Here we will look at the NFL Drafts from 1998 up until now (for the sake of this discussion, we will only cover the years in which there was either a quarterback taken first overall, or multiple quarterbacks taken near the top of the draft). Drafting a quarterback at the top of the first round can pay off in a big way. It can also hamstring an organization and set a team back for years.
Pick #1 - Peyton Manning - Indianapolis Colts
Pick #2 - Ryan Leaf - San Diego Chargers
This is a prime example. Everyone has heard the stories and followed the analysis of these picks. They are the epitome of the "feast or famine" nature of drafting quarterbacks high. Both quarterbacks were highly-touted coming out of college, with many scouts and draft "experts" even arguing that Leaf was the superior prospect and would become the better pro. In the end, the Colts chose Manning, leaving Leaf to the Chargers. Both teams believed they had the right quarterback.
Eleven seasons later, Manning continues to build a resume that places him among the best quarterbacks who have ever played and will one day land him a spot in Canton. Manning has never missed a game and owns a 117-59 record, a career quarterback rating of 94.7, and a Super Bowl championship. Leaf, meanwhile, started a whopping 21 games, with a 4-17 record, and ended his NFL career after just four seasons.
Many scouting reports had the two players neck-and-neck, but it was the first quarterback off the board that had success. Leaf helped the already-dreadful Chargers reach new depths of dreadfulness, while making millions of dollars, angering teammates, and shouting at reporters.
So, as we can see from the 1998 draft, it's obviously the first quarterback that hits it big, leaving the quarterbacks selected after him to failure. Right? Actually, no. Have a look at what happened just one year later...
Pick #1 - Tim Couch - Cleveland Browns
Pick #2 - Donovan McNabb - Philadelphia Eagles
Pick #3 - Akili Smith - Cincinnati Bengals
Pick #11 - Daunte Culpepper - Minnesota Vikings
Pick #12 - Cade McNown - Chicago Bears
In the complete opposite results of the previous year's draft, it was the top pick who failed, with the second player going on to tremendous success. Early on, 1999 was hailed as the "Year of the Quarterback," with high expectations for each of the five signal callers selected.
McNabb was the exception to the rule in 1999.
Nick Laham - Getty
Only McNabb has enjoyed consistent, long-term success, battling through injuries to collect five Pro Bowl selections and leading the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game in five of his 10 seasons.
The draft that was supposed to produce a new generation of superstar quarterbacks fell well short of the hype, with more colossal quarterback busts than any other year. Teams seemed to take a year off from picking quarterbacks in the first round next April, with only Chad Pennington being selected in 2000.
Pick #1 - Michael Vick - Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons bought into Vick's billing as the "Michael Jordan-to-be" of the NFL, an athlete who was predicted to forever change the way the quarterback position would be played. Vick's cannon arm, catlike running ability, and electrifying style of play had everyone mesmerized. Everyone, that is, other than the previously-burned San Diego Chargers. Following a 1-15 record (Thanks again, Ryan Leaf!), the Chargers held the top pick in the draft. Whether it was the fear of blowing another high pick on a quarterback failure, or the desire to gain more draft choices in an attempt to better improve the team, or even just good fortune, the Chargers traded out of the top spot and allowed the Falcons to take the bullet.
Despite his flashes of immense talent, Vick eventually became a bust of epic proportions. Early signs of stardom and success led the Falcons to sign Vick to a 10-year, $130 million contract, including $37 million in guarantees - at the time the richest contract in league history. Vick responded by failing to reach the potential he showed early and involving himself in multiple legal scrapes before going the extra mile and shaming himself, the Falcons, and the NFL as a whole when he was exposed as the financier of an illegal and brutal dogfighting ring.
Vick is currently finishing up a federal prison sentence, with only precarious prospects for receiving an opportunity to continue his NFL career in the future. The Chargers, for their part, made off like bandits, dropping down to the fifth spot in the first round to select LaDainian Tomlinson and bouncing back in the second round to select Drew Brees.
So we've seen that it's easy to miss badly when selecting a quarterback in the first round of the draft, but it's clear that when multiple quarterbacks are taken, at least one of them is usually good, right? Well...no, not necessarily...
Pick #1 - David Carr - Houston Texans
Pick #3 - Joey Harrington - Detroit Lions
Pick #32 - Patrick Ramsey - Washington Redskins
The Texans kicked off their franchise by selecting Carr at the top of the draft, and then got down to the important business of allowing him to be pounded mercilessly into the turf. Carr spent five seasons in Houston, and can miraculously still breathe and walk on his own after being sacked a ridiculous 249 times.
David Carr - an example of what happens when it all goes wrong.
Ed Betz - AP
Harrington graded out highly for his game smarts and leadership qualities, but you'd never know it from his NFL career. As the Lions' attempt at a "franchise quarterback," Harrington stumbled his way through four disappointing seasons in Detroit before descending to journeyman/backup duty. At no point in any of his stops around the league has Harrington displayed any evidence that he was worth such lofty draft status and the significant financial investment that comes with it.
Does anyone really want me to list the accomplishments of Patrick Ramsey?
That covers the first five seasons of our look at the hits and misses of quarterbacks selected in the first round. When we get to the more recent adventures (and misadventures) teams have had in the quarterback-drafting department, it doesn't look much more attractive