Home run or heartbreak?

Tim Couch or Donovan McNabb? Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf? Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer? You just never know. Those three groups of quarterbacks were taken with the top two picks of the NFL draft in 1999, 1998 and 1993. McNabb, Manning and Bledsoe each went on to become Pro Bowl stars and franchise QBs. Couch, Leaf and Mirer each became bitter busts for their teams. Here, a <i>SFI</i> analysis of all QBs drafted in the past 15 years indicates taking one early is strictly a hit-or-miss proposition.

Which leads the 49ers to this consequential question regarding the team's No. 1 overall selection in the April draft:

Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith?

The Niners are leaning toward taking one of those top QB prospects with their first selection this year, if they are unable to work a trade for the pick.

But the team must be wary of making the wrong choice. SFI's analysis of the past 15 college drafts reveals that selecting a quarterback that high – or anywhere in the first round, for that matter – never can be considered anything close to a sure thing.

And, while the teams that get it right usually are rewarded with a quality NFL starter, the Niners must also beware of these startling facts:

Since 1990, none of the 46 quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds of the draft have won a Super Bowl for the team that picked them. And, since 1984, only one of the 57 quarterbacks that fall into that category – Troy Aikman, the No. 1 overall selection by Dallas in 1989 – has led his team to a Super Bowl championship.

Conversely, it usually is vital that a team gets its starting quarterback somewhere high in the draft. This was illustrated during the past season, when three of the four starting quarterbacks in the 2005 Conference Championship games were former first-round selections.

And, as the following 15-year breakdown clearly shows, if a team doesn't find a quality starting QB for the future in the early rounds, it will be lucky to find him at any point later in the draft.

2004

First quarterback selected: Eli Manning, San Diego, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Manning

QB draft analysis: Sure, Big Ben Roethlisberger had a spectacular debut season, leading Pittsburgh to a 15-1 record and the AFC title game, winning Rookie of the Year honors and compiling a 98.1 QB rating. But the feeling here is that Manning still is the better QB and will be the better pro. He started to come on at the end of last season after struggling when he took over an inept New York Giants offense at midseason. Philip Rivers, traded to San Diego in the swap for Manning of Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks, may also develop into a top pro but didn't get the opportunities provided to Manning and Roethlisberger because of Drew Brees' emergence with the Chargers. J.P. Losman (No. 22 in first round) appears ready to take over in Buffalo after his rookie season was stymied by a broken leg. Another QB wasn't taken until Atlanta used the No. 90 pick in the third on Matt Schaub, who got few chances with Michael Vick around. Luke McCown (No. 106 in fourth round by Cleveland), Craig Krenzel (No. 148 in fifth round by Chicago) and John Navarre (No. 202 in seventh round by Arizona) all got brief shots with their respective teams but failed to distinguish themselves. The 49ers took Cody Pickett with the No. 217 pick in the seventh round, and he may get his shot this year to figure in the team's future plans at the position.

2003

First quarterback selected: Carson Palmer, Cincinnati, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville, No. 7 overall in first round

QB draft analysis: This already is shaping up as a weak QB draft which may ultimately produce no more than two quality NFL starters – if that. Despite his No. 1 overall status, Palmer sat and watched his entire rookie season behind journeyman Jon Kitna before taking over as the starter last season. Leftwich had marginally better statistics than Palmer in 2004, but he looks like more of a leader at the position and had a better passer rating – 82.2 to Palmer's 77.3 – while working with a corps of receivers that was far inferior to Cincinnati's. The other first-round QBs – No. 19 Kyle Boller (Baltimore) and No. 22 Rex Grossman (Chicago) – are now entrenched as their team's starting QBs, though neither has done much to justify that status besides getting selected in the first round. The only other QBs that have done anything so far are Chris Simms of Tampa Bay (No. 97 in third round) and Ken Dorsey (No. 241 in seventh round), who started seven games for the 49ers in 2004 but finished with the second-lowest passer rating of any QB who qualified for the NFL rankings.

2002

First quarterback selected: David Carr, Houston, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Carr

QB draft analysis: Carr's development in 2004 during his third season as a starter with the expansion Texans suggests that he will be a good NFL quarterback, but he still has a way to go to justify being the No. 1 overall pick. Harrington, conversely, was selected two spots later at No. 3 but already is on his way to possible bust status after two shaky seasons as a starter. Patrick Ramsey, the other first-rounder taken at No. 32 by Washington, has done little in three seasons. Josh McCown (No. 81 in third round by Arizona) became an undistinguished starter for the Cards in 2004 while David Garrard (No. 108 in fourth round by Jacksonville) and Rohan Davey (No. 117 in fourth round by New England) have developed into quality backups. Brandon Doman, selected with the No. 163 pick in the fifth round by the 49ers, never threw a pass in three seasons with the team and now is out of the NFL.

2001

First quarterback selected: Michael Vick, Atlanta, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Vick

QB draft analysis: Vick is still developing, but he's a superstar in the making and already presents the greatest rushing threat by a quarterback in NFL history. Drew Brees was the next QB taken with the first pick of the second round (No. 32) by San Diego, and his breakout season of 2004 suggests he'll be a quality NFL starter. But nobody else from this class falls into that category. Quincy Carter (Dallas, No. 53) and Marques Tuiasosopo (Oakland, No. 59) haven't lived up to their second-round status. Fourth-rounders Chris Weinke (Carolina, No. 106), Sage Rosenfels (Washington, No. 125) and Jesse Palmer (New York Giants, No. 125) have had little impact, though Palmer broke some hearts as "The Bachelor." Fifth-rounders Mike McMahon (Detroit, No. 149) and A.J. Feeley (Philadelphia, No. 155) rank only behind Vick and Brees in this class.

2000

First quarterback selected: Chad Pennington, New York Jets, No. 18 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Tom Brady, New England, No. 199 selection in sixth round

QB draft analysis: This year was an aberration as two outstanding NFL starters – Brady and Marc Bulger (No. 168 by New Orleans) – were still around to be found in the sixth round. After Pennington – now a quality NFL starter – was selected, another QB wasn't taken until the 49ers picked Gio Carmazzi at No. 65 in the third round. Carmazzi never threw a pass for the team, but Tim Rattay – selected at No. 212 in the seventh round – became the team's regular starter last year.

1999

First quarterback selected: Tim Couch, Cleveland, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Donovan McNabb, No. 2 selection in first round

QB draft analysis: This year displayed how unpredictable it can be to take a QB in the first round – both at the top and middle of the round. Couch, McNabb and Akili Smith (Cincinnati) were taken with the top three selections. McNabb became a star, but Couch and Smith both turned out to be huge busts. Daunte Culpepper, taken at No. 11 by Minnesota, also has become a Pro Bowler, but Cade McNown – taken one pick later by Chicago – already is out of the league after making no impact. Shaun King (No. 50 in second round) had some moments with Tampa Bay and Aaron Brooks (No. 131 in fourth round by Green Bay) became a solid starter in New Orleans.

1998

First quarterback selected: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Manning

QB draft analysis: There was great debate this year between Manning and Ryan Leaf, who went No. 2 overall to San Diego and later became one of the biggest busts in NFL history. Brian Griese (No. 91 in third round by Denver) is the only other QB from this crop to make an impact as Charlie Batch (No. 60 in second round by Detroit) came and went without making any noise.

1997

First quarterback selected: Jim Druckenmiller, San Francisco, No. 26 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Jake Plummer, Arizona, No. 42 selection in second round

QB draft analysis: Bill Walsh suggested taking Plummer, but the 49ers whiffed instead by taking Druckenmiller to be their QB of the future. He was gone by 1999, having done nothing for the team. Plummer has been erratic but is an effective starter. Danny Wuerffel (No. 99 in third round by New Orleans) bounced around for a while, and Koy Detmer (No. 207 in seventh round) became a quality backup in Philadelphia.

1996

First quarterback selected: Tony Banks, St. Louis, No. 42 overall selection in second round

Best quarterback selected: Banks

QB draft analysis: Talk about lousy years to draft a quarterback. Just two were selected in the first three rounds, and Banks – a marginal starter with four different teams – turned out to be the cream of the crop. None of the other seven QBs taken in this draft made any impact whatsoever.

1995

First quarterback selected: Steve McNair, Houston, No. 3 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: McNair

QB draft analysis: McNair became a bona fide star. Kerry Collins, taken two picks after McNair, battled problems off the field, but took Carolina to a NFC Championship Game and the New York Giants to a Super Bowl. Kordell Stewart (No. 60 in second round) made "Slash" a household football term and took Pittsburgh to a AFC title game. Eric Zeier (No. 84 in third round by Cleveland) and Rob Johnson (No. 99 in fourth round by Jacksonville) each had a few moments as starters before fading.

1994

First quarterback selected: Heath Shuler, Washington, No. 3 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Trent Dilfer, Tampa Bay, No. 6 selection in first round

QB draft analysis: After Shuler and Dilfer were grabbed early, another QB wasn't chosen until the fourth round and only five QBs were taken in the first six rounds. Shuler was a bust, but Dilfer won a Super Bowl and has started for three teams. Jim Miller (No. 178 in sixth round by Pittsburgh) and Gus Frerotte (No. 197 in seventh round by Washington) each became journeyman starters.

1993

First quarterback selected: Drew Bledsoe, New England, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Bledsoe

QB draft analysis: Bledsoe hit it relatively big in New England, reaching Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl with the Patriots. But Rick Mirer, taken one pick later by Seattle, had an undistinguished journeyman career that included two seasons with the 49ers. Three quality starters were found in the later rounds – Mark Brunell (No. 118 in fifth round by Green Bay), Elvis Grbac (No. 219 in eighth round by 49ers) and Trent Green (No. 222 in eighth round by San Diego).

1992

First quarterback selected: David Klingler, Cincinnati, No. 6 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Brad Johnson, Minnesota, No. 227 selection in ninth round

QB draft analysis: Klingler was a bust, and Tommy Maddox – the other first-rounder taken No. 25 by Denver – also crapped out before resurrecting his career recently in Pittsburgh. Johnson won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay after some productive seasons with Minnesota. Jeff Blake (No. 166 in sixth round by New York Jets) is the only other QB in this crop to do anything, though Ty Detmer (No. 230 in ninth round by Green Bay) had some moments as a backup.

1991

First quarterback selected: Dan McGwire, Seattle, No. 16 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: Brett Favre, Atlanta, No. 33 selection in second round

QB draft analysis: McGwire, baseball slugger Mark's little brother, never made it. Todd Marinovich – the other first-rounder selected No. 24 by the Raiders – also was a notable bust. Favre won a Super Bowl, reached another and still is going strong after establishing himself as one of the greatest QBs of all time. Scott Zolak (No. 84 in fourth round by New England) is the only other QB to make any impact.

1990

First quarterback selected: Jeff George, Indianapolis, No. 1 overall selection in first round

Best quarterback selected: George

QB draft analysis: George had some big statistical years, but his lukewarm career never lived up to being an overall No. 1. Andre Ware, taken No. 7 overall by Detroit, was a huge bust. They were the only QBs taken until the third round. Neil O'Donnell (No. 70 in third round by Pittsburgh) started in a Super Bowl for the Steelers and Scott Mitchell (No. 93 in fourth round by Miami) and John Friesz (No. 138 in sixth round by San Diego) both had some productive moments as starters.


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