Looking back at NFL Drafts that had at least 4 QBs taken in the first round

The 2018 NFL Draft is today and it is not out of the question that four quarterbacks could be taken in the first round. All four teams picking in the top five (Browns pick 1 and 4) are in need of a quarterback.

There is also the chance that teams like the Bills, Dolphins or  Cardinals all could make a move to take a quarterback in the first round. However, what does history say regarding how first rounds with this many quarterbacks taken has turned out.

The 1949 NFL Draft

The 1949 NFL Draft was the first to have four quarterbacks get taken, with all being selected in the top ten. Detriot took John Rauch with the second pick, Green Bay took Stan Heath (5), the Rams took Bobby Thomason (7) and Philadelphia took Frank Tripucka (9).

Player (pick #) GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
John Rauch 27/3 53.5 70 170 41.20% 959 8 9
Stan Heath 12/1 4.6 26 106 24.50% 355 1 14
Bobby Thomason 85/44 62.9 687 1346 51.00% 9480 68 90
Frank Tripukca 75/56 52.2 879 1745 50.40% 10282 69 124

Heath only lasted one year in the NFL, while Rauch stuck around for three seasons. Tripucka never managed in the NFL, lasting four seasons. However, following an eight-year hiatus from the sport, he found some success in the AFL with the Broncos. He was their starter for three seasons and made one Pro Bowl.

Thomason was the most successful QB out of this group. After two seasons with the Rams and one with the Packers. He had a successful six-year stint with the Eagles, making three Pro Bowls. In 1953, he had the first 400-yard passing game in Eagles history. At the time, it was only the seventh 400-yard game in NFL history.

The 1983 NFL Draft

It would not be until the fabled 1983 NFL Draft that at least four quarterbacks would be taken in the first round. The Colts took John Elway with the No. 1 pick and then the Chiefs took Todd Blackledge with the seventh pick. Buffalo then selected Jim Kelly (14), the Patriots took Tony Eason (15), the Jets took Ken O’Brien (24) and Miami picked Dan Marino (27).

Player GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
John Elway 234/231 79.9 4123 7250 56.90% 51475 300 226
Todd Blackledge 46/29 60.2 424 881 48.10% 5286 29 38
Jim Kelly 160/160 84.4 2874 4779 60.10% 35467 237 175
Tony Eason 90/51 79.7 911 1564 58.20% 11142 61 51
Ken O’Brien 129/110 80.4 2110 3602 58.60% 25094 128 98
Dan Marino 242/240 86.4 4967 8358 59.40% 61361 420 252
Player Playoff App Pro Bowls All-Pro OPOY MVP SB/SB MVP Hall of Fame
John Elway 10 9 3 0 1 2/1 Yes
Todd Blackledge 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 No
Jim Kelly 8 5 2 0 0 0/0 Yes
Tony Eason 2 0 0 0 0 0/0 No
Ken O’Brien 3 2 0 0 0 0/0 No
Dan Marino 10 9 6 1 1 0/0 Yes

*All-Pro means they made the Associated Press (AP) 1st or 2nd team

*OPOY stands for Offensive Player of the Year

*Playoff App only counts years the QB started in the playoffs

Blackledge is the bust of this group, spending five seasons struggling with the Chiefs before becoming a backup in Pittsburg. Eason led New England to the playoffs twice in his three primary seasons as the starting quarterback. O’Brien made the Pro Bowl twice and led the Jets to three playoff appearances but is overshadowed by his contemporaries.

Kelly spent his first two seasons in the USFL after declining to play for the Bills, winning the league’s MVP award his rookie season. Eventually, he joined the Bills once the USFL folded, famously leading them to the Super Bowl four straight seasons.

Marino spent his entire career with the Dolphins, where he set season and career NFL passing records for yards and touchdowns. Elway never played for the Colts, as he was traded to Denver. Spending his entire career with the team, they made five Super Bowl appearances, winning two of them in back-to-back seasons.

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The 1987 NFL Draft

With the first pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Vinny Testaverde. The Cardinals then took Kelly Stouffer (6), Atlanta selected Chris Miller (13) and the Bears took Jim Harbaugh (26).

Player GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
Vinny Testaverde 233/214 75.0 3787 6701 56.50% 46233 275 267
Kelly Stouffer 22/16 54.5 225 437 51.50% 2333 7 19
Chris Miller 98/92 74.9 1580 2892 54.60% 19320 123 102
Jim Harbaugh 177/140 77.6 2305 3918 58.80% 26288 129 117
Player Playoff App Pro Bowls All-Pro OPOY MVP SB/SB MVP
Vinny Testaverde 3 2 0 0 0 0/0
Kelly Stouffer 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Chris Miller 1 1 0 0 0 0/0
Jim Harbaugh 3 1 0 0 0 0/0

Stouffer sat out his rookie season due to a contract dispute and never played for the Cardinals, as his rights were traded to Seattle. He spent four seasons with Seattle and was mostly ineffective. Miller spent four seasons as the Falcons primary starter but only had success in 1991, when the team made the playoffs. Eventually, his career ended early a few years later due to a string of concussions he suffered with the Rams.

Harbaugh spent four seasons as the Bears starter, taking them to the playoffs twice, although he never played in the 1990 playoffs due to injury. He then spent four seasons as the Colts primary starter. Testaverde is arguably the NFL’s greatest journeyman QB, spending 21 seasons with seven different teams. He did help lead the Browns (1994) and the Jets (2001,2002) to the playoffs.

The 1999 NFL Draft

The first three picks in this draft were quarterbacks, as the Browns took Tim Couch, Philadelphia selected Donovan McNabb and the Bengals picked Akili Smith. Later on, Minnesota took Daunte Culpepper (11) and the Bears picked Cade McNown (12).

Player GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
Tim Couch 62/59 75.1 1025 1714 59.80% 11131 64 67
Donovan McNabb 167/161 85.6 3170 5374 59.00% 37276 234 117
Akili Smith 22/17 52.8 215 461 46.60% 2212 5 13
Daune Culpepper 105/100 87.8 2016 3199 63.00% 24153 149 106
Cade McNown 25/15 67.7 281 515 54.60% 3111 16 19
Player Playoff App Pro Bowls All-Pro OPOY MVP SB/SB MVP
Tim Couch 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Donovan McNabb 7 6 0 0 0 0/0
Akili Smith 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Daunte Culpepper 2 3 0 0 0 0/0
Cade McNown 0 0 0 0 0 0/0

McNown and Smith were both busts who lasted two and four years in the league. Couch took over a horrid expansion Browns team and lasted through five injury-plagued seasons. He did lead the team to an 8-6 record as a starter in 2002 but missed the team’s playoff game due to a broken leg he suffered in the final game of the season.

Culpepper burst on to the scene his second year, leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record before struggling the next two seasons. He then bounced back and produced two more Pro Bowl seasons. However, a major leg injury in 2005 derailed his career and he played sparingly for the next four seasons.

Donovan McNabb was the Eagles longtime starting quarterback who took them to five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. He also became the franchise’s career leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns.

The 2003 NFL Draft

In the 2003 NFL Draft, the Bengals selected Carson Palmer with the first pick. Three more quarterbacks followed with the Jaguars taking Byron Leftwich (7), the Ravens took Kyle Boller (19) and the Bears selected Rex Grossman (22).

Player GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
Carson Palmer 182/181 87.9 3941 6307 62.50% 46247 294 187
Byron Leftwich 60/50 78.9 930 1605 57.90% 10532 58 42
Kyle Boller 67/47 69.5 861 1519 56.70% 8931 48 54
Rex Grossman 54/47 71.4 863 1562 55.20% 10232 56 60
Player Playoff App Pro Bowls All-Pro OPOY MVP SB/SB MVP
Carson Palmer 3 3 1 0 0 0/0
Byron Leftwich 1 0 0 0 0 1/0
Kyle Boller 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Rex Grossman 2 0 0 0 0 0/0

Boller started his first two seasons with the Ravens having a winning record but mostly failed to impress as he was carried by the team’s stout defense and rushing attack. Boller then lost his job when the team signed veteran quarterback Steve McNair, becoming a backup for the rest of his career.

Grossman was on the Bears for seven seasons. He started 16 of his 31 games with the team during their run to the Super Bowl in 2006 behind their imposing defense and running game. He would later start 13 games with Washington during the 2011 season.

Leftwich was the Jaguars starting quarterback for his first three seasons but lost his job to David Garrard after missing most of his fourth season due to injury. He then spent his last five years in the league as a backup on the Falcons, Buccaneers, and Steelers.

Palmer spent seven seasons with the Bengals but the team only made the playoffs once as they struggled to find success despite Palmer’s ability when healthy. Eventually, a denied trade request led to him briefly retiring before being traded to the Raiders. After two subpar seasons their, he joined the Cardinals. In five seasons, he led them to the playoffs twice but basically lost two seasons due to injury.

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The 2004 NFL Draft

The 2004 NFL Draft saw the Chargers select Eli Manning with the first pick and the Giants take Philip Rivers fourth. A trade was then orchestrated by the two teams to swap quarterbacks, with the Chargers receiving extra picks. The Steelers then took Ben Roethlisberger (11) and the Bills later selected J.P. Losman (22).

Italicized players are still active and on an NFL roster

Player GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
Eli Manning 216/214 83.5 4424 7369 59.80% 51682 339 228
Philip Rivers 196/192 94.8 4171 6492 64.20% 50348 342 166
Ben Roethlisberger 200/198 94.0 4164 6493 64.10% 51065 329 174
J.P. Losman 45/33 75.6 564 952 59.20% 6271 33 34
Player Playoff App Pro Bowls All-Pro OPOY MVP SB/SB MVP
Eli Manning 6 4 0 0 0 2/2
Philip Rivers 5 7 0 0 0 0/0
Ben Roethlisberger 10 6 0 0 0 2/0
J.P. Losman 0 0 0 0 0 0/0

Losman was never able to find a role with the Bills due to injuries and up-and-down play, eventually losing his job to 2007 third-round pick Trent Edwards. Rivers, Manning and Roethlisberger are all future Hall of Famers, with all three holding most of their respective franchises career passing records. The trio also ranks in the top ten in career completions, passing yards, and touchdowns.

The 2011 NFL Draft

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Panthers selected Cam Newton with the first pick. This was then followed by a flurry of moves as the Titans picked Jake Locker (8), the Jaguars took Blaine Gabbert (10) and the Vikings nabbed Christian Ponder (12).

Player GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
Cam Newton 109/108 85.3 2001 3420 58.50% 25074 158 94
Jake Locker 30/23 79 408 709 57.50% 4967 27 22
Blaine Gabbert 48/45 71.5 781 1397 55.90% 8437 44 43
Christian Ponder 38/36 75.9 632 1057 59.80% 6658 38 36
Player Playoff App Pro Bowls All-Pro OPOY MVP SB/SB MVP
Cam Newton 4 3 1 1 1 0/0
Jake Locker 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Blaine Gabbert 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Christian Ponder 0 0 0 0 0 0/0

Gabbert and Ponder both never worked out for their respective teams, causing them to both have to draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft (Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater). Locker’s career never got on track due to injuries and the Titans would eventually end up drafting Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Newton won Rookie of the Year and has since led the Panthers to the playoffs four times in his seven years with the team. His most successful season came in 2015, when he won OPOY and MVP, leading Carolina to the Super Bowl.

The 2012 NFL Draft

The 2012 NFL Draft saw the top two picks be quarterbacks, as the Colts selected Andrew Luck with the first pick and the Redskins then took Robert Griffin III. Miami then picked Ryan Tannehill (8) and the Browns later selected Brandon Weeden (22).

Player GP/GS QB Rat Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
Andrew Luck 70/70 87.3 1570 2651 59.20% 19078 132 68
Robert Griffin 42/40 88.4 766 1210 63.30% 8983 42 26
Ryan Tannehill 77/77 86.5 1653 2637 62.70% 18455 106 66
Brandon Weeden 34/25 76 559 965 57.90% 6462 31 30
Player Playoff App Pro Bowls All-Pro OPOY MVP SB/SB MVP
Andrew Luck 3 3 0 0 0 0/0
Robert Griffin 1 1 0 0 0 0/0
Ryan Tannehill 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Brandon Weeden 0 0 0 0 0 0/0

Weeden started his rookie season with the Browns. However, he ended up being benched in favored of Brain Hoyer and later Jason Campbell due to injury and poor performance in his second and last season with the team.

Griffin electrified the league his rookie season, winning OROY and making the Pro Bowl. However, he suffered a major knee injury in that year’s playoff game and was never the same after that. He had then never performed at the same level and suffered a rash of injuries over the next two seasons before losing his job to Kirk Cousins.

Tannehill has been a solid starter for the Dolphins over the years but everything seemed to finally come together in 2016 when the team when on a hot streak. However, he injured his knee, missing the end of the season and the team’s wild-card playoff game. He then tore his ALC in practice, causing him to miss the entire 2017-18 season.

Luck came into the league and led the Colts to the playoffs while making the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons. He was then limited to seven games in 2015 due to various injuries but bounced back and played 15 games the following season. Luck then missed the entire 2017-18 season due to a shoulder injury that had been affecting him since 2015.

Conclusions from years with 4+ QBs taken

There have been only eight times in the previous 82 NFL Drafts where at least four quarterbacks have been taken in the first round. However, if it happens this year it would be the third time in the last eight drafts that it would have occurred.

One of the quarterbacks taken in years with 4+ QBs selected has made at least one Pro Bowl. In six of the eight drafts, at least two quarterbacks have made at least one Pro Bowl.

However, it is not guaranteed that years with lots of quarterbacks taken will result in success as there is a reason picking in the draft is often filled with what-ifs when looking back.

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Sources and info:

Featured Image: “Philip Rivers” by Jeffrey Beall is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Used Pro Football Reference’s draft finder to find which years had 4 quarterbacks taken in the first round and see their stats.

All charts made using Google Spreadsheet in Google Docs

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