Every now and then, a running back or defensive star will capture the attention of teams and scouts everywhere as they rocket to the top of draft boards. For the most part, though, the first round of most NFL Drafts belongs to quarterbacks. Whether you think the modern NFL quarterback gets too much credit or not, the fact of the matter is that NFL history has made it clear that it’s very hard for a team to get anywhere without a franchise quarterback. Some teams have done it, but they are by far the exception to the rule. That’s why every team that has quarterback questions is eager to draft the potential next great player. We’ve even seen teams reach for quarterbacks in the first round just so someone else wouldn’t draft them.
The process of drafting a quarterback in the first round is one of the biggest decisions an NFL team will make, but it’s hardly a science. We often see first-round quarterbacks bomb or struggle while undrafted and late-round players manage to thrive. Sometimes, you just don’t know what you’re getting until the quarterback has actually taken the field. Of course, that makes it relatively easy for us to look back on where first-round quarterbacks should have been drafted. While that process is hardly a science either, it’s clear that most first-round quarterbacks wouldn’t have been drafted where they were drafted if the picks were being made today. Here is where the last 20 first round quarterbacks should have been drafted.
20 2018: Baker Mayfield - 1st Overall, Cleveland Browns
Actual Draft Spot: 1st Overall, Cleveland Browns
Look, everyone has concerns about Baker Mayfield. He’s cocky, he’s sometimes controversial, and he’s got a tendency to go into gunslinger mode too early. As it stands, though, you have to say that Mayfield was the best of the impressive new crop of NFL quarterbacks. He seems to be the kind of leader and personality that the Browns definitely needed, and he has the talent to develop into a true star quarterback. We could look back on this selection with anger alongside the Browns in a few years, but for now, we say that Mayfield went to the right place.
19 Sam Darnold - 10th Overall, Arizona Cardinals
Actual Draft Spot: 3rd Overall, New York Jets
Sam Darnold's rookie year was...not great. It was full of ups and downs. Many still believe he’s a true prospect, but if we’re just using the evidence on-hand, we’d suggest that the Jets might not draft him where they did. Instead, we think that the Arizona Cardinals end up snagging him with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Most would still argue that Darnold is a steal at that price, but there were a couple of other QBs from that draft class that we like just a little more.
18 Josh Allen - 3rd Overall, New York Jets
Actual Draft Spot: 7th Overall, Buffalo Bills
This might sound a little crazy, but if you watch the film from this year’s games, then you start to realize that Josh Allen may very well be the second best of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. In terms of what he has to work with, we’d say that Allen is about on par with Sam Darnold and way behind the other three rookie QBs. That said, we’re impressed with Allen’s ability to take over a game with little to work with.
17 Josh Rosen - 32nd Overall, Baltimore Ravens
Actual Draft Spot: 10th Overall, Arizona Cardinals
Yes, the Cardinals apparently had some coaching issues. No, David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald didn’t look like their usual selves. Yes, Josh Rosen was hurt for some of the season. However, there were many times when Rosen simply looked like the least impressive rookie QB in the NFL. Rosen theoretically had talent all around him, but he still struggled with consistently moving the ball downfield. His mechanics weren’t quite as strong as the other rookie quarterbacks, and we’re still not sure about his leadership ability. He’s a prospect, but not the most interesting one.
16 Lamar Jackson - 7th Overall, Buffalo Bills
Actual Draft Spot: 32nd Overall, Baltimore Ravens
Despite his success, the jury is still very much out on Lamar Jackson. We’re not sure about his decision making, his mechanics aren’t quite there, and his deep ball is questionable at best. All things considered, though, we think the Bills should have taken him with the seventh pick (especially after taking Josh Allen off the board at 3rd overall). Jackson’s leadership abilities have never been questioned, and his ability to run the ball is simply incredible. In this version of the draft where Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield are off the board, we think the Bills turn to Lamar Jackson.
15 2017: Mitchell Trubisky - 12th Overall, Houston Texans
Actual Draft Spot: 2nd Overall, Chicago Bears
Hey, Mitchell Trubisky looks like he’s going to be a pretty good quarterback. He got off to a rough start, but it looks like he’s turning the corner. Having said that, there’s a very good chance he’s still the last of the first-round quarterbacks in a redraft of the year he was the first QB taken off the board. Trubisky going to the Texans in this version of the draft still probably works out well for everyone, and his fall has more to do with the talent of the other guys in this draft.
14 Patrick Mahomes - 2nd Overall, Chicago Bears
Actual Draft Spot: 10th Overall, Kansas City Chiefs
How did everyone miss out on Patrick Mahomes? It’s a question that might very well plague the teams in the league who didn’t draft Mahomes when they had the chance. He looks like a truly special player who might just be the next great quarterback. Assuming the Browns still don’t draft a QB in 2017, we say that Mahomes ends up going to the Bears in a re-do of that year’s selections. Just imagine how good Chicago would be with Mahomes under center and that defense on the other side of the ball.
13 Deshaun Watson - 3rd Overall, San Francisco 49ers
Actual Draft Spot: 12th Overall, Houston Texans
Ultimately, we think the Jimmy Garoppolo deal will work out well for San Francisco. However, you have to wonder if they look back at the 2017 NFL Draft and realize that the 49ers left two franchise quarterbacks on the board, despite QB being their biggest need at the time. Since Patrick Mahomes is already gone in our version of the draft, that leaves the 49ers abandoning their defensive strategy and going after Deshaun Watson. There’s a very good chance that Watson will be better than Garoppolo in the long run, and we know that he’s cheaper in the short term.
12 2016: Jared Goff - 1st Overall, Los Angeles Rams
Actual Draft Spot: 1st Overall, L.A. Rams
Try as we might, we can’t think of a reason why the Rams would pass up on the chance to draft Jared Goff again. There’s still some debate out there regarding how Goff and Wentz compare from a purely statistical standpoint, but it’s been said before that football is an eye test. So far as the eye test goes, Goff looks like a talented thrower with excellent management skills and the confidence needed to win big games. We just don’t see the reason why the Rams move on from him.
11 Carson Wentz - 5th Overall, Jacksonville Jaguars
Actual Draft Spot: 2nd Overall, Philadelphia Eagles
We’ll get into the Jaguars QB situation in this version of the draft a little later on, but the long and short of it is that the Eagles don’t take Carson Wentz in this new take on NFL history. That might sound crazy, but this version of history sees them stick with Nick Foles for a few more years. Anyway, Wentz ends up going to Jacksonville after the Eagles pass on him. That’s certainly a good deal for the Jaguars who are facing quite the current quarterback conundrum.
10 Paxton Lynch - 51st Overall, New York Jets
Actual Draft Spot: 26th Overall, Denver Broncos
Oh, Paxton Lynch. There's being a disappointment, and then there's showing a complete lack of ability to play quarterback at the professional level. Such as it is, he’s only a first-round quarterback bust. Of course, if they had to do it all over again, then there’s really no chance that the Broncos take Lynch in the first round of the draft. So how far does Lynch fall? Well, we think it’s reasonable that he falls to the 51st overall pick where the Jets take him instead of Christian Hackenberg. It would probably work out better for them.
9 2015: Jameis Winston - 1st Overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Actual Draft Spot: 1st Overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is one of the tougher re-draft picks to make. On the one hand, there are nothing but concerns surrounding Jameis Winston and his future as a franchise quarterback. However, unless we’re going to drastically change draft history, the truth of the matter is that they’re probably still better off taking Winston over Mariota. We’re still waiting for Mariota to impress us with his stats, and his injury problems at such a young age are nothing to sneeze at. There’s a strong case to be made for other moves, but this one (sadly) feels right.
8 Marcus Mariota - 9th Overall, New York Giants
Actual Draft Spot: 2nd Overall, Tennessee Titans
There are a few ways this could go. It’s highly likely the Titans still take Mariota knowing what they know now. It’s probably most likely. If they don’t, then it’s certainly possible that the Raiders end up taking him. However, this is the most intriguing option if we’re talking about where a QB “should have” been drafted. If the Giants had taken Mariota, they could have let him sit behind Eli Manning and ease into the position. If that had been the case, NY wouldn’t have their current QB issues and Mariota might not be so banged up.
7 2014: Blake Bortles - 32nd Overall, Minnesota Vikings
Actual Draft Spot: 3rd Overall, Jacksonville Jaguars
In what has to be one of the worst crops of first-round QB prospects in recent NFL history, we’re left to wonder where Blake Bortles goes in a revised version of the 2014 NFL Draft. While there’s a strong argument to be made that he falls out of the first-round entirely, we actually like the idea of Bortles going to the Vikings with the 32nd overall pick. Bortles probably would have fared better in a little better of a situation, and we still like him a little more than Teddy Bridgewater in many ways.
6 Johnny Manziel (Undrafted Player)
Actual Draft Spot: 22nd Overall, Cleveland Browns
If we’re being very generous, we’ll say that Johnny Manziel is the last quarterback drafted and that someone takes a chance on him late. However, if we’re being entirely honest, then there’s very little chance that anyone would have saved the sinking ship that is Johnny Manziel. Whatever talent Manziel may have had, his never ending personal issues probably would have prevented any NFL team from turning him into anything more than a risky back-up. All things considered, we say that no NFL team actually bothers to give Manziel a job.
5 Teddy Bridgewater - 52nd Overall, Arizona Cardinals
Actual Draft Spot: 32nd Overall, Minnesota Vikings
Here’s a tough one. We’ll assume the Raiders stick with David Carr in the second round over Bridgewater despite the former’s struggles. We honestly don’t know what the Patriots would do if they had to draft Jimmy Garoppolo again, but we’re not sure they take Bridgewater.
Honestly, the best landing spot for Bridgewater is if the Cardinals had taken him with the 52nd pick instead of drafting QB Logan Thomas with the 120th pick. That might sound like an insult to Bridgewater, but it’s just the way things work out.
4 2013: E.J. Manuel - 115th Overall, Pittsburgh Steelers
Actual Draft Spot: 16th Overall, Buffalo Bills
What do you even say about a draft that saw EJ Manuel go as the only quarterback drafted in the first round? If we had to do this nightmare of a draft over, then it’s honestly tough to say where, exactly, Manuel ends ups. When looking at the other quarterbacks eventually taken in this draft, we think there’s a slight chance that the Steelers take Manuel over Landry Jones when they select a quarterback with the 115th pick. It’s not much of an upgrade, but we like Manuel as a backup in that system.
3 2012: Andrew Luck - 1st Overall, Indianapolis Colts
Actual Draft Spot: 1st Overall, Indianapolis Colts
Once again, we’re left talking about a pick that we’re fairly certain wouldn’t change even if the team that made it had the benefit of hindsight to work with. In fact, in looking back at recent QB picks, we’d go so far as to say that this was probably the best overall first-round quarterback pick of the last several years. The Colts so happened to have the foresight to get their guy when Peyton Manning was entering his final years. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Andrew Luck is still a great quarterback who will be a Colt for a long time.
2 Robert Griffin III - 57th Overall, Denver Broncos
Actual Draft Spot: 2nd Overall, Washington Redskins
Well, we feel pretty safe saying that Robert Griffin III doesn’t go second overall in a new version of this draft. We just don’t know how far he falls. Given how much QB talent was actually in this draft (Nick Foles, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, etc.) it would be pretty far. Our shake-up of this draft ultimately sees the Broncos take him with the 57th overall pick. That would have certainly been an interesting situation, but we still don’t blame the Redskins for betting big on RGIII when they did.
1 Ryan Tannehill - 22nd Overall, Cleveland Browns
Actual Draft Spot: 8th Overall, Miami Dolphins
Let’s say Russell Wilson goes to the Redskins and Kirk Cousins goes to the Dolphins. That leaves Brock Osweiler, RG III, Nick Foles, and Ryan Tannehill as the most notable QB prospects of this draft. At the end of the day, we’ll guess that Tannehill still goes as the fourth overall QB taken when the Browns pick him with the 22nd overall pick, which is where Brandon Weeden was actually taken. That might be a bit too high, but regardless of his troubles, we still think that Tannehill was a worthy selection who might have fared better elsewhere.