Taking a look at QB-heavy draft classes, and why the best isn't always the guy who goes highest

Taking a look at QB-heavy draft classes, and why the best isn't always the guy who goes highest

Justin Fields won’t go first, but will he be the best?
Justin Fields won’t go first, but will he be the best?
Image: Getty Images

In a quarterback league, this year’s NFL Draft looks like one of the most quarterback-rich talent pools in history. We know that Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 pick for the Jaguars, and after him, it’s likely that the Jets and 49ers will select signal callers, making this the first draft with quarterbacks going 1-2-3 since Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith in 1999.

But whom to pick? There are cases to be made for Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, and Zach Wilson, all projected as top-10 picks. We know there will be busts. There always are. Just look back to ’99, with Couch and Smith. But an even better question is, will somebody outside of the top three wind up coming away with the best quarterback of this draft?

History may be our guide to answering this. Let’s take a look back at the times that multiple quarterbacks have gone among the draft’s top five picks, and who wound up being the best QB of those draft classes, going back to that 1999 group.

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2020: Joe Burrow (1, Bengals), Tua Tagovailoa (5, Dolphins)

2020: Joe Burrow (1, Bengals), Tua Tagovailoa (5, Dolphins)

Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow
Image: Getty Images

It’s obviously too early to declare who wound up being the cream of the crop, but Justin Herbert (6, Chargers) had the best rookie season of last year’s first-round quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts (53, Eagles) has a chance to be special, and Jordan Love (26, Packers) hasn’t even gotten on the field yet. Burrow did look really good before tearing up his knee, and Tagovailoa did have some success while splitting time with Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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2018: Baker Mayfield (1, Browns), Sam Darnold (3, Jets)

2018: Baker Mayfield (1, Browns), Sam Darnold (3, Jets)

Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield
Image: Getty Images

Most of the league thought that Lamar Jackson (32, Ravens) couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL, and he won an MVP in his first year as a starter. The door isn’t closed on Mayfield having the best overall career, but he has to compete not only with Jackson, but also Josh Allen (7, Bills) while Darnold is getting a fresh start with the Panthers.

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2016: Jared Goff (1, Rams), Carson Wentz (2, Eagles)

2016: Jared Goff (1, Rams), Carson Wentz (2, Eagles)

Jared Goff
Jared Goff
Image: Getty Images

Wentz has a Super Bowl ring from the Eagles for a title that Nick Foles won. Goff got to a Super Bowl and led one of the worst offensive performances in the game’s history. Dak Prescott (135, Cowboys) has been miles better than both. The other first-rounder was Paxton Lynch (26, Broncos), and the next-best quarterbacks after Prescott, Goff, and Wentz are Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. So, it’s a three-way race where you’d have to favor Prescott.

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2015: Jameis Winston (1, Buccaneers), Marcus Mariota (2, Titans)

2015: Jameis Winston (1, Buccaneers), Marcus Mariota (2, Titans)

Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston
Image: Getty Images

Yikes. Winston being clearly the best here is an indictment of a draft class from which the only quarterbacks to record touchdown passes in the NFL after the top two picks were Bryce Petty (103, Jets), Brett Hundley (147, Packers), and Trevor Siemian (250, Broncos).

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2012: Andrew Luck (1, Colts), Robert Griffin III (2, Football Team)

2012: Andrew Luck (1, Colts), Robert Griffin III (2, Football Team)

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck
Image: Getty Images

The best quarterback out of the draft class wound up being Russell Wilson (75, Seahawks), and after that, you can have a spirited debate about how much Luck’s injuries should factor against him. But however you slice it, the best quarterback was a third-rounder, followed by some order of Luck, Kirk Cousins (102, Football Team), and Ryan Tannehill (8, Dolphins), with Nick Foles (88, Eagles) also winding up far ahead of Griffin.

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2009: Matthew Stafford (1, Lions), Mark Sanchez (5, Jets)

2009: Matthew Stafford (1, Lions), Mark Sanchez (5, Jets)

Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford
Image: Getty Images

Another very weak year for quarterbacks, as Stafford was very clearly head and shoulders above the rest. Feel free to debate between Sanchez and Josh Freeman (17, Buccaneers) for who was second-best — Sanchez did get to two conference title games, but also, the butt fumble. Julian Edelman (232, Patriots) went 6-for-6 with a TD pass in his career, so maybe he was the second-best.

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2004: Eli Manning (1, Chargers), Philip Rivers (4, Giants)

2004: Eli Manning (1, Chargers), Philip Rivers (4, Giants)

Eli Manning
Eli Manning
Image: Getty Images

Obviously, Manning and Rivers were traded for each other immediately after being picked. Ben Roethlisberger (11, Steelers) also was under consideration as a top pick, but it didn’t shake out that way. Rivers has the most Pro Bowl appearances of the trio, while Manning and Roethlisberger got two rings apiece. The top three projected QBs were the top three QBs, for sure, and the Raiders whiffed big time by drafting offensive tackle Robert Gallery at No. 2.

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2002: David Carr (1, Texans), Joey Harrington (3, Lions)

2002: David Carr (1, Texans), Joey Harrington (3, Lions)

David Carr
David Carr
Image: Getty Images

The top two picks each threw more career picks than touchdowns. This wasn’t a great QB class, but David Garrard (108, Jaguars) made a Pro Bowl and Josh McCown (81, Cardinals) is somehow still in the league.

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1999: Tim Couch (1, Browns), Donovan McNabb (2, Eagles), Akili Smith (3, Bengals)

1999: Tim Couch (1, Browns), Donovan McNabb (2, Eagles), Akili Smith (3, Bengals)

Tim Couch
Tim Couch
Image: Getty Images

McNabb was far and away the best, but what’s interesting is that not only isn’t it close among the top three, the next-best quarterbacks in the draft also weren’t in the top three. That would be Daunte Culpepper (11, Vikings) and Aaron Brooks (131, Packers).

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Epilogue

Epilogue

Trevor Lawrence
Trevor Lawrence
Image: Getty Images

Each year has its own story and every quarterback has their own reasons for why they did or didn’t hit it big in the NFL. There does not appear to be a grand, unifying lesson to be learned from what we’ve seen with these draft classes. There is, however, a pattern of success for underrated Black quarterbacks in deep draft classes, from Culpepper and Garrard all the way up to Prescott, Jackson, and Hurts.

There’s every reason to believe that Lawrence is all that he’s cracked up to be, and all of the quarterbacks expected to go high in the draft will do so for a reason. But knowing what we know, keep an eye on Kellen Mond. Just saying.

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