The NFL used to be a league driven by a great defense and a solid running game. Nowadays the league is led by high powered passing attacks and great quarterback play. This trend is made extremely clear by the number of quarterbacks taken number 1 overall in the draft. Over the past 18 years, 14 quarterbacks have been selected with the first overall selection, compared to 1936-1998 where we saw only 17 quarterbacks selected first overall.
The first quarterback selected first overall was Angelo Bertelli way back in 1944. In 1944 the quarterback position was much different than what we see in todays game, making it hard to judge such players against todays quarterbacks. There have only been 3 QB's taken first overall to be elected to the pro football Hall of Fame, Terry Bradshaw (1989), John Elway (2004), and Troy Aikman (2006), however, we will undoubtably see more enshrined in Canton in the years to come.
Before we reveal the list of all 31 QBs selected first overall, it is only fair to note how pass heavy the NFL has become over the past 20 years. Players drafted before 1995 are at a disadvantage simply due to the era they played in. With that out of the way, let's get into the countdown!
31 JaMarcus Russell
Russell is universally regarded as one of the biggest busts in NFL history. After being drafted number 1 in 2007, Russell proceeded to eat himself out of the league in only three seasons. He came into the NFL with incredible size (6'6, 300 lbs.) and one of the strongest arms ever seen at the NFL combine. However, unfortunately for Russell and the Raiders, he had not matured to the level needed to be the leader of an NFL franchise. This pick set the Raiders back for years and they are only now starting to recover.
30 Jared Goff
Goff has yet to play a single down in the NFL, but he can't possibly be worse than Russell. It's really not fair at this point to place him above anybody besides Russell. Goff was selected first overall by the Los Angeles Rams in the 2016 draft just a few months ago. Goff posted an impressive 161 QB rating during his senior season with the Cal Bears, and is expected to lead the new look L.A. Rams for years to come.
29 Terry Baker
Sticking with the Rams, Terry Baker was the first overall selection by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1963 draft. He was a two sport superstar at Oregon State University, along the way, winning the SI sportsman of the year in 1962. His professional football career, however, was a complete bust. It's almost tempting to put him dead last on the list, but due to the fact that the quarterback position wasn't as valued as it is today and Russell had far more hype, Baker is able to avoid the last spot. Still, Baker didn't accomplish anything of note in his NFL career.
28 Bob Garrett
Bob Garrett was an all around football standout at Stanford University, and was drafted first overall in 1954 by the Cleveland Browns. The Browns traded Garrett before he ever played a game for the team that selected him first overall. Garrett was traded to the Green Bay Packers and was viewed as a potential back up. Garrett had a severe stuttering problem, which ultimately limited his time as a pro. Garrett only appeared in 9 games during his pro football career.
27 Randy Duncan
Randy Duncan was selected first overall in the 1959 draft by the Green Bay Packers, but Duncan never played a game for the Packers. This was a move the team didn't see coming; after all, how on earth does an NFL no.1 overall pick turn down that kind of deal? Well, the landscape of pro sports and particularly the NFL, was far different back then.
26 Angelo Bertelli
Bertelli was drafted in 1944 after winning the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame University, but was unable to start his career until 1946 due to his military obligations. In 1944, he was appointed to second lieutenant. From there he participated in combat missions in the Pacific. He had a near death experience in 1945, as a mortar shell landed 15 feet away from him in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Bertelli finally began his football career after the war ended.
Sadly, Bertelli's career was over almost as quick as it started. After only three seasons he was forced to retire due to knee injuries. Bertelli finished his career with only 8 touchdown passes, and 972 passing yards, which in today's NFL is a couple of good games.
25 Frank Dancewicz
Dancewicz followed Angelo Bertelli as the Norte Dame quarterback. Like many Notre Dame quarterbacks, Danceiwcz was a huge disappointment. No Fighting Irish quarterback was really able to reverse this disturbing trend until Joe Montana came around in the late 70. As for Dancewicz, he was drafted in 1946 by the Boston Yanks where he spent his entire three year career. There's not really much to say about Dancewicz, as it was just another case of it being really difficult to evaluate quarterbacks out of college.
24 George Shaw
Shaw was drafted first overall in 1955 by the Baltimore Colts. He was quickly named the starting quarterback and appeared to be on his way to a successful career, but early in the 1956 season Shaw suffered a broken leg. His injury gave opportunity to a rookie QB named Johnny Unitas, and the rest was history for Shaw.
23 King Hill
Wow, with a name like King Hill, how was this guy not a major star? Hill was the first overall selection in the 1958 draft by the Chicago Cardinals. Hill had a respectable career as he bounced around between five franchises during his 11 year run. Hill will be remembered more for his contributions to the game after his playing days than for his time between the lines.
22 David Carr
Finally, we're getting to some names that people who've grown up in the modern era have heard of! By 2002, the trend had started in the NFL that teams began looking for QB saviors at first overall. When the city of Houston was rewarded with an expansion franchise, they were looking to find the face of their franchise immediately.
David Carr was selected first overall by the Houston Texans in 2002, and was expected to bring success to the new franchise. Carr was given many chances to prove he belonged in the NFL, but after four seasons in Houston, the Texans parted ways with him. Carr came into a terrible situation in the NFL, as the expansion Texans had no help for him on their offensive line, as Carr was sacked 73 times in his rookie year. This punishment almost doomed his career from the start.
21 Tim Couch
Much like the Houston Texans, the Browns essentially had the talent level of an expansion franchise, as the second incarnation of the Browns returned at the turn of the 21st century.
In 2001 the Cleveland Browns chose Couch with the number 1 overall pick. Couch finished his career with more interceptions that touchdowns, and after only four years in Cleveland, Couch was out of a job. He became the first of an extremely long list of Browns starting quarterbacks since their return to the league. Hint: that list is not an esteemed one. Couch actually managed to lead the Browns to the playoffs once in his tenure there, but the team suffered a comeback loss to the Steelers in the 2002 Wild Card round.
20 Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford was the number 1 pick in 2010 by the Rams. There were injury concerns with Bradford coming out of Oklahoma, as he had suffered multiple injuries to his throwing shoulder in his time with the Sooners. Those troubles followed him to the NFL, as he often found himself on injury report.
19 Jameis Winston
Winston was the number 1 choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 draft. Winston had a respectable rookie season, finishing as runner up to Todd Gurley for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Winston finds himself at no.19 for now, only for the fact that we haven't seen a big body of work from him. As he gets more experience under his belt, he may very well find himself higher on the list in the coming years.
18 Harry Gilmer
We're going back to the past here, after a brief run through of the modern era. Harry Gilmer was selected number 1 overall by the Washington Redskins in 1948. He had a successful nine year career in pro football including two Pro-Bowl selections. Gilmer was a two-way threat at the quarterback position, as he had a great ability to use his legs as well as his arm to generate big plays for his team. This trend wasn't quite what it is now. After the 1954 season, Gilmer moved from Washington to Detroit for the final two years of his career.
17 Alex Smith
A 2013 Pro-Bowler, Alex Smith was drafted first over all in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers. He spent his first seven seasons in San Francisco before landing with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, also his lone Pro-Bowl season. Smith has been viewed as a solid game manager, and if paired with the right defense, he could help lead a team to a deep playoff run. While it was an obvious mistake for the 49ers to draft Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers in 2005, Smith could hardly be considered a bust. While he was a late bloomer in the NFL, he has still put together a very good career and as it stands now, he would be seen as an upgrade for many teams in the NFL.
16 Jeff George
The Indianapolis Colts traded up in 1990 to draft Jeff George and sign him to the richest contract in history at the time. Jeff George was always known for his short temper and inability to fit in wherever he went. He spent a total of 15 seasons in the NFL as both a starter and backup.
George had immense talent, as he clearly had the arm strength to succeed as a quarterback. It was a case of a guy having all the physical tools to be an all-time great, but never was quite able to put everything together. Many have now compared Jay Cutler to Jeff George, as George sometimes flirted with greatness, but overall was a disappointment.
When he finally hung em up for good George had pilled up over 27,000 passing yards and over 150 touchdowns.
15 Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford could easily be ranked a lot higher on this list, but his absence of any playoff success hinders him greatly. Since coming to the NFL in 2009 Stafford has put up statistics that would rival any QB over that period. Over the past seven seasons Stafford has gained the reputation of being a better fantasy player than a real life one.
Stafford always seems to put up big numbers, but those stats haven't translated to many wins. Stafford can't be faulted for all of the Lions' shortcomings, but there are still weaknesses in his game that have prevented him from crossing the elite threshold in the NFL. Jim Caldwell was brought in as Lions coach to work out those kinks and next year is a make or break year for him in Detroit. Stafford's performance will likely decide Caldwell's fate in Motown.
14 Steve Bartkowski
Steve Bartkowski was selected first overall in 1975, ahead of Walter Payton. While Bartkowski had a good career, that has to make you cringe as a Falcons fan. Bartkowski lived up to the pick in his rookie season when he was named the NFL Rookie of the Year. He spent the first 10 years of his 12 year career in Atlanta, and still holds many franchise records. Bartkowski is also one of only 10 quarterbacks in NFL history to record back-to-back 30 touchdown seasons.
Overall Bartkowski was a very solid NFL quarterback, but ultimately, he wasn't quite the savior the Falcons had envisioned when they took him first overall in 1975. After his 10 seasons in Atlanta, Bartkowski finished his career with a pair of one-year stints in Washington and Los Angeles.
13 Vinny Testaverde
In 1986 Vinny Testaverde won the Heisman trophy while at the University of Miami. Testaverde was drafted number 1 in by Tampa Bay in 1987, he played his first seven seasons with the Bucs. When the Bucs brought him in, they elected to send Steve Young to the 49ers, seeing the former Miami Hurricane as the future of their franchise. While Testaverde had some good years in the NFL, he was never considered an elite quarterback.
12 Michael Vick
Michael Vick brought new flair and excitement to the NFL when he was drafted first in 2001. The Falcons traded up to get Vick in 2001, as they saw him as a guy who could bring a bunch of buzz to their franchise. They weren't wrong in that aspect, as Vick was must see television in his prime. He even brought some team success to the Falcons, as they made the playoffs several times, even going as far as an NFC Championship game, before losing to the Eagles.
Vick is the NFL's all time leading rusher from the quarterback position with over 6,000 yards on the ground. Vick also possessed one of the strongest arm's the NFL had ever seen. His career was derailed in 2007 when he spent three years in prison for his part in a dog fighting ring. He made a successful return to the NFL, having a Pro Bowl season with the Eagles in 2010.
11 Bill Wade
We've seen plenty of quarterbacks on this list that were taken first overall in the mid 20th century. Most of them turned out to be disappointments, but Bill Wade wasn't one of them.
In 1952 the Los Angeles Rams selected Wade number 1 overall out of Vanderbilt. Wade was a standout quarterback during his 12 years career in the NFL, and was a pioneer in the evolution of the passing attack. He was selected to two Pro-Bowl teams, as well as two All-Pro selections. His best season came in 1958 when he led the league in passing yards with 2,875.
10 Andrew Luck
It's a testament to just how good Andrew Luck has been that he already finds himself in the top 10 on this list.
In only his 5th NFL season, Andrew Luck has already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Luck was a "can't miss" QB coming out of Stanford, so much so that the Indianapolis Colts chose to go with Luck over Peyton Manning when they had the option, granted Manning was coming off a serious injury. While Manning went on to have some great seasons in Denver, he has now retired, so the Colts were right to go with Luck, as they're set at quarterback for the foreseeable future.
9 Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer has had plenty of ups and downs in his career, and the weirdest part is, he now seems to be better than he's ever been. Perceptions about him have changed since his move to Arizona, where his career has been resurrected under the tutelage of Bruce Arians.
8 Cam Newton
Cam Newton was one of the most polarizing QB prospects in NFL history and to this day, he remains one of the most polarizing players. Opinions were so mixed on him that many scouts had Blaine Gabbert rated higher than him coming out of college. The Panthers definitely made the right pick, as Newton has already made NFL history and he still has so many great years ahead of him.
7 Drew Bledsoe
In 1993 the New England Patriots selected Drew Bledsoe out of Washington State University. Bledsoe lasted 13 seasons in the NFL with his greatest success coming with the team that drafted him. Throughout the 1990s Drew Bledsoe was an elite quarterback, making four Pro Bowls and leading the league in passing during the 1994 season. Bledsoe would lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl appearance but they found themselves outmatched against the Green Bay Packers.
6 Jim Plunkett
This one may have mixed opinions, as Jim Plunkett never looked like an elite quarterback, until the big games rolled around. While many may not consider him an all time great at the quarterback position, there's no doubt that Plunkett was always there when his team needed him the most.
5 Eli Manning
What can you say about Eli Manning? Well, for starters, he's a two time Super Bowl champion, two time Super Bowl MVP. When someone has that on their resume they are pretty much guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Many do not consider Eli Manning to be a top tier QB, but the fact is, when you look at the no.1 overall picks throughout NFL history among QBs, Manning remains far more successful than a vast majority of them.
4 Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman has beaten out some big company on this list. While Aikman was far from the biggest reason the Cowboys were able to build a dynasty in the 90s, it all started when the Cowboys took him first overall. Well, that and the Herschel Walker trade.
In 1989 the Dallas Cowboys laid their foundation for a decade plus of success when they selected Troy Aikman with the first pick. Aikman is widely regarded as one of the top 5-10 quarterbacks in the history of the game. Aikman finished his career with three Super Bowl Championships, one Super Bowl MVP, and six Pro-Bowl appearances. Concussion issues ultimately shortened Aikman's career, but he left behind a very strong legacy in Dallas. Tony Romo has broken many of Aikman's passing records in Dallas, but Cowboys fans love Aikman far more due to the success the team had in his career.
3 Terry Bradshaw
Bradshaw's career lasted 13 seasons, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His career began in 1970 when he was selected first overall out of Louisiana Tech. Bradshaw had an extremely bad start to his career, as he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his first two NFL seasons. In fact, his rookie year was a complete disaster, as he threw just six touchdowns to 24 interceptions.
Bradshaw would become the offensive leader of one of football's greatest dynasties. He would guide the black and yellow to four Super Bowl championships in six years, winning two Super Bowl MVP Awards along the way and a league MVP award in 1978. He is also one of only three quarterbacks to be drafted number 1 and be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, joining John Elway and Troy Aikman.
Unlike the no.1 and no.2 entries on this list though, Bradshaw wasn't the one carrying his team, which drops him below our top two.
2 John Elway
The resume of John Elway speaks for itself, but in 1983 Elway was selected by the Baltimore Colts. Elway was skeptical of the Colts, and refused to play for them, Elway was also a baseball prospect and had an offer on the table to play for the New York Yankees. Ultimately the Colts traded Elway to the Broncos and the rest is history.
The history that was created was magical. Over the next 15 years Elway would go on to lead the Broncos to two Super Bowl championships. Elway also made the Pro-Bowl nine times, including in 1987 when he was also named league MVP. Elway retired with over 50,000 passing yards and 300 touchdowns.
1 Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning's story is that of a Disney movie. He was the number 1 choice in the 1998 draft by the Indianapolis Colts and almost immediately established himself as a superstar. Manning owns many NFL records including most single season and career passing yards, the most single season and career touchdowns, as well as touchdown passes in a game and career wins. Manning has been the league MVP a record five times, and has two Super Bowl rings to his credit. His career ended in the best way possible, winning Super Bowl 50 this past February.
Manning is the reason why so many teams continue to look for QBs with the first overall pick. Everybody is hoping that they will land the next Peyton Manning, but thus far, nobody has been able to get the results from a no.1 pick that Manning brought to Indy, then Denver.
There is really not much more you can say about Peyton, it is likely he will never be eclipsed on this list.
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