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Published: March 16, 2015 at 05:25 p.m.
Updated: March 16, 2015 at 08:45 p.m.

Top 20 quarterbacks who went No. 1 overall in NFL draft

We're still several weeks away from the 2015 NFL Draft, but all signs point to Florida State's Jameis Winston being the No. 1 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If he does indeed go No. 1, Winston would be come the 21st quarterback of the Super Bowl era to be drafted with the first pick.

How do those 20 quarterbacks stack up against each other? Amazingly, nearly half (nine to be precise) of the No. 1 picks at quarterback are still active, so there's still time for this list to change as players close out their careers. For now, however, here's a look at the best of the best QB's, down to the biggest busts of the Super Bowl era.

20 Photos Total

  • Want to talk about lucky? The Steelers were able to select Bradshaw thanks to a coin flip. All he did was turn into one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history and the rock on offense for the famed Steelers dynasty of the 1970s. He went 4-0 in the Super Bowl, has a shrine in Canton, and is one of only three quarterbacks on this list to have more than 100 wins as a starter. That's quite the value pick. 20

    Associated Press

    1. Terry Bradshaw (1970)

    Want to talk about lucky? The Steelers were able to select Bradshaw thanks to a coin flip. All he did was turn into one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history and the rock on offense for the famed Steelers dynasty of the 1970s. He went 4-0 in the Super Bowl, has a shrine in Canton, and is one of only three quarterbacks on this list to have more than 100 wins as a starter. That's quite the value pick.

  • Manning is still going strong after a nearly 20-year career and is on pace to own nearly every passing record in league history. He has a ring from the Colts victory in Super Bowl XLI and has earned first-team All-Pro honors seven times. Few have redefined the position like Manning has during his tenure in Indianapolis and Denver. 19

    Al Messerschmidt/Associated Press

    2. Peyton Manning (1998)

    Manning is still going strong after a nearly 20-year career and is on pace to own nearly every passing record in league history. He has a ring from the Colts victory in Super Bowl XLI and has earned first-team All-Pro honors seven times. Few have redefined the position like Manning has during his tenure in Indianapolis and Denver.

  • Some consider Elway the best signal-caller of all-time, and they certainly have an argument after a career that included back-to-back Super Bowl wins, nine Pro Bowls, and dozens of unbelievable comeback wins. That Elway is ranked one spot below Manning, his current QB with the Broncos, is sure to cause debates in Denver. 18

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    3. John Elway (1983)

    Some consider Elway the best signal-caller of all-time, and they certainly have an argument after a career that included back-to-back Super Bowl wins, nine Pro Bowls, and dozens of unbelievable comeback wins. That Elway is ranked one spot below Manning, his current QB with the Broncos, is sure to cause debates in Denver.

  • Aikman's numbers might have been even more impressive had injuries not forced him out of the game a little early, but he left his mark by being one of the "triplets" that turned around America's Team in the 1990s. He picked up three rings in Dallas and left as the franchise leader in wins and a half-dozen other categories. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. 17

    Mark Lenniman/Associated Press

    4. Troy Aikman (1989)

    Aikman's numbers might have been even more impressive had injuries not forced him out of the game a little early, but he left his mark by being one of the "triplets" that turned around America's Team in the 1990s. He picked up three rings in Dallas and left as the franchise leader in wins and a half-dozen other categories. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

  • Luck is just 25 and three seasons into his career, so this is a bit of a projection, but he's lived up to the hype as the best QB prospect since Manning was drafted in 1998. He's been to the playoffs in each of his three seasons and holds numerous NFL rookie passing records. All that is missing from his resume is a ring, and he's got the Colts in position to contend for years to come. 16

    Alix Drawec/NFL

    5. Andrew Luck (2012)

    Luck is just 25 and three seasons into his career, so this is a bit of a projection, but he's lived up to the hype as the best QB prospect since Manning was drafted in 1998. He's been to the playoffs in each of his three seasons and holds numerous NFL rookie passing records. All that is missing from his resume is a ring, and he's got the Colts in position to contend for years to come.

  • Manning has guided the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins after a prolific career at Ole Miss. He's already the franchise leader in nearly every passing category which is no small feat given the team's history. Safe to say that draft-day trade with the Chargers to land Manning worked out for New York. 15

    David Drapkin/Associated Press

    6. Eli Manning (2004)

    Manning has guided the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins after a prolific career at Ole Miss. He's already the franchise leader in nearly every passing category which is no small feat given the team's history. Safe to say that draft-day trade with the Chargers to land Manning worked out for New York.

  • Plunkett had an up-and-down career as a player in the NFL after the Heisman Trophy winner was taken first overall by the Patriots after a stellar career at Stanford. He found his groove when the Raiders acquired him, and he ended up guiding them to a pair of Super Bowl victories. 14

    J. Walter Green/Associated Press

    7. Jim Plunkett (1971)

    Plunkett had an up-and-down career as a player in the NFL after the Heisman Trophy winner was taken first overall by the Patriots after a stellar career at Stanford. He found his groove when the Raiders acquired him, and he ended up guiding them to a pair of Super Bowl victories.

  • It seems like just yesterday that Stafford was being taken by the Lions with the top pick. Since then he's turned into one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the league, thanks to his strong arm and a variety of top weapons such as Calvin Johnson. He already owns most of the Lions' franchise passing records despite just turning 27, and while the postseason success hasn't been there, he still has time to get the team to the ultimate prize. 13

    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    8. Matthew Stafford (2009)

    It seems like just yesterday that Stafford was being taken by the Lions with the top pick. Since then he's turned into one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the league, thanks to his strong arm and a variety of top weapons such as Calvin Johnson. He already owns most of the Lions' franchise passing records despite just turning 27, and while the postseason success hasn't been there, he still has time to get the team to the ultimate prize.

  • Bledsoe had a sneaky good career in the NFL and of course was part of the story that led to Tom Brady taking over in New England as his successor. He made four Pro Bowls and threw for over 44,000 yards while starting nearly 200 games. 12

    Kevin Reece/Associated Press

    9. Drew Bledsoe (1993)

    Bledsoe had a sneaky good career in the NFL and of course was part of the story that led to Tom Brady taking over in New England as his successor. He made four Pro Bowls and threw for over 44,000 yards while starting nearly 200 games.

  • In his prime, Vick was one of the most exciting players in the league and brought another dimension to the position with his blinding speed. Perhaps he would be a bit higher on the list if he were not suspended during his prime, but he nevertheless brought plenty of excitement to Atlanta after being taken first overall in 2001. 11

    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    10. Michael Vick (2001)

    In his prime, Vick was one of the most exciting players in the league and brought another dimension to the position with his blinding speed. Perhaps he would be a bit higher on the list if he were not suspended during his prime, but he nevertheless brought plenty of excitement to Atlanta after being taken first overall in 2001.

  • Newton parlayed his outstanding season at Auburn into becoming the No. 1 pick by the Panthers and has become a franchise cornerstone in his four seasons. His rookie season in particular was terrific, and he's had the team in the hunt for a division title despite recent personnel turnover. He's still young and has a chance to rise significantly in the rankings. 10

    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    11. Cam Newton (2011)

    Newton parlayed his outstanding season at Auburn into becoming the No. 1 pick by the Panthers and has become a franchise cornerstone in his four seasons. His rookie season in particular was terrific, and he's had the team in the hunt for a division title despite recent personnel turnover. He's still young and has a chance to rise significantly in the rankings.

  • Testaverde is an interesting case given that he played for 20 years, was named an All-Pro and passed for over 46,000 yards but failed to rack up many wins. He made eight stops in his career and put together some solid seasons for bad teams, but nhe ever did have a big run of extended success. 9

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    12. Vinny Testaverde (1987)

    Testaverde is an interesting case given that he played for 20 years, was named an All-Pro and passed for over 46,000 yards but failed to rack up many wins. He made eight stops in his career and put together some solid seasons for bad teams, but nhe ever did have a big run of extended success.

  • Palmer has at times been one of the top quarterbacks in the league and is still going strong at 35 for the Arizona Cardinals despite coming off an ACL tear. He's put up good numbers for some mediocre teams, but injuries have been a part of his NFL journey. His final chapter has yet to be written. 8

    Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

    13. Carson Palmer (2003)

    Palmer has at times been one of the top quarterbacks in the league and is still going strong at 35 for the Arizona Cardinals despite coming off an ACL tear. He's put up good numbers for some mediocre teams, but injuries have been a part of his NFL journey. His final chapter has yet to be written.

  • Smith was a controversial selection in 2005 and continues to be compared to the other first-round quarterback in his draft class, Aaron Rodgers. Despite a bumpy tenure in San Francisco, Smith has found his groove in Kansas City and has really grown as a signal-caller over the past few years. 7

    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    14. Alex Smith (2005)

    Smith was a controversial selection in 2005 and continues to be compared to the other first-round quarterback in his draft class, Aaron Rodgers. Despite a bumpy tenure in San Francisco, Smith has found his groove in Kansas City and has really grown as a signal-caller over the past few years.

  • Bartkowski had some great years in Atlanta during a 10-year run and was twice named to the Pro Bowl after garnering Rookie of the Year honors. Still, despite some good seasons, he made the playoffs only three times in his career, posting a 1-3 record. 6

    Harry Harris/Associated Press

    15. Steve Bartkowski (1975)

    Bartkowski had some great years in Atlanta during a 10-year run and was twice named to the Pro Bowl after garnering Rookie of the Year honors. Still, despite some good seasons, he made the playoffs only three times in his career, posting a 1-3 record.

  • The strong-armed George showed flashes of being a franchise quarterback but could never quite put a run together over a nearly 16-year career. There were some quality moments during his nine stops around the league, but consistency was lacking despite 154 touchdown passes and over 27,000 yards. 5

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    16. Jeff George (1990)

    The strong-armed George showed flashes of being a franchise quarterback but could never quite put a run together over a nearly 16-year career. There were some quality moments during his nine stops around the league, but consistency was lacking despite 154 touchdown passes and over 27,000 yards.

  • Bradford finds himself this low in the rankings simply because he's been unlucky with injuries throughout his career. When healthy, he's looked like a franchise QB at times, and perhaps the move to the Eagles this offseason will help him live up to his immense talent behind center. 4

    Stephen Chernin/Associated Press

    17. Sam Bradford (2010)

    Bradford finds himself this low in the rankings simply because he's been unlucky with injuries throughout his career. When healthy, he's looked like a franchise QB at times, and perhaps the move to the Eagles this offseason will help him live up to his immense talent behind center.

  • Carr wasn't the worst quarterback during his stint with the Houston Texans, but he was a product of a terrible offensive line in Houston that saw him get beat up constantly; he was sacked a record 76 times in his rookie season. He never had a winning record with the team and served as a backup in the second half of his career. 3

    Ed Betz/Associated Press

    18. David Carr (2002)

    Carr wasn't the worst quarterback during his stint with the Houston Texans, but he was a product of a terrible offensive line in Houston that saw him get beat up constantly; he was sacked a record 76 times in his rookie season. He never had a winning record with the team and served as a backup in the second half of his career.

  • Couch never came close to living up to expectations placed on him by the Browns and was middling at best during his short run in Cleveland. Perhaps his only saving grace was a decent 2002 campaign (2,842 yards, 18 TDs, 18 INTs) and a pair of career wins on Hail Mary's. 2

    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    19. Tim Couch (1999)

    Couch never came close to living up to expectations placed on him by the Browns and was middling at best during his short run in Cleveland. Perhaps his only saving grace was a decent 2002 campaign (2,842 yards, 18 TDs, 18 INTs) and a pair of career wins on Hail Mary's.

  • The poster boy for draft busts, Russell's remarkable size and arm strength led to him being taken by Al Davis with the top pick. He started just 25 games, however, and threw only 18 touchdown passes before winding up out of the league after just three seasons. It's hard to flame out as quickly as Russell did. 1

    Stephen Chernin/Associated Press

    20. JaMarcus Russell (2007)

    The poster boy for draft busts, Russell's remarkable size and arm strength led to him being taken by Al Davis with the top pick. He started just 25 games, however, and threw only 18 touchdown passes before winding up out of the league after just three seasons. It's hard to flame out as quickly as Russell did.