By the time we get to the end of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, we could see six quarterbacks off the board. When was the last time that happen? You have to go all the way back to 1983. You know, that draft with John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
Yeah, that one.
This quarterback class may have more hype than any since 2004, the year Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger had NFL teams deciding which could be a franchise quarterback (spoiler alert: all of them)
But how does 2018 measure up in terms of talent? Will it produce three franchise quarterbacks like 2004? More? Zero? Below, I've tried to answer where I think this class slots in among every class since 2004 by ranking them all.
Classes that produced franchise quarterbacks were given boosts, and those with colossal busts were downgraded. Because this is a ranking of the entire class, depth was also a factor, yet franchise quarterbacks were most important.
I've listed noteworthy quarterbacks from each draft year into the following categories:
- Franchise QBs: Like elite quarterbacks, these are simply guys everybody knows are franchise QBs. Maybe not for their entire career, but for at least a 3-4 year stretch, they were the face of their franchise and produced at a high level. If you and your friend have to argue for 30 minutes over someone ... he's probably not a franchise quarterback, although I will concede there's no concrete definition of that term.
- Solid Starters: Maybe ventured into the "franchise QB" ranks for a short period of time but didn't sustain the quality of play to stay in that category. Or, a quarterback with plenty of starts on his resume who was never considered a franchise quarterback and simply has been (or was) an up-and-down starter in his career.
- Capable Backups: Pretty cut and dry. Worth mentioning though that backups are backups for a reason. Some of the names you'll see in this category are not high-caliber quarterbacks. They did show some signs of competence in relief appearances or spot starts yet were mostly incapable of hanging onto a starting job.
- Busts: Almost solely meant for first-round picks who simply did not live up to their draft status and were either completely out of the league much sooner than many expected or fell into the "capable backup" ranks during what should have been the prime of their careers.
15. Class of 2007
This draft featured two first-round quarterbacks who never made it as franchise quarterbacks. In fact, it can be argued Russell is the biggest quarterback bust in modern NFL history, which does major damage to the reputation of this draft class, a group that didn't even yield any signal-callers who were solid starters for a few seasons. Kolb had a two-game stretch in 2008 with over 300 yards then another 300-plus yard game in 2010 that led to him being traded to the Cardinals for a quality cornerback -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- and a second-round pick (!) in the 2012 draft. But he flopped in Arizona. At best, he was a capable backup.
14. Class of 2013
Manuel was the only quarterback picked in the first round in 2013, and he was grabbed after the Bills traded back from No. 8 overall. He never started more than five consecutive games in Buffalo and ultimately busted. This draft class had a fair amount of hype at quarterback with decorated USC quarterback Matt Barkley and late-riser Ryan Nassib along with the super-productive Smith, who, at the time, surprisingly went in the second round. Nevertheless, the 2013 draft class didn't give the league any franchise quarterbacks nor solid starters. But Smith, Glennon, and Jones are somewhat capable backups.
13. Class of 2010
Bradford was widely viewed as a can't-miss quarterback prospect, but his injury history was a concern. Those concerns have plagued his NFL career, and only recently has he become a solid starter when healthy. Tebow had his magical run with the Broncos in 2011 that featured the overtime playoff win against the Steelers and inspired Tebow mania across the country. That all turned out to be a mirage, as Denver won the majority of those games in spite of Tebow, not because of him. McCoy had a few solid spot starts but was never a quality starter. This class was nothing to write home about.
12. Class of 2006
Franchise QBs: None
Solid Starters: Jay Culter (1.10)
Capable Backups: Kellen Clemens (2.17), Tarvaris Jackson (2.32), Charlie Whitehurst (3.17), Bruce Gradkowski (6.25)
Busts: Vince Young (1.03), Matt Leinart (1.10)
Cutler is on the cusp between solid starter and franchise quarterback. I just can't categorize him in the latter despite his longevity in the NFL. Solid starter? Sure. But his three best seasons with the Bears were his final three in Chicago. The first of those years was 2013 when he completed 63.1 percent of his passes, averaged an above-average 7.4 yards per attempt and threw 19 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Ehhh. His completion percentage increased the next year (66.1), as did his touchdowns (28) but he led the NFL in interceptions (18). Ohhh. Cutler has just been too inconsistent to earn the franchise-quarterback label, and when he was at his best, he wasn't ever elite or very close to it. Young and Leinart ultimately busted, though Young had more staying power than Leinart. As a consolation, this was one of the "better" capable backup-quarterback classes.
11. Class of 2009
Injuries led to patience being important with the super-young Stafford during the beginning stages of his time in Detroit. Although he's been a high-volume producer -- he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2011, then 4,967 yards on a ridiculous 727 attempts in 2012 -- the former No. 1 overall pick wavered back and forth between the solid starter and franchise quarterback labels until 2015. Since then, he's ascended to become an unquestioned franchise quarterback. Over his past three years, he's tossed 85 touchdowns to just 33 interceptions. The Jets traded way up to get Mark Sanchez, which didn't work out, and Josh Freeman has one of the craziest outlier quarterback seasons in recent memory as the lone bright spot on his professional resume. In 2010, at 22 years old, he completed 61.4 percent of his throws at 7.3 yards per attempt with 25 touchdowns and just six picks. The wheels fell off after that, and although his 2012 wasn't brutal, he never truly recovered from his post-2010 regression. The rest of this class features a plethora of signal-callers who didn't amount to much in the NFL.
10. Class of 2017
Franchise QBs: Deshaun Watson (1.12, TBD), Mitchell Trubisky (1.03, TBD), Patrick Mahomes (1.10, TBD)
Solid Starters: Deshaun Watson (1.12, TBD), Mitchell Trubisky (1.03, TBD), Patrick Mahomes (1.10, TBD)
Capable Backups: DeShone Kizer (2.20)
Obviously, it's difficult to slot the 2017 rookies into this list, especially with Mahomes starting just one game, Watson starting six, and Trubisky starting 12 on a team with an unenviable receiver situation last year. Watson showed signs of franchise-quarterback skills, and Mahomes' start in the season finale was a wild, fun ride. Trubisky flashed too. This class has upside, that's for sure. There's a good amount of projection with this group, the most being with Mahomes. I doubt he totally busts with Andy Reid as his coach. Kizer's erratic accuracy led to many more head-in-hands plays than triumphant ones, but now he can learn from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
9. Class of 2015
The 2015 quarterback class was always about two Heisman-winning quarterbacks. And that was basically it. Winston has Andrew Luck-type ability but at this point, are the Buccaneers overjoyed with what he's done on the field in two seasons? I'm not so sure, especially for being the No. 1 overall pick. His efficiency did markedly improve in 2017 -- with jumps in completion percentage and yards per attempt -- so at this relatively early juncture of his career, I feel OK placing him into the franchise quarterback category. After all, he's only 24. Kind of a similar story with Mariota. At times, he's looked like a transcendent young signal-caller. In other outings, he's looked totally lost. After two quality seasons at the outset of his time with the Titans, he took a step back as a passer last year. Really strange. Because I have to place him somewhere now, I do think Mariota's good enough to be considered a franchise guy. The Broncos got a whole heck of a lot out of the 33rd pick in the seventh round in Siemian despite his flaws being exposed in 2017. The rest of his class hasn't shown much.
8. Class of 2014
Franchise QBs: Derek Carr (2.04), JImmy Garoppolo (2.30, TBD)
Solid Starters: Jimmy Garoppolo (2.30), Blake Bortles (1.03), Teddy Bridgewater (1.32)
Capable Backups: Tom Savage (4.35), AJ McCarron (5.23)
Busts: Johnny Manziel (1.22)
What a fascinating bunch. It was shock when the Jaguars picked Bortles at No. 3 overall. Manziel "slipped" to No. 22, as did Bridgewater to the last pick in the first round. Ironically, the top-tier quarterback who fell the furthest -- Carr -- has easily been the best signal-caller in his draft class. Bridgewater has refined talent, but will he see the field in New York with the Jets primed to pick a quarterback in Round 1 of this draft? I couldn't put Jimmy G into the franchise quarterback category just yet, even though he's being paid like one. After all, he's started seven games in the NFL. Although, I will admit he's at the ceiling of the solid starter distinction. Manziel was a mega bust, McCarron is serviceable backup/spot starter, and Savage had moments of decent play in the quarterback carousel in Houston.
7. Class of 2008
Ryan has been a franchise quarterback for his entire career. End of story. Flacco is near the floor of that franchise quarterback group. Henne has been a clipboard holder for a long time after kinda-sorta flopping in Miami to start his career, and Matt Flynn parlayed a 480-yard, six-touchdown effort on a loaded Packers team to a big payday in Seattle and being the answer to a trivia question that asks "who did Russell Wilson beat out to win the Seahawks starting job as a rookie?" This class gets a slight bump not only for Ryan and Flacco but because there weren't really any franchise-altering busts. No solid starters though.
6. Class of 2011
Franchise QBs: Cam Newton (1.01)
Solid Starters: Andy Dalton (2.03), Colin Kaepernick (2.04), Tyrod Taylor (6.15)
Capable Backups: T.J. Yates (5.21)
Busts: Jake Locker (1.08), Blaine Gabbert (1.10), Christian Ponder (1.12)
Newton isn't the most accurate or consistent passer. But he won the league MVP and set records to begin his career, both of which scream franchise quarterback. Dalton has never been a franchise guy, but he's a solid starter. Kaepernick gets a solid starter designation because when he burst onto the scene, he was borderline unstoppable. Now, he's likely a capable backup. Taylor was a polarizing signal-caller in Buffalo, yet was one of the league's best low-volume, low-turnover quarterbacks over the past three seasons. Yates, at his best, has been a capable backup. With Newton, Dalton, Kaepernick, and Taylor, this class is quite good when only glancing at the successful throwers. However, it's dragged down by a trio of big busts in the top 15.
5. Class of 2016
Wentz and (especially) Goff had disappointing, highly concerning rookie campaigns. As sophomores in the pros, Wentz was an MVP candidate and Goff made a sizable leap to become one of the league's most efficient passers. He led the NFL with 12.9 yards per completion. Prescott had arguably the best rookie quarterback season in the NFL history in 2016, and though he came back to Earth a bit in 2017, for a player only entering his third professional, he looks like a franchise quarterback. Brissett had flashes of decent play as the Colts starter in 2017, but I can't put him into the solid starter category yet. Kessler can be an adequate backup. Lynch, the wild-card of this draft class and whom the Broncos traded up for in the back end of Round 1, has looked like a bust after two seasons.
4. Class of 2012
Franchise QBs: Andrew Luck (1.01), Russell Wilson (3.12)
Solid Starters: Ryan Tannehill (1.08), Kirk Cousins (4.07)
Capable Backups: Brock Osweiler (2.25), Nick Foles (3.25)
Busts: Robert Griffin III (1.02), Brandon Weeden (1.22)
Luck and Wilson are franchise quarterbacks who are borderline elite. Tannehill probably hasn't lived up to being the No. 8 overall pick with the Dolphins. He's solid though. Cousins just signed an $84 million contract with the Vikings after three-straight 4,000-yard campaigns in Washington. Osweiler was a gigantic free-agent whiff as a starter for the Texans. As a backup? Decent at best. Foles has a historically efficient season on his pro resume -- 2013 -- and is the reigning Super Bowl MVP. I'd need to see more over a longer period of time for him to be a solid starter. Griffin III was on the fast track to superstardom after his rookie year. Then defenses caught up to him, and after his knee injury, he was never the same. Weeden was a wasted first-round pick by the Browns. The busts sink this class. But with Luck, Wilson, and then the depth provided by Tannehill, Cousins, and Foles, this is one of the better top-to-bottom quarterback groups over the past 15 years.
3. Class of 2005
Franchise QBs: Alex Smith (1.01), Aaron Rodgers (1.24)
Solid Starters: None
Capable Backups: Kyle Orton (4.05), Derek Anderson (6.39), Matt Cassel (7.16), Ryan Fitzpatrick (7.36)
Busts: Jason Campbell (1.25)
Extraordinarily top-heavy class here. I mean, Rodgers is the most gifted passer in NFL history. I truly believe that. Smith had a rough go of it early in his 49ers career then blossomed into one of the league's more stable quarterbacks once Jim Harbaugh got to San Francisco. Smith was a reliable, low-volume signal-caller under Andy Reid's tutelage until 2017, when he catapulted into the elite category. His 104.2 quarterback rating was tops in the league, and he had the NFL's lowest interception rate of 1.0 percent. No solid starters from the 2005 class, yet a respectable assortment of capable backups, who all had at least one year of adequate-to-good play as a season-long starter. Campbell was the lone bust in this group, but he was picked late in Round 1.
2. Class of 2018
Time for widespread prognostication. I love Rudolph's refined game as a passer. Jackson has Michael Vick 2.0 written all over him. And that doesn't mean just the second coming of Vick, but a more advanced version. He's further ahead of Vick as a passer compared to when the former No. 1 overall pick came into the NFL in 2001. Rosen has all the ability in the world to become a franchise quarterback because he's essentially a finished product right now and is very accurate at the short-to-intermediate levels. Darnold has the second-highest bust potential behind Allen due to his age, relative lack of experience, and turnover issues in college, but I do think his positive plays will outweigh his mistakes at the pro level. Mayfield is supremely accurate, and his pro success will mostly be decided by where he lands. With an innovative offensive coordinator that can come close to recreating what he had at Oklahoma, Mayfield will flourish in the NFL. I just worry about him being able to acclimate to a situation not as ideal as the one he had in college. Lauletta is a lite version of Jimmy G. Allen's inaccuracy has become overstated by now, but he certainly needs to get better in that area and can't force the football as much as he showed in college. Those are two issues I don't believe will be erased in the NFL.
1. Class of 2004
You're looking at three potential (likely?) Hall of Fame quarterbacks in this class, although out of this trio, I'd have the biggest gripe with Manning getting in. But those two Super Bowl rings will be hard to ignore for voters. Manning, Rivers, and Big Ben have been franchise cornerstones for at least 13 seasons. For Eli, 14 years. For Big Ben, it's been 15 seasons. During his prime in Houston, Schaub was one of the more underrated quarterbacks in football. Losman is the lone bust in that famous first round, a signal-caller with all the physical tools but poor decision-making to go along with a gun-slinger mentality. It'll be difficult to unseat this quarterback class.