NFL Draft History: Quarterbacks Picked in Top 5 Have Been a Blessing and a Curse

Lou RomContributor IApril 26, 2012

Ryan Leaf, aka, the big bust.
Ryan Leaf, aka, the big bust.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Since the AFL/NFL merger 38 quarterbacks have been chosen in the top five of the NFL draft and history has taught us one thing for certain: There are no guarantees.

Tonight, at Radio City Musical Hall, the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins are going to pick quarterbacks with the first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, rounding that list to a nice, even 40.

All indications are that both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will have long, successful careers in the NFL, barring injury. But we've been fooled before.

Headlining the list of top five picks who delivered the goods are several Hall of Famers with multiple Super Bowl rings to boast, from Terry Bradshaw to John Elway to Troy Aikman.

And, of course, such a list can't be complete without the biggest busts among top five picks, from the throwin' Samoan, Jack Thompson, to Ryan Leaf and Jamarcus Russell.

In total, 38 quarterbacks have been drafted in the top five of the NFL draft, among them they have won 15 Super Bowls and dozens of playoff games.

They started 3,793 games, threw for over 780,000 yards, completed just over 54 percent of their passes and tossed more than 4,700 touchdowns.

But cumulative numbers and averages only tell us so much, taking a look at the top and bottom of these 38 draft picks helps us read between the lines and fill in the blanks.

The top 10 quarterbacks drafted No. 5 or higher started 1,885 games in their careers, topped by John Elway, with 231 starts.

The bottom 10—counting those whose NFL careers are done—started just 403 games, led by the incomparable Art Schlichter, with a whopping six NFL starts for the (Baltimore and Indianapolis) Colts. Schlichter edged Ryan Leaf, who started 11 games for the San Diego Chargers.

The top 10 quarterbacks chosen No. 5 or higher threw 2,441 touchdowns, compared with the bottom 10, who threw just 395 touchdowns.

Of course, in between the best and the busts are the journeymen, the middle-of-the-road guys who put together solid careers but were never MVP caliber gunslingers or were unfortunate enough to play for poor teams.

There are many on that list.

Steve Bartkowski, Jeff George and Kerry Collins come to mind.

Bartkowski had a solid NFL career, starting 127 games, tossing 156 touchdowns to 144 interceptions, and collecting some 24,000 yards throughout his career.

George and Collins had similar careers, never the guy coaches dreamed about when falling asleep at the desk during those all-nighters, but reliable enough to make you feel good about your chances.

George and Collins both had losing records, but put up decent numbers, throwing more TDs than picks and amassing nearly 70,000 passing yards between them.

So, will Andrew Luck or RGIII be the next Peyton Manning? Or the next Ryan Leaf?

Only time will tell.

But odds are they may just end up being the next Vinny Testaverde, solid but not spectacular.

In researching this story, I developed a spreadsheet of all 38 quarterbacks drafted in the top five since the AFL/NFL merger, with 32 columns of data. Message me directly if you would like a copy of it.