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Drafting Quarterbacks

Five facts and a quick note, all about the history of the game’s most important position.


Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III headline the 2012 quarterback class.


Of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL today (counting Andrew Luck [Colts] and Robert Griffin III [Redskins], 30 of them were drafted.

The two who were not drafted? Tony Romo (Cowboys) and Matt Moore (Dolphins).

Of the 30 who were drafted, 21 were 1st Round Draft choices.

Of those 21, nine were the 1st overall pick in their respective draft classes.

They are: Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Michael Vick, and soon-to-be the top overall choice of the Colts, Andrew Luck.

Of those nine, four do not play for the franchise who drafted them: Peyton Manning (Colts to Broncos), Eli Manning (Chargers to Giants), Carson Palmer (Bengals to Raiders), and Michael Vick (Falcons to Eagles).

Quick take: First round quarterbacks tend to find jobs somewhere in the league.


198 players were taken before Tom Brady's name was called in the 2000 NFL Draft. Figure that one out.

9 of the 30 starting quarterbacks who were drafted were taken outside the first round.

Three were selected in the second round: Drew Brees, Andy Dalton, Kevin Kolb.

Two were taken in the third round: Colt McCoy, Matt Schaub

One was a sixth round pick (Tom Brady)

And three were picked in the final round of the draft (the seventh): Matt Flynn, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Quick take: You are just as likely to find an eventual starter in the seventh round as you are in the second.


The average draft position (overall) of the 30 quarterbacks who were drafted? 43rd. That would make the ‘average’ quarterback a second round pick.

The median draft position of the 30 quarterbacks who were drafted? 11th. That tells a very different story than the ‘average’ number does.

Quick take: ‘Median’ is sometimes a more useful tool than ‘mean’ or ‘averages’ are. Also, I learned something in high school statistics. Not much, mind you, but that one, simple tool? Yes.


"I made two All-Pro teams, and Troy Aikman never made one. Not ONE! I should be in the HALL OF FAME, not HIM!!!" - What Rich Gannon probably says when he drinks.

In the past 25 years (1987-2011)

271 quarterbacks were selected in the 2nd Round of the Draft or later.

Of those 271, 24 made a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers.

Collectively, those 271 quarterbacks went to 53 Pro Bowls.

Four of them (Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Rich Gannon) became All-Pros.

Contrast that information with this information:

In the past 25 years (1987-2011), 57 quarterbacks were taken in the 1st Round of the Draft.

Of those 57, 20 made a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers.

Collectively, those 57 quarterbacks went to 56 Pro Bowls.

Two of them (Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers) became All-Pros.

Quick take: It’s not impossible to find a good quarterback in the later rounds of the Draft. But statistically speaking, the odds are not, at all, in your favor.


I studied the 15 Drafts between 1994 and 2008, leaving out the past three Drafts (2009-2011) because the jury is still out on those quarterbacks and I don’t want to label them unfairly.

But from 1994 through 2008:

35 quarterbacks were selected in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft.

Six of those quarterbacks became elite, which I define as: multiple Super Bowl victories, an MVP award, or consistently high play leading to postseason success.

The elite six: Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning, Steve McNair

Ten of the 35 became solid NFL starters. Not elite, yet capable of leading a playoff team with the right supporting cast in play.

The solid ten: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Phillip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper, Kerry Collins, Trent Dilfer.

Some of the quarterbacks selected in the first round were not complete and utter failures, but did not win enough, or produce at a high level for long enough stretches of time, to be considered successful picks.

The seven disappointments were: Vince Young, Jason Campbell, Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Chad Pennington.

Twelve (TWELVE) of the first round quarterbacks were unmitigated disasters. There is no polite way of putting it; these twelve were awful. Some were lazy, some were improperly evaluated, and they were all stigmatized as duds before being run out of town.

The twelve unmitigated disasters were: JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Matt Leinart, J.P. Losman, Kyle Boller, Patrick Ramsey, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McCown, Ryan Leaf, Jim Druckenmiller, Heath Schuler.

To recap:
















Essentially, what I am saying is, if you are taking a quarterback in the first round, there’s about a one-thirds chance he’ll be a total embarrassment, and more than likely (54%) he’ll end up disappointing you.

You might wonder if the late first round selections skew the numbers negatively for first round quarterbacks; the answer is, they do, but only a little.

21 of the 35 first round quarterbacks from 1994-2008 were top ten picks, and their breakdown looks like this:


Number Percentage Who:




E. Manning, P. Manning, McNabb, McNair




Ryan, Smith, Rivers, Palmer, Vick, Collins, Dilfer




Young, Leftwich, Harrington, Carr




Russell, Leinart,Couch, Smith, Leaf, Schuler

Quick take: The consequences for missing on an elite quarterback when you have the chance to get one are dire, but the odds are not in your favor to acquire one. At best, it’s a one-in-five proposition that your team will end up with a great quarterback, even when they are in the top ten in the Draft!

Random side-note: The evolution of Draft coverage

Brett Favre was the second round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1991 NFL Draft. He appeared sparingly, clashed with coach Jerry Glanville and was widely considered to be a loose cannon on the field (he was interception-prone) as well as off of it (there were already legendary stories about his destructive drinking habits). He also was diagnosed by some doctors as having the same degenerative hip condition that ended Bo Jackson’s football career.

Despite all that, Ron Wolf traded the Packers 1992 1st Round pick (19th overall) to the Falcons for Favre.

Now I ask you: what would it be like if that happened today?

"I figured, what the Hell, ya know? You only live once, and who needs Draft choices?" - Ron Wolf, circa 1992, explaining the trade to his staff.

Imagine the feeding frenzy that would ensue if the Chicago Bears (who own the 19th pick) traded that selection to the 49ers for Colin Kaepernick (who played sparingly for San Francisco last year, after being taken early in the 2nd round in last year’s Draft). Not only that – imagine Kaepernick was a notorious drinker with a degenerative hip condition! Sports talk shows would go haywire… Bears fans would revolt… Mel Kiper’s head would explode (his hair would still be found in one piece)!

As much that has changed in the NFL, on the field and off the field, the most dramatic shift has been in the media coverage of the league. The appetite for the game has grown, and the league has done a terrific job of supplying food for us to consume. A general manager wouldn’t dream of sending away a precious first round draft choice, a la Ron Wolf in 1992, lest he be consumed by the sports talk media machine.

Teams value their picks nowadays. Given the popularity of the Draft, even fans value the picks a great deal. They have an opinion on who the team should take (even if they’ve never seen any of the kids in question play a game) and dream big about uncovering the next superstar in the Draft. In this environment, no team would throw away precious draft choices on a so-so quarterback, even if the guy was a choir boy.

Oh yeah. They would. They totally would.

4 Responses

  1. I saw your comment on the piece I wrote the other day for MHR. I loved this post here. So many fans refuse to “wait and see” how a player develops. They prefer to call them a reach, or a bad pick prior to him even taking the field.

    • Thanks! For as hyped as the Draft is, very few people know the overall trends and strategies of the Draft. They think in simple terms – of picks as :”steals” or “busts”, but it’s way more nuanced than that.

      Your article was great. That’s a nice website – though I had to wait 24 hours for my “membership” to become official just to say thank you. Ha!

      • LoL…yes that is an annoying delay, but you are now accepted and we’d love for you to visit us at any time that you can find the time.

  2. Thanks again for taking the time to make this and I’m glad you were enjoying our nice Broncos fan debating system. haha

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