If you’re an NFL team using a top-10 pick to select a quarterback, you might as well be betting the value of your franchise on a coin flip. History tells us that quarterbacks drafted in the top-10 have about a 50% chance of panning out into the type of player you can build a franchise around. The proof is more or less in the pudding. To show you what we mean, let’s take a look back at all the quarterbacks drafted in the top-10 since 2000.
Michael Vick, Falcons – #1 in 2001
Trying to sum up Vick’s career is a loaded question. He had periods of greatness that are sometimes easy to forget because of the off-field issues that derailed his career. All things considered, he was a lot better than a lot of the quarterbacks that follow on this list. But he never won a Super Bowl and never became that transcendent player we thought he could become.
David Carr, Texans – #1 in 2002
Officially, Carr is a bust. But being the first overall pick for an expansion franchise put a lot on his shoulders, and there are a lot of good quarterbacks who probably would have failed in that role. After leaving Houston, he did become a viable backup for a few years, even winning a Super Bowl with the Giants as a backup to Eli Manning.
Joey Harrington, Lions – #3 in 2002
Harrington was given the label of “savior” when he first got to Detroit, but he could never live up to that moniker. Despite his struggles, a lot of people defended him, claiming that he didn’t have a lot of help around him in Detroit and that he was set up for failure. There’s actually a strong argument for that. However, the numbers tell us that in six seasons, only one time did Harrington have more touchdowns than interceptions.
Carson Palmer, Bengals – #1 in 2003
Palmer’s career was unequivocally successful. One could even argue that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame one day. He never won a Super Bowl and never really got close. But he had nearly 300 career touchdown passes, and even in his later years with the Cardinals, he was a better-than-average quarterback. The sheer longevity that Palmer showed was impressive.
Byron Leftwich, Jaguars – #7 in 2003
This was one of several mistakes the Jaguars have made over the years at the quarterback position. To be fair, injuries played a role in Leftwich’s problems, but that’s not enough of an excuse to avoid the dreaded “bust” label for the former Marshall star.
Eli Manning, Chargers, traded to Giants – #1 in 2004
Is he better than his brother? Absolutely not. But he does have just as many Super Bowl rings, not to mention Super Bowl MVP awards in both of those wins. Despite all the criticism he’s received during his career, Manning spent much of his career as a top-10 quarterback and had more than his fair share of big games and clutch performances.
Philip Rivers, Giants, traded to Chargers – #4 in 2004
The Chargers have never had the support cast Rivers has needed to take the team to the Super Bowl or even win the AFC West on a regular basis. Despite that lack of team success, Rivers has delivered the way any team would want from a top-10 pick, and his seven Pro-Bowl selections back that up.
Alex Smith, 49ers – #1 in 2005
It’s tough to find a more controversial figure on this list. There’s no denying that Smith has had a fine career and been part of a lot of wins. But he’s never been in that elite class that you’d expect from a first overall pick, especially since he’s never fared well in the playoffs. He’s still playing, so his legacy isn’t completely written yet. However, it’ll be tough to shake the perception that Smith is little more than average.
Vince Young, Titan – #3 in 2006
Young started his career by winning Rookie of the Year in 2006. He was also a two-time Pro Bowler. But his success was so brief that it’s impossible not to label him a disappointment considering all the promise he held when he entered the NFL.
Matt Leinart, Cardinals – #10 in 2006
Despite a brilliant college career, things just never clicked for Leinart in the NFL. He started 11 games for Arizona as a rookie but only started seven more games the rest of his career. He wasn’t even able to carve out a career as a viable backup, making him a massive bust.
JaMarcus Russell, Raiders – #1 in 2007
Russell was one of the biggest quarterback busts both literally and figuratively. His weight problems always held him back and were his downfall. If you want some telling numbers, Russell had 18 touchdown passes, 23 interceptions, and 15 lost fumbles. That’s all you need to know about what a disappointment he was.
Matt Ryan, Falcons – #3 in 2008
Other than not winning a Super Bowl, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the kind of career Matty Ice has had in the NFL. He may not be on the same level as Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but he’s not that far behind. Plus, he still has time to put that collapse against the Patriots a couple years ago behind him and win a Super Bowl.
Matthew Stafford, Lions – #1 in 2009
Some of Stafford’s passing numbers over the years have been insane. He has seven straight seasons of over 4,000 passing yards and counting. In terms of arm talent, there are few that can match him, and in that sense, he’s lived up to the billing of a first overall pick. But the profound lack of team success, while not entirely Stafford’s fault, is difficult to shake.
Mark Sanchez, Jets – #5 in 2009
Does anyone remember the first few years that Sanchez was in the NFL? He was pretty good, and he did enough to take the Jets deep into the playoffs. But the infamous butt fumble and how quickly his career fell apart make it difficult to look at Sanchez as a successful quarterback.
Sam Bradford, Rams – #1 in 2010
Bradford is another one of those guys who’s kind of stuck in the middle. He’s been a viable quarterback for a lot of years, which is more than you can say for a lot of people on this list. However, when you remember that he was taken first overall, the argument that he’s lived up to expectations becomes a lot harder to make.
Cam Newton, Panthers – #1 in 2011
Newton has been anything but a bust. He’s not won a Super Bowl and could be running out of time to win one before he’s out of his prime. But he’s a three-time Pro Bowler, a former MVP, and one of the few dual-threat quarterbacks that you don’t have to worry about getting hurt every time he takes off. All things considered, the Panthers have to be happy with what they got out of their former top-overall pick.
Jake Locker, Titans – #8 in 2011
Locker was definitely a bust and a failure in the NFL. He never even managed to start for a full season because of injuries. Some Titans fans will blame it on the supporting cast around him. But that doesn’t change the fact that Locker wasn’t able to overcome those issues or his own injuries.
Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars – #10 in 2011
This guy never looked the part of an NFL starter. Injuries didn’t help him, nor did having three head coaches in three seasons with the Jaguars. Gabbert got more opportunities to play with the 49ers and Cardinals after leaving Jacksonville, but he just hasn’t shown the accuracy or been able to avoid turnovers. On his best day, he’s an average or below-average NFL backup.
Andrew Luck, Colts – #1 in 2012
In a way, it feels fair to give Luck an incomplete. He left Stanford as a quarterback with the potential to be a generational talent. He’s been brilliant at times, but a terrible supporting cast has held him back. Now he has to come back from shoulder problems that cost him the entire 2017 season. If he comes back healthy, there’s still a lot of time to fulfill his promise and lead the Colts to the promised land. If not, Luck could end up being a disappointment based on all of his potential.
Robert Griffin III, Redskins – #2 in 2012
RG3 was utterly dazzling as a rookie. His skill set was unreal and we all thought he had a chance to end up being better than Luck. But that knee injury changed everything, and at a certain point, the injuries kept coming. He’s attempting a comeback but it’s hard to see him ever being a bonafide NFL starter ever again, which means it’s hard not to see him as a disappointment.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins – #8 in 2012
Tannehill has been okay, but nothing more. To say that he’s an average quarterback would probably be a compliment. Tannehill has been able to keep the Dolphins in playoff contention, but he’s never won more than eight games as a starter in one season. That might be acceptable for a mid-round pick, but not someone taken in the top-10.
Blake Bortles, Jaguars – #3 in 2014
The biggest compliment you can give Bortles is to say the jury is still out. Some teams would have given up on him, but he did just enough to get the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game in 2017. Odds are he’ll never live up to being the third overall pick, but we’ll see.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers – #1 in 2015
It’s tough not to judge this guy on some of his off-field transgressions, as there have been several going back to his days at Florida State. As far as his NFL career is concerned, the talent is definitely there, and we’ve seen it at times. However, until we see more maturity and consistency on and off the field, Winston will never live up to being the top overall pick.
Marcus Mariota, Titans – #2 in 2015
He’s definitely on his way toward fulfilling his potential. He helped the Titans reach the playoffs in 2017, but he still has a little more work to do in order to reach the next level. However, Mariota is definitely a guy worth watching closely over the next couple of years.
Jared Goff, Rams – #1 in 2016
Goff is the leader of one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL. He has to prove that 2017 wasn’t a fluke and that he can be consistent from year to year and continue to get better. But he’s another young quarterback worth watching.
Carson Wentz, Eagles – #2 in 2016
Before that knee injury, Wentz was probably in line to win the MVP in 2017. We’ll have to see if he can return to the same level he was at before the injury. But if Wentz can do that, the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish with the Eagles.
Mitchell Trubisky, Bears – #2 in 2017
Labeling Trubisky a bust after a bad rookie season is completely unfair. He had no help around him, and since he didn’t have that many starts in college, his learning curve as a little steep compared to other young quarterbacks. With a quarterback guru in Matt Nagy now coaching the Bears and better receivers around him, Trubisky will be interesting to watch. That doesn’t guarantee success, but he deserves more time before we rush to judgment.
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs – #10 in 2017
We don’t know much about Mahomes just yet, but Andy Reid believes in him, and that says a lot. There’s no doubt the arm talent is there, but you can say that about almost every other quarterback on this list, so only time will tell.
If we hold off judgment on the quarterbacks taken over the past three or four years, just under 50% of quarterback taken in the top-10 since 2000 have come anywhere close to living up to expectations, and that’s if we give quarterbacks like Vick, Smith, and Bradford the benefit of the doubt. To be fair, the younger crop of quarterbacks that have entered the league in the last couple of years could sway that percentage significantly. However, if you want to draft a quarterback in the top-10, it’s 50-50 at best to work out.