Draft classes don’t completely ride on the success of the quarterbacks, but it’s obviously the premier position in the NFL, so it gets most of the attention. Granted, a draft littered with Hall of Famers at other spots can overshadow a horrendous crop of quarterbacks, but how we remember a particular year typically comes down to how the QBs panned out.
Since 1992, there’s been a wide array of quality at the quarterback position when it comes to the draft. We’ve seen Hall of Famers get drafted, and we’ve also watched some of the biggest busts flop at the professional level.
To put each of the last 25 quarterback classes into perspective – excluding 2017, because it’s way too early to tell – we ranked them from abysmal to all-time great.
This might be the worst quarterback class of all time, and it’s certainly the worst in the past 25 years. Russell going first overall tells you everything you need to know, seeing as he’s one of the biggest busts in NFL history. Quinn was equally bad after his long wait in the green room, absolutely tanking in Cleveland with very little help around him. Surprisingly, Edwards was the best starter from this class, going 14-19 in 33 games. Drew Stanton, a backup in Arizona, has done very little in 10 years.
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Notables: EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon
None of the first three quarterbacks taken in this class is with the team that drafted him. And when they have started games, they’ve been awful. As a whole, the 11 quarterbacks drafted have combined to go 26-49 in 65 starts. Glennon will have a chance to improve that number this season with the Bears, but success won’t find the rest of the 2013 QBs.
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Notables: Tony Banks, Danny Kanell
The first quarterback taken in the 1996 draft was Banks at No. 42 overall. That just goes to show how bad this group of players was. He started 78 games, going 35-43 in his career. Kanell was the Giants’ starter for two years, albeit with unspectacular play at the quarterback position. In hindsight, no QB from this class was worth even a third-round pick.
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Notables: Jake Plummer, Jim Druckenmiller
Only one quarterback from this class was a starter for an entire season, and that was Plummer. That’s not really a complement as much as it’s an indictment of the 1997 quarterback crop being a complete bust. Druckenmiller headlines the group as one of the worst first-round picks ever, starting exactly one game in the NFL.
Notables: Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Cody Kessler
Prescott is the reigning Rookie of the Year and got off to as good of a start any quarterback could hope for. He’s a future All-Pro and Super Bowl champion, most likely, far outplaying his draft position in the fourth round. Wentz also looks like a perennial Pro Bowler, while Goff has a lot of work to do to prove he was worth the first overall pick. Kessler may wind up being a career backup, but he showed flashes in Year 1.
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Notables: Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy
Had Bradford been a mid-first-rounder, he probably wouldn’t be viewed the way he is today. It’s the fact that he was the first overall pick and dealt with several significant injuries that makes him look like a bust. He’s not exactly that, but he hasn’t been great, either. Tebow and McCoy were the next-best quarterbacks from this group, which isn’t saying much.
Notables: David Carr, Joey Harrington, David Garrard
This was a pretty underwhelming class as a whole, with Julius Peppers, Ed Reed and Dwight Freeney being the only truly great players to come out, and it was even worse when looking at just the quarterbacks. Garrard was arguably the best of the bunch with 39 career wins, while Carr and Harrington -- massive whiffs at Nos. 1 and 3 overall -- combined to go 59-106. But hey, at least Josh McCown is still in the league.
Dilfer may be one of the worst quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl, but a ring is a ring – even if he did have just three touchdown passes in four postseason games that year. His best statistical seasons came with Tampa Bay, the team that drafted him, where he won 38 games and was a Pro Bowler. Frerotte bounced around throughout his career, and Shuler was a bust for the Redskins after starting just 13 games in Washington.
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Notables: Jay Cutler, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Kellen Clemens
While both Young (No. 3) and Leinart (No. 10) were busts in the NFL, Cutler (No. 11) was better than many perceived him to be. He dealt with several injuries but was still a primary starter for nine years and made one Pro Bowl. Young also won Rookie of the Year honors before he fell apart, ending what was expected to be a terrific career. This class could have been great had Young and Leinart played the way they did in college.
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Notables: Brad Johnson, Jeff Blake, Ty Detmer, David Klingler
Johnson was a starter for eight years, making the Pro Bowl twice. He led the Bucs to a Super Bowl win in 2003, which was the highlight of his career. Blake was a journeyman who played for seven different teams, but his best seasons came in Cincinnati, where he was a Pro Bowler. Detmer also bounced around a bit, while Klingler was a bust as the Bengals’ first-round pick (No. 6 overall), going an unremarkable 4-20 in his career.
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Notables: Carson Palmer, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman
Palmer has had a good career with both the Bengals and Cardinals despite a rough patch in Oakland from 2011-12. He has 285 career touchdown passes and is a three-time Pro Bowler, leading the league in TD throws and completion percentage in 2005. Although he’s made the playoffs only three times, he’s been a top-tier starter for a while. Boller, Leftwich and Grossman were decent, but none of the three made the Pro Bowl even once.
Notables: Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman,
Stafford probably hasn’t lived up to the hype of being a first overall pick, but he’s been a solid starter for seven years, injury issues aside. He hasn’t missed a single game since 2011 and has 168 touchdown passes to just 87 interceptions in the past six years. Sanchez led the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games, while Freeman had a couple of seasons in which he was a stud. In 2010, he threw 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions, but somehow didn’t make the Pro Bowl.
Notables: Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Jimmy Garoppolo, Johnny Manziel
Carr is going to win an MVP at some point, and probably a Super Bowl. Bridgewater may never play another snap in the NFL, but he appears to be on the right track. Bortles looks like a bust, as does Manziel, but Garoppolo’s career hasn’t even started yet. Ranking this class as high as I did has to do with some projecting, but there’s a chance Carr and Garoppolo go on to win multiple titles in the not-so-distant future.
Notables: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Trevor Siemian
I might be higher on this class than others, and it’s still very early, but Winston and Mariota have a chance to become the best quarterback duo to go first and second overall in league history. They should become what Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were supposed to be, and as long as injuries don’t derail that it has a good chance of happening. Both players improved greatly in 2016, and both of their arrows are pointing straight up.
Notables: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Chad Henne
Ryan’s MVP season in 2016 makes this class look much better than it did a year ago, and it has a chance to improve even more going forward. Flacco already has a Super Bowl ring, and Ryan should also have one, while Henne started for three years. Ultimately, the verdict on this group of quarterbacks will come down to Flacco and Ryan, and the number of rings they can amass.
Notables: Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Aaron Brooks, Akili Smith
McNabb never won a Super Bowl, nor did any starting quarterback from this class, but he was a much better player than he got credit for. He was a six-time Pro Bowler, started 16 playoff games and is the Eagles’ all-time leader in several categories. Culpepper was also a great player for a brief stretch before injuries hindered him, while Brooks was a six-year starter after being drafted in the fourth round. Smith was the big bust at No. 3 overall.
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Notables: Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick
Newton already has an MVP to his name and reached the Super Bowl once, so his career is headed in the right direction. Dalton has been underrated, making the Pro Bowl three times in six years. Taylor got off to a slow start after sitting behind Joe Flacco for a little while, but he’s since made the Pro Bowl and had his stock continue to rise. Kaepernick isn’t the player he once was, but there was a stretch for a while where he was dominant.
Notables: Steve McNair, Kerry Collins, Kordell Stewart
If not for injuries, McNair could have had a much better career – not that his wasn’t truly great. He won one MVP, was a three-time Pro Bowler and led the Titans and Ravens to five playoff appearances. He was a dual-threat quarterback who could also sling it, bringing a different style of play to the position. Collins made two Pro Bowls throughout his journeyman career, while Stewart made one, as well.
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Notables: Drew Bledsoe, Mark Brunell, Trent Green, Elvis Grbac
Bledsoe technically has a ring, even though he didn’t take a single snap in the Super Bowl the year the Patriots won it all, but he was still a great quarterback. He made four Pro Bowls and was a starter in the NFL for 12 years, a resume just about every draftee would like to have. Brunell also won a Super Bowl at the end of his career as a backup, while Green was a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
Notables: Tom Brady, Chad Pennington, Marc Bulger
Without Brady, this draft class looks pretty weak. Bulger was a solid player for the Rams, and Pennington was a staple of the non-Patriots AFC East for several years, but it’s Brady who elevates this group. He has five Super Bowl rings, 12 Pro Bowl appearances and is a two-time MVP. Oh, and it’s well within the conversation of being the G.O.A.T.
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Notables: Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Quincy Carter
Brees is a future Hall of Famer with one Super Bowl ring, putting together one of the all-time greatest careers the NFL has ever seen. He transcended the term “volume passer” for several years, leading the league in attempts four times, while completing 66.6 percent of his passes. Vick was a revolutionary player with his speed and quickness at quarterback and is arguably the best athlete to ever play the position. Carter didn’t do much with the Cowboys, but he did win 10 games in 2003.
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Notables: Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, Derek Anderson, Ryan Fitzpatrick
Smith was supposed to be the biggest name from this class, but it’s Rodgers who’s put together a career that rivals those of current Hall of Famers. Rodgers has a good chance to double his Super Bowl count before it’s all said and done, which would improve the perception of this crop even further. He and Smith have combined to make eight Pro Bowls, while Cassel and Anderson each made one. Fitzpatrick made the most of his ability as a seventh-round pick, while Campbell was a solid starter for a couple of years.
Notables: Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Brian Griese, Charlie Batch, Ryan Leaf
It was a tiny class for quarterbacks – only seven were taken – but the headliner at the top sets it apart. Manning is one of the best ever to play the position and is a lock to make the Hall of Fame, winning two Super Bowls with seven first-team All-Pro selections. Leaf obviously never turned into anything, but Griese won a Super Bowl and Hasselbeck was a three-time Pro Bowler. This class of quarterbacks was carried by Manning and his Hall of Fame resume.
Notables: Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill
Had RG3 panned out the way many expected him to, this class may have had a chance to become an all-time great. Luck is a once-in-a-generation player, Wilson has won more games to start his career than any other quarterback, and Cousins is probably in line to become the highest-paid player in the NFL at some point. Foles and Tannehill have also had some success, spending eight years combined as starters with one Pro Bowl appearance. Wilson’s Super Bowl win – he should have two – elevates this class greatly, as well.
Notables: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub
It’s not the greatest quarterback class ever, but in the last 25 years, it certainly is the best. Manning and Roethlisberger have each won two Super Bowls, spending 12 and 13 years as their teams’ starters, respectively. Based on those two players alone, it’s a terrific class. Add in Rivers, who’s never missed a game (like Manning), and the crop of quarterbacks to come out that year was tremendous. The entire class has combined to make a whopping 17 Pro Bowls.