The NFL Draft: Are First-Round Quarterbacks Really Worth the Gamble?

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The NFL Draft: Are First-Round Quarterbacks Really Worth the Gamble?
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Recently, a hot debate broke out in an article I wrote about Troy Smith possibly joining the Cleveland Browns’ QB merry-go-round, found here.

The debate quickly moved away from Troy Smith, and onto whether or not the Cleveland Browns, or any teams for that matter, should draft a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft.

After reading through the heated debate and taking part in a few comments myself, I decided to dig a little deeper. My digging led me all the way back to 1967, took me through 86 first-round QB draft picks, and left me with one conclusion: For every John Elway, Dan Marino, and Peyton Manning type, there are six guys who won’t live up to the expectations.

Let me first explain what these “expectations” are. When a team uses their first-round pick in the draft to select a quarterback, they are looking for the future of their franchise. They do not expect this person to turn their team around in three games, but it would be nice. This draft pick is expected to eventually become the team leader, the face of the franchise, and the man that leads them to the Super Bowl. 

A quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL Draft faces more scrutiny than any other pick in any other sport. When the team wins, they are hoisted onto the shoulders of their teammates because it was their command and leadership that got the team there. But when they lose, they are immediately thrown under the bus by the media. They will receive 100 percent of the blame for the problems with the team.

Every “can’t miss” quarterback prospect thinks they can handle this pressure, but few have proven to do so. Of the 86 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1967, six have been selected to the Hall of Fame. This number will obviously grow after the careers of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, and Carson Palmer are over with. It is safe to say that at least three of that group will get in.

So if you include those potential seven players in the group of six that are in the HOF, that leaves us with 13 players of 86 drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. What have all of the other players done in their careers?

Well, of the 86 quarterbacks selected, 25 have played on a team that went to the Super Bowl. Of those 25 players, they held a record of 29-16 in the Super Bowls since 1967. This number includes players who may have sat the bench, like Matt Leinart in Arizona’s loss and Byron Leftwich in Pittsburgh’s win. 

Hall of Fame quarterbacks held a record of 11-9 in the Super Bowl, while our potential Hall of Famers are 4-0 (with Peyton Manning looking to add No. 2 to his belt on Sunday). So this is saying that nine players have compiled a record of 15-9 in the Super Bowl, while 16 have gone 14-7 in the big game. Other distinctions that the first-round quarterbacks have held are nine different players being selected to the All-Pro team.

After analyzing the first-round quarterbacks that have been in the Super Bowl with their team, my question is: What happened to the other 61 who have not led their team to the big game?

Don’t get me wrong, many of them had average to good careers. And the book is still out on the guys drafted in the 2000s who are still active in the NFL, but I can’t help but conclude that drafting a quarterback in the first round is still a huge risk.

Granted, they may be more “polished” coming out of college than the guys later in the draft because they probably led their teams to more wins, or had a higher profile experience in college. But the numbers really do not show that first-round quarterbacks have a greater impact on the overall success of a team. 

I guess you may be able to tell more by doing a complete analysis of wins and losses of all of these first-round quarterbacks and compare them to the records of those drafted in rounds two or later in the same time period, but I am just basing mine on the criteria listed.

  • Hall of Fame: Six
  • Potential Hall of Fame: Seven
  • Players Drafted: 86
  • Super Bowl QBs: 25
  • Super Bowl Win-Loss: 29-16
  • All-Pro: Nine

The numbers show some success by first-round quarterbacks, but like I said before, 25 of the first-round players have made it to the Super Bowl, while 61 fell short of the expectations bestowed on them when their team called out their name in the first round on draft day. 

So while many of them may have gone on to have good careers, to say that taking a quarterback in the first round is a necessary gamble that is 50/50 on them living up to their expectations is far from the truth. It is more like an optional gamble that only works out 29 percent of the time. 

So my suggestion is first-round shoppers beware! The fate of your franchise is more likely to end like Jeff George or Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning or Troy Aikman.

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