From Manziel to Mahomes: Ranking this decade's first-round quarterbacks

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)

There are two states of being for NFL franchises. You either have a quarterback you’re happy with for the next 10 years or you’re looking for that guy. 

As the 2010s draw to a close, the teams from that second group rarely found the positional peace they were seeking. Though more team and media attention is devoted to the draft than ever, finding a star signal caller remains more or less a crapshoot. 

Nowhere is that more evident than a review of all 10 draft classes this decade when a total of 117 quarterbacks were plucked from the college ranks. Thirty of those men were selected in the first round, a position that would seem to convey a sense of confidence and certainty. 

In reality, those picks have failed more often than not, especially in pursuit of the main goal. Indeed, only two quarterbacks drafted since 2010 have won the Super Bowl and both — Russell Wilson and Nick Foles  — were drafted in the third round. (And in Foles’ case, the victory didn’t come until his second tour with the Philadelphia Eagles and after their first-round pick, Carson Wentz, was hurt for the season.)

Three more quarterbacks drafted in the 2010s reached the Super Bowl and lost — second-rounder Colin Kaepernick and top overall choices Cam Newton and Jared Goff. 

Some of the failure can be attributed to the strong corps of elite quarterbacks that came of age last decade and refused to budge. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and the Manning brothers didn’t spread around many scraps and those they did were gobbled up by elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Wilson and, uh, Joe Flacco. 

Yet if you look at the QB of the 2010s, you can’t identify any one signal caller who’s pulling a Dan Marino with a title-free career. Maybe Cam Newton comes the closest, but when Ryan Tannehill qualifies as “hey, not a bad pick!” on your evaluation of drafts past, you know that the strength of the field isn’t all that. 

With a lot of the old guard set to walk off into the sunset, we’re sure to see some of the recently drafted quarterbacks step into the void and start winning Super Bowls. And who knows? Maybe Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson become the Peyton, Tom and Big Ben of the next 15 years. 

But as we prepare to enter a new decade, we wanted to take a look back at the 30 quarterbacks drafted in the first round and put them in order of how well each pick turned out.  Yes, some careers are still starting while others have already been over for a few years. 

But let the following list serve as a reminder that good quarterbacks are hard to come by, even when you’re looking at a sample size that’s 10 years long.  

30. Paxton Lynch (Denver Broncos, 2016, 26th pick): Jerry Jones said he “couldn’t sleep” after missing out on Lynch, but the Memphis product lasted only two seasons in Denver and started only four games before being cut. John Elway actually traded up to draft Lynch, who lost battles to Trevor Siemian, Chad Kelly and Kevin Hogan in his time as a Bronco.

29. Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns, 2014, 22nd pick): The only good thing you can say about Manziel’s time in Cleveland was that he somehow wasn’t even the Browns’ worst first-round selection that year. CB Justin Gilbert, picked eighth overall, gets that honor.

28. Josh Rosen (Arizona Cardinals, 2018, 10th pick): The Browns, Jets and Bills might eventually really regret taking their quarterbacks in this draft ahead of Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals might not only have to do that, but also regret that their organization was such a mess that they also had to use the next year’s No. 1 pick on Kyler Murray. (No, we’re not the types to credit the Cardinals for cutting their losses on Rosen early.)

27. Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears, 2017, 2nd pick): There are a lot of angry fans in Chicago who would argue this pick is 30th considering they not only traded away four picks to move up one spot to select a third-team All-ACC quarterback with 12 career starts but also passed on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in the process of doing so. And we’re open to that argument. But until the book officially closes on Trubisky’s time in Chicago, he stays ahead of the three guys who posted total zeroes for their teams. 

26. Jake Locker (Tennessee Titans, 2011, 8th pick): Locker looked like a future franchise quarterback from the moment he arrived at the University of Washington. But he went 9-14 as a starter for the Titans, lost his love for the game somewhere along the way and retired from football in 2015. 

25. Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings, 2011, 12th pick): The Vikings’ long search for a franchise QB might have caused them to overreach and take Ponder as the fourth quarterback off the board in that year’s draft. Ponder’s Senior Bowl played a role in convincing the Vikings he could play the part, but Minnesota would’ve been better off betting on either Andy Dalton or Kaepernick, both of whom were drafted in the second round where most believed Ponder belonged. 

24. Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins, 2012, 2nd pick): The hype was real when Washington sent three first-round picks and a second to St. Louis for the right to select the Heisman winner out of Baylor. But after an electric rookie season, RG3 was hurt in the playoffs and never reclaimed the promise of that first year. 

23. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2014, 3rd pick): The highest bust not named Trubisky or RG3, Bortles is the prime example of why you never draft a guy just because he “looks like a quarterback.” Do the Jaguars win the Super Bowl two years ago if Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater is under center?

22. EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills, 2013, 16th pick): The 2013 draft was such a bad one for quarterbacks that the Bills were able to trade down from their original eighth spot and still select Manuel. But after starting 10 games his rookie season, Manuel was benched in favor of Kyle Orton just five games into his sophomore season. His career never recovered. 

21. Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2011, 10th pick): The Jaguars traded two picks to Washington so they could move up and take Gabbert. He rewarded their faith by going 5-22 over three seasons before being traded to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick.

20. Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos, 2010, 25th pick): Can you label someone a bust when most objective people knew he wasn’t going to be good in the first place? The only first-round pick in 2010 to play fewer games was RB Jahvid Best, who had to retire due to injury. Tebow disciples will point out that the Broncos did make the playoffs with him. That and the fact this came in the lower half of the first round keeps him ahead of the 10 guys you’ve already read about. 

19. Brandon Weeden (Cleveland Browns, 2012, 22nd pick): The Browns were the only team to take three quarterbacks in the first round this decade. That Brandon Weeden was one of them helps to explain it.  

Mitchell Trubisky's regression in 2019 has Bears fans worried their team picked the wrong quarterback. (AP)

18. Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2015, 1st pick): Winston might be the only player on this list who had a team tank so it could select him. His play has been such a mercurial mess that we reserve the right to move him closer to Manziel and Lynch if the Bucs waste any more time or money on him past this initial deal. 

17. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans, 2015, 2nd pick): It wasn’t long ago that we were arguing whether Winston or Mariota would be the better pro. Five seasons later, the only debate is which one has been worse. 

16. Daniel Jones (New York Giants, 2019, 6th pick): Roundly mocked when the Giants took him way ahead of projections, Jones won some fans with some solid performances out of the gate as a starter. He’s since leveled off and putting him at the midpoint of this list seems like the right choice as his career still plays out.

15. Sam Darnold (New York Jets, 2018, 3rd pick): See above. Showed promise as a rookie, but has taken a step back after a bout with mono and Adam Gase. The jury’s still out, but the fear is that his postmortem could soon look like Josh Rosen’s. 

14. Dwayne Haskins (Washington Redskins, 2019, 15th pick): The guess here is that Haskins won’t pan out, but Washington didn’t have much choice after Alex Smith’s gruesome injury last season. Haskins is a reminder that many of these picks were nothing more than an attempt to close one’s eyes and swing. 

13. Sam Bradford (St Louis Rams, 2010, 1st pick): The first quarterback selected this decade, the Heisman winner out of Oklahoma got three seasons as a starter with the Rams and two more with the Eagles and Vikings. With a career record of 34-48-1 — Bradford never posted a winning season as a starter — his relative position on this list shows the weakness of the overall sample size.

12. Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills, 2018, 7th pick): Allen has been a tiny bit better than people expected, but whether he’s the Bills’ long-term solution remains to be seen. Also falls under the Lamar Jackson caveat. 

11. Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals, 2019, 1st pick): The Cardinals ignored all the maxims about a short quarterback not succeeding in the NFL and it’s worked out so far, even with a poor offensive line in front of him. Murray might have the most room of anyone to move up on this list. 

10. Baker Mayfield  (Cleveland Browns, 2018, 1st pick):  Is he the new Brett Favre, the personable gunslinger who stars in every ad break? Or will he join the long list of failed Browns quarterbacks since Kosar? We’ll likely have to see him with a better coach than Freddie Kitchens to find out for certain. 

9. Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings, 2014, 32nd pick): Bridgewater made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and looked to be the steal of the draft when he shredded his knee in the offseason. The Vikings understandably had to move on, but Bridgewater will earn a big contract this offseason after performing admirably as Drew Brees’ backup the first two months of this season. 

8. Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins, 2012, 8th pick): Tannehill is the true divider of this list. Nearly everyone that came before him is either unproven or a relative bust. Everyone that comes after can be listed as a successful pick. With a career 45-47 record, Tannehill is as close to average as you can get. It’s worth wondering, though, how he would have done had he been drafted by a more functional organization. 

7. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams, 2016, 1st pick): Did we say everyone after Tannehill is a successful pick? Goff’s detractors might argue otherwise, but he and Sean McVay will always have the first three months of 2018 and a Super Bowl appearance. 

6. Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles, 2016, 2nd pick): Philadelphia had to trade a sweet package of picks to Cleveland for the No. 2 spot, but it’s been worth it. Wentz got the Eagles most of the way to their first Super Bowl title before an ACL injury forced Foles to step in. He returned and earned a big second contract, something only three others on this list can claim (so far).  

5. Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens, 2018, 32nd pick): Where other teams saw a quarterback who might be limited by his passing skills, the Ravens saw an opportunity to take an exceptional quarterback and mold their offense in his image. The results thus far have been great, proving again why the Ravens are among the best organizations in the NFL. 

4. Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans, 2017, 12th pick): The Texans traded two first-round picks to move up to the Browns spot so they could take the Clemson star who’d been to two national title games (winning one). Watson has thus far rewarded their faith, looking like a franchise cornerstone who is not only great on the field but off it as well. 

3. Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts, 2012, 1st pick): Luck was the only “can’t-miss” quarterback to enter the draft this decade  and he backed it up for the six seasons he played. His sudden retirement put an end toward what often seemed like an inevitable Super Bowl title run, but it doesn’t diminish the success of the original pick. 

2. Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers, 2011, 1st pick): Newton’s physical style of play makes him older than his actual 30 and it seems as if his time with the Panthers has expired. Still, his 2015 MVP season, when he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance, is what draft-day dreams are made of.  

1. Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs, 2017, 10th pick): This list is littered with GMs who fell in love with a quarterback prospect and traded away a lot of draft capital to get him, only to be disappointed. It’s also littered with GMs who passed on guys like Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson because they couldn’t imagine how their unique skillsets would translate to the pro game. Luckily for Chiefs fans, GM John Dorsey doesn’t fall under either camp. His foresight of seeing what Mahomes could become and moving up from the 27th to pick him will go down as arguably the best draft day move in NFL history.

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