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.
Russell was often late for team meetings and overall had a really bad attitude. Since being cut by the Raiders all the way back in 2010, Russell has tried to get back into the NFL, but has never gotten anything beyond a tryout. Now over 30 years old, it doesn't appear Russell will get a second chance in the NFL.
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.
Goff wasn't expected to go no.1, as the Titans were in position for the first overall pick and has just drafted Marcus Mariota the year prior. A trade with the QB needy Rams changed all that, as the Rams were keen on making a big splash prior to their move out west. There will be a lot of pressure on Goff's shoulders, as he's going to a division with two of the league's toughest defenses in Seattle and Arizona.
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.
Baker lasted only two seasons with the Rams, where he recorded 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. After his two seasons with the Rams, Baker took his game to Canada for a season to play in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. Baker practiced law following his football career, so at least he had a great backup plan.
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.
It seems like the Browns pulled a fast one on Green Bay, as the Packers weren't aware of Garrett's stuttering problem until they got him into their camp. Obviously being an NFL quarterback, part of your job is to bark signals at your teammates, which is obviously difficult for someone with such a disorder. It's really unfortunate that Garrett had this problem, as he clearly had some talent.
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.
Instead, Duncan chose to play professionally in Canada, where he claimed he could make more money. Gee, isn't that hard to fathom today? His career in Canada lasted only two seasons before he came back to the AFL for one season. His time in the CFL with the BC Lions and his AFL season with the Dallas Texans were both duds. Duncan retired with one career touchdown. In hindsight, it was probably best for the Packers that Duncan elected not to play for them.
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.
Following his retirement from football, Bertelli moved to New Jersey and operated several businesses and also served as a color analyst for Princeton football 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.
He was known as a very flashy player during his time in college at Notre Dame University, but his skills never materialized in the pro game. Dancewicz finished his career with only 12 touchdowns and 1,551 passing yards. He also threw 29 interceptions and finished with a career passer rating of 40.1.
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.
Shaw ended up last seven seasons in the league, and will always have the distinction of being the first QB selected number 1 overall to be part of a championship team, as he was with the 1958 Baltimore Colts. Shaw also has the distinction of starting for the Minnesota Vikings in their first game as a franchise. Like he was quickly replaced in Baltimore, he was quickly replaced in Minnesota, as a young star by the name of Fran Tarkenton soon took over the starting job from Shaw. Shaw would then play one season in the AFL with the Denver Broncos in 1962 before retiring from football.
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.
Hill is largely responsible for the development of Hall of Famer Earl Campbell as well as laying the ground work for offensive and defensive coordinator positions. Hill's playing career wasn't full of highlights, but he was in the game of football for over 35 years, and clearly had a successful career, all things considered. He was dedicated to his charity work following his time in the game and also served as part of the NFL Alumni Association.
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.
He was able to latch on with four other teams after leaving Houston, but Carr never amounted to much as a professional quarterback.
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.
The Packers and Jaguars gave him a chance to prove himself in the mid 2000's but Couch was never able to stay on a roster. There are many people in Ohio who view Couch as the biggest bust in NFL history, but Ohio has had a jaded sports experience over the past 50 years.
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.
He has had a hard time staying on the field, not due to lack of skill, but rather lack of health. Bradford has had two torn ACL injuries as well as multiple ankle injuries, which have prevented him from showing what many thought he could be. He is currently with the Philadelphia Eagles fighting for a starting spot with rookie Carson Wentz. Overall, his career has been a disappointment, as he's shown signs of being a great quarterback, but has never been able to find consistency and he has not lived up to the expectations that came as a no.1 pick.
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.
Expect Winston to rapidly move up this list as his career evolves. He has all the tools necessary to succeed in the NFL, and it should only be a matter of time before he cracks the top 10. It will be interesting to see how he does now that he's already going to have his second head coach following the firing of Lovie Smith this offseason. Winston showed a lot of promise in his rookie year, so this next season should tell us a lot about where his career will go.
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.
After retiring from football, Gilmer tried his hand in coaching, as he was the head coach of the Lions from 1965-66. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and is considered a sports legend in his native Alabama. Gilmer is still going strong today at 90 years old.
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.
Smith is still with the Chiefs, and has already amassed over 24,000 passing yards in his career. He seems to have found a good home in KC.
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.
Luckily for the Colts, they would pick first overall again in 1998 and selected somebody you may have heard of.
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.
The combination of Stafford and, now retired, Calvin Johnson was one of the most dominant wide receiver/QB combos in NFL history, but unfortunately the franchise was never able to surround them with sufficient talent.
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.
Bartkowski is a member of the Falcons' Ring of Honor, and in 2012 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
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.
After leaving as a free agent in 1993, he spent most of the remainder of his career as a journeyman quarterback, spending time with six other teams. Testaverde retired after the 2007 season. Testaverde has thrown for more yards and more touchdowns than any other eligible quarterback who is not in the Hall of Fame, but despite his long career and overall statistical accomplishments, Testaverde only had moderate success in terms of winning.
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.
If it were not for bad choices early on, Vick could have found himself well within the top 10 on this list.
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.
In 1963 Wade led the Chicago Bears to the NFL championship. In that championship game, Wade scored both touchdowns in a 14-10 victory over the Giants at Wrigley Field. Considering the era in which he played, Wade is one of the most glaring snubs to the NFL Hall of Fame.
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.
Nonetheless, Luck has proven his worth by being selected to three Pro Bowls in five seasons, as well as leading the Colts to the Conference Championship game in 2015. Last season was his most disappointing, mostly because of injury troubles.
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.
Palmer was the number 1 pick for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003 after winning a Heisman Trophy at USC. Palmer has had a very strong career thus far. The first eight seasons of his career were spent wasting away in Cincinnati. He forced a trade out of Cincinnati, but went to a less than ideal situation in Oakland. After a subpar tenure in Oakland, Palmer was able to land with the Cardinals. Palmer, in his 12 seasons, has amassed over 40,000 passing yards and 250 touchdowns. Even with all that success, the best may be yet to come for Palmer.
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.
Cam Newton came out of Auburn in 2011, and after winning Rookie of the Year in his rookie season, Cam has gotten increasingly better each season, culminating in an MVP last season. Newton is a rare breed of athlete. He combines world class athleticism with size and strength usually reserved for larger, non athletics men. Cam is one of only four players on this list to capture an NFL MVP award. Given time, Cam will be mentioned right along with the other three by the time his career is over.
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.
Bledsoe retired as the 7th leading passer in NFL history with 44,611 passing yards. His career in New England essentially ended when he suffered an injury in Week 2 of the 2001 season. With Bledsoe sidelined, a young skinny kid by the name of Tom Brady was able to lead the Patriots to three Super Bowls in the next four years. Following Brady's emergence, Bledsoe went to Buffalo to play with the Bills and eventually finished his career in Dallas.
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.
One of three Stanford University Alums to crack the top 10, Plunkett was drafted number 1 in 1971. Jim Plunkett spent 15 years in the NFL, playing for three different franchises. Being a product of the 1970s and 80s, Plunkett's career stats are not as impressive as some of the modern day quarterbacks, but his knack for winning gets him a lot of respect. Plunkett was the quarterback for two Super Bowl winning teams, and in 1981 he was named Super Bowl MVP. Plunkett is probably the most disputed Hall of Fame snub in NFL history.
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.
Manning was selected first overall in 2004 by the Chargers then immediately traded to the New York Giants. Manning lived in his brother's shadow for the first few years of his career, but in 2008 Eli, along with a strong defense, helped lead the Giants to the Super Bowl title. Again in 2012, Eli and his Giants took down the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, this time defeating an undefeated Patriots team. No one in their right mind would say Eli is better than his older brother, but he deserves his props for all his career accomplishments.
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.
In 2006 he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
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.
Elway was the heart and soul of the Denver Broncos for so many years and it's because of him that the franchise has three Super Bowl championships. In his tenure as Team President, Elway was able to build the Broncos into an elite team thanks to signing our no.1 pick on this list.
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.