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.



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.



"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.

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.

AFC EAST

AFC NORTH

Check out the top prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft in action at their on-campus pro days.

AFC SOUTH

AFC WEST

NFC EAST

NFC NORTH

NFC SOUTH

NFC WEST

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 mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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