The NFL Draft is the best way for a team to rebuild, or reload, or r-e-c-y-c-l-e or whatever we’re calling it now. As you've already been told a thousand and one times, the most important position for any team is the quarterback . Of course, it doesn’t matter how good your QB if the pieces around him are terrible, unless he's really something special. Unfortunately, of all the quarterbacks taken in the first round over the last decade, only about two or three have been that.
Looking back at the last ten years in the draft (skipping the 2016 draft, for obvious reasons), it's surprising how many of the best arm cannons were taken in the second round and beyond. For all the hype and hopes attached to the first rounders, most of them have been absolute failures. You can argue that only about five or six guys taken in the first round over the last decade are a game changer, but other than that they’ve been mediocre at best.
All that can change in just a year or two of course, but at this point in their careers, many of them will never achieve much of anything playing football. With the latest batch of first rounders about to begin training camp, let's take a look at how they might fare.
26 Tim Tebow – 25th Overall in 2010
A controversial pick, considering Tim Tebow was on a team that won a playoff game. Never mind the fact that Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl, the fact that Tebow is best known for only being able to throw the ball to the ground is reason enough to call him the worst QB taken in the first round in the last decade.
In fact, he wasn’t even supposed to be taken in the first round. Popular consensus was that he was a third round pick at best, but new Broncos coach Josh McDaniel wanted to prove to the NFL how smart he was, or something.
During his time with the Broncos, he never started a full season, had a mediocre QBR, and was traded to the Jets after two seasons. He only attempted eight passes there and couldn’t beat out Mark Sanchez. After that, his career was over, getting one last chance with the Eagles in 2015 where he got cut before the start of the season.
25 JaMarcus Russell – 1st Overall in 2007
It’s funny how JaMarcus Russell has become known as the biggest draft bust in NFL history. That’s not true and he’s not even the biggest QB bust. But perception is reality, after Russell’s abysmal final year in the NFL.
At the start of his career he showed promise, and in his second season he threw 13 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. But by year three he regressed rapidly, throwing 11 picks to 3 touchdowns, and came into that season massively overweight and out of shape.
It’s because of his work ethic, or lack thereof, that no one else in the NFL was even willing to give him a chance. He wasn’t signed to any practice squads and he didn’t even get a chance in the CFL. After the Raiders cut him, his career was over and no amount of him offering his services for free changed anyone’s mind.
24 Matt Leinart – 10th Overall in 2006
Matt Leinart might be the most disappointing player on this list. He came into the league with a ton of hype thanks to his USC playing days, playing with an all-star roster, and winning a national title. But his playing career in the NFL was the exact opposite of those glorious times at USC.
He struggled with the Cardinals, throwing 12 interceptions in his first season before losing the starting job to an aging - but surprisingly still great - Kurt Warner. He stayed in Arizona as a backup for a few years, then bounced around with the Texans and Raiders, always throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
But Leinart hasn’t gone quietly. After his former coach in Arizona, Ken Whisenhunt, was fired from his Titans job, Leinart took to Twitter to gloat. Apparently he blames Whisenhunt for his failures, saying that Titans QB Marcus Mariota might finally have a chance to be a good quarterback. Sure Matt, whatever you say.
23 Vince Young – 3rd Overall in 2006
It’ll always be one of life’s great mysterious how Vince Young won Rookie of the Year in 2006 or went to two Pro Bowls. His second Pro Bowl season he threw under for 2,000 yards and only 10 touchdowns!
Maybe it was the sheer amount of hype around him, like Matt Leinart. As hyped up as some quarterbacks coming out of college are now, it used to be a whole lot worse and 2006 proves that. Young was beloved for beating USC and Leinart in a national title game, and was seen as a new breed of NFL quarterback.
But much like JaMarcus Russell, Young had trouble staying motivated and would all too often run the ball regardless of the situation. That wouldn’t be a problem if he were a Newton type of powerful runner, but he wasn’t and he struggled his entire career. At least to anyone who could see he shouldn’t have been Rookie of the Year.
22 Johnny Manziel – 22nd Overall in 2014
If there’s a poster child (emphasis on child) of a guy who could have had it all and threw it away, it’s Johnny Football. His own father has called him a druggie and said he belongs in jail because “it’s the best place for him.”
Manziel clearly has problems and one could be sympathetic to his drug and alcohol problems if he didn’t also have the unfortunate habit of beating women and rejecting any form of help in the most annoying and arrogant ways possible.
As it stands, Manziel only played in 14 NFL games throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns. There were times where he showed moments of great potential, but he squandered it all on drugs, lavish parties, and acting like a jerk. His injuries problems didn’t help, but in the grand scheme of things, that seems minor to all his other problems.
The only reason he's not lower on this list is because there's still a chance, however slim, that he could come back and turn things around.
21 Jake Locker – 8th Overall in 2011
You might have forgotten about Jake Locker. He too came into the NFL with a ton of hype despite no one having ever heard of him.
His rookie season in 2011 was short but brilliant. He threw 4 touchdowns to no interceptions and he looked like the future of the Titans. But when he took over the reins full time in 2012, he showed how ill-prepared he was. He failed to do much of anything the next few years, eventually losing his job to sixth round draft pick Zach Mettenberger.
Locker is perhaps to be respected though, or maybe hated. After the 2014 season, he decided to just retire at the age of 26. At the time he said he just didn’t want to play anymore. No doubt some will see this apathy as not wanting to have to fight for a starting job and thus a temper tantrum. But in a violent and lucrative a sport as football, sometimes it takes more guts to know when to quit.
20 Brady Quinn – 22nd Overall in 2007
Brady Quinn is infamous for his 2007 draft day slide. He was projected to go in the top 10 or even top three according to some. However, he slid all the way down to 22nd overall to the Browns, practically an NFL death penalty. His career reflected that too, but whether or not his poor play can be attributed to the Browns or his slide is something we may never know.
Nevertheless he came into Cleveland as superstar Quarterback Savior #6541 and played as badly as those 6540 men before him. To the Browns’ credit, they did try to bring him on slowly. Perhaps they were too slow though. In his first two seasons he played all of four games. By the time he did take over in his third year, he didn’t get much of a chance, playing 10 games before getting pulled.
The Browns were terrible and impatient, and cut him loose after that season. He went on to be a journeyman, only seeing action one more time as a Chief in his worst pro career.
19 Brandon Weeden – 22nd Overall in 2012
When it rains it pours and they don’t call them the Browns for nothing. It’s amazing how closely Weeden’s career has matched that of the guy he was supposed to replace. Same team, same draft pick, the Browns selected a running back both times before selecting them. They’re practically the same person.
Unlike with Brady Quinn, however, Weeden was thrown in the fire immediately. He was 28 years old and the Browns didn’t have much time to waste. His rookie season wasn’t anything special and he got worse his second season. Much like with Quinn, he wasn’t given much of a chance, benched midway through his second season before eventually getting cut.
And much like Quinn, he bounced around a few times, stopping in Dallas and Houston where he’s been a serviceable backup, at least in Houston. It just goes to show that age doesn’t matter after all, even “old” guys can be terrible too.
18 Christian Ponder – 12th Overall in 2011
Christian Ponder is a strange one. He was probably taken higher than he should have been and thrown into a starting job too quickly. If you only look at how he played and his stats, you’d think he was terrible. But when you look at his work in that context, he doesn’t seem so bad.
In his rookie season he threw an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions, but his second year saw an improvement. His 18 to 12 touchdown to interception ratio was enough to lead the Vikings to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. Most of that was the defense and running back Adrian Petterson, but hey, he did a good enough job not screwing up.
That didn’t last of course and Ponder quickly lost his job the following season to Matt Cassel, and even Josh Freeman for a time. After that his career was done, staying in Minnesota for one more year before getting cut. He was on the Broncos roster for a month last season but was cut again before being activated for a single game.
17 Blaine Gabbert – 10th Overall in 2011
If Blaine Gabbert seems unnaturally high on this list, it’s entirely to do with this past season he spent with the 49ers in San Francisco. He was surprisingly decent there, though not exactly spectacular.
Before that, he was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars to be their face of the franchise. That much certainly happened, although it wasn’t quite the face the Jaguars wanted. Gabbert struggled throughout his time there, just managing to have a positive touchdown to interception ratio in his first two years. That fell apart in his final season as the start though, throwing seven interceptions to just one touchdown.
Most damning of all was that former players and coaches thought he looked scared. Once those rumors started circulating, his time in Jacksonville was all but over.
16 EJ Manuel – 16th Overall in 2013
EJ Manuel never should have been drafted as high as he was, with both NFL.com and SBNation projecting him to go in the early second round at best. He was a developmental pick coming out of Florida State. Nevertheless he was taken in the first round by the Bills and ended up not being any better.
He only really got one year to prove himself, and even then it wasn’t a full season only playing in 10 games. He wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t great either. His biggest problem was that he was injury prone, which might as well be a death sentence in the NFL, especially at quarterback.
Who knows, maybe one day he’ll get a second chance somewhere else, but right now he’s looking like a career backup in Buffalo.
15 Josh Freeman – 17th Overall in 2009
There was a brief time in 2010 when it looked like Freeman might be the next great quarterback. How bad can you be when you throw for nearly 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns to just 6 picks? But he regressed massively in 2011, only to regain “potentially great star QB” status in 2012 throwing 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Freeman may forever be defined as the quarterback who should have been great, but just wasn’t. Who knows what caused his sudden spikes and decline in competence; maybe it was his coaching staff, the players around him, or maybe he just didn’t work hard enough in those offseasons.
It just goes to show that you never know when a young player will suddenly become an all-star or a scrap heap of a player. That’s why so many teams are willing to give terrible quarterbacks so many chances.
14 Mark Sanchez – 5th Overall in 2009
It’s crazy to think Mark Sanchez is this high on this list, but his borderline competence (at times) just makes him better than most of these other guys.
Taken fifth overall by the Jets, Sanchez was a big name coming out of the draft. He was doing fashion shoots and everybody and their grandmother were taking about the pretty boy. To this day he’s still credited with leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his first two years, but he was the proverbial “game manager” at the best of times and a severe handicap at the worst.
After just a few years in New York, constantly battling for the starting job near the end, he became a journeymen. Now, inexplicably, he’s got the job of filling Peyton Manning’s shoes and that noise you hear is Joe Montana groaning in agony.
You could always count on Sanchez throwing an interception in a key drive or missing a wide open receiver. His “butt fumble” has become the stuff of mocking legend and when he went out wide in a wildcat formation once, well, you can imagine how that went down.
13 Sam Bradford – 1st Overall in 2010
Sam Bradford could have, and should have, been so much higher on this list. His rookie season was something special, at least by 2010 standards, and after an injury plague second season, he had a solid year in 2012. He was on pace for a truly great year in 2013 when disaster struck.
As you’re probably aware, Bradford is made out of tissue paper and thus is in a constant state of injury. He’s played a full season of 16 games twice in his career and missed all of the 2014 season due to his second ACL injury in as many years.
The Rams got tired of it and shipped him to Philadelphia in 2015, but he wasn’t the same. After one year as a starter, Bradford tried to hold out for a trade after the Eagles drafted a guy from North Dakota State to take his job, which ended in miserable failure and laughter from across the NFL.
12 Robert Griffin III – 2nd Overall in 2012
A lot’s been said about RGIII. He’s too selfish, he isn’t a leader, he’s a coach killer, he likes the spotlight too much, he’s injury prone, and his name makes him sound like a royal urban planner. Who knows how much of that is true, but the fact of the matter is, he hasn’t been very good in his career so far.
After an electric rookie year throwing for 20 touchdowns and rushing for 7 more, he got injured and lost his mojo. His coach Mike Shanahan took the blame for mishandling him, but when new coach Jay Gruden came in, things didn’t improve much for him. His legs stopped working, rushing for only a fraction of the yards he got his rookie campaign and only got one touchdowns. Worst of all it was like he didn’t know how to throw anymore, throwing 18 interceptions in his next two years.
Finally he was benched entirely for Kirk Cousins and Washington never looked back. Now Griffin is with the Browns, where he’ll likely end his career after three or four awful games. Feel free to bring this comment back to me if he starts winning Super Bowls and MVPs years down the line. I’m not worried about that.
11 Jay Cutler – 11th Overall in 2006
Does anybody actually like Jay Culter? Perhaps the most hated quarterback in the NFL not named Brady for… reasons? Cutler has put on a decent tenure in Denver and Chicago. Maybe that’s why, that word, “decent.” He was supposed to be so much more than that.
Issues of how hard Cutler plays have plagued him almost his whole career, culminating in the 2010 playoffs when fans booed him for coming out of the game against the hated Packers.
The fact of the matter is, Cutler has been underwhelming and underperforming his whole career, getting to the playoffs just that one time. But if you look at his stats on their own, he’s been phenomenal, throwing for 4,500 yards years before that became the norm. Of course, he throws a ton of interceptions as well and Brett Favre he ain’t.
Cutler will never go down as an all-time great thanks to his fear of winning and he should be a lot better than what he is. But on the bright side, he’s still one of the best QBs in the league today and better than a lot of people on this list.
10 Marcus Mariota – 2nd Overall in 2015
Marcus Mariota got off to a great start in his rookie year, though he did start to decline as the season went on. Still, he put up respectable numbers for an organization that hasn’t won much of anything in years. In his one and only season in the NFL, he threw 19 touchdowns to 10 picks, but struggled with 10 total fumbles.
It’s hard to say how good he’ll be going forward, but there are some immediate concerns. The first is injury, because he missed four games last year due to a knee injury. More pressing however is the coaching situation.
Mariota’s play very well could have suffered because of the coaching change the Titans made, ditching Ken Whisenhunt for perpetual loser Mike Mularkey. If his career starts to tank going forward, that’s a good place to start laying the blame.
9 Jameis Winston – 1st Overall in 2015
I’m potentially rating Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota too high at nine and eight, respectively, but that goes to show how terrible most QBs end up being when the weight of the world is thrust upon their shoulders.
Whether you think of Winston as a thief, or a juvenile, you have to admit that he’s a good quarterback as well. He threw for just over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, leading a Bucs team that was terrible for years.
We’ll have to see how his career goes from here, but if he keeps getting better and manages to not break any laws or *allegedly* doing terrible things, he might be great one day.
8 Teddy Bridgewater – 32nd Overall in 2014
Teddy Bridgewater barely made it into the first round as the Vikings traded up to get him in 2014, and they should be a lot happier about their decision than Washington. He might not have the flashiest stats in the world, and some might call him a “game manager,” but he’s a better quarterback than half of the starters in the NFL today.
He had a solid second season with over 3,000 yards passing and 14 touchdowns, leading his team to 11 wins and a narrow loss to the Seahawks in the Wild Card. He wasn’t great in that playoff game, not throwing any touchdowns, but it was his first playoff game against a team that had gone to two straight Super Bowls. Even then, they only lost because of a missed easy field goal.
Up until this point, the Vikings have been a run heavy team that relied on its defense. With Bridgewater entering his third season, don’t be surprised if the team opens up the passing game.
7 Blake Bortles – 3rd Overall in 2014
Is there any other recent guy who came this far out of nowhere so quickly? Playing at tiny Central Florida just three seasons ago, Bortles is now on the precipice of being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
In his second season, he racked up nearly 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns, making lesser known receivers like Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson look like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Now he’s got a healthy Pro Bowler in Julius Thomas at tight end and Chris Ivory at running back. This offense, assuming Bortles can at least play up to the same level he did last year, could be one of the most scary in the NFL.
The only thing that was holding Bortles back is the fact that the Jaguars have been the laughing stock of the league for years, but that’s not going to be the case anymore.
6 Joe Flacco – 18th Overall in 2008
This might be a controversial rank for Joe Flacco for several reasons. Is he too high thanks to his inconsistency and average numbers, or too low because he won a Super Bowl and as recently as 2014 had his best year?
He’s certainly had his troubles since he became the highest paid quarterback in the league (recently topped by a certain Colt). Last season he was plagued by injury and had his worst year since his 2013, which was the first year he threw more picks than touchdowns. Many are calling this a hot seat year for the quarterback, with the Ravens previously signing Ryan Mallet as a potential replacement.
But let’s not forget Flacco is the best quarterback in Ravens history, winning a Super Bowl in 2012, a year in which he had one of the greatest post-season performances by a quarterback ever. Keep in mind he’s the only quarterback on this list to win a Super Bowl and one of only two to even make it there as a starter.
5 Matthew Stafford – 1st Overall in 2009
As great as Matthew Stafford has been, many people would probably argue he’s been an underachiever, at least in terms of being able to produce wins.
The argument goes that he’s been able to consistently get close to 5,000 yards each year because he had Calvin Johnson out there catching passes for him, and the Lions aren’t fans of running the ball. All that may be true, but put Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow in this system and they’d fall flat on their faces. The fact of the matter is, Stafford has been great and the Lions' woes fall mostly on the defense and the coaching staff.
Let’s not forget in his third season, only a year after a devastating shoulder injury, he did pass for 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. He’s had a few down years, but even those years are better than most of the quarterbacks on this list.
4 Ryan Tannehill – 8th Overall in 2012
It’s amazing to think Ryan Tannehill, the former college wide receiver, could be so high on this list. He’s put up really good stats in his career, especially the last two years throwing for over 4,000 and over 20 touchdowns, and has never missed a game due to injury. But there’s just something about him that doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm.
Maybe it’s because the Dolphins have been mediocre at best when he’s been there, never making the playoffs and never winning more than eight games. Maybe it’s because his coach got fired mid-way through last season.
But he’s put up massive numbers with absolutely no one around him, a terrible coaching staff, and he's in the same division as the Patriots and the rapidly improving Bills and Jets. He’s also been one of the more consistent passers on this list, more so than Stafford which is why he’s slightly higher than him. He’s bound for a breakout year with new offensive minded head coach Adam Gase.
3 Andrew Luck – 1st Overall in 2012
Andrew Luck had a lot of pressure on his shoulders coming out of college, being heralded as the greatest quarterback prospect in a long time and a whole “Suck for Luck” campaign in the hopes NFL teams will tank just to get him.
When you take that into consideration, you can’t help but say that Luck hasn't been as elite as hoped. He threw 18 INTs in his rookie season and last year was a disaster for him all around. Arguably he’s only had one truly great season, in 2014.
The thing is though, he’s shown a lot of potential. You don’t throw for nearly 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns on accident, and he’s done it with almost nothing around him and a defensive minded head coach. I think the jury is still out on him, which isn’t what anyone wanted or expected to hear going into his fifth season, but the Colts are seemingly dismissive of these thoughts, recently making him the highest paid player in NFL history.
2 Matt Ryan – 2nd Overall in 2008
I bet you weren’t expecting Matt Ryan to be so high. Well, me neither. Again, that just goes to show how overwhelmingly mediocre (and sometimes terrible) first round quarterbacks end up being. But don’t let that fool you, Matt Ryan is one of the consistently best quarterbacks in the NFL and he has been for a long time. He’s easily the most underrated player in the league.
He’s got four straight 4,500 yards and 20+ touchdown seasons under his belt, he led his team to the playoffs four times almost making it to the Super Bowl in 2012, he’s been in a tough division with the Saints and Panthers, and he did it all with a defensive coaching staff and less than nothing around him (with the obvious exception of Julio Jones).
He’s an accurate passer, just mobile enough to avoid unnecessary sacks, he’s making Kyle Shanahan look like a decent coach, and he even slices and dices.
1 Cam Newton – 1st Overall in 2011
What is there to say about Cam Newton? He almost single-handedly led the Panthers to three straight NFC South Championships, took the team to the Super Bowl last season, won an MVP, and broke all kinds of records in his first two games.
He can throw the ball deep, destroy even defensive ends with his running ability, and celebrates like it's nobody’s business. He’s one of the most polarizing figures in American sports simply because of his celebrations and he’s not afraid to show his emotions on his sleeve, something NFL players need to do more often, not less.
Cam Newton, unlike anyone on this list, has completely revolutionized the quarterback position. He can run and throw, and he’s not a fast guy like Michael Vick, he’s a bulldozer, built like a fullback. Most impressively, he’s made guys like Ted Ginn and the ancient, oft injured Jonathan Stewart household names. Just about the only thing he can’t do is dive for the ball.
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