Quarterbacks are meant to be the face of a franchise, especially when they are drafted in the first round. But all too often we see college stars get tossed into action to early because they were drafted by a team amidst absolute desperation.
As fans, we love seeing our team grab a playmaker in the first round. There is nothing more boring than a team selecting an offensive lineman at the top of the draft. So, even though many of the last 20 quarterbacks selected in the first round were busts, they made fans happy for at least a couple of months.
Selecting a quarterback in the first round is a huge risk. However, the reward is even bigger if the guy can transition into the NFL. A lot of the guys on this list could have benefited from a team that didn’t so desperately need a quarterback. If they had time to sit on the bench and learn the differences between the NFL and college, they could have been great.
Instead, teams are pressured by the media and fans and tend to thrust young quarterbacks into the action far too early. Here, we will try to right some of those wrongs. Some guys got drafted by the right team, but the overwhelming majority went to the wrong team. It’s not the players fault they failed in just about every case, it’s the organizations fault for expecting too much out of a young athlete.
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20 Jared Goff, No. 1 (2016)
Should Have Gone: Baltimore Ravens, No. 6
Jared Goff’s strong arm and height (he’s 6’4’’) made him a lock for the Rams in the top spot of last year’s draft. But Los Angeles shouldn’t have locked him in at the No. 1 pick. The Rams seemed to be growing Goff on the bench through the first season before they thrust him into action against Miami in late-November. For a rookie quarterback and a team new to the city, this was a terrible combination. The Rams were inconsistent at a starting quarterback before throwing Goff in for the final seven games of the season – all were losses for Goff.
There’s nothing worse for a young quarterback then going 0-7 in your first season in the NFL. Maybe Goff will turn it around with the Rams, but he would have had a much easier transition had he been drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. Goff wouldn’t have seen any playing time in his first season, and maybe not in his second. But he would be able to grow behind veteran Joe Flacco until he came in to take over for the Ravens.
19 Carson Wentz, No. 2 (2016)
Should Have Gone: Los Angeles Rams, No. 1
The Eagles gave up a lot to trade up for Carson Wentz, making Wentz the highest FCS quarterback drafted in league history. Well, Wentz should have gone one spot higher. Instead of trading up to take Jared Goff, the Rams should have grabbed Wentz. Wentz didn’t do terrible in his first season. He went 7-9 as he was forced to play every single game. Even more surprising, he started out in the NFL with a 3-0 record.
But Philadelphia wore him down. He was throwing the ball far too often. Heck, one game against Cincinnati he had 60 passing attempts. His 607 passing attempts set a franchise record and was the second highest number for a rookie in league history.
Those numbers are kind of scary for a rookie quarterback. It would have suited Wentz much better to be on a team willing to let him ride the bench for a while, and not forcing him to throw the ball so much. The Rams, and Wentz, would have been better off if they were matched together.
18 Jameis Winston, No. 1 (2015)
Should Have Gone: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, No. 1
The Buccaneers are still ecstatic about drafting Jameis Winston. And it didn’t take them two seasons to realize it. Winston was great from the start. Winston was named the Rookie of the Year and was even selected to the Pro Bowl following his first season. Winston had some issues in college, which made him a bit of a risky pick. But Tampa Bay benefited greatly from this selection.
He’s the youngest player to reach 4,000 passing yards and the youngest player to pass for 40 touchdowns. After two seasons, Winston has tossed 50 touchdowns against 33 interceptions. He’s tossed for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, totaling 8,132 yards. And he’s rushed for seven touchdowns (six came in his rookie season).
Although Winston led Tampa Bay to a 6-10 record that first year, he followed up with a 9-7 performance. He’s on track to take this team to the playoffs, and maybe a playoff run in just his third season. Not bad for a team that was terrible a couple years ago.
17 Marcus Mariota, No. 2 (2015)
Should Have Gone: Chicago Bears, No. 7
The Tennessee Titans have benefited from Marcus Mariota but Mariota has not benefited as much from playing in Tennessee. Mariota has been posting great numbers since he started with Tennessee and even managed to take the team to a 9-7 record last season. That was after a miserable 3-13 rookie season. So, he’s trending upward, which is promising.
But he doesn’t have the talent surrounding him to elevate him to the superstar status that he should be. Of course, last season he was able to dump the ball to DeMarco Murray or toss it out to Delanie Walker. But he would have had many more options with Chicago, and his star status would have soared with these types of numbers with the Bears.
Add Mariota to the Bears and you’ve got a playoff-bound team. The Bears have been scrambling at the quarterback position and fell to a three-win season last year. With Mariota throwing the ball to Alshon Jeffery, you’ve got a threatening offense.
16 Blake Bortles, No. 3 (2014)
Should Have Gone: Buffalo Bills, No. 4
Blake Bortles is another guy who has been proving to be an NFL-worthy quarterback despite his awful team. The Jacksonville Jaguars have totaled 11 wins in three seasons with Bortles. That’s horrifying when you look at the numbers that Bortles has been posting. In the past two seasons, Bortles has thrown for 58 touchdowns vs. 33 interceptions and added more than 8,000 passing yards. He’s even rushed the ball for nearly 700 yards and five touchdowns in those two seasons.
If you add Bortles talent to the Buffalo Bills, we’d be looking at an entirely different AFC East. The Bills have hovered around a .500 club for the past three seasons. Their defense has been good and the main missing piece is a quarterback. With Bortles talent, the Bills would have a shot at a postseason run.
15 Johnny Manziel, No. 22 (2014)
Should Have Gone: St. Louis Rams, No. 75
The first couple of rounds were way too high to consider taking Johnny Manziel. Sure, he was a great college quarterback. But it would have benefited him immensely if he were drafted later. It would have humbled him a bit. Instead, Manziel saw himself as a star even though he proved nothing in the NFL. That’s partly Manziel’s fault, but it’s largely Cleveland’s fault for drafting him so high.
Now, it would have been tough to pass him up through the first couple of rounds back in 2014, but we know better. The Rams would have benefited two young quarterbacks by picking Manziel with their third-round pick. This tactic would not only have stripped Manziel from that annoying cockiness he’s had, but it would have forced a competition between Sam Bradford and Manziel. This would have no doubt elevated at least one of them to a solid starter for the Rams.
14 Teddy Bridgewater, No. 32 (2014)
Should Have Gone: Minnesota Vikings, No. 72
Teddy Bridgewater has been good, but not great during his playing time with the Vikings. Bridgewater deserved to be drafted, but with the way his career is going, it’s not deserving of a first-round spot. Unfortunately, Bridgewater missed all of last season because of a torn ACL and he’ll most likely battle injuries for the rest of his career. That’s a tough fate for a quarterback who led Minnesota to the playoffs with an 11-5 season during his second year in the league.
There’s no doubting that Bridgewater was a good fit for the Vikings as he helped the team reach the playoffs. But an unfortunate preseason injury drops his draft value. Missing an entire season is bad, but tearing an ACL for a mobile quarterback is worse. There’s no telling if Bridgewater will start an entire season again, but it’s worth a third-round pick to find out.
13 EJ Manuel, No. 16 (2013)
Should Have Gone: Kansas City Chiefs, No. 99
EJ Manuel spent a good chunk of his first season on the sidelines because of an injury. He then was benched in his second season and lost out on the starting job after that. Manuel, to this point, has been nothing more than a bench warmer for the Bills.
So, here the team that is going to draft Manuel will be taking a late-round chance on someone that may or may not succeed in the NFL, which is why the quarterback falls to the fourth round. And a perfect fit would be with any team struggling to find a quarterback over the last few years, but still has talent on the offense. That leaves us with Kansas City, who has been good but could benefit from some competition for quarterback.
It seems like Alex Smith is mighty complacent on the Chiefs, and if they had some depth at quarterback, maybe they wouldn’t struggle to score so much. A competition for the starting spot at quarterback would not have hurt the Chiefs.
12 Andrew Luck, No. 1 (2012)
Should Have Gone: Indianapolis Colts, No. 1
The Colts are one of the lucky teams to appear on this list. Selecting Andrew Luck was a great choice for the top pick in this draft class. Luck has solidified himself as the Colts starter for the foreseeable future as he’s been a fan favorite and Pro Bowl selection four times. The only time he missed out was in 2015 because he was sidelined with injuries. And in 2014, Luck led the league in touchdown passes. That’s not bad for someone in just their third season.
The Colts have showed Luck that he is appreciated in the form of a six-year extension worth $140 million, with $87 million guaranteed. So, there’s no doubting that he will be the future of the franchise as he will remain among the league’s top paid players for years to come.
11 Robert Griffin III, No. 2 (2012)
Should Have Gone: Cleveland Browns, No. 3
Robert Griffin III had an exceptional rookie season as he led the Redskins to their first playoff appearance in five years. Back then, it seemed he was the guy who should have been drafted first overall. Little did we know what was coming for the once Offensive Rookie of the Year (he was also selected to his only Pro Bowl appearance after that first season).
Injuries have plagued Griffin since the end of his first season. It’s been tough to watch because he was so good during his first year. It’s so rare that a quarterback performs so well, and to see his talent slip away because of injuries tugs at your heart.
But a lot of teams would sacrifice a first-round draft pick to get a playoff spot, just the Redskins would have been much better suited for the future had they not drafted Griffin. Instead, the Cleveland Browns haven’t done much since then and wouldn’t be any worse off having a one-and-done quarterback. Their fans would have appreciated the effort.
10 Ryan Tannehill, No. 8 (2012)
Should Have Gone: Houston Texans, No. 26
The Dolphins seem happy about drafting Ryan Tannehill as they’ve given him a 6-year contract extension through the 2020 season. Why not? He’s been pretty good since he started in the NFL. He’s had two 8-8 seasons, a six-win and a seven-win season. Most recently, he played 13 games and had an 8-5 record. He always throws way more touchdowns than interceptions and even rushes the ball in from time to time. His sack numbers are sometimes frightening – he led the league with 58 in 2013 – but that’s not entirely his fault.
After all he’s done with the Dolphins, we can accurately say that he’s been an average quarterback. But we’re not looking for an average quarterback that high in the draft. We want a star. So, let Tannehill fall to the Texans late in the first round. There his mediocrity can pair with an, at times, powerful defense and make some noise.
9 Brandon Weeden, No. 22 (2012)
Should Have Gone: New England Patriots, No. 197
A 30-year old, minor league pitcher was an awful pick in the first round for the Cleveland Browns. Brandon Weeden was awful, and the worst part was that just about everyone expected him to be awful. Even if he did manage to string together a couple mediocre seasons, Weeden would have been looking at a bum arm sooner than his fellow, much younger rookies.
Weeden spent most of the last season as a third-string quarterback on the Texans. He was the backup for the team during the win over Oakland in the playoffs. But Weeden was never really expected to see the field. So, Weeden needs to go somewhere that never anticipates using him in a game. He’s better suited as a second or third string quarterback.
That’s why the New England Patriots are the best fit for him as they essentially waste a sixth-round pick on Weeden, who may never see the field. But if he does, maybe he picks up a couple of tricks from watching Tom Brady.
8 Cam Newton, No. 1 (2011)
Should Have Gone: Carolina Panthers, No. 1
There is absolutely no reasoning behind re-drafting Cam Newton. Newton has been a superstar for the Panthers and for the NFL. In 2015, he was the league’s MVP and took his team to the Super Bowl. He was also the Offensive Player of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl (he’s also been in the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2015). Right out of the draft, Newton was amazing on offense. He was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011.
There is no one better the Panthers could have drafted and there is no better fit in the league for Newton. At this point it doesn’t seem like a question of if he will win a Super Bowl in Carolina, it’s more of a question of when he will win the Super Bowl for the Panthers.
7 Jake Locker, No. 8 (2011)
Should Have Gone: Atlanta Falcons, No. 192
Although other guys on this list come close, this is the first guy who probably shouldn’t have been drafted. Of course, though, with his collegiate career there was no way Jake Locker wasn’t getting drafted to an NFL team. So, here we are going to try and find the combination that keeps him in the league and keeps him away from injuries that forced his retirement.
Like Weeden, Locker can’t be drafted by a team in need of a quarterback. He needs some time – well a lot of time – on the bench to learn the NFL quarterback game, and with the way he played, he needs to learn it from one of the game’s greats. Locker no longer is in the NFL, his last season was in 2014 with the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him originally.
Because of how short his career was, we can’t justify anything higher than a last-round pick up. If he were taken by the Atlanta Falcons, he’d still be behind Matt Ryan and on his way to the Super Bowl. That would have been a much better fate than a three-year pro career.
6 Blaine Gabbert, No. 10 (2011)
Should Have Gone: Green Bay Packers, No. 96
Blaine Gabbert was another player who was tossed into action way before he was ready. Making things worse, he was tossed into the starting quarterback spot on a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars squad. Gabbert was the youngest player in NFL history to start 14 games in a season back in 2011. He would have been suited much better spending that time on the bench observing the game.
Instead though, he had an absolute terrible rookie season, a trend that continued over his injury-plagued next two seasons. In 2014, he was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. He was still with the 49ers this season as a backup.
As bad as his career has been, Gabbert did show spurts of an NFL-ready quarterback on the Jaguars. If he had time to develop, he could have been a consistent starter. That’s why his best fit would have been in Green Bay, where he could have learned from one of the best until he eventually found a starting spot.
5 Christian Ponder, No. 12 (2011)
Should Have Gone: San Francisco, No. 80
For the third time in this year’s draft class, we have a guy who shouldn’t have started in his first season. Ponder was initially slated to learn from Donovan McNabb and grow on the bench while McNabb road out the final games of his career. But that happened far sooner than the Vikings expected.
McNabb only made it to October, and even worse Ponder’s first appearance came in the fourth quarter of a blowout game. In 2013, Ponder was part of the Viking push to make the playoffs, but that was largely due to Adrian Peterson’s monstrous season.
By 2014, Ponder was a third-string backup and he hasn’t been anything other than a backup since. It would have been unconventional but the 49ers should have selected Ponder with their third-round pick. They had taken Colin Kaepernick in the second round, so this would have provided a good one-two punch at the quarterback position and some extra competition would have benefited both of the young quarterbacks. Plus, Ponder would have learned a lot from Kaepernick’s successful early years.
4 Sam Bradford, No. 1 (2010)
Should Have Gone: Arizona Cardinals, No. 26
Sam Bradford has been a good NFL quarterback, but not among the NFL’s elite. Bradford really has been more of an average to below-average quarterback for most of his career. In the top spot, fans and organizations alike are looking for someone who will be a star. You expect someone that will show up on commercials for the NFL and someone who will take you to the playoffs.
Back in 2010, Bradford looked ready to be a quarterback. And that was on a Rams team that didn’t have much to offer. Bradford would have benefitted greatly from getting drafted by a team like Arizona Cardinals, who were working with a few different quarterbacks that year. Bradford would have been able to throw to Larry Fitzgerald and the duo could have done some great things, and even eventually make a playoff run.
3 Tim Tebow, No. 25 (2010)
Should Have Gone: New England Patriots, No. 150
This will go down as one of the most scrutinized draft picks in history, and most of the scrutiny came in the days following the pick. Everyone knew back then that Tim Tebow wasn’t deserving of a first-round pick. Back then, most people wondered whether Tebow was deserving of a chance to be a quarterback in the league. Tebow needed to be drafted by someone willing to experiment with other positions. He did not need to be picked by someone in the first, second or even third or fourth rounds.
Tebow should have fell to a team with the skill and coaching talent to switch things up. The team with that best chance is no doubt, the New England Patriots. Tebow would have been experimented with and given the best shot at success.
2 Matthew Stafford, No. 1 (2009)
Should Have Gone: Detroit Lions, No. 1
Again, we have a team that got it right, and it has been fun to watch Matthew Stafford on the Detroit Lions. It’s not often that a No. 1 picked quarterback is paired with an absolute stud wide receiver. It happened this year. It did however, take some time for the duo to see some success.
Detroit was on the verge of greatness after this year’s draft. They had a talented receiver with a great collegiate quarterback. Yet, not many quarterbacks can make the jump to the NFL without a few hiccups. Stafford was not an exception to this. He got beat up that first year and led his team to the second worst record in the league.
But it wasn’t long before the duo began to really click, and it wasn’t long before the Lions became a playoff worthy team. Though it was tough to be a Detroit fan in the early years, it made the team who they are today and provided a great base for future operations.
1 Mark Sanchez, No. 5 (2009)
Should Have Gone: Buffalo Bills, No. 28
It is very easy to forget that Mark Sanchez is still in the league. Especially because he’s now left on the bench behind the rookie sensation Dak Prescott. Sanchez would have benefited from not starting in such a high-profile area as New York. Playing with the Jets really seemed to beat the confidence of Sanchez, who is often called out for the “butt” fumble nowadays.
Sanchez deserves a spot in the league, even if it’s mentoring young quarterbacks. That may have been his trajectory no matter where he was drafted. But he would have had a much better shot at being a starter if he weren’t drafted to the highly-scrutinized New York Jets. Sanchez still gets a first round spot because on a less scrutinized team, like the Buffalo Bills, he gets time to grow and hone in his game. If he were drafted by the Bills, he may still be starting on an NFL roster.
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