On the first night of the 2021 NFL Draft, at least five quarterbacks are expected to hear their names called. Between Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones, each of this year's anticipated first-round signal-callers could even be off the board within the first 10 picks. Each and every one has also drawn his fair share of praise ahead of an official NFL entrance. But what does recent history tell us about the likelihood of first-round QBs panning out? You may want to avert your eyes.
Are you more likely to strike gold on a first-round QB than a mid- or late-rounder? Yes, no matter how many times the Tom Brady story fools people into targeting "diamonds in the rough." But you'd think by now we would've learned that the hype surrounding even consensus top 10 picks rarely pays off. For every long-term solution found at the top of the draft, there are literally three times as many QBs who end up just average, if not franchise-cripplingly bad.
Most first-round QB failures can be attributed at least in part to bad circumstances. Was Sam Bradford a disappointment, or was he just battered behind a porous line? Was Robert Griffin III a one-hit wonder, or was he the victim of organizational infighting? Was Josh Rosen overhyped, or was he done in by his own team in transition? Oftentimes, these factors ring true. Many teams picking QBs early, remember, are picking QBs early for a reason. Some of the best first-round QBs have blossomed in the cozy confines of good organizations that just happened to benefit from injury-riddled losing seasons (see: 2012 Colts) or traded up (see: 2017 Chiefs).
Still, the track record isn't pretty. Draft season tends to get everyone excited, and rightfully so: It's a stage for opportunity! For fresh hope! But if the last decade of first-round QB output has anything to tell us, it's unfortunately that only one -- maybe two -- of this year's top passers will end up starring for their original team for more than a few seasons.
Below is a look back through the last 10 years of first-round QB picks, sorted by year and individually designated a "hit," "miss" or "half-hit." (Slam us for the "half-hit" seesawing, but there's just no easy way to define some of the most recent QBs. See more below.)
- Total first-round QB picks: 32 (average of 3.2 per year)
- Most swings: Browns (3), Bills (2), Cardinals (2), Jaguars (2), Titans (2), Vikings (2)
- Total hits: 7.5 out of 32 (23%)
He sure looks like the real deal, bringing a ton of moxie to Cincy, and a healthier O-line will help. But it's way too early.
There's a lot to like about Tua (smarts, efficiency, poise), but he couldn't even convince Miami to trust him in key situations as a full-timer. His ceiling doesn't look nearly as high as that of Burrow, but the jury's still out.
We almost threw caution to the wind and just labeled him a hit, because his arm is already one of the most electric in the game. But we've seen big shots fizzle before.
Unless Aaron Rodgers actually leaves Green Bay in the next few years, he's got a tough road to stardom with the Packers.
QB: Kyler Murray | Team: Cardinals | Overall pick: 1
He could stand to be smarter with the ball, but at worst, his play-making guarantees he'll never be counted out.
The numbers haven't been great, but he's still physically gifted. Let's see what he does with better weaponry.
QB: Dwayne Haskins | Team: Washington | Overall pick: 15
Far worse than RGIII, who actually looked transcendent for a bit. Not exactly a great support staff, though.
QB: Baker Mayfield | Team: Browns | Overall pick: 1
You hope for a little more of a sustainable "it" factor from a No. 1 pick, but he deserves all the credit in the world for enduring several staff overhauls and settling in as a fiery point guard of an up-and-coming offense. The arrow is pointing up.
He may rebound nicely in Carolina, but the Big Apple stint couldn't have gone much worse. The Jets had a big hand in the mess, but he also rarely looked capable of overcoming the slop.
QB: Josh Allen | Team: Bills | Overall pick: 7
Like Murray, he could benefit from a little self- and football-preservation every now and then. But all the tools are there, and his trajectory has been magnificent. What a dual-threat blessing he's been to Buffalo.
QB: Josh Rosen | Team: Cardinals | Overall pick: 10
Is it ironic that he replaced Sam Bradford in Arizona?
Poke fun at his early playoff results all you want, but 30ish NFL teams would be blowing up the Ravens' phones if he were available. There hasn't been a purer athlete -- a more dynamic weapon -- at QB since Michael Vick.
He flashed, but that was about it. Chicago is still trying to live this one down ... with Andy Dalton.
His pending legal situation obviously clouds this one at the moment, but on the field, Watson has regularly been in the top 10, if not top five, conversation thanks to pristine pocket presence.
QB: Patrick Mahomes | Team: Chiefs | Overall pick: 12
The hit of all hits, Mahomes is a weekly sight to behold, an unthinkable throwing artist and the present model for contemporary QBs. His selection alone makes this list -- chock-full of duds -- look pretty good.
Yes, he's now an afterthought exiled to Detroit, and he folded way too often under pressure, but without his flirt with an MVP candidacy circa 2017-2018, the Rams probably don't go to the playoffs three times in four years and appear in the Super Bowl. They may be happy Matthew Stafford is in tow as an upgrade, but they can't regret his formative seasons alongside Sean McVay.
Talk about an oddly similar path as Goff. It's impossible to write Wentz's Eagles career as anything but a "what- could-have-been" tease, considering injuries and organizational drama (and his darn backup winning it all!) robbed him of the chance to become a franchise legend. But his burst onto the scene and MVP flashes were direct influences on Philly's championship run.
A career resurgence may be in order in New Orleans, and he did show off his arm with monster stats in 2019, but he'll always be known in Tampa Bay as the mercurial warm-up act for Tom Brady.
QB: Marcus Mariota | Team: Titans | Overall pick: 2
Banged up and rarely as explosive as he appeared coming out of Oregon, he'll always be remembered as the lukewarm warm-up act for Ryan Tannehill, who appears a little farther down the list.
QB: Blake Bortles | Team: Jaguars | Overall pick: 3
There was a moment when his arm appeared as if it might be strong enough to overcome risky decisions and odd mechanics. It was fleeting.
QB: Johnny Manziel | Team: Browns | Overall pick: 22
His name alone tells the story.
QB: Teddy Bridgewater | Team: Vikings | Overall pick: 32
It feels a little tough on Teddy to call him a miss, because he started his career well enough, as a confident, if unspectacular, shepherd of the Adrian Peterson ground game. Knee injuries derailed his availability, though, and he's been just fine since.
QB: EJ Manuel | Team: Bills | Overall pick: 16
Bet you forgot about this one. He made just 17 starts over four seasons.
QB: Andrew Luck | Team: Colts | Overall pick: 1
The abrupt retirement and injuries that preceded it make him slightly more mythical than iconic, but the numbers don't lie: Three straight 11-5 seasons to start his career, with three 30+ touchdown campaigns and a ton of grit? Indy's still looking for his true successor.
QB: Robert Griffin III | Team: Washington | Overall pick: 2
He and Colin Kaepernick seemed to be welcoming a new wave of dual-threat QBs to the NFL in 2012, but the magic didn't last beyond one season, mainly due to the physical toll he took.
QB: Ryan Tannehill | Team: Dolphins | Overall pick: 8
The Titans can gladly champion Tannehill as a phoenix risen from ashes, but Miami sat through seven years of basically .500 play.
QB: Brandon Weeden | Team: Browns | Overall pick: 22
Can you believe he was really, actually, seriously 28 when the Browns picked him? By the start of Year Three, he'd already thrown almost as many picks.
One of the most exhilarating young QBs of his time. Newton is a more battered beast these days, but in his prime, he scared everyone with his size, arm and swagger. His 2015 MVP breakout, through the air and on the ground, was the biggest reason for the Panthers' trip to the Super Bowl that year.
QB: Jake Locker | Team: Titans | Overall pick: 8
Only 23 starts through four seasons before Locker stopped playing for good.
QB: Blaine Gabbert | Team: Jaguars | Overall pick: 10
Before Goff showcased contemporary pocket wilting, Gabbert perfected it in Jacksonville. (But he can laugh now, because he just won it all hanging out with Brady in Tampa!)
QB: Christian Ponder | Team: Vikings | Overall pick: 12
Minnesota fans try to forget his tenure, though, to be fair, he entered at a time the Vikings were cycling through aging heroes like Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and even Randy Moss (on a second stint) prior to Mike Zimmer's arrival.