Young guns chasing legends

With a pair of gaudy Super Bowl rings on their collective fingers, does the 2004 quarterback draft class of Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers compare favorably to the legendary class of 1983? Read on.

The 1983 draft is known as the greatest quarterback draft of all-time.

And it's difficult to argue that it isn't.

Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, John Elway and Dan Marino make it the quarterback draft class that others are measured against.

Though in reality, after the big three, Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien – the other signal callers who were first-rounders in that draft – really aren't much to write home about.

In fact, the 2004 draft – in which the Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger – is quickly approaching favorable comparison to the hallowed 1983 draft.

After Eli Manning led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory to conclude the 2007 season, joining Roethlisberger as a Super Bowl winner, the 2004 quarterback class now has as many championships as the hallowed 1983 group. And both of those Super Bowl victories came at the hand of Elway late in his career.

It would surprise no one if San Diego's Philip Rivers, who joined Manning and Roethlisberger among the top 11 picks of the 2004 draft, won a Super Bowl this season.

Here's a look at the top-five QBs from each of those two draft classes.

1983

Elway: The first pick of the draft by Baltimore, Elway's rights were dealt to Denver after he threatened to play baseball instead. The Stanford star was a nifty scrambler and had a rocket arm. He was also one of the best clutch QBs of all-time and won the only two Super Bowls for this great class. He retired following the 1998 season with 300 touchdown passes and 51,475 yards passing.

Marino: The last quarterback taken in the first round, the former Pitt star made the Steelers regret taking defensive tackle Gabe Rivera instead of the hometown boy for years. In fact, Dan Rooney still claims it as one of the team's biggest mistakes. Marino wasn't a scrambler, but his quick release and arm strength can't be questioned. Marino never won a Super Bowl – despite getting there in his second season, but ranks among the top three in NFL history virtually every meaningful passing statistic. Marino ended his career after the 1999 season with 420 TD passes and 61,361 yards.

Kelly: Though selected with the 14th pick by the Buffalo Bills, Kelly instead decided to join the USFL's Houston Gamblers instead, where he was the trigger man for the explosive run-and-shoot offense. Kelly joined the Bills in 1986 and led the team to four consecutive Super Bowls, all of which were losses. A tough competitor, Kelly was a gutsy, strong-armed leader who always got the most out of his teammates. Kelly hung up his cleats following the 1996 season with 237 touchdown passes and 35,467 yards.

O'Brien: The 24th pick by the New York Jets, O'Brien never reached the heights of Elway, Marino or Kelly. But he was a solid, if unspectacular QB nonetheless. He made two Pro Bowls in his career and finished with 25,094 career yards and 128 touchdown passes.

Eason: Taken one pick after Kelly by New England, Eason led the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1986, where they were destroyed by the Chicago Bears. Eason left the Patriots for the Jets in 1989 and retired following the 1990 season with 11,142 yards and 61 touchdown passes – modest numbers for sure after the big three.

2004

Roethlisberger: Though he was the third QB selected (11th pick overall), Roethlisberger has been a star for the Steelers pretty much from Day 1. He broke Marino's record for passer rating by a rookie at 98.1 and led the Steelers to the AFC Championship that season. He then won a Super Bowl in his second season and owns a career record of 39-16 in the regular season and 5-2 in the playoffs. He's the closest thing to Elway in the NFL since Elway retired. Roethlisberger's 92.5 passer rating would rank among the top 10 of all-time if he had enough pass attempts to qualify, and he's already thrown 84 TD passes with 11,673 yards. Not bad for a guy considered a caretaker his first couple of seasons in the league.

Manning: Before last season, many would have been tempted to put Rivers in this spot. But Manning, the top pick in the 2004 draft – by San Diego, which dealt him to the Giants for the rights to Rivers among other things – turned it on in the second half of last season and won the big prize, a Super Bowl. He's already thrown 77 touchdown passes and has 11,385 yards passing in four seasons. Manning has yet to make a Pro Bowl, but it's only a matter of time.

Rivers: Rivers was selected fourth in 2004 by the Giants and traded to San Diego for Manning. He sat behind Drew Brees for two seasons, but has started the past two years for the Chargers, leading them to a 25-7 record in the regular season – though a 2-2 mark in the playoffs. Though not blessed with great foot speed, Rivers, like Marino, is elusive enough in the pocket and gets rid of the ball quickly enough to avoid a lot of sacks. Despite being a starter for just two seasons, he's already thrown for 6,688 yards and 44 touchdowns.

J.P. Losman: Buffalo swung a deal with Dallas for a second No. 1 pick to select Losman with the 22nd selection. Losman has great athleticism and a strong arm, but his decision-making is questionable. As a result, he owns just a 10-21 career record and is now facing being a backup to second-year QB Trent Edwards in Buffalo. If he can somehow turn his career around at some point, he could help push the 2004 draft class past 1983.

Matt Schaub: The fifth QB taken in the 2004 draft – Atlanta, round three – Schaub spent the early portion of his career backing up Michael Vick. Yeah, I know, how'd that work out, Falcons? Even though he only saw limited playing time, Houston sent its first-round pick and a pair of second-rounders to Atlanta before the 2007 draft to acquire Schaub and a first-round pick. Vick, of course, was then sent to prison for his role in a dog fighting ring, leaving Atlanta without a quarterback. Schaub showed some promise in 2007, but suffered an injury to his left – non-throwing – shoulder that required offseason surgery. Like Losman, if he can become a solid NFL starter, he could push the 2004 class past 2003.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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