Quarterbacks are the gems of every National Football League draft class. A franchise QB is worth the first overall pick of any draft, as that individual can, theoretically, serve as the CEO of a team’s offense and also the face of a club for at least a decade. The Indianapolis Colts will obviously never regret using the first selection of the 1998 NFL Draft on a prospect named Peyton Manning. Manning went on to become arguably the greatest regular season QB in NFL history and a player who was worth multiple number one picks. At the opposite end of the draft value spectrum is New England Patriots legend Tom Brady, who was the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft. Brady will likely always be remembered as the best draft pick in the history of North American professional sports.
General Managers in need of solid, if not great, QBs hope draft classes will solve their problems and, in many cases, save their jobs. The NFL has a long history of draft classes supplying the league with multiple great signal-callers who established and cemented tremendous legacies and guaranteed spots in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, plenty of draft classes have also provided the NFL with nothing but QB busts who flopped and failed. It’s hard to imagine there will ever come a time when a better QB class emerges than the one listed at the very end of this piece. That QB class remains the gold standard even if the man who was probably the best of the bunch never won a Super Bowl during his amazing career.
15 Best: 2012 NFL Draft
It cannot be forgotten Robert Griffin III flamed-out of the NFL after being named Rookie of the Year, and we also still don’t know what Andrew Luck will or will not achieve with the Indianapolis Colts.
Still, Russell Wilson, a third-round pick, has a Super Bowl ring on his resume and is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. A healthy Ryan Tannehill possesses the goods to be a franchise QB. Kirk Cousins continues to be disrespected by the team that drafted him for reasons that make little sense to outside observers. Granted, Brock Osweiler probably only hurts the grade of this QB class, but this group could end up being even better than advertised if Luck ever reaches his high ceiling and either Tannehill or Cousins win a title.
14 Worst: 1991 NFL Draft
Nobody should pretend the Atlanta Falcons knew they were getting a future Hall-of-Famer when they took Brett Favre in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft. Outside of Favre, this QB class is largely forgettable. Dan McGwire, the first QB taken off the board that year, played in only a handful of games. Todd Marinovich wasn’t much better during his stint in the pros.
There was probably a time when fans of the New York Jets had high hopes for Browning Nagle because of course they did. Larry Wanke, the “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 1991 NFL Draft, failed to make an impact for the New York Giants or any other team before he was out of the league. Without Favre, this would be an even worse QB class.
13 Best: 2011 NFL Draft
The QB class from the 2011 NFL Draft may be the most underrated of all the best groups mentioned in this piece. Cam Newton, the first overall pick, has won MVP. Andy Dalton may not have a good playoff record, but he’s still a solid starter for the Cincinnati Bengals and a QB a plethora of teams would love to start in Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season.
Politics aside, Colin Kaepernick was once good enough to start on Super Bowl Sunday and should probably have a job in the NFL ahead of the start of the season. Tyrod Taylor, a sixth-round pick, went from being a forgotten backup to a starter who probably deserves a little better from the Buffalo Bills these days. Terrelle Pryor also entered the league back in 2011, but he's now a wide receiver.
12 Worst: 1997 NFL Draft
Jim Druckenmiller was the first QB taken off the board in 1997. If you’re anything like us, you had to look him up to see what he did, and didn’t, achieve as a pro. There was a brief period of time when it seemed Jake Plummer could evolve into a dependable starter, at worst, but those moments were nothing more than teases.
Outside of those two, this QB class is filled with individuals who never became starters and who quietly exited the league without much fanfare. A big reason this isn’t considered the absolute worst QB class in history is that it is without a big-name bust. After all, did anybody really believe Druckenmiller was going to become the next Joe Montana before he was drafted?
11 Best: 1984 NFL Draft
Whenever you question your football knowledge, remember that NFL General Managers and coaches believed to be smarter than we average fans allowed Steve Young to enter the league via the 1984 Supplemental Draft. Young, one of the greatest to ever play the position, tops what would be an impressive class even without his name.
Boomer Esiason came close to guiding the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl win over Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. Jeff Hostetler helped the New York Giants pull off a shocking upset of the Buffalo Bills at Super Bowl XXV. While Jay Schroeder’s career doesn’t match up to those who were drafted before him, he did manage to spend a decade in the NFL and also earn a Super Bowl ring as a backup.
10 Worst: 1996 NFL Draft
The truth of the matter is that you could probably flip the 1996 and 1997 QB classes in such a list without much argument from anybody. Tony Banks was the first quarterback taken in the 1996 NFL Draft, and that you probably don’t even remember him says plenty about the overall class.
The best of the bunch remains Danny Kanell, who was a star for the New York Giants for about a heartbeat before he ultimately lost his job. The 1996 NFL Draft should remind a fan desperate for his favorite team to take any quarterback available that reaching for a signal-caller at any point is often unwise and, in reality, a waste of a draft pick. Teams could’ve passed on every QB from this class.
9 Best: 2005 NFL Draft
Aaron Rodgers, who fell to the 24th pick before being grabbed by the Green Bay Packers, will probably be enshrined in the Hall of Fame before 2030. Rodgers is number one from this class, but the entire group is impressive.
Alex Smith routinely takes team to the playoffs even if he can’t win the “big game.” Matt Cassel once proved to be more than an adequate fill-in for the New England Patriots when Tom Brady went down to injury. Derek Anderson was named to the 2007 Pro Bowl squad, and he remains a backup in the league to this day. Let’s not forget about Ryan Fitzpatrick, the last QB selected in the 2005 NFL Draft. Fitzpatrick, like Anderson, is a backup who has earned millions of dollars as a journeyman.
8 Worst: 2010 NFL Draft
In fairness, it’s still somewhat difficult to fully grade this QB class because Sam Bradford, the first overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, remains an unknown commodity. Take Bradford out of the equation for the time being, though, and you’ll find a QB class filled with big names who failed and failed spectacularly.
Tim Tebow is currently a baseball player signed by the New York Mets following his lackluster football career that, in his defense, included a playoff victory. Jimmy Clausen was a dud. Colt McCoy never really had a chance to find much success with the Cleveland Browns. If Bradford is unable to land a long-term home in the NFL past 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings or any other team, this QB class will only fall in stature
7 Best: 1957 NFL Draft
You may not immediately think to go all the way back to the 1957 NFL Draft to find a stellar QB class because of the nature of the league at the time. Len Dawson, the second quarterback selected that year, failed to do much with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he became a legend after landing with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Like Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen was eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jack Kemp was selected in the 17th round of the draft, and he played pro football for over a decade and won a pair of AFL titles. John Brodie was one of the prolific passers of his generation well before a time when the league was built on protecting quarterbacks and passing attacks.
6 Worst: 2002 NFL Draft
You almost have to feel sorry for David Carr, the first overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft who was repeatedly hung out to dry by awful offensive lines built by those running the Houston Texans at the time. Carr isn’t close to being the worst QB from this awful draft class.
Joey Harrington is one of the most regrettable draft selections ever made by the Detroit Lions. Patrick Ramsey was just a guy. David Garrard retired with a record of 39-37, which isn’t awful but is hardly great. Josh McCown is probably the best QB from the entire class, if only because he's still in the league and is going to start for the New York Jets in Week 1 of the 2017 campaign. Give McCown credit for being a gutsy warrior willing to sacrifice his body for awful teams (and lots of money).
5 Best: 1971 NFL Draft
If the Pro Football Hall of Fame had a wing dedicated to players who deserved better from voters, the 1971 QB class would have several men enshrined today. Jim Plunkett won a pair of titles during his 15 years in the NFL. Archie Manning is, at absolute worst, one of the greatest quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl. Ken Anderson won the MVP award for the 1981 campaign.
Far too many people remember Joe Theismann because of the horrific leg injury he suffered on national television and, later, for being an announcer for ESPN that they forget he is a Super Bowl champion and also won MVP honors for the 1983 season. Let’s not forget about Lynn Dickey, the third-round pick who became one of the greatest offensive players in the history of the Green Bay Packers.
4 Worst: 2013 NFL Draft
Maybe, just maybe, a few of the QBs from the 2013 NFL Draft will shock us. If not, however, this group is historically terrible. E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith, the first two quarterbacks selected in 2013, are both backups heading into the start of the 2017 season.
Mike Glennon managed to get paid millions upon millions of dollars by the Chicago Bears before having to fight to keep his job away from rookie Mitch Trubisky, who will probably replace Glennon sooner rather than later. Ryan Nassib has been lucky enough to sit behind future Hall-of-Famers Eli Manning and Drew Brees during his time in the NFL. It’s not crazy to suggest not a single man from the QB class of 2013 will be starting in the league by the end of the decade.
3 Best: 2004 NFL Draft
The 2004 QB class remains the best from the current century, and it really isn’t all that close of a competition. Eli Manning, the first player selected during the 2004 NFL Draft, is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, the greatest quarterback in the history of the New York Giants and a future Hall-of-Famer. Ben Roethlisberger, who also has two championships, will join Manning in Canton at some point in the future.
It’d only be fitting if Manning and Roethlisberger met on the final Sunday of a season for a title game before they retired. Statistically speaking, Philip Rivers may be the most accomplished QB to never play in a Super Bowl if he retires without winning a Conference Championship. Matt Schaub had a solid run, even though he eventually became known for throwing pick-six interceptions during games.
2 Worst: 2007 NFL Draft
The 2007 QB class is the ugly step-sibling when compared to the 2004 group. JaMarcus Russell, the first overall pick from 2007, is possibly the biggest bust in NFL history. Fans of the Cleveland Browns cheered when the club acquired Brady Quinn, but Quinn had neither the goods nor the help to win much of note during his stint in the league.
Kevin Kolb retired after suffering multiple concussions during his playing days. Drew Stanton is allegedly still in the league as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, but you probably wouldn’t know it by watching the team. Trent Edwards won some games during his brief time in the league before he faded from timelines and memories. Let us never again speak of the 2007 QB class after this sentence.
1 Best: 1983 NFL Draft
Every QB draft class shall bow before the 1983 group that will probably forever be the greatest in NFL history. We begin with John Elway, the first player selected in the 1983 NFL Draft, and a man who went on to win a pair of championships and eventually enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jim Kelly and Dan Marino both retired without Super Bowl rings, but both are enshrined in Canton and recognized as two of the best to ever play the position.
Because of the greatness of these three, some forget the New York Jets grabbed Ken O’Brien late in the first round of the draft, and that Tony Eason out-dueled Dan Marino in an AFC Championship Game as a member of the New England Patriots. The 2004 QB class is spectacular, but that bunch falls shy of 1983’s among the best ever.