How Every Starting NFL QB Made His Way to the Pros
While some NFL starting quarterbacks come from stellar bloodlines (the Mannings) and phenomenal collegiate careers (Andrew Luck, among others), others have different, winding roads to the big time.
This is an examination of how all 32 starting quarterbacks made their way to the pros, from high school to college and all the twists and turns that got them there.
Buffalo Bills: EJ Manuel
The presumed starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, EJ Manuel, grew up in Virginia and played high school football at Bayside High in Virginia Beach. He had a storied career there and was considered a 5-star recruit as he contemplated where to play on the collegiate level.
Manuel chose to play at Florida State, where he learned under coaches Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher and helped the Seminoles to their best run of success since the early 2000s, holding a 25-6 record as the starting quarterback.
Manuel was selected 16th overall in this past April's draft by the Bills, becoming the first quarterback taken off the board.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a Texas native, and he played high school football at Big Spring, where he actually played some defense in addition to signal-calling.
He then attended Texas A&M. Once Mike Sherman, his current offensive coordinator with Miami, took over as the Aggies coach, he moved Tannehill to receiver, where Tannehill played very well, even earning All Big-12 honorable mention honors in 2009.
Tannehill got his break at quarterback in 2010 and never looked back. In 2011, he was the Aggies' unquestioned starter, starting all 13 games and tossing 29 touchdown passes, putting him squarely on the radar of NFL teams.
The Dolphins selected him eighth overall in the 2012 draft.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of the greatest signal-callers of all time and a lock for the Hall of Fame, grew up in California as a 49ers fan. He played high school ball at Junipero Serra High School. In addition to football, Brady was also an excellent baseball player, good enough to be drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1995.
He attended the University of Michigan, but it was often a struggle for Brady to see the field, as he was forced to sit behind Brian Griese and compete with Drew Henson. Brady eventually cracked the starting lineup in his final two seasons and finished with a flourish, leading Michigan to a Citrus Bowl win over Alabama.
While Brady wasn't a hyped prospect entering the 2000 NFL draft, the rest, as they say, is history.
New York Jets: Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez is another California kid. He played high school ball at both Santa Margarita and Mission Viejo. He was a stellar high school player and eventually committed to play at USC.
Sanchez didn't become the full-time starter at USC until his junior year in 2008, but he had an incredible season, throwing 34 touchdown passes and leading the Trojans to a 12-1 record.
From there, he became the first USC quarterback to leave college early to enter the NFL draft, prompting then-head coach Pete Carroll to say that Sanchez needed more seasoning at the collegiate level.
That didn't stop the Jets from taking him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
After watching this, it's easy to think that Carroll was right in his assessment.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco is a New Jersey native who played high school ball at Audubon High School. He originally attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he was famously named the backup behind Tyler Palko.
How'd that one turn out?
Flacco then transferred to the University of Delaware, where he put up huge numbers as a Blue Hen and impressed NFL scouts, setting numerous school records.
He was drafted by the Ravens with the 18th pick of the 2008 draft and has never looked back. He's made the playoffs every year and was the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII, leading the Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the 49ers.
Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton is another Texas kid. He attended Katy High School, where he starred before deciding to attend Texas Christian University.
Dalton was a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs. He went 34-3 in his final three seasons, including a 12-1 season and BCS berth in 2009, where they lost to Boise State.
He was drafted by the Bengals in the second round of the 2010 draft, and he's helped Cincinnati qualify for the playoffs in each of his first two seasons.
Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden
Brandon Weeden had an extremely interesting road to his post as starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.
In addition to his skills on the gridiron, he was also an accomplished pitcher at Edmond Santa Fe High School in Oklahoma. He was so good at baseball that he was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2002 and was even included in a trade for then-Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown. All Yankees fans likely want to smash their heads into a wall after reading Brown's name.
In 2007, Weeden decided to ply his trade at football once again, enrolling at Oklahoma State, where he starred in the Cowboys' spread offense.
He was eventually drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft by Cleveland. Weeden, then 28 years old, is the oldest player to have ever been drafted in the first round
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger grew up in Ohio and played high school ball at Findlay, where he didn't even line up at quarterback until his senior year.
He attended college at Miami (Ohio) and started for the three seasons he played. In 2003, he threw 37 touchdown passes and led the RedHawks to a bowl victory over Louisville before declaring early for the NFL draft.
While Roethlisberger was the third quarterback off the board in the 2004 draft, behind Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, he's going to the Hall of Fame, as he already has two Super Bowl championships and three appearances in the big game.
Not bad for a guy who only played quarterback for one year in high school.
Houston Texans: Matt Schaub
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is a Pennsylvania native who played high school ball at West Chester East High School.
He played college ball at the University of Virginia, where he played in 40 games at the quarterback position and became one of the most prolific passers in the history of the ACC.
Schaub was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the third round of the 2004 draft and was traded to Houston in 2007. He's been the starter there ever since.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck comes from excellent bloodlines, as his father Oliver played quarterback in the NFL and is currently the athletic director at West Virginia University.
Luck attended Stratford High School in Texas, where he sparkled, making him a highly sought-after prospect. He decided to attend Stanford University.
At Stanford, Luck was unstoppable. He would have been the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft had he declared, but he decided to return to the Cardinal for his senior season. He finished his career at Stanford with 82 touchdown passes, and the Colts made him the first pick of the 2012 draft.
In his rookie year, Luck led the Colts to an 11-5 record and a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs. The future appears to be very bright for both Luck and the Colts.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert grew up in Missouri and played high school ball at Parkway West. He was highly sought after coming out of college and, after changing his mind, eventually decided to play at the University of Missouri.
Gabbert shined under coach Gary Pinkel for the Tigers, starting for two full seasons and putting up big numbers (40 touchdown passes).
His collegiate career was enough to make him the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft by Jacksonville.
To say that he's underwhelmed in the pros would be an insult to those who have underwhelmed. Gabbert has been flat-out awful thus far in the NFL.
Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker
Titans quarterback Jake Locker grew up in Washington. He played high school ball at Ferndale High School, where he was also an accomplished baseball player, drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2006. But he didn't sign because he wanted to concentrate on football.
Locker enrolled at the University of Washington, where, despite having the sort of skills that helped him become the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, he finished with a 10-21 record as the starter on a poor Huskies team.
2013 will be Locker's first season as the unquestioned starter in Tennessee.
Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, the son of Archie and brother of Eli, grew up in New Orleans, where he attended and starred at Isidore Newman High School. He then attended the University of Tennessee instead of his dad's alma mater, Ole Miss.
Manning was a star for the Vols, throwing 89 touchdown passes in his career and going 39-6 as the starter. And in 1997, he infamously finished second in Heisman balloting to then-Michigan Wolverine Charles Woodson.
However, Manning didn't win a national title at Tennessee and was branded as someone who couldn't win the big game. That moniker that followed him to the NFL, when he was the first overall pick of the 1998 draft, selected by the Colts.
Manning shed that label by leading Indianapolis to Super Bowl XLI glory, winning game MVP honors. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith grew up in California and played high school football at Helix Charter, where was the president of his senior class.
Smith played college ball at the University of Utah, where he learned under coach Urban Meyer. He finished with a 21-1 record as the Utes starter and finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2004.
His skills were enough to make him the first overall pick of the 2005 draft, selected by the 49ers. Smith had an up-and-down career in San Francisco, who traded him to the Chiefs this past offseason, where he is now the unquestioned starter.
Oakland Raiders: Matt Flynn
Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn grew up in Texas and attended Robert E. Lee High School, eventually choosing to play college ball at LSU.
Flynn played behind JaMarcus Russell for most of his time at LSU, shining in a backup role, but he got his opportunity to start in 2007. He didn't disappoint, leading the Tigers to the national championship.
Despite his collegiate accolades, Flynn was only a seventh-round pick in 2008, selected by the Green Bay Packers. Despite his low draft status, Flynn worked his way up to be Aaron Rodgers' backup.
In 2012, he was traded to Seattle. But due to the emergence of Russell Wilson, he was then dealt to the Raiders, where he now sits atop their quarterback depth chart.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers grew up in Alabama and played high school ball at Athens High School.
He decided to attend North Carolina State, where he was a four-year starter, smashing nearly every school and conference (ACC) record. He finished his career with an NCAA-record 51 consecutive starts and was the 2003 ACC Player of the Year.
Rivers was selected fourth overall by the New York Giants in the 2004 draft, but he was promptly dealt to the San Diego Chargers as part of a package for Eli Manning.
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was born in California but moved to Wisconsin, where he attended and played football at Burlington High School.
From there, he chose to play college football at Eastern Illinois, where he played for the Division I-AA Panthers. He had a storied career and, in 2002, became the first Panther to ever win the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the best player in Division I-AA.
Romo went undrafted in 2003, but he was signed afterwards by the Cowboys. He served as a backup quarterback and holder on kicks before receiving his big break in 2006, when he took over as starting quarterback in Dallas.
Since then, Romo has been "The Man" in Big D. And he recently signed a big-money contract extension that will keep him in Dallas for the foreseeable future.
Not bad for a guy who wasn't even drafted.
New York Giants: Eli Manning
Giants quarterback Eli Manning, the little brother of Peyton and son of Archie, grew up in New Orleans and attended Isidore Newman High School, just like his big brother.
The younger Manning did, however, decide to attend his father's alma mater, Ole Miss. Manning starred there for four seasons, performing well enough to be selected first overall in the 2004 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers, who then dealt him to the New York Giants.
Manning has won two Super Bowls (XLII and XLVI) for Big Blue, and he was named the game's MVP both times.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick grew up in Virginia. He first attended Homer L. Ferguson High School, but it closed, so Vick then went to Warwick High School, where he dominated the competition.
Vick chose to attend college at Virginia Tech, where he exploded onto the scene as a freshman, nearly helping the Hokies win a national title. He left Virginia Tech after his sophomore season and was selected first overall in the 2001 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, who had traded up with the San Diego Chargers to acquire the pick.
Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is the son of two Army sergeants. Thus, he moved from place to place as a young boy. He was born in Okinawa, Japan, and lived in various places in the United States before his family settled in Texas.
Griffin attended high school at Copperas Cove, where he starred both on the gridiron and on the track. He decided to attend Baylor University, which also boasted a top track and field program.
Griffin was majestic in his time in Waco, going on to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy.
He was selected by the Redskins with the second pick in the 2012 draft.
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler grew up in Indiana, but he rooted for the Chicago Bears as a boy. He played high school football at Heritage Hills.
From there, he attended college at Vanderbilt University and was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2005.
He was selected with the 11th pick of the 2006 draft by the Denver Broncos, who later traded him to the Bears.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was born in Tampa, but his family moved to Texas, where he attended Highland Park High School, dominating the competition.
Stafford attended college at the University of Georgia, where he started and starred for three seasons, playing well enough to be selected by the Lions with the first overall pick of the 2009 draft.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was born and raised in California (with a few years spent in Oregon as well) and grew up a 49ers fan. He attended Pleasant Valley High School.
Despite his gaudy high school numbers, Rodgers didn't receive much interest from Division I schools and played his freshman year at Butte Community College in California. After one season of dominance, he transferred to the University of California, Berkley.
Rodgers played two seasons at California before entering the NFL draft, where his now-infamous drop to 24th overall occurred before he was selected by the Packers.
Since then, Rodgers has won a league MVP (2011), a Super Bowl title and Super Bowl MVP (2010), and he recently signed the largest big-money contract in NFL history.
That's pretty good for a guy who had to spend a year at a community college.
Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder grew up in Texas and attended high school at Colleyville Heritage.
He chose to play college ball at Florida State, where he started for three seasons. His play there caught the eye of the Vikings, who selected Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan grew up in Pennsylvania and attended William Penn Charter School, where he excelled at football, baseball and basketball.
He decided to play football and accepted an offer from Boston College.
Ryan led the Eagles to a No. 2 overall ranking in 2007 and entered the NFL draft after his junior season.
He was selected by the Falcons with the third overall pick of the 2008 draft and has guided the team to the postseason in four of his first five seasons.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton attended high school at Westlake in Atlanta, Georgia, and played well enough to receive a scholarship offer from the University of Florida.
He started his collegiate career as a Gator, backing up Tim Tebow in 2007, before transferring to Blinn College in Texas at the conclusion of the 2008 campaign.
In 2009, Newton dominated at Blinn and chose to transfer to Auburn for the 2010 season.
Newton's 2010 season at Auburn was one for the history books, as he led the Tigers to an undefeated record, the national championship and won the Heisman Trophy in the process.
All of those accolades were enough for the Panthers to select Newton with the first overall pick of the 2011 draft.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
Saints quarterback Drew Brees grew up in Texas and attended Westlake High School before deciding to play collegiate football at Purdue University. He was a Heisman finalist in both 1999 and 2000 and set numerous B1G passing records in the process.
Brees was selected by the Chargers in the second round of the 2001 draft with one of the picks they acquired in their trade with Atlanta that netted the Falcons Michael Vick.
He signed with the Saints as a free agent in 2006 and led them to triumph in Super Bowl XLIV, where he was named the game's MVP.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman attended high school at Grandview in Missouri and committed to play college football at Kansas State.
He was dynamite for the Wildcats, starting for the better part of three seasons.
Freeman was selected by the Buccaneers with the 17th overall pick of the 2009 draft.
Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is a California kid. He attended Santa Margarita High School, where he played well enough to catch the eye of USC and its head coach, Pete Carroll.
Palmer won the Heisman Trophy in his time at Troy and was the first overall pick of the 2003 draft, selected by the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was dealt to the Raiders in the middle of the 2011 season and was traded to the Cardinals earlier this offseason.
St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was born and raised in Oklahoma, and he attended Putnam City North High School.
He decided to play college football at the University of Oklahoma, where started for the majority of his three seasons in Norman. He also won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.
After injuring his shoulder during the 2009 season, Bradford decided to forgo his senior campaign and enter the NFL draft. He was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, selected by the Rams.
San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee but was given up for adoption to a family in California. There, he attended John H. Pittman High School.
Kaepernick chose to play college football at the University of Nevada, where he served as the triggerman in coach Chris Ault's pistol offense. He compiled gaudy numbers during his time with the Wolfpack, good enough that he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft by the 49ers.
Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith as the 49ers starter during the 2012 season and led San Francisco to within a few yards of winning Super Bowl XLVII.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and attended Collegiate School, where he starred in both baseball and football.
He decided to attend North Carolina State, where he continued to play both sports.
With Wilson unsure of whether to pursue a career in football or baseball (he had been drafted by the Colorado Rockies), he was granted his release from NC State and decided to attend the University of Wisconsin, where he concentrated on football.
Wilson was majestic for the Badgers, helping them win the B1G title in 2011.
He was the third-round pick of the Seahawks in 2012 and started all 16 games as a rookie, nearly leading the Seahawks all the way to the NFC title game.
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