NFL draft: How have the most QB-heavy first rounds panned out?

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The quarterback position in the NFL has perhaps never been more important than right now.

In the last decade, teams have been going to more pass-heavy offenses. All of the top 10 league passing seasons in terms of passing yards and passing attempts have come in the past 10 years.

Two of the past three drafts have featured at least four quarterbacks taken in the first round, and the 2021 draft is shaping up to continue that trend.

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, Alabama’s Mac Jones, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance are all projected to be picked in the first round of the draft, and many NFL experts expect Lawrence, Wilson and either Fields, Jones or Lance to be taken with each of the first four picks in the draft.

Of course, odds are that not all five of those quarterbacks will have successful careers. Here’s a look back at how drafts with four or more quarterbacks taken in the first round over the last 20 years have turned out.


Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020.
Don Wright, Associated Press

2020

2020 featured three quarterbacks taken in the first six picks and a surprise move by the Green Bay Packers, who drafted Utah State quarterback Jordan Love as the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers.

Joe Burrow (LSU) — Drafted No. 1 by Cincinnati Bengals

Burrow had one of the best seasons ever as a redshirt senior at LSU, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns with just six interceptions, He led LSU to a perfect season and a national championship and was the clear-cut No. 1.

His rookie season was cut short after 10 games due to a season-ending knee injury. Burrow has all of the tools to be an all-time great NFL quarterback.

Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) — Drafted No. 5 by Miami Dolphins

Tagovailoa led Alabama to a national championship in 2018, coming in during the second half and willing the Tide to victory. Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert were considered neck and neck entering the draft, and Miami elected for Tagovailoa over Herbert. Tagovailoa didn’t wildly impress anyone over his 10 games as a Dolphin, but it’s only his first season in the league. Players like Patrick Mahomes have set an unrealistic standard for quarterback success in Year 1, and most quarterbacks aren’t going to be the MVP in their first year. Tagovailoa will continue to develop and be a good option at QB for the Dolphins.

Justin Herbert (Oregon) — Drafted No. 6 by Los Angeles Chargers

Herbert had the best year of any QB in the 2020 draft, winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, looking more comfortable in his first year in the league. If Herbert continues to play at this rate, he’s going to be a star for many years to come.

Jordan Love (Utah State) — Drafted No. 26 by Green Bay Packers

As expected, Love didn’t play at all in the regular season as Aaron Rodgers had an MVP season and led the Packers to the NFC Championship game. Love is supposed to be next in line to be Packers quarterback, but Rodgers proved that he can still play at an elite level. Love could be waiting for a bit, as Rodgers’ contract with Green Bay turns through 2023.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush
Player From To G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
Joe Burrow 2020 2020 10 2-7-1 264 404 65.3 2688 13 89.8 67 5 32 231 37 142 3 3.8 23
Justin Herbert 2020 2020 15 6-9-0 396 595 66.6 4336 31 98.3 72 10 32 218 55 234 5 4.3 31
Tua Tagovailoa 2020 2020 10 6-3-0 186 290 64.1 1814 11 87.1 35 5 20 136 36 109 3 3.0 17

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen looks to throw against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the NFL AFC championship football game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.
Reed Hoffmann, Associated Press

2018

2018 was a good quarterback draft. Three of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round have been crucial to their teams’ success.

Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) — Drafted No. 1 by Cleveland Browns

Mayfield’s first two seasons were full of highs and lows, but in 2020, he proved how valuable he is to the Browns organization. Mayfield led Cleveland to an 11-5 record and its first playoff win since 1994. Mayfield threw for more than 3,500 yard and tossed 26 touchdowns. He’s proved that he has staying power in the league.

Sam Darnold (USC) — Drafted No. 3 by New York Jets

During Darnold’s three-year tenure with the Jets, New York never had a winning record. He couldn’t put it together with the Jets and had the worst passer rating in the league (72.7) among eligible quarterbacks. Darnold showed flashes of talent and will hope to revitalize his career in Carolina.

Josh Allen (Wyoming) — Drafted No. 7 by Buffalo Bills

Allen probably has the most upside of any quarterback in the draft. He was sensational last season, throwing for over 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. The Bills have tailored their offense to Allen and it paid off last year as Buffalo went to the AFC Championship game and Allen was one of the best quarterbacks that season. Allen is a terrific passer and can air it out with ease.

Josh Rosen (UCLA) — Drafted No. 10 by Arizona Cardinals

Rosen lasted all of one season with Arizona, throwing for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Arizona drafted Kyler Murray in 2019 and Rosen has only appeared in six NFL games since, as a member of the Dolphins in 2019.

Lamar Jackson (Louisville) — Drafted No. 32 by Baltimore Ravens

Jackson was the breakout star from the draft, electrifying audiences with his play in 2019. He started 15 games for the Ravens in 2019 and won the MVP, throwing for over 3,100 yards with 36 touchdowns and also running for seven touchdowns. The combination of running and passing has made Jackson one of the top quarterbacks in the league, though his numbers did take a hit in 2020. The knock on Jackson so far has been his lack of playoff success.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush
Player From To G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
Lamar Jackson 2018 2020 46 30-7-0 606 947 64.0 7085 68 102.6 83 18 68 337 482 2906 19 6.0 50
Josh Allen 2018 2020 44 28-15-0 836 1353 61.8 9707 67 90.4 75 31 92 609 300 1562 25 5.2 45
Baker Mayfield 2018 2020 46 23-22-0 932 1506 61.9 11115 75 89.1 89 43 91 620 121 437 4 3.6 35
Sam Darnold 2018 2020 38 13-25-0 729 1219 59.8 8097 45 78.6 92 39 98 650 114 417 5 3.7 46
Josh Rosen 2018 2019 20 3-13-0 275 502 54.8 2845 12 63.5 75 19 61 413 26 151 0 5.8 33

In this Oct. 2, 2016, file photo, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) passes the ball as Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones (95) closes in during an NFL football game at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Oct. 2, 2016.
Tim Ireland, Associated Press

2012

Out of this group, only Ryan Tannehill is still a starting quarterback today, but Andrew Luck was one of the best quarterbacks of his era and Robert Griffin III showed flashes of greatness.

Andrew Luck (Stanford) — Drafted No. 1 by Indianapolis Colts

The first three seasons of Luck’s career were masterful. He made the Pro Bowl during each of his first three years in the NFL, and in 2014, he threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns, leading the league as one of the premier quarterbacks,

The next three seasons saw Luck struggle with injuries before bouncing back to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2018, leading the Colts to a playoff win and earning another Pro Bowl appearance. He threw 39 touchdowns and appeared to be set up for another great season in 2019 before abruptly retiring in 2019, walking away from football in his prime.

Robert Griffin III (Baylor) — Drafted No. 2 by Washington Football Team

Griffin looked every bit the Heisman winner during his first two seasons for Washington. He threw for 3,200 yards twice in two seasons, and in his rookie campaign, he had a 102.4 passer rating. He led Washington to the 2012 playoffs, Washington’s first appearance since 2007. Griffin’s career would be derailed by injuries. He only started seven games due to injury in 2014, then was replaced as quarterback by Kirk Cousins in 2015 after suffering a concussion in preseason. He was a backup quarterback for the Ravens from 2018-2020, appearing in 14 games.

Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) — Drafted No. 8 by Miami Dolphins

Tannehill has had the longest career of the draft. He played six seasons in Miami, going 42-46. He was never too impressive in Miami, but has enjoyed a career resurgence in Tennessee. He led the Titans to an AFC Championship appearance in 2019 after replacing Marcus Mariota, winning NFL Comeback Player of the Year. In 2020 he had the best season of his career, throwing for 3,819 yards and 33 touchdowns as the Titans went 11-5 in the regular season. Tannehill is signed with Tennessee through the 2023 season.

Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) — Drafted No. 22 by Cleveland Browns

Weeden crashed and burned in the NFL, only lasting one season as the starter for the Browns. He threw 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and was cut by Cleveland in 2014. He never was a starter again.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush
Player From To G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
Robert Griffin III 2012 2020 56 16-26-0 799 1268 63.0 9271 43 86.5 88 30 131 895 307 1809 10 5.9 76
Andrew Luck 2012 2018 86 53-33-0 2000 3290 60.8 23671 171 89.5 87 83 174 1124 332 1590 14 4.8 33
Ryan Tannehill 2012 2020 116 60-54-0 2345 3678 63.8 26995 178 92.0 91 88 303 2270 334 1661 17 5.0 48
Brandon Weeden 2012 2018 35 6-19-0 559 965 57.9 6462 31 76.0 95 30 66 452 62 200 1 3.2 25

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) passes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.
Mike McCarn, Associated Press

2011

Cam Newton was the star of this draft, carving out a nine-year career and three Pro Bowl appearances with the Panthers

Cam Newton (Auburn) — Drafted No. 1 by Carolina Panthers

Newton transformed the Panthers, leading the team to its first playoff win since 2005 in 2014 and guiding the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2015. He won the MVP that same year when the Panthers went 15-1, ultimately losing to the Denver Broncos.

There’s no denying that for a stretch, Newton was one of the best signal-callers in the game During his time in Carolina, he never threw below 3,000 yards and was a force of nature in 2015, throwing for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushing for 10 more.

Newton’s injuries slowed down his success, with his interceptions increasing every year. Carolina only made the playoffs once after 2015, losing in the 2017 wild card game.

His 2019 season was cut short after two games due to an injury and he was traded to New England. The Patriots went 7-8 with Newton as a starter, and he threw 10 interceptions to just 8 touchdowns. He signed a one-year deal with New England for 2021.

Jake Locker (Washington) — Drafted No. 8 by Tennessee Titans

Locker didn’t do much during his four-year NFL career. In 2012, he started 11 games, going 4-7 with 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 56% completion rate. In 2013, his season was cut short with a leg injury and he was cut following the 2014 season, when he started seven games. He never played in the NFL again.

Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) — Drafted No. 10 by Jacksonville Jaguars

Gabbert had two starting seasons in Jacksonville, but with a completion percentage of 50.8% during his first year and a completion percentage of 58.3%, and a season-ending injury in his second season. He’s carved out a role as a journeyman backup, playing in San Francisco, Arizona and Tennessee. He was part of Tampa Bay’s 2020 Super Bowl team.

Christian Ponder (Florida State) — Drafted No. 12 by Minnesota Vikings

Ponder led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012, only to have to sit out the team’s playoff game against the Packers. The 2012 season was a success for Ponder, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he threw seven touchdowns and nine interceptions the following season. He went 2-6-1 as a starter and was released following the 2014 season. He has not appeared in an NFL game since.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush
Player From To G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
Cam Newton 2011 2020 140 75-63-1 2613 4348 60.1 31698 190 85.8 91 118 322 2394 1071 5398 70 5.0 72
Christian Ponder 2011 2014 38 14-21-1 632 1057 59.8 6658 38 75.9 72 36 95 501 126 639 7 5.1 29
Blaine Gabbert 2011 2020 60 13-35-0 851 1514 56.2 9206 50 72.3 80 47 139 923 186 647 3 3.5 44
Jake Locker 2011 2014 30 9-14-0 408 709 57.5 4967 27 79.0 71 22 60 378 95 644 5 6.8 39

This Feb. 3, 2008, file photo shows New York Giants’ Rich Seubert, left, and David Diehl holding back a New England Patriots defender as quarterback Eli Manning throws during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII football game in Glendale, Ariz.
Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

2004

The best quarterback draft on the list. Two Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and one borderline Hall of Famer.

Eli Manning (Mississippi) — Drafted No. 1 by San Diego Chargers, traded on draft night to New York Giants

Manning spent 16 years with the Giants, going exactly .500 — 117-117. He had a career 60% completion percentage, threw for over 57,000 yards. He tossed 366 touchdowns and 244 interceptions. Manning is a Giants legend and holds much of the franchise’s passing records. He was durable, never missing a game due to injury.

His claim to fame is beating Tom Brady’s Patriots not once, but twice. He was the Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XLII, where he led the Giants on a game-winning, last-second drive to upset the undefeated Patriots, and created one of the best moments in Super Bowl history when he escaped sacks and launched a ball to David Tyree, who caught it on his helmet to keep the Giants alive.

Manning also won Super Bowl XLVI, beating New England 21-17 with yet another last-minute comeback, winning the Super Bowl MVP again.

Phillip Rivers (North Carolina State) — Drafted No. 4 by New York Giants, traded on draft night to San Diego Chargers

Rivers may be known as “The Best Quarterback Never to Go to a Super Bowl.” Rivers ranks fifth in NFL history in passing yards (63,440) and touchdowns (421) and started every regular season game between 2006 and 2020, an amazing 240 games.

Tutored in college by former BYU and Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow, Rivers shattered all the NC State passing records. But many NFL scouts were wary of his ability to throw a fast ball, along with his sidearm motion. He ended up with nearly all the Chargers passing marks after 15 years with the franchise and holds an NFL record for the most consecutive completions in a game (25).

Rivers was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times.

Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, Ohio) — Drafted No. 11 by Pittsburgh Steelers

Big Ben started his career off with a bang as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and the next season became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at the age of 23 when the Steelers beat Seattle 21-10 in Super Bowl XL. He won another title in Super Bowl XLIII and reached his third Big Game in XLV when Green Bay beat his Steelers.

At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Roethlisberger has always been tough to bring down and his arm has been consistently reliable. He is in the top 12 all-time for passer rating, yards per attempt, and completion percentage. More than all the stats, he is probably most proud of his career winning percentage of .710 as a starter, which puts him in the top five of NFL QBs with at least 100 starts.

Roethlisberger was the comeback kid with 20 come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter with 20 before he had his 30th birthday. He’s not done yet. Big Ben just signed a contract last month for the 2021 season to further burnish or tarnish his Hall of Fame resume.

J.P. Losman (Tulane) — Drafted No. 22 by Buffalo BIlls

Losman is the lost man of the noteworthy 2004 draft. He played for seven seasons, mostly with the Bills and never lived up to being Drew Bledsoe’s eventual successor. He broke his leg in his first training camp and never found the accuracy he displayed in college and pre-draft camps when he got chances to play. By far his best year was 2006 when he started all 16 games for the Bills and was top-10 in some categories but Buffalo finished 7-9.

Losman’s pro football shining moment came when he won a championship for the Las Vegas Locomotives in the inaugural season (2009) of the United Football League.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush
Player From To G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
Philip Rivers 2004 2020 244 134-106-0 5277 8134 64.9 63440 421 95.2 84 209 464 2832 383 601 3 1.6 18
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 2020 233 156-74-1 5050 7838 64.4 60348 396 94.0 97 201 516 3438 495 1368 19 2.8 31
Eli Manning 2004 2019 236 117-117-0 4895 8119 60.3 57023 366 84.1 99 244 411 2870 315 567 7 1.8 18
J.P. Losman 2004 2011 45 10-23-0 564 952 59.2 6271 33 75.6 87 34 108 789 105 490 3 4.7 30

In this Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 file photo, Arizona Cardinals’ Carson Palmer throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia.
Michael Perez, Associated Press

2003

The 2003 draft was quarterback-rich but only one of the first round had a highly successful career in the league.

Carson Palmer (USC) — Drafted No. 1 by Cincinnati Bengals

After winning the Heisman Trophy at USC, Palmer actually sat on the bench his rookie season for the lowly Bengals. But he started the next year and in 2005 led them to their first winning season and playoff appearance in 15 years. During his eight seasons in Cincinnati, Palmer was selected to two Pro Bowls. In 2015 he went to the Pro Bowl as an Arizona Cardinal.

He only won one playoff game in his prolific career — with Arizona, which inducted him into the Cardinals Ring of Honor. By the time he retired after the 2017 season, he was 12th all-time in passing yards (46,247) and touchdowns (294).

Byron Leftwich (Marshall) — Drafted No. 7 by Jacksonville Jaguars

After starring at Marshall when ESPN made MACtion must-see TV on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Leftwich took over as the Jags’ starting QB in the fourth game of his rookie season. But a few devastating ankle injuries and spotty play on the field ended his tenure with Jacksonville after four years.

He had stints with Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh and finished his career with 10,532 passing yards but became more known for his knowledge of the game than his performance on the field. He is currently the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his name seems to come up in every head coaching search.

Kyle Boller (Cal) — Drafted No. 19 by Baltimore Ravens

Boller started some games in his rookie season and then started every game in the 2004 campaign. He played five seasons with the Ravens and is in second place all-time on Baltimore’s passing yards list, but they found their most success in the Boller era when Steve McNair took over as the starting QB.

Boller shined brightest in 2005 when he led the Ravens to back-to-back primetime wins over the Packers and Vikings. But the highlights were few and far between. Boller played a few games with the Rams and the Raiders before he retired in 2012.

Rex Grossman (Florida) — Drafted No. 22 by Chicago Bears

Grossman’s first three seasons with the Bears were riddled with injuries. Besides the 2006 season in Chicago and 2011 season with Washington, he was primarily a backup QB. Grossman loved throwing the long ball and took a gunslinger mentality to the position which gave him 56-60 TD-INT ratio for his career.

He has two dubious NFL records: the lowest passer rating (1.3) for a winning QB with at least 15 passing attempts when the Bears beat the Vikings in 2006 and he became the first player to throw more interceptions than completions with at least 10 pass attempts (2-12 with 3 picks and just 33 yards) in a loss to the Packers.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush
Player From To G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
Carson Palmer 2004 2017 182 92-88-1 3941 6307 62.5 46247 294 87.9 91 187 340 2364 301 474 8 1.6 16
Byron Leftwich 2003 2012 60 24-26-0 930 1605 57.9 10532 58 78.9 84 42 92 452 137 415 10 3.0 31
Rex Grossman 2003 2012 54 25-22-0 863 1562 55.2 10232 56 71.4 64 60 92 698 81 106 4 1.3 22
Kyle Boller 2003 2011 67 20-27-0 861 1519 56.7 8931 48 69.5 77 54 123 802 176 572 2 3.3 20
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