NFL: Ranking the Top Quarterback Draft Classes of the Past Decade

Ryan KennedyAnalyst IIJuly 1, 2011

NFL: Ranking the Top Quarterback Draft Classes of the Past Decade

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    This exercise would intuitively seem to be easier than one would think. The quarterback position has become the most important in the NFL and possibly all of sports. We all know who the best NFL quarterbacks are and we have an idea of the year the were drafted but which drafted classes were the best and who was the best in each draft class this past decade?

    It would make sense that teams would do their research and follow up to ensure the especially valuable high draft picks are spent on quarterbacks. It would make even more sense if all that research and expense actually paid off.

    But does it? Is the best quarterback always the first quarterback taken? The answer would be no and the best proof of that is Tom Brady. Did each draft class of the past decade uncover any gems? Not as many as one would think but that doesn't mean the best quarterback was the first quarterback taken. Almost just as important is how many of those top picks didn't pan out. That number is a lot higher than you would imagine.

    Each year in the past decade is broken down by best quarterback drafted, the second quarterback drafted and the biggest bust. Some years were especially bad and only one has particularly stellar (so far).

    Each year is ranked so this does not go in chronological order.

10. 2007

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    If 1983 is the Year of the Quarterback, this would be the exact opposite. There are two potential starting quarterback in this class and neither of them ended the year last year as a starter. There was the obvious miscues with JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn but is there even a cream to this crop?

    Best Quarterback: Kevin Kolb

    Kolb is a hot commodity after being crowned the successor to Donovan McNabb when he was drafted. Then Michale Vick came along and things were a little more confused and them Kolb got hurt and for all intensive purposes, Kolb's career in Philly was over. Kolb plays well when given the chance and averages over 10 yards per completion but he still has thrown for more interceptions in his career than touchdowns. Not a great head of the class but the jury is still out if Kolb can get to a team that will let him be the full time starter.

    Next Best Thing: No one

    Is there even a true starter in the rest of this draft? Trent Edwards, John Beck, Troy Smith and Tyler Thigpen have all had opportunities to show they can play at this level and can't be a starter full time. All of them are capable backups though. John Beck and Trent Edwards are the only two quarterbacks who have a legitimate shot at starting next season and all that would lead to is the Bills and Redskins drafting a high draft pick in 2012.

    Biggest Bust: JaMarcus Russell

    This is actually a sad story. JaMarcus Russell should have never been the number one draft pick in 2007. He was not ready for that. Al Davis ignored that though because he is Al Davis. Armed with money and no leadership in Oakland, Russell had no direction and motivation to do anything eventually getting cut. In an attempt to turn his life around he contacted John Lucas as a life coach. Russell is such a mess that he was told to "leave the city (Houston)" where Lucas and Russell were working together. And Brady Quinn thought he has it bad being a third string QB behind Tim Tebow.

9. 2002

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    The Houston Texans needed a signal caller for their inaugural season. David Carr and Joey Harrington were deemed the two best quarterback and one of them would be chosen No. 1. Too bad for them, the Texans ended up having a pourous offensive line once Tony Boselli was injured. Getting sacked 76 times is no way to start a career and no one would have done well given the situation. Not one of the first round quarterbacks is still a starter in the NFL.

    Best Quarterback: David Garrard

    To his credit, Garrard has made a Pro Bowl. He made it along with four other AFC quarterbacks. Not as impressive, is it? Garrard is a run of the mill starter in Jacksonville and is likely on his last legs since the Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert this year. He has fairly decent career stats with 16,00 yards passing and 89 touchdowns but David Carr and Joey Harrington have almost as many yards and they have started about two-thirds as often.

    Next Best Thing: David Carr

    It really pained me to put him here but there is no one else who even made a dent in the NFL. At least Carr is still kicking around as a backup. He was an expansion teams starting quarterback. As Kerry Collins and Mark Brunell how hard it is to be a starter on an expansion squad. Actually, scratch that, Collins and Brunell actually made something of their time with the Panthers and Jaguars. The same can't be said for Carr.

    Biggest Bust: Joey Harrington

    Harrington had a better career than most of the other quarterbacks in this class but he was supposed to. He went from potential franchise savior to laughing stock of the league in a quick three years. It is hard not to blame the Lions for his struggles though. They immediately drafted two failed wideouts and one who has had marginal success.

8. 2003

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    Carson Palmer is far and away the best quarterback in this class (sorry to ruin the surprise.) As the first of 13 quaterbacks taken, there was a reason he didn't last past the first pick. Even though it looks like a couple other quarterbacks might be around longer than him, no amount of productivity would allow them to catch him. The race for second place was a bit tighter with three legitimate candidates. None of them were ever spectacular but someone has to line up under center every Sunday.

    Best Quarterback: Carson Palmer

    Coming to Cincinnati and making the Bengals marginally successful was an accomplishment in itself but Palmer was a two-time Pro Bowler. Coming from USC and learning from Pete Carroll, Palmer had a leg up on his transition and took quickly to the pro game. Palmer has battled injuries of late and is looking for a change of scenery. Playing for a contender or closer to home might be what Palmer wants but it might not be a bad idea to walk away and keep himself from breaking down physically later in life.

    Next Best Thing: Byron Leftwich

    Rex Grossman got legitimate consideration, if only because he went to a Super Bowl on the back of Chicago's defense, but Leftwich has had three times as many successful pro seasons (meaning three). Leftwich used his enormous lower body strength to keep himself upright and allow his receivers to make plays. He is a fairly accurate passer but has been prone to make mistakes which is part of the reason he doesn't start anymore.  He has bounced around the NFL after David Garrard replaced him in Jacksonville but pretty much every other quarterback in this class is on their third team or out of the league so that's not as bad as it seems.

    Biggest Bust: Kyle Boller

    A product of Jeff Tedford's system at the University of California, or so it was thought it was the system before Aaron Rodgers came along, Boller got consideration for the first pick overall. He was also mocked as a third round pick. That kind of variance can never be good. Boller was never very accurate and made poor decisions. Combine that with the fact that the Ravens went through a period where passing the ball was not something they felt they needed to do and you have a first round bust.

7. 2010

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    It's been one season so judgement isn't final but Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy all showed they could at least step on the field and look competent. The same can't be said for Jimmy Clausen but that might not be entirely his fault. John Fox didn't care about the team, there were multiple injuries and the Panthers had only one legitimate receiver. There is still time for this class to produce four solid starters but unless Cam Newton gets injured, Clausen may have got his best shot last year.

    Best Quarterback: Sam Bradford

    So far it isn't even close. Bradford put to rest the concerns about his arm and played at a Pro Bowl level. The Rams were one game away from the playoffs after being the worst team in the league. Sure, the Rams have been stock piling high draft picks for years but Bradford got them over the top. This season, Bradford should reach the Pro Bowl and lead the Rams to the top of the lowly NFC West.

    Next Best Thing: Tim Tebow

    Colt McCoy got more chances to play but Tebow made the most of his time. In three games he threw for 654 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Tebow is not a conventional quarterback but with John Fox leading Denver and John Elway in the front office, the Broncos should be able to protect Tebow from taking too many chances. Tebow may make a good NFL quarterback despite his skeptics.

    Biggest Bust: Jimmy Clausen

    After being touted as the next Joe Montana since high school, there really was no way for Clausen to live up to the hype but it shouldn't have been that bad. There were reasons that increased the odds of Clausen's failure but some of it he did himself. Towards the end of the season, he started to lose the team which a quarterback can never do. It doesn't bode well for Clausen that after drafting him as the quarterback of the future, the Panthers immediately drafted Cam Newton with the top pick this year.

6. 2006

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    It was almost expected that 2006 would produce at least one perennial Pro Bowl quarterback. After the 2006 BCS Championship, it looked like Matt Leinart and Vince Young were destined for greatness. Jay Cutler was a little-known talent who "possessed all the skills necessary" to be a star at the next level despite playing for SEC doormat Vanderbilt and not having any great success. Not one of them is considered elite and all three are heading toward their second team when the NFL resumes play.

    Best Quarterback: Vince Young

    It's highly debatable that he is the best. Young has had a roller coaster career with the Titans having up seasons in 2006 and 2009 and down seasons in 2008 and 2010. Young clashed with his coach but much like Ben Roethlisberger has shown a knack for knowing how to win. It's never pretty and often not conventional but he gets the job done. Whoever gets Young next season gets a proven winner but not a great quarterback.

    Next Best Thing: Jay Cutler

    Cutler had a monster season in 2008 before getting traded to Chicago but has shown to be prone to making mistakes. He took a ton of criticism last year for not playing in the second half of a playoff game for what "appeared" to be a minor injury but turned out to be serious. Cutler doesn't play up to the stereotype of the quarterback but it takes all kinds. Cutler is exactly what he was in college, someone who has all the tools but just can't get his team over the top.

    Biggest Bust: Matt Leinart

    Leinart was supposed to follow Carson Palmer's foot steps and become the next great USC quarterback to make it in the NFL. Something happened to him, maybe he wasn't ready to lead a bad team, maybe fame got to him or maybe USC was so loaded that he couldn't look bad. Whatever it was Leinart never produced having his best season as a rookie before losing his job to Kurt Warner. Leinart will likely never be anything more than a backup at this point.

     

5. 2009

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    The top three quarterbacks in the 2009 NFL draft all have a legitimate right to claim top quarterback. Mark Sanchez has led his team deep in the playoffs. Matt Stafford has the Lions fan thinking that they may have a winner on their hands. Josh Freeman has completely turned the Buccaneers around and has the best stat line of all of them. The rest of the class is a huge disappointment with only three other quarterbacks taking regular season snaps and one of them is Curtis Painter who might be the worst quarterback of all time.

    Best Quarterback: Josh Freeman

    Part of this is production, part is projection. Freeman looks completely comfortable as the leader of the Buccaneers and looks to be ready to go toe to toe with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan for top quarterback in the NFC South. Freeman has young receivers who he is growing with and a young offensive line to block for him. There is no reason not to think, barring injury, that Freeman will be the best quarterback in this class and possibly one of the top in the NFL for some time.

    Next Best Thing: Matt Stafford

    Even though he is injured consistently, he has given hope to the Motor City. Sanchez is surrounded by stars and has veteran talent at each position on offense. Stafford has Calvin Johnson and while that is a huge advantage, he plays for the Lions so he has to overcome that. If Stafford can stay healthy, he can be a Pro Bowler but one more season with some DNPs listed in the stat line and Sanchez will move into this spot.

    Biggest Bust: Pat White

    Bill Parcells recently alluded that White was one of his worst picks of all time saying, "We violated our principles. He just wasn't a prototypical quarterback pick. He was a great college player, and we let that color our judgment.” Maybe not the harshest thing he's ever said (after all he used to refer to Terry Glenn as "she") but a telling sign that you were a bust.

4. 2005

7 of 10

    Ther was much debate prior to the 2005 draft to as which quarterback should go first, Alex Smith of Utah or Aaron Rodgers of the University of California. Jeff Tedford had not produced a real NFL caliber talent at the University of Californiaso teams were skeptical to believe he could produce at the next level. Smith went No. 1 and Rodgers fell to the Packers who stunned everyone by drafting what was presumed to be Brett Farve's heir. The rest of the class has been largely mediocrealthough Jason Campbell and Kyle Orton have had successful campaigns.

    Best Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers

    Rodgers, who was just named the Super Bowl MVP, is the clear cut best and after this season is a legitimate threat to the throne as the NFL's best quarterback which was dominated by Brady, Brees and Peyton Manning. Rodgers puts up crazy Madden stats but really came into his own this year. Rodgers may not have got the TLC that the Packers expected Favre to show him but he seems to have learned plenty from the "Old Gunslinger" matching the amount of title's Favre has won already with more that could be on the way.

    Next Best Thing: Kyle Orton

    Orton was another Purdue quarterback who did not look like he would be a star in the NFL. Orton played that role while in Chicago, looking like he would never be considered one of the better than average quarterbacks in the league. after being traded to Denver for Jay Cutler, Orton blossomed becoming a fantasy stud and looking like he may deserve consideration for the Pro Bowl. With the arrival of Tim Tebow in Denver, Orton is likely to be on a short leash even though he doesn't deserve it.

    Biggest Bust: Alex Smith

    Smith's days in San Francisco are numbered. Colin Kaepernick is the quarterback of the future and unless Jim Harbaugh turns Smith's career around, he may be seeking employment as a backup. Smith isn't to blame entirely for this. The WAC conference is known for high flying offenses and that rarely translates to the next level. Smith also never had consistency. He learned a new offense nearly every year with the 49ers. There is no way to become an elite or even average quarterback without at least a little consistency.

3. 2008

8 of 10

    The top two quarterbacks in this class found immediate success, leading their teams to the playoffs and Joe Flacco even won a game. The rest of the class has really disappointed, although Chad Henne has found time as a starter in Miami and looked the part at times. Five of the next ten quarterbacks taken are already out of the NFL after three seasons which pretty much sums up the draft class.

    Best Quarterback: Matt Ryan

    "Matty Ice" had a sophomore slump brought on by turf toe but rebounded well and put himself in the second-tier of NFL quarterbacks only after three short seasons. Replacing Michael Vick was no small feet but combined with Michael Turner and Roddy White, Ryan quickly adapted to the NFL. It helped that Mike Smith didn't overwhelm his quarterback right away and allowed him to let the game come to him. Flacco has slightly better numbers but Ryan is the more complete quarterback.

    Next Best Thing: Joe Flacco

    Flacco loses out to Ryan because of the focus on the running game in Baltimore. The Ravens have not solved their wide receiver problem no matter what they try but Flacco perseveres anyway. Flacco is blessed with a strong arm and has improved each season but Flacco will plateau if the Ravens can;t find a long term solution at receiver to pair with him. Flacco is a winner but the stigma in Baltimore will always be that the defense carried the team. He can overcome that but it will take a few more seasons.

    Biggest Bust: John David Booty/Erik Ainge/Colt Brennan

    Not that any of them should have been Pro Bowlers but each had what it takes to at least hang on in the NFL. Ainge has admitted to a drug problem. Booty never quite lived up to the hype after success at USC. Brennan never made an impact despite his outrageous numbers at Hawaii. He is currently signed with the Hartford Colonials in the UFL. The point is, all of them had talent and none of them played a down in the NFL regular season.

2. 2001

9 of 10

    This year is hard because one quarterback changed the position and another led his team to a Super Bowl and rejuvenated a city in the process. There is no doubt that the Chargers got the best of the Falcons in the trade that made Vick a Falcon and Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers. The Chargers got two Hall of Famers for the price of one (potentially, although Brees and Tomlinson are pretty much locks. Not so sure about Vick). The top two quarterbacks in the class essentially have saved their careers with outher teams making Atlanta and San Diego possibly regret their decisions.

    Best Quarterback: Drew Brees

    It's hard to argue for Vick when Brees has a ring. It initially looked like Vick would run away with this but Brees got injured and Philip Rivers got drafted and then Brees ended up teaming with Sean Payton and the rest is history. Brees' biggest knock coming out of Purdue was that he was undersized. Unfortunately, teams forgot to take into effect his brains which is the main reason it is argued that Brees belongs in the same class as Brady and Manning. Brees is a true coach on the field and is a leader who makes the best out of his teammates.

    Next Best Thing: Michael Vick

    Even after missing two seasons, Michael Vick would be the best quarterback in just about every other draft class. Sure he missed part of his prime because of his jail time but it looks like Vick might be better for it. Fresher than most other quarterbacks at the age of 30, taking time off may be best for Vick long term. With a running game that matches most running backs, Vick takes and incredible beating. His time in Philadelphia seems to have helped him become more of a pocket passer which will save him for a couple more years.

    Biggest Bust: Chris Weinke

    Jesse Palmer was a thought just because he is more well known because of The Bachelor (kidding). Weinke was a former Heisman winner and should ahve been able to adapt to the game better because of his maturity. Unfortunately, rookies who are 29 often don't last long. This was no exception. The Pathers gambled and it didn't work and Weinke was replaced by Rodney Peete after one year.

1. 2004

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    Depending on your perspective, three quarterbacks could be the best in class. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger have all shown they have what it takes to be an elite quarterback in their first seven seasons. Rivers is cursed with playing in San Diego. Roethlisberger is cursed with being a party boy. Manning is Peyton's younger brother, how hard must that be. All of them deserve consideration. Both Rivers and Roethlisberger were named to the NFL Network's Top 100 of 2011's list (as voted on by the players!) Manning was not which should tell you something.

    Best Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

    "Big Ben" is the best of the three not only because he has the most rings but he is also the most durable. More than the other quarterbacks in this class, Roethlisberger takes plenty of hits because of his style of play. Since he is a big guy that hasn't posed that much of a problem but down the line that is going to cost him. His career numbers are better than Rivers or Manning but that is because Manning is a turnover machine and Rivers didn't play most of his first two seasons. The main reason Roethisberger is the best is because he wins when it counts and will make the plays needed to win. Rivers is a better quarterback from a position stand point but "Big Ben" gets the job done

    Next Best Thing: Philip Rivers

    This could easily be swapped. Rivers is a more gifted quarterback and plays in a more quarterback friendly scheme. His numbers will likely be better when all is said and done but he can't get his team over the hump come playoff time. Part of that is because of Norv Turner but part of that needs to be on him. As the "coach on the field" his job is to make the adjustments needed in real-time, which he hasn't done come January. Rivers is more respected for his football gifts as well make three Pro Bowls to Roethlisberger's one. Rivers is only slightly behind and that might change as quickly as next year.

    Biggest Bust: J.P. Losman

    Imagine being the guy who got drafted after those Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger and just before Matt Schaub. In what might be the most talented quarterback class in recent memory, the Bills laid an egg in Losman. Losman showed signs of life in his second season but never recaptured the magic after that. Losman will live on as a trivia answer to the question, "Who was the quarterback of the first ever UFL Champion, Las Vegas Locomotives?"