In the wake of the Cleveland Browns deciding to cut ties with two-year bust Johnny Manziel, the focus is once again back on the risks and rewards of taking quarterbacks in the first round of the draft.
There seemed to be a changing of opinion back in 2008 when the two quarterbacks taken in the first round – Matt Ryan by Atlanta and Joe Flacco of Baltimore – both enjoyed almost immediate success that, for the most part, has sustained throughout their careers.
But in the years since, the success rate of quarterbacks drafted in the first round has been greeted with fanfare and ended in skepticism. It isn’t fair to include 2015’s top two picks – Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota – because the Bucs and Titans had the first two picks for a very simple reason.
Both teams stunk in 2014, thus earning the top two picks in the 2015 draft.
But for those who have been in the league two years or more, the success rate has been painfully light, making Teddy Bridgewater’s appearance in the playoffs last season a shining light in an otherwise cloudy recent past.
2014 – Three quarterbacks were taken in the first round – Blake Bortles (No. 3, Jacksonville), Manziel (No. 22, Cleveland) and Bridgewater (No. 32, Minnesota). Bortles put up impressive numbers last year, but some of that can be attributed to a defense that was so dismal the Jags were often behind and forced to throw and put up gaudy numbers. That being said, Bortles has the chops to be an elite quarterback if the team puts enough around him. Manziel partied his way out of the league. Bridgewater has the rare success of being a playoff QB, but most would admit that the Vikings didn’t get to the playoffs based on Bridgewater’s play, so the jury is still somewhat out on his potential to be a top-10 quarterback.
2013 – There was only one QB taken in the first round – E.J. Manuel at No. 16 to Buffalo. He got usurped last year by former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor and, if the Bills are going to get to the playoffs, it will likely not be Manuel who gets them there.
2012 – A big year for quarterbacks, with three going in the first eight picks and four going in the first round – Andrew Luck (No. 1, Indianapolis), Robert Griffin III III (No. 2, Washington), Ryan Tannehill (No. 8, Miami) and Brandon Weeden (No. 22, Cleveland). Luck’s success shouldn’t come as any surprise. Most scouts said there wasn’t a higher grade on a college QB heading into the draft since John Elway a generation earlier. Yet, Luck hasn’t been able to get his Colts team over the hump just yet. RG3 looked like a game-changer as a rookie, but injuries derailed his career early and a head coach with no faith in him took care of the rest. The fact that his strongest supporter – former head coach Mike Shanahan – oversaw the drafting of Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the same draft should speak to the reservations even the Redskins had about Griffin’s NFL effectiveness. Tannehill has the ability, but has yet to prove that he can be a consistent winner. Weeden, like so many things in Cleveland, made no sense. He was too old and too pedestrian coming to a bad team to ever be a success. It’s another even-numbered year, so apparently Cleveland will take another quarterback. Unfortunately for them, they were so bad in 2015 that they’re picking second.
2011 – Another year with four quarterbacks taken and Vikings fans can probably name them and the spots in which they were taken – Cam Newton (No. 1, Carolina), Jake Locker (No. 8, Tennessee), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10, Jacksonville) and Christian Ponder (No. 12, Minnesota). Newton got his team to the Super Bowl, but has always been a frontrunner – when his team is winning, he’s one of the best, but when they’re losing he tends to make a bad situation worse. He didn’t have to worry about the latter last year, so there’s little argument that the Dab Man is a success. Locker was derailed by injuries, liked the guaranteed money he got and walked away from the game. Gabbert (a.k.a. Sunshine) was a bust in Jacksonville, but has found a new life in San Francisco, even though it didn’t translate into wins. Not much needs to be said about Ponder, who couldn’t find work even though QBs were dropping like rib bones at a Fourth of July picnic last season.
2010 – Only two quarterbacks were taken in the first round, but both were talkers – Sam Bradford (No. 1, St. Louis) and Tim Tebow (No. 25, Denver). Bradford was the last No. 1 pick to get an absurd rookie contract prior to revisions to the league CBA. His contract was worth more than those of Luck and RG3 combined. In fact, his guaranteed money was on par with what they got combined in total salary. Say what you want about Tebow, but all he did was win games. His only season as a starter in 2011, he led Denver to the postseason and an overtime playoff win. He stunk like hot garbage as an NFL quarterback, but his team found ways to win ugly before the league blackballed him.
2009 – It was the year where the temporary enthusiasm that Matty Ice and Joe Cool brought in 2008 got franchises more concerned about taking quarterbacks. Three went in the first round that year – Matthew Stafford (No. 1, Detroit), Mark Sanchez (No. 5, New York Jets) and Josh Freeman (No. 17, Tampa Bay). Say what you want about Stafford, in 95 career starts, he has a record of 42-53. He hasn’t elevated the franchise, despite having a Hall of Famer in Calvin Johnson his entire career. His career winning percentage is worse than Derek Anderson, Shaun Hill, Matt Schaub, Brian Hoyer and Sanchez. That’s not a who’s-who. It’s a who’s-that. The best thing that can be said about Sanchez was that, after the Jets traded up (!) to No. 5 to take him, agent Bus Cook made a call and asked the Jets front office that, if they didn’t mind, could they cut his client from Hattiesburg so he could potentially seek out other playing opportunities. We all know how that turned out. Freeman was a player with a world of talent, but no passion for the game. He wanted to visit the Louvre more than he wanted to visit the team facility and it showed.
If you’ve seen the NFL’s official website, you know that the countdown is underway – an even 47 days and change out. Between now and then, the virtues of Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch will be so hyperbolized that you will think that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger were coming off the board.
Given the hit and miss rate of first-round QBs since the salad days of Ryan and Flacco, it would seem safe to assume that two of the three will never amount to much of anything and the potential exists that all three won’t be any great shakes when viewed in hindsight years from now.