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First-round QB Picks Often Underwhelming

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Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.

Is it just tougher to select a quarterback than other positions?

Based on my perusal of the NFL drafts for the past 10 years, I would have to answer “Probably.” But it’s tough to draft at any position.

From 2004 through 2013, a quarterback was taken No. 1 overall seven of 10 years. Of those, Eli Manning (2004), Cam Newton (2011) and Andrew Luck (2012) are star players.

One is a bust, JaMarcus Russell (2007, when Adrian Peterson was on the board until the seventh pick). The other three are good to middling players: Alex Smith (2005), Matthew Stafford (2009), Sam Bradford (2010).

2004 turned out to be a great year to pick a quarterback. Aside from Manning, teams plucked Philip Rivers (4) and Ben Roethlisberger (11). But J.P. Losman was a busted first-round pick. Another from that draft still include Matt Schaub, a third-rounder who had a brutal year in 2013.

In 2005, three signal-callers were picked in the first round. After Smith, Aaron Rodgers was snagged at 24 and Jason Campbell at 25. A hidden gem in that draft was Matt Cassel in the seventh round, who’s still going strong (and ended up starting for the Vikings in 2013).

Three quarterbacks were selected in the first round in the 2006. The first two, Vince Young (3) and Matt Leinart (10), have to be considered busts. (Young played some, so perhaps he should be considered underwhelming, not a bust.) Then there’s Jay Cutler, 11, who’s played at a high level when he’s not hurt. A notable second-round bust was Tarvaris Jackson. The Vikings are one of those teams that just can’t seem to draft a decent quarterback, at least not for a very long time.

JaMarcus Russell was part of a horrible quarterback draft in 2007. Brady Quinn was selected 22 overall, and second-round busts include Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb and John Beck.

In 2008, Matt Ryan (3) and Joe Flacco (18) were picked in the first round, but it sure looks as if Flacco should’ve been the first QB selected. Ryan’s had some good years, but wasn’t very good in 2013, when the Falcons were awful. One hidden gem was seventh-rounder Matt Flynn.

2009’s haul included Stafford at No. 1. He’s made the playoffs once, but had a poor year in 2013 when the Lions had a great chance to win the weakened NFC North, but didn’t. He’s underwhelming as a top pick. But he’s much better than the two who followed.

The No. 5 selection was Mark Sanchez, who’s been horrible after a couple of good early years. You have to label him a bust, and you must wonder if the Jets, like the Vikings, just can’t draft and develop good quarterbacks. And there’s Josh Freeman at 17, who had one good year for the Bucs and then turned rancid. He had one of the worst quarterback nights I’ve ever seen in a putrid Monday night game against the Giants.

Speaking of busts, there’s Tim Tebow. Denver selected him No. 25 in 2010, 24 slots after Bradford. He had one great playoff game. He’s probably done in the NFL, though after the Brett Favre affair you have to be careful about declaring careers over.

The QB draft class of 2011 was full of disappointments. Newton, picked first, has been a good player, but let’s remember his team was poor for several years, until their breakthrough in 2013. He’s improved, and is now in the top tier of signal-callers. That wasn’t true his first few years.

But after Newton, there were Jake Locker at No. 8, who has been underwhelming, Blaine Gabbert at No. 10, terrible, and Christian Ponder at No. 12, a bust.

You have to wonder if the herd mentality infected some executives at the draft that year. All three of those picks were head-scratchers, but none more than the Ponder move.

That same draft, another underwhelmer, Andy Dalton, was picked in the second round. His interceptions have slowed down a very good Bengals team. Oh, yes, and there’s some guy named Colin Kaepernick, also a second-rounder. Not too bad a pick.

In 2012, Luck was followed by RGIII, who’s been a terrific quarterback but was, of course, hurt much of 2013. Ryan Tannehill was a decent pick at  No. 8 and Brandon Weeden a poor one at No. 22. Russell Wilson and Nick Foles were selected in the third round and Kirk Cousins in the fourth. That was a great quarterback class.

The 2013 quarterback class wasn’t too hot. E.J. Manuel was serviceable at No. 16 and second-rounder Geno Smith had an up-and-down year for the Jets. Third-rounder Mike Glennon might’ve been the best of that class. He helped salvage a dismal season for the Bucs.

Of course, with quarterbacks, it’s not enough to draft a guy with talent. Unlike linebackers or linemen, hardly any quarterbacks set the world on fire right from the beginning. (Though one might say that Ryan Leaf did, at least a dumpster blaze.) Signal-callers have to be developed. They have to be great students and they need great teachers.

Still, it’s tough to draft at any position. A brief check of Wikipedia shows that in 2004, for example, eight undrafted players (none quarterbacks) made it to a Pro Bowl.