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First-rounders reign: Draft origins for starting NFL quarterbacks


Every year about this time, a mini-debate begins on the quarterbacks available in the draft.

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This year, as with most years, there is a consensus top guy at the position (Jameis Winston) and a consensus No. 2 (Marcus Mariota). After that, though, there is a jumbled mess.

Last year, there seemingly was some shuffling going on almost until draft day at the position, but it still was clear to most that Blake Bortles was No. 1 and either Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel was No. 2 (though some had Derek Carr in that mix, too). Bortles indeed ended up being the first quarterback off the board, followed by Manziel, Bridgewater and Carr (Manziel, Bridgewater and Carr came off the board within 15 picks of each other).

Because this season is such a jumbled mess -- hey, who is No. 3 among quarterbacks? -- we decided to take a look at last season's starting quarterbacks to try to discern how likely it is that a quarterback considered a "lesser" talent on draft day succeeds in the NFL.

The answer? Not likely.

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"Starting quarterback" is a somewhat nebulous term for this exercise. Two teams (Philadelphia and St. Louis) had two quarterbacks who started eight games apiece, while Tennessee didn't have anyone who started more than six games at the position. With the Eagles and Rams, we looked at both "starting quarterbacks." For the Titans, as well as for teams such as Arizona and Buffalo, which started more than one quarterback because of injuries and/or ineffectiveness, we went with the quarterback who started the most games.

What we found among the 34 starters: Exactly half (17) were first-round picks, including five quarterbacks who were the overall No. 1 picks. In all, there were eight first-rounders who were the first quarterbacks selected in their respective draft, along with five first-rounders who were the second quarterbacks drafted and four who were the third signal-callers picked. (Two former first-rounders were injured, Arizona's Carson Palmer and St. Louis' Sam Bradford, and another, Buffalo's EJ Manuel, lost his starting job early in the season -- meaning the 17 easily could have been 20.)

Six quarterbacks were second-round picks, including two who were the second quarterbacks selected in their respective drafts. There were three who were third-round picks; one who was a fourth-rounder; two who were sixth-rounders (including Tom Brady, perhaps the most famous sixth-rounder in NFL history); one who was a seventh-rounder; and four who started their careers as undrafted free agents.


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Of the 34 starters, 20 were among the first three quarterbacks selected in their respective drafts. Another three were among the top five quarterbacks selected, and five more were either the sixth or seventh quarterback picked. The remaining six? Four originally were free agents, one was the 10th quarterback picked and the other the 13th.

As for the 12 starters whose teams made the playoffs, seven were first-rounders, two were second-rounders, one was a third-rounder, one was a sixth-rounder (again, perhaps the most famous sixth-rounder ever) and one was a free agent. Six were either the first or second quarterback taken in his respective draft; one was the third; four were either the fifth, sixth or seventh signal-caller selected; and one was a free agent. (Important to note is that while Drew Stanton is our quarterback of record for Arizona, he was injured and did not play in the postseason.) Also of interest: Both second-rounders and the third-rounder play for teams (Arizona, Cincinnati and Seattle) that are defense-minded.

Also of interest, though: The Super Bowl quarterbacks were third- and sixth-rounders who were the sixth and seventh quarterbacks, respectively, selected in their drafts. Still, it's not a good idea to rely on latter-round quarterbacks if you want to make the playoffs.

In the past five seasons, 29 quarterbacks have started a playoff game, and 16 of those were first-round picks. Those 16 are responsible for 36 of the 60 postseason starts, and nine have made multiple playoff starts. Of the 13 non-first-round quarterbacks, just five have made multiple postseason starts in that span (of the five, two are Hall-of-Fame locks). More on that in a minute.

The numbers will change along with quarterback situations around the league again after the 2015 season, but here is a look at each team's starter last season and where he went in the draft.


Buffalo: Kyle Orton. 4th-round pick, 7th quarterback selected.
The skinny: Orton replaced former first-rounder EJ Manuel as the Bills' starter early last season, but Orton announced his retirement after the season and it looks as if Buffalo is going to go with Matt Cassel (a former seventh-rounder) in 2015.
Miami: Ryan Tannehill. 1st-round pick, 3rd quarterback selected.
The skinny: Tannehill was a top-10 pick and gradually has improved each season. Still, it's uncertain whether he is a quarterback who can lead a team to the playoffs -- and 2015 might be his final chance with Miami.
New England: Tom Brady. 6th-round pick, 7th quarterback selected.
The skinny: He's an all-timer who was selected in the sixth round. Thing is, the sixth-round thing always is mentioned because it obviously is extremely rare to get a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in that round. What does that mean? If your team picks a quarterback in the sixth round, you'd better not expect a Hall-of-Fame career. (Interestingly, Marc Bulger was a sixth-round pick in the same draft as Brady, and Jeff Blake, Matt Hasselbeck and Rodney Peete were sixth-rounders in earlier drafts).
New York: Geno Smith. 2nd-round pick, 2nd quarterback selected.
The skinny: He has started 29 games in his two seasons with the Jets, but he doesn't look like the long-term answer at the position. The Jets have brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick from Houston, and would it surprise anyone if the Jets took a quarterback with the sixth overall pick (assuming Marcus Mariota is there)?

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Baltimore: Joe Flacco. 1st-round pick, 2nd quarterback selected.
The skinny: He has helped guide the Ravens to six playoff appearances and has one Super Bowl ring -- which is one more than the only quarterback selected ahead of him ( Matt Ryan).
Cincinnati: Andy Dalton. 2nd-round pick, 5th quarterback selected.
The skinny: He has helped guide a defense-oriented team to the playoffs in each of his four seasons. He's a solid quarterback, but hasn't yet shown he can be an elite guy. Still, 4-of-4 as a second-round pick is noteworthy.
Cleveland: Brian Hoyer. Undrafted free agent (11 QBs drafted in 2009).
The skinny: For an undrafted quarterback, Hoyer, who signed with the Texans this offseason, has had an admirable career. (Some of the QBs who were drafted in '09: Stephen McGee, Rhett Bomar, Tom Brandstater and Mike Teel.)
Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger. 1st-round pick, 3rd quarterback selected.
The skinny: " Big Ben" has won two Super Bowls and enjoyed a high-level career. He probably has a few good years left, too. The two signal-callers taken ahead of him? Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Not a bad group of quarterbacks drafted in the top 10.

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Indianapolis: Andrew Luck. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: Three seasons into his career, he definitely has played at a level befitting a top overall pick.
Houston: Ryan Fitzpatrick. 7th-round pick, 13th quarterback selected.
The skinny: Last year was the seventh time in his 10-season career that he started at least half his team's games; in addition, last season was the fifth time he started at least 12. That's an unreal number for a seventh-rounder. Thing is, the Texans were his fifth team, and now he is on his sixth, the Jets. The bottom line: He can be a "bridge" starter, but he is not a long-term answer.
Jacksonville: Blake Bortles. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: As a rookie last season, he was thrown into the fray before he was ready -- and on a bad team at that. He struggled mightily, but he still seems to have the talent and upside to be a long-term starter. We should have a far better read on Bortles after the 2015 season.
Tennessee: Zach Mettenberger. 6th-round pick, 10th quarterback selected.
The skinny: Mettenberger started a team-high six games at quarterback for the Titans as a rookie last season (former first-rounder Jake Locker started five), but there is ample question as to his long-term viability. Yes, Mettenbeger supporters, he was a sixth-round pick. But as we noted earlier when we talked about Brady, it's probably best not to expect a Hall-Of-Fame career from guys who were sixth-round picks. (After all, for every Brady, there are about 100 guys like Rusty Smith, Keith Null, Andy Hall, J.T. O'Sullivan and Mike Cherry.)


Denver: Peyton Manning. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: He's a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, though he is on the downside of his career. He lived up to the immense expectations placed on an overall No. 1 pick; actually, he exceeded them.
Kansas City: Alex Smith. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: As with Manning, Smith was the first overall selection. Unlike Manning, he has not lived up to those type of expectations. He is a solid quarterback, nothing more.
Oakland: Derek Carr. 2nd-round pick, 4th quarterback selected.
The skinny: He was the only rookie quarterback to start all 16 games last season and predictably struggled. But it's not as if he was surrounded by a ton of talent. Carr looks to be a guy the Raiders can build around. That's their hope, anyway.
San Diego: Philip Rivers. 1st-round pick, 2nd quarterback selected.
The skinny: He was taken fourth overall by the Giants, then quickly swapped in a deal that included Eli Manning. Rivers has played well for San Diego, guiding them to five playoff appearances.

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Dallas: Tony Romo. Undrafted free agent (13 QBs drafted in 2003).
The skinny: Yes, Romo has received a ton of criticism during his tenure as the Cowboys' starter. Generally, though, he has played at a high level, and that he was not drafted is mind-boggling, given his NFL success. One of the QBs who was drafted in '03 was Kliff Kingsbury, who is about to enter his third season as Texas Tech's coach.
New York: Eli Manning. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: He was the first overall pick in 2004, by San Diego, but quickly was traded to the Giants. He has won two Super Bowls with New York -- one more than his older brother. All in all, not bad.
Philadelphia: Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez. Foles: 3rd-round pick, 7th quarterback selected. Sanchez: 1st-round pick, 2nd quarterback selected.
The skinny: Each started eight games last season. But Foles has been traded, and the Eagles' acquisition of former first overall pick Sam Bradford from St. Louis makes it obvious that Eagles coaches think Sanchez is best-suited for a backup job. The Jets did make the playoffs in each of Sanchez's first two seasons (2009, '10), but the argument can (should?) be made that he was just along for the ride and certainly wasn't the reason they made the postseason.
Washington: Robert Griffin III. 1st-round pick, 2nd quarterback selected.
The skinny: The Redskins looked as if they struck gold when RGIII led them to the playoffs as a rookie in 2012. But injuries and inconsistent play make you ask if he was just a one-year wonder. Needless to say, 2015 is a huge year for Griffin.


Chicago: Jay Cutler. 1st-round pick, 3rd quarterback selected.
The skinny: He was one of three first-round QBs in 2006; the others were Vince Young and Matt Leinart, who didn't exactly light up the NFL, so at least Cutler has that going for him. Still, nine seasons into his career, Cutler is what he is: A strong-armed guy who can make every throw (and, boy, those throws sure are pretty) but it appears he the intangibles that make a quarterback a winner.
Detroit: Matthew Stafford. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: He was the first overall pick, and though he has looked brilliant at times, he ultimately is going to be judged by how often he gets Detroit into the playoffs. So far, it's twice in six seasons, which means that he is going to be judged somewhat harshly.
Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers. 1st-round pick, 2nd quarterback selected.
The skinny: He is one of those rare first-round quarterbacks who was allowed to sit and learn, though Green Bay could afford to do that because it had Brett Favre at quarterback. As with his predecessor, Rodgers appears to be headed to Canton. (As for the one quarterback drafted ahead of him, it was Alex Smith.)
Minnesota: Teddy Bridgewater. 1st-round pick, 3rd quarterback selected.
The skinny: He was the last pick of the first round last year, but performed well when he was made the starter relatively early in the season. He looks as if he will be "the man" in Minnesota for at least a few seasons.


Atlanta: Matt Ryan. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: "Matty Ice" has had a nice run with the Falcons; it would help if Atlanta had a line that could protect him and a consistent running attack to help him.
Carolina: Cam Newton. 1st-round pick, 1st quarterback selected.
The skinny: He was the No. 1 overall pick and has gotten a bit better in each season; he has guided the Panthers -- who definitely have some holes in their lineup -- to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
New Orleans: Drew Brees. 2nd-round pick, 2nd quarterback selected.
The skinny: Brees' long run of NFL success (as well as Russell Wilson's immediate success with the Seahawks) has led to a lot of folks saying, "Hey, 6-foot quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL; just look at Brees." Brees is an outlier, folks; the 6-0 QB is not the wave of the future. Plus, he was the second quarterback taken in the 2001 draft, which most folks forget about, so it's not as if NFL people didn't think he could play. (The first QB picked in that draft? Michael Vick.)
Tampa Bay: Mike Glennon. 3rd-round pick, 3rd quarterback selected.
The skinny: The Bucs are expected to take Jameis Winston with the first overall pick, and Glennon is being mentioned in trade rumors.


Arizona: Drew Stanton. 2nd-round pick, 5th quarterback selected.
The skinny: An injury to former first-rounder Carson Palmer elevated Stanton into a starting role. Stanton is a journeyman talent, and that the Cardinals made the playoffs last season is a reflection of top-shelf coaching by Bruce Arians and former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who now is the Jets' coach.
St. Louis: Austin Davis and Shaun Hill. Davis: undrafted free agent (11 QBs drafted in 2012). Hill: undrafted free agent (15 QBs drafted in 2002).
The skinny: Former first-rounder Sam Bradford was injured, and Davis and Hill each started eight games. Neither Davis nor Hill is capable of being anything more than a stop-gap starter
San Francisco: Colin Kaepernick. 2nd-round pick, 6th quarterback selected.
The skinny: He looked to be a star on the rise, but that ascent definitely has stalled. Will a new coaching staff get his career back on track? If so, he goes down as a second-round steal. If not? Hey, his detractors will say, there's a reason he was the sixth quarterback taken.
Seattle: Russell Wilson. 3rd-round pick, 6th quarterback selected.
The skinny: As with Brees, Wilson's success in the NFL has created the "short quarterbacks can succeed" line of thinking. As we noted earlier, those guys are outliers. (Wilson was drafted in 2012, when there were four first-round QBs: Luck, Griffin, Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. The fifth signal-caller in that draft? The Broncos' Brock Osweiler.)

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Playoff quarterbacks

Here is a look at the 29 quarterbacks who have started a playoff game in the past five seasons and where they were drafted (Super Bowl winners noted by asterisks):

» First-rounders (36 postseason appearances): Jay Cutler (2010), Joe Flacco (2010-12, '14)*, Robert Griffin III (2012), Andrew Luck (2012-14), Eli Manning (2011)*, Peyton Manning (2010, '12-14), Cam Newton (2013-14), Philip Rivers (2013), Aaron Rodgers (2010-14)*, Ben Roethlisberger (2010-11, '14), Matt Ryan (2010-12), Mark Sanchez (2010), Alex Smith (2011, '13), Matthew Stafford (2011, '14), Tim Tebow (2011) and Michael Vick (2010).

» Second-rounders (nine appearances): Drew Brees (2010-11, '13)*, Andy Dalton (2011-14) and Colin Kaepernick (2012-13).

» Third-rounders (five appearances): Nick Foles (2013), Matt Schaub (2012) and Russell Wilson (2012-14)*.

» Fifth-rounder (one appearance): T.J. Yates (2011; injury starter).

» Sixth-rounders (seven appearances): Tom Brady (2010-14), Matt Hasselbeck (2010), Ryan Lindley (2014; injury starter) and Joe Webb (2012; injury starter for former first-rounder Christian Ponder).

» Seventh-rounder (one appearance): Matt Cassel (2010).

» Undrafted free agent (one appearance): Tony Romo (2014).

Mike Huguenin can be reached at You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.



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