 2001

quarterbacks
Michael Vick was drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons.

If this list could incorporate the Madden video game, Vick would probably be higher. 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). 

 

5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis, 2012

quarterbacks
Andrew Luck was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts No. 1 overall.

The Colts have had pretty good, er, luck, picking No. 1 overall. 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 get higher on this list. If he never takes another snap, he’ll finish with a .616 winning percentage as a starter. Not bad.

 

6. Alex Smith, San Francisco, 2005

quarterbacks
Alex Smith was drafted No. 1 overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

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. 

Smith helped lead the 49ers to the NFC title game in 2012 but came up short. He paved the way for two different quarterbacks (Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Mahomes) who led their teams a bit farther. Smith sports a .584 winning percentage as starter, which is fifth best since the common era.

 

7. Jared Goff, Los Angeles, 2016

quarterbacks
Jared Goff was the No. 1 overall pick by the Los Angeles Rams.

Even though the jury is still out on Goff, who was the top pick in 2016, it seems clear the Rams don’t have as much No. 1 pick mojo as the Colts. Yes, 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 Goff’s been very uneven in his three years. He has potential but needs to take the next step. He sports a .611 winning percentage as starter, which is the fourth highest among quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall since 1967. The Rams added new offensive weapons for Goff in the offseason and draft, so he’ll have to have a bounce back year or risk sliding further down this list.

 

8. Matthew Stafford, Detroit, 2009

quarterbacks
Matthew Stafford was taken No. 1 overall by the Detroit Lions.

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 further down this list, Stafford will need a solid bounce-back season and some post-season success. 

He’s thrown for more than 41,000 yards and 256 touchdowns over his 11 seasons, but he’s only made one Pro Bowl. He does have 34 game-winning drives on his resume though. But Stafford will need some post-season success if he’s ever going to justify the No. 1 overall pick.

 

9. Kyler Murray, Arizona, 2019

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

Kyler 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. Murray overcame doubts about his height with a stellar first season that saw him earn the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Murray threw for 3,722 yards and 22 touchdowns but took a league-high 48 sacks. He also rushed for 544 yards and four touchdowns.  Time will tell whether or not Murray, with Kliff Kingsbury, has the stuff to move higher on this list. The Cardinals have invested in his future though, nabbing him a top-flight receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.  

 

10. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay, 2015

quarterbacks
Jameis Winston was taken No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With his time in Tampa at an end, it’s fitting his last season saw him throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Winston was the ultimate risk-reward proposition, and Tampa Bay never fully saw the reward. Off-the-field problems existed for Winston 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 realm, unless he can learn from Drew Brees and Sean Payton in New Orleans.

 

11. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland, 2018

quarterbacks
Baker Mayfield was taken No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns.

The jury is still very much out on Baker Mayfield, much like Jared Goff and Kyler Murray. But what’s working against Mayfield at this point is the lack of production despite the major offensive weapons Cleveland’s surrounded him with. The Browns thought they had something special after Baker’s rookie year, but a dreadful 2019 has some rethinking that assessment.

Mayfield regressed considerably although he was flanked by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Hopefully, Mayfield tempers his swagger, considering his subpar performance. Cleveland better hope it’s sorted out it’s coaching situation with Kevin Stefanski and that he’s find someone to guide Mayfield so he might reach his potential. 

 

12. Sam Bradford, St Louis, 2010

quarterbacks
Sam Bradford was taken No. 1 overall by the St. Louis Rams.

Bradford came out of Oklahomas after his junior season, but he carried his 2008 Heisman Trophy with him. He declared after his junior year, in part, because of shoulder injuries. Unfortunately, those injuries and changing scenery have typified Bradford’s career in the NFL. He had some nice seasons, and some dreadful ones, and none of those came with the Rams. Although he was AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, he’ll never live up to the No. 1 overall hype. 

Bradford played for four teams and is 34-48-1 in his career. He threwn 103 touchdowns and 61 interceptions, and never made a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team. Bradford is listed as a former quarterback on his Wikipedia page, despite only playing nine seasons.

 

13. David Carr, Houston, 2002

quarterbacks
David Carr was taken No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans.

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.

quarterbacks
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)

In his 10-year career, Carr threw 65 touchdowns and 71 interceptions and was sacked 267 times. Interestingly, Carr served as the [rimary backup to two other No. 1 overall picks, Eli Manning (Giants) and Alex Smith (49ers). None of the three were with the original team that drafted them. Carr does sport a Super Bowl ring thanks to his time as a reserve in New York.

 

14. Tim Couch, Cleveland, 1999

quarterbacks
Tim Couch was taken No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns.

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.

Couch 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. He was nowhere near as good as the man selected right behind him, Donovan McNabb.

 

15. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland 2007 

quarterbacks
JaMarcus Russell was taken No. 1 overall by the Oakland Raiders.

The Raiders talked themselves into this pick in 2007, hoping Russell was a Neo-Roethlisberger or Dante Culpepper. Russell was 21-4 as a starter at LSU and helped the Tigers win the 2007 Sugar Bowl. But Russell was a huge bust.

Russell held out through training camp and into the first week of the 2007 NFL season, until September 12, when he signed a six-year contract worth up to $68 million, with $31.5 million guaranteed. But he 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. 

Don’t miss the rest of our 2020 NFL Draft coverage, and don’t forget to follow @NFLDraftLounge on Twitter and Facebook!

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