With the 2017 QB draft class spawning intrigue -- and immense uncertainty -- Marc Sessler found himself pondering all of the quarterback cliques of recent vintage. Which groups took the league by storm? Which went bust? Here are the rankings of each QB class since the turn of the millennium.
NOTE: Pro Bowlers are denoted by bold/italics.
Round 1: JaMarcus Russell (No. 1 overall), Brady Quinn (No. 22)
Round 2: Kevin Kolb (No. 36), John Beck (No. 40), Drew Stanton (No. 43)
Round 3: Trent Edwards (No. 92)
Round 4: Isaiah Stanback (No. 103)
Round 5: Jeff Rowe (No. 151), Troy Smith (No. 174)
Round 6: Jordan Palmer (No. 205)
Round 7: Tyler Thigpen (No. 217)
We begin our journey in grim territory. The 2007 NFL Draft was "headlined" by JaMarcus Russell, arguably the most severe quarterback bust of the century, a first overall whiff that set the Raiders back years. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound LSU star produced a grotesque 7-18 mark as a starter and finished 2009 -- his final year in the league -- as the worst passer in football. Russell netted $31.5 million in guaranteed loot, while the Raiders, in return, were handed a raging headache. Same goes for the Browns, who reached for Brady Quinn at No. 22, only to turn around three years later and trade him to the Broncos for fullback Peyton Hillis -- who at least managed to sneak onto the cover of "Madden." Only eternal backups Drew Stanton and Matt Moore remain from a flatlining class that handed us John Beck, Trent Edwards and the overhyped Kevin Kolb. High-level busts and zero reliable starters makes this the worst crop of them all.
Teams were stunned when the desperate Bills reached for EJ Manuel with the 16th overall selection. Seen by most as a project with potential, the Florida State product was a turnover-prone flop in Buffalo -- a player Doug Marrone replaced with Kyle Orton before Rex Ryan signed Tyrod Taylor to avoid leaning on Manuel. This class lacked a true first-round prospect, while the only second-rounder -- Geno Smith -- has been an on-field wild card best known for catching a fist to the jaw from his own teammate. With both players already toiling as backups on second teams, it's up to Mike Glennon to save this collection of backups, flameouts and low-level patches.
Round 1: David Carr (No. 1), Joey Harrington (No. 3), Patrick Ramsey (No. 32)
Round 3: Josh McCown (No. 81)
Round 4: David Garrard (No. 108), Rohan Davey (No. 117)
Round 5: Randy Fasani (No. 137), Kurt Kittner (No. 158), Brandon Doman (No. 163), Craig Nall (No. 164)
Round 6: J.T. O'Sullivan (No. 186), Steve Bellisari (No. 205)
Round 7: Seth Burford (No. 216), Jeff Kelly (No. 232), Ronald Curry (No. 235), Wes Pate (No. 236)
Undrafted: Chad Hutchinson, Shaun Hill
The 2002 rep with the most long-term value? Josh McCown, who remains a quality -- if wholly injury-prone -- backup. While David Carr never lived up to the status of being the No. 1 overall pick, his situation reminds me of what happened to Tim Couch in Cleveland: A young quarterback is tossed into the fire on a wanting expansion team struggling to find its way. David Garrard had some flashy moments with the Jaguars, while Shaun Hill -- an undrafted arm -- is still kicking around as a backup. This class was also yanked to earth by two first-round nightmares, Detroit's Joey Harrington and Washington's Patrick Ramsey, who combined for a 28-51 record with the teams that mistakenly chose them. For diehards, this class also gifted us the undrafted enigma Chad Hutchinson.
Round 1: Sam Bradford (No. 1), Tim Tebow (No. 25)
Round 2: Jimmy Clausen (No. 48)
Round 3: Colt McCoy (No. 85)
Round 4: Mike Kafka (No. 122)
Round 5: John Skelton (No. 155), Jonathan Crompton (No. 168)
Round 6: Rusty Smith (No. 176), Dan LeFevour (No. 181), Joe Webb (No. 199), Tony Pike (No. 204)
Round 7: Levi Brown (No. 209), Sean Canfield (No. 239), Zac Robinson (No. 250)
You could argue that Sam Bradford was a major factor in the current collective bargaining agreement including a rookie pay scale. Bradford's weighty, six-year, $78 million contract came packed with a ridiculous $50 million in guarantees. As an unconvincing Offensive Rookie of the Year winner, the snakebitten signal caller missed 25 games over his final two seasons in St. Louis because of disastrous knee injuries. Some of his best play came last season in Minnesota, but it's not enough to save a class sprinkled with career backups -- Colt McCoy and second-round bust Jimmy Clausen -- and one massively memorable first-round reach in Tim Tebow, who operated as a worldwide sensation during a magical run with the Broncos in 2011 before flaming out entirely and winding up as a minor league baseball player.
Round 1: Matthew Stafford (No. 1), Mark Sanchez (No. 5), Josh Freeman (No. 17)
Round 2: Pat White (No. 44)
Round 4: Stephen McGee (No. 101)
Round 5: Rhett Bomar (No. 151), Nate Davis (No. 171)
Round 6: Tom Brandstater (No. 174), Mike Teel (No. 178), Keith Null (No. 196), Curis Painter (No. 201)
Undrafted: Brian Hoyer
I'm tempted to rank this class above the 2006 crop that handed us Jay Cutler and Vince Young, simply because I prefer Matthew Stafford over anyone from that group. There's just nothing else happening here, though, unless you're swayed by the early-career success of Mark Sanchez. He generated a handful of special moments during back-to-back trips to the AFC title game with the Jets but was fully exposed as a starter by 2011, when Gang Green tried to lean on his arm. Josh Freeman was a wild first-round flameout, while the Dolphins scored negative points for using the 44th pick on Pat White, who never started a game for Miami -- or anyone -- under center. Brian Hoyer's had a few nice stretches -- and one appallingly bad playoff game.
Round 1: Vince Young (No. 3), Matt Leinart (No. 10), Jay Cutler (No. 11)
Round 2: Kellen Clemens (No. 49), Tarvaris Jackson (No. 64)
Round 3: Charlie Whitehurst (No. 81), Brodie Croyle (No. 85)
Round 4: Brad Smith (No. 103)
Round 5: Ingle Martin (No. 148), Omar Jacobs (No. 164)
Round 6: Reggie McNeal (No. 193), Bruce Gradkowski (No. 194)
Round 7: D.J. Shockley (No. 223)
This class boils down to what you think about Jay Cutler. While the strong-armed passer logged 139 starts, his 51-51 regular-season record with the Bears is apt. He put together plenty of big plays -- some of his throws are pure beauty -- but we'd struggle to come up with Cutler's top-five list of inspiring come-from-behind victories. He never came close to morphing into a transcendent player at the position, but he soldiered on long after fellow first-rounders Vince Young and Matt Leinart were history. Leinart -- the USC megastar -- looms as one of the most disappointing pro passers of our time. Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst were nothing special, but the latter gets points in this space for his incredible flowing mane and ability to snag the songstress Jewel as a paramour.
Round 1: Jared Goff (No. 1), Carson Wentz (No. 2), Paxton Lynch (No. 26)
Round 2: Christian Hackenberg (No. 51)
Round 3: Jacoby Brissett (No. 91), Cody Kessler (No. 93)
Round 4: Connor Cook (No. 100), Dak Prescott (No. 135), Cardale Jones (No. 139)
Round 5: Kevin Hogan (No. 162)
Round 6: Nate Sudfeld (No. 187), Jake Rudock (No. 191), Brandon Allen (No. 201), Jeff Driskel (No. 207)
Round 7: Brandon Doughty (No. 223)
The tricky part of this exercise boils down to handling the newer classes. If Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz grow into decade-long starters, this group shoots up the list without much debate. These two quarterbacks have the power to change the NFC East for years to come, but we need to see Wentz, especially, take steps during his sophomore campaign. Jared Goff can only get better after a grisly rookie season. His progress -- or further regression -- only adds to the wild-card nature of this class. Paxton Lynch is intriguing, while Cody Kessler has the feel of a reliable No. 2. The Jets have a lot of explaining to do after swinging on Christian Hackenberg in the second round, only to hide him away in the NFL's version of the witness protection program. Fear not: The former Nittany Lion will be thrown into the unmerciful fire this autumn in Florham Park.
Round 1: Blake Bortles (No. 3), Johnny Manziel (No. 22), Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32)
Round 2: Derek Carr (No. 36), Jimmy Garoppolo (No. 62)
Round 4: Logan Thomas (No. 120), Tom Savage (No. 135)
Round 5: Aaron Murray (No. 163), AJ McCarron (No. 164)
Round 6: Zach Mettenberger (No. 178), David Fales (No. 183), Keith Wenning (No. 194), Tajh Boyd (No. 213), Garrett Gilbert (No. 214)
This class is all over the map, with high-profile starters and unforgivable draft mistakes mixed into one chaotic stew. An MVP candidate before his injury last season, Derek Carr looks like one of the brightest young quarterbacks around. Jimmy Garoppolo is highly prized by the Patriots and is a future NFL starter. Blake Bortles is another reminder that we can't judge these players too early. He heads into his fourth season fighting to save his job after the wheels fell off in 2016. Some of Bortles' mechanical issues appear fatal to a long career. Entirely different issues sideswiped Johnny Manziel, another haunting, awful quarterback selection by the Browns. Tom Savage and AJ McCarron are backup types who will be around for years, while the future is unknown for Teddy Bridgewater. Had the Vikings passer not been stung by a ghastly knee injury, the 2014 class would be higher on this list.
Round 1: Chad Pennington (No. 18)
Round 3: Giovanni Carmazzi (No. 65), Chris Redman (No. 75)
Round 5: Tee Martin (No. 163)
Round 6: Marc Bulger (No. 168), Spergon Wynn (No. 183), Tom Brady (No. 199), Todd Husak (No. 202), JaJuan Seider (No. 205)
Round 7: Tim Rattay (No. 212), Jarious Jackson (No. 214), Joe Hamilton (No. 234)
Undrafted: Billy Volek
You could argue this group should rank higher ... or much lower. While it's littered with nonsensical names who barely made a blip on the radar, the 2000 class also boasts the greatest quarterback of the 21st century -- and, for me, all time. Brady completely overshadows the group's only first-rounder, Chad Pennington, but the former Marshall star was the best thing the Jets have seen at the position since Y2K and produced nicely throughout most of his 11-year career. An anonymous sixth-rounder, Marc Bulger went on to start 95 games for the post-Kurt Warner Rams over eight seasons. It's incredible that the 49ers made Giovanni Carmazzi the second quarterback off the board with Brady -- a Bay Area resident -- still available, but the blame falls on every single team in the NFL who failed to recognize what the future Patriots star would become. Pennington, Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Bulger and Spergon Wynn all found homes before fate intervened to pair Tommy with Bill Belichick.
Round 1: Cam Newton (No. 1), Jake Locker (No. 8), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10), Christian Ponder (No. 12)
Round 2: Andy Dalton (No. 35), Colin Kaepernick (No. 36)
Round 3: Ryan Mallett (No. 74)
Round 5: Ricky Stanzi (No. 135), T.J. Yates (No. 152), Nathan Enderle (No. 160)
Round 6: Tyrod Taylor (No. 180)
Round 7: Greg McElroy (No. 208)
Supplemental draft:Terrelle Pryor (Round 3)
Another class filled with juicy talent and devastating, franchise-altering busts. The Panthers wisely ignored their selection of Jimmy Clausen the previous April, going all in on Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick in the draft. With an MVP award and Super Bowl appearance under his belt, Newton has lived up to the pedigree while making Carolina a relevant franchise. His success is offset by a trio of first-round disasters -- Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder -- which would be enough to shuttle this class down the list if it weren't for the supporting cast. Andy Dalton is imperfect, but he's led the Bengals to the playoffs five times, while sixth-rounder Tyrod Taylor has blossomed into a starter. Colin Kaepernick's career is on the downswing, but he brought the Niners within one completed pass of a Super Bowl title and was seen by many as the most exciting quarterback in football for a two-season stretch.
This class has potential to be remembered as a special bunch based entirely on its two first-rounders. Jameis Winston of the Bucs and Tennessee's Marcus Mariota have just begun to leave their mark for a pair of franchises with bright futures. Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick by Denver, would go much higher in a re-draft after developing into a starting-level quarterback with plus arm talent. Brett Hundley has dazzled in the preseason but nowhere else, while Bryce Petty was something of a raging flop for the Jets last season.
Round 1: Matt Ryan (No. 3), Joe Flacco (No. 18)
Round 2: Brian Brohm (No. 56), Chad Henne (No. 57)
Round 3: Kevin O'Connell (No. 94)
Round 5: John David Booty (No. 137), Dennis Dixon (No. 156), Josh Johnson (No. 160), Erik Ainge (No. 162)
Round 6: Colt Brennan (No. 186), Andre' Woodson (No. 198)
Round 7: Matt Flynn (No. 209), Alex Brink (No. 223)
From here on out, every class is tasked with producing at least two starters with playoff experience. The 2008 group gave us Matt Ryan -- today, coming off the best season of his career -- and Joe Flacco, who led the Ravens to a win in Super Bowl XLVII with an insane month of pristine postseason play. Both quarterbacks have been durable starters who give their teams a comprehensive solution at the most important position in sports. The names fall off a cliff from there, with Chad Henne underwhelming as a starter and Brian Brohm serving as a second-round disappointment. Matt Flynn offered hopeful moments but failed to become a QB1.
Round 1: Michael Vick (No. 1)
Round 2: Drew Brees (No. 32), Quincy Carter (No. 53), Marques Tuiasosopo (No. 59)
Round 4: Chris Weinke (No. 106), Sage Rosenfels (No. 109), Jesse Palmer (No. 125)
Round 5: Mike McMahon (No. 149), A.J. Feeley (No. 155)
Round 6: Josh Booty (No. 172), Josh Heupel (No. 177)
Another class armed with two bona fide starters. Both Michael Vick and Drew Brees changed perceptions of how the position could -- and should -- be played. Vick's rare scampering ability and off-the-charts athleticism refocused the league on the potential of running quarterbacks. It's impossible not to wonder how Vick's career would've progressed without his dog-fighting scandal and subsequent prison stint -- though he did make one more Pro Bowl with Philly in 2010. Brees, meanwhile, serves as a constant reminder that shorter quarterbacks aren't always a minus. In his case, Brees has operated as a top-three superstar ever since he landed with the Saints, winning a storybook Super Bowl for New Orleans and making that offense a treat to watch every single season. The class had its issues, too, with second-rounders Quincy Carter and Marques Tuiasosopo fading fast. Chris Weinke doesn't help, finishing with a 2-18 record as a starter, while A.J. Feely is remembered as a mere patch in Miami.
Round 1: Andrew Luck (No. 1), Robert Griffin III (No. 2), Ryan Tannehill (No. 8), Brandon Weeden (No. 22)
Round 2: Brock Osweiler (No. 57)
Round 3: Russell Wilson (No. 75), Nick Foles (No. 88)
Round 4: Kirk Cousins (No. 102)
Round 6: Ryan Lindley (No. 185)
Round 7: B.J. Coleman (No. 243), Chandler Harnish (No. 253)
Had all gone right, this class had a chance to be remembered as equal to the all-star cast from 2004 -- maybe even 1983. Andrew Luck was a plug-and-play Pro Bowler from Day 1, while Robert Griffin III, in his first season, was the most exciting quarterback in football. A knee injury changed his trajectory forever, but Griffin was also quickly exposed as a pocket passer. Today, he might be done for good. That ugly pick aside, the Redskins ultimately found their starter in the same draft by nabbing Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. In Round 3, the Seahawks altered their franchise forever by taking a chance on Russell Wilson. Dinged by some for his diminutive stature, Wilson won the starting job in camp and tugged Seattle to a Super Bowl win during his sophomore campaign. Toss in Ryan Tannehill and this emerges as a wildly productive class, even amid the wreckage of Griffin, ultra-bust Brandon Weeden and the underwhelming duo of Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler. (OK, Foles did enjoy one magical season in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly.)
Round 1: Carson Palmer (No. 1), Byron Leftwich (No. 7), Kyle Boller (No. 19), Rex Grossman (No. 22)
Round 3: David Ragone (No. 88), Chris Simms (No. 97)
Round 4: Seneca Wallace (No. 110)
Round 5: Brian St. Pierre (No. 163)
Round 6: Drew Henson (No. 192), Brooks Bollinger (No. 200), Kliff Kingsbury (No. 201)
Round 7: Gibran Hamdan (No. 232), Ken Dorsey (No. 241)
Undrafted: Tony Romo
The best passer in this class wasn't even drafted. Tony Romo was brought to Dallas when former Cowboys assistant Sean Payton pitched him to Bill Parcells. The rest is history, with Romo taking the starting job from Drew Bledsoe in 2006 and never looking back. Heavily critiqued early in his career for the occasional high-profile gaffe, Romo ultimately leaves the game as one of the NFL's most reliable quarterbacks. He never won a Lombardi, but that falls on the Cowboys as much as Romo. We haven't even mentioned first overall pick Carson Palmer, who has proven to be well worth the selection, with some of his best work coming late in his career with the Cardinals. Byron Leftwich gave the Jaguars 44 up-and-down starts, while Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman were largely a ponderous annoyance. That said, Grossman is the only passer from this class to start on the game's biggest stage, helping guide Chicago to Super Bowl XLI, where the Bears were blown to pieces by Peyton Manning's Colts.
Round 1: Alex Smith (No. 1), Aaron Rodgers (No. 24), Jason Campbell (No. 25)
Round 3: Charlie Frye (No. 67), Andrew Walter (No. 69), David Greene (No. 85)
Round 4: Kyle Orton (No. 106), Stefan LeFors (No. 121)
Round 5: Dan Orlovsky (No. 145), Adrian McPherson (No. 152)
Round 6: Derek Anderson (No. 213)
Round 7: James Kilian (No. 229), Matt Cassel (No. 230), Ryan Fitzpatrick (No. 250)
The first round produced a pair of long-range starters in Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. We all know how Rodgers fumed while watching 21 teams (the Vikings and Cowboys each picked twice in the top 23) pass him by before the Packers added him to a roster already equipped with Brett Favre under center. That chance to sit and learn helped Rodgers, who went on to win a Super Bowl and emerge as one of the most talented quarterbacks of all time. With what we know now, Rodgers should have gone ahead of Smith, but the ex-Niners and current Chiefs quarterback has produced an uber-solid career and a commendable record of 79-56-1. This class offered unusual longevity. Matt Cassel and Ryan Fitzpatrick draw snickers today, but good luck finding better value from quarterbacks picked in the seventh round. This group also gave us Derek Anderson and the whirlwind known as Kyle Orton. It's crazy to think that Washington was forced to settle for Jason Campbell one pick after Rodgers went to Green Bay.
Round 1: Eli Manning (No. 1), Philip Rivers (No. 4), Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11), J.P. Losman (No. 22)
Round 3: Matt Schaub (No. 90)
Round 4: Luke McCown (No. 106)
Round 5: Craig Krenzel (No. 148)
Round 6: Andy Hall (No. 185), Josh Harris (No. 187), Jim Sorgi (No. 193), Jeff Smoker (No. 201)
Round 7: John Navarre (No. 202), Cody Pickett (No. 217), Casey Bramlet (No. 218), Matt Mauck (No. 225), B.J. Symons (No. 248), Bradlee Van Pelt (No. 250)
The gold standard for quarterback classes of the 21st century. The 2004 collection of signal callers boasts four Super Bowl wins, while the group's big three -- Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger -- can all make cases for the Hall of Fame. The trio's 558 regular-season starts also tell the tale of ironman passers who can be counted on game after game and year after year by their teams. The Chargers and Giants will always be linked together because of the trade that sent Manning to New York and Rivers to San Diego. The swap worked out for both clubs, while Pittsburgh's Big Ben -- a college quarterback from Miami of Ohio -- has tortured the Browns for selecting tight end Kellen Winslow II sixth overall instead of him. The first round also included a titanic bust in J.P. Losman, but third-rounder Matt Schaub and fourth-rounder Luke McCown are still active. If this class came around every year, the quarterback crisis at the bottom of the league would never exist.