With the NFL Draft approaching, and all expectations are that it’s going to see a lot of quarterbacks taken, we should breakdown some of the biggest busts in NFL draft history, the biggest successes of first round draft picks and, hopefully, this helps fans decide how they should feel about whether their team should take a quarterback or not in the upcoming 2023 NFL draft.

It is important to note that while first-round quarterbacks are often expected to perform well due to their high draft status and the resources invested in them, one must remember that success in the NFL is far from guaranteed. Many factors such as the player’s skill set (obviously), work ethic, supporting cast, coaching, and injury history can all play a role in determining a quarterback’s success in the NFL. Some high first-round quarterbacks have become franchise players (Peyton Manning comes to mind) and Pro Bowlers, while others have struggled or been unable to live up to expectations. Before getting too excited about your team drafting a quarterback, briefly consider some of these names you’ve head before:

  • Ryan Leaf is considered one of the prime examples of “bust” due to his lack of production and attitude problems during his time in the NFL. Despite being drafted 2nd overall in 1998, Leaf struggled on (and off) the field and had a limited impact on the teams he played for. He also had issues with his behavior and work ethic, which hurt his development as a player.
  • JaMarcus Russell was the first overall pick in 2007 and was expected to be a franchise quarterback, but he struggled with accuracy, decision-making, and work ethic. He was unable to establish himself as a starting quarterback in the league and was out of the NFL just a few years later.
  • Tim Couch was the first overall pick in 1999 but was unable to live up to the expectations that came with that draft position. He had a limited impact on the Cleveland Browns and was eventually replaced as the starting quarterback.
  • Akili Smith was drafted 3rd overall in 1999 but struggled to adjust to the NFL game and was unable to establish himself as a starting quarterback. He had a short career and is considered one of the biggest busts of all time.
  • Joey Harrington was drafted 3rd overall in 2002 and was expected to be a franchise quarterback, but he struggled with consistency and was unable to establish himself as a long-term starter in the NFL. He played for several teams over the course of his career, but never reached the level of success that was expected of him.

However there are two sides to this coin as many first round quarterbacks have not just worked out but become some of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. Let’s take a look at a few.

Best NFL Quarterbacks Taken In The First Round

Here’s a small sampling of quarterbacks that were taken in the first round and they did pretty good themselves:

  • Peyton Manning: Selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL Draft, Manning has the most career passing yards of any player in NFL history with 71,940 yards.
  • Drew Brees: Selected 32nd overall by the San Diego Chargers in the 2001 NFL Draft, Brees ranks third in career passing yards with 71,740 yards.
  • Eli Manning: Selected first overall by the San Diego Chargers in the 2004 NFL Draft, Eli Manning ranks 14th in career passing yards with 57,023 yards.
  • Philip Rivers: Selected fourth overall by the New York Giants in the 2004 NFL Draft and subsequently traded to the Chargers in an infamous trade night deal. Rivers had a long and successful career and now ranks fifth in career passing yards with 59,271 yards.

To Trade Back Or Not?

Whether an NFL team should trade back or take a quarterback in the first round depends on a variety of factors and is a decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis. Recent bias seems replete with examples of where teams attempted to go all in on a big trade to snag their quarterback, only to leave their team in a less than enviable position.

Trading back in the first round can provide a team with additional draft capital, which can be used to acquire additional players and help address multiple needs. With the rookie pay scale where it is, this can be a beneficial strategy for teams that are looking to build a strong and deep roster. Rookies, especially those drafted after the first round, are essentially gold if they work out because they provide a team with starting players who are paid for less than fair market value dictates.

On the other hand, taking a quarterback in the first round can provide a team with a franchise quarterback, which is one of the most valuable assets in the NFL. A top-tier quarterback can elevate the play of the entire team and provide stability at the most important position on the field for many years to come.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to trade back or take a quarterback in the first round will depend on the team’s specific needs, the available players in the draft, and the team’s overall draft strategy. A team’s front office and coaching staff will need to weigh the pros and cons of each option and make a decision that is best for the long-term success of the franchise.