NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota poses with the Heisman Trophy during a press conference after the 2014 Heisman Trophy presentation at the New York Marriott Marquis on December 13, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Quarterbacks are no longer worth an early-draft gamble

For anyone (and we’re looking at you, Chip Kelly) considering a bold move to climb the draft board April 30 in order to land this year’s near-consensus top quarterback, Marcus Mariota, please consider that the odds of Mariota becoming a franchise quarterback are probably no better than 50/50.

I elaborated on this in a recent article at Bleacher Report, but I want to expand beyond Philadelphia’s situation right here. This isn’t a Mariota thing, but is instead about precedents.

The raw numbers are undeniable. Of the 40 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since the turn of the century, only five — Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger — have in my opinion become true franchise-caliber quarterbacks. Nine more — including Cam Newton, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer — have become what I’d call “successful starters,” although that’s still up for debate in regard to Newton and Stafford, and Cutler’s career should probably be viewed as more of a failure than a success.

Meanwhile, I can count 20 busts. And that’s without including Johnny Manziel, EJ Manuel or Robert Griffin III, all of whom are in the “jury’s still out” category. At least three of the six quarterbacks in that category are likely to become busts, which would mean that a minimum of 58 percent of this century’s first-round picks will have fallen short of expectations, with somewhere in the range of 13-25 percent becoming truly elite.

And that’s being liberal.

What I’m also learning is that even high in the first round, you’re playing quarterback roulette. Dating all the way back to 1990, only two of 28 quarterbacks drafted in the top five — Peyton and Eli Manning — have gone on to lead their team to the Super Bowl. Luck, Rivers, Donovan McNabb and Drew Bledsoe have also become success stories from the top five, but that group remains outnumbered by a gang of busts that includes guys like Mark Sanchez, JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Ryan Leaf.

So even in the top five, your odds are in the 50/50 range, which explains why the Redskins might already be regretting selling multiple farms in 2012 merely to move up four spots for the right to draft Griffin second.

The takeaway here is quarterbacks are hardly worth an early-first-round gamble, let alone a trade into the early part of said round. Look at guys like passer rating leader Tony Romo, offensive player of the year favorite Aaron Rodgers, Super Bowl quarterbacks Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, and the league’s passing yardage champs, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. None were drafted in the top 10 and only one (Big Ben) was drafted higher than 24th.

Meanwhile, Griffin is becoming a bust and top 2011 pick Cam Newton is coming off a rough season.

Looking at the 17 quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2009, no more than three of them (Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and maybe Matthew Stafford) had what I’d call good 2014 campaigns:

The 17 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2009
Blake Bortles (3rd, 2014): NFL’s lowest-rated qualified passer this season.
Johnny Manziel (22nd, 2014): Faces major questions on and off field after struggling in limited action as a rook.
Teddy Bridgewater (32nd, 2014): So-so 85.2 rating this season.
EJ Manuel (16th, 2013): Benched consistently.
Andrew Luck (1st, 2012): Third-highest yardage total in the NFL.
Robert Griffin III (2nd, 2012): Benched for the second time in as many years.
Ryan Tannehill (8th, 2012): Solid season across the board.
Brandon Weeden (22nd, 2012): Already a backup in a different city.
Cam Newton (1st, 2011): Completed just 58.5 percent of his passes for an ugly 82.1 rating.
Jake Locker (8th, 2011): Already being forgotten in Tennessee.
Blaine Gabbert (10th, 2011): Already forgotten in Jacksonville.
Christian Ponder (12th, 2011): Already forgotten in Minnesota.
Sam Bradford (1st, 2010): Can’t stay healthy, likely to be replaced soon in St. Louis.
Tim Tebow (25th, 2010): Out of football.
Matthew Stafford (1st, 2009): Mediocre 85.7 rating last season despite being surrounded by talent.
Mark Sanchez (5th, 2009): Already a backup in a new city.
Josh Freeman (17th, 2009): Out of football.

Imagine we had included second-rounders like Jimmy Clausen, Brock Osweiler, Geno Smith and Pate White?

Forget it.

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at, Deadspin,, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.