Picking the Right Quarterback

We use Qlik Sense to analyze 20 years of drafting quarterbacks in the first round.

NFL Draft

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As we enter 2016 NFL Draft week, the debate about drafting a franchise quarterback in the first round rages on. Everyone wants to know: is it a recipe for a championship or a recipe for destruction? Two quarterbacks have emerged as the top quarterback candidates in Thursday’s 1st round. The Los Angeles Rams (I have to get used to saying that again) and the Philadelphia Eagles both jumped up from their original draft positions through trades, to secure the top two picks in the draft. History shows us why.

Since 1996, fifty quarterbacks have been selected in the first round by teams looking for a franchise quarterback to hang their hats on.  Unfortunately, the success rate of these picks is not as high as one would hope. 

To review the last 20 years of quarterbacks drafted in the first round, I loaded draft results from pro-football-reference.com and, based on a number of factors, I categorized the quarterbacks into three groups: Franchise QB, Average QB, and Bust. I then decided to see if I could uncover any trends in the data.

Here is a breakdown of what I found:

  • It is hard to identify which quarterbacks will be franchise quarterbacks. And if you want any chance of drafting a franchise QB, you'd better be drafting in the top 5.
    In my analysis, I could only identify 15 quarterbacks (30%) who were worthy of the franchise QB tag. Out of those 15 Franchise QBs, 12 (80%) were drafted in the first 5 picks of the draft. This is the reason that both the LA Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles moved up to the top 2 spots to presumably draft a quarterback. The question is which QB (Jared Goff or Carson Wentz), if any, will become the franchise QB. History shows that it most likely won’t be both of them and, more than likely, could be neither of them.

  • There were three schools who lead the way with three QBs drafted (with varying degrees of success).
    While each of the three schools produced a franchise quarterback; Oregon (2) and USC (1) produced busts. Also, with Carson Wentz hailing from an FCS school (North Dakota State), it is worth noting that the last quarterback drafted in the first round from an FCS school (Delaware) was Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and I categorized him as a franchise quarterback.

  • Some teams cannot catch a break when drafting quarterbacks in the first round while others cannot miss.
    The Cleveland Browns are 0-4 when drafting QBs in the first round. All four draftees have turned into busts (Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel). The Indianapolis Colts on the other hand are 2-2 when drafting quarterbacks in the first round. In 1998, the Colts hit on Peyton Manning (avoiding Ryan Leaf) and in 2012, they drafted Andrew Luck (avoiding Robert Griffin III).

  • 2004 led the way with three franchise QBs being drafted followed by 2008, and 2015. 1999, 2002, and 2007 were tough years for finding franchise QBs.
    In 2004, three franchise QBs were drafted (Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers). 2008 and 2015 each had 2 QBs drafted (2008 – Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco; 2015 – Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota), and they all turned out to be franchise QBs.

    In 1999, the first and the third picks were QB Busts (Tim Couch, Akili Smith) and sandwiched in between them was Donovan McNabb who turned out to be a franchise QB for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are details for the quarterbacks drafted in the first round for the last 20 years. Feel free to let me know if I categorized any of the quarterbacks incorrectly. Also, let me know which quarterback: Carson Wentz and/or Jared Goff you think will wind up as being a franchise QB.

Photo credit: Marianne O'Leary via Foter.com / CC BY

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