Is it Worth Taking a QB’s with Top-Five Draft Pick?
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Friday, November 20, 2020
Every year the NFL draft rolls around and every year a handful of teams are in search of the next franchise quarterback. As we head towards the final quarter of one of the most bizarre seasons of all time, a few teams have already made a solid case for being worthy of a top-five pick in next year’s draft. The Jets, Jaguars, and every team in the NFC East are at the top of almost every list. In the 2020 draft, the Bengals had the #1 overall pick and selected Heisman Trophy winner Joe Borrow out of LSU. Four picks later the Miami Dolphins tabbed Tua Tagovailoa at #5, and with the very next pick, the LA Chargers picked Justin Herbert at #6. With all three now starting under center for their respective teams, the comparisons are very interesting. Tua hasn’t lost a game since he took over as the starter in week 7, as the Dolphins have mounted a five-game winning streak. Burrow began the season as Cincinnati’s starter, and has a 2-6-1 record t show for it. While no one expected Burrow to part the Red Sea like Mosses and lead the Bengals to the playoffs, he has shown a lot of potential, toughness, and leadership. Herbert had somewhat of a Baptism by Fire when he was thrown into a starting role just minutes before kickoff in week two against the defending champion Chiefs. In his eight starts this season, Herbert has thrown for over 300 yards four times and has a total of 19 passing touchdowns. The Chargers as a team have a 2-7 record overall, and only one of those losses was by more than a touchdown. Statistically speaking, it’s been Herbert, the #6 pick, who has been the most productive so far.
Despite Tua having the most success so far winning all three of his starts, he’s failed to throw for over 170 yards in two of those three match-ups. Tua has also benefited greatly from Miami’s revived defense. Since naming Tua the starter, Miami has had touchdown drives of just one yard. Yes, you read that correctly, two total yards on two touchdown drives. Miami’s defense has been one of the league’s best since week six and has literally shortened the field as much as humanly possible at times for their rookie QB.
I’m sure the comparisons will continue to be made as the season progresses, and hopefully long into the successful careers of all three players. But historically speaking, at least over the last 25 years, the track record for QB’s taken with a top-five pick overall in the draft hasn’t been great. While the jury is still out on players like Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, and Sam Darnold who were all drafted between 2018 and 2019. Currently, Mayfield has the Browns in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the playoffs and Murray is now in the conversation as a candidate for MVP. Darnold has missed games over the past two seasons due to illness and injury, and is probably the victim of one of the worst coaching situations in the league. Meanwhile, the QB taken with a top-five pick from 2017, Mitchell Trubisky, seems to be a huge bust thus far, after being benched for Nick Foles in week three.
For a little more perspective, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and see just how successful, or rather unsuccessful top-five QB’s have been. In the last 20 years, only one quarterback out of the 21 that were selected with a top-five pick has won a Super Bowl. That stand-alone player is none other than Eli Manning who won two Super Bowls with the NY Giants. Fun fact, Eli Manning never played a single down for the team that actually drafted him. Manning was the #1 overall pick by the then-San Diego Chargers in 2004 but said he would never play for the franchise and was traded shortly after being drafted to the NY Giants in exchange for Philip Rivers, who was taken with the #4 overall pick in the same draft.
If we go back 5 more years, the only other top-five draft pick QB to win a Super Bowl was Eli’s big brother Peyton Manning. Making the new total two out of thirty. That’s a 0.06667 percentage.
The Manning brothers may be the only two QB’s taken with a top-five draft pick to win Super Bowls, but they aren’t the only ones to reach the championship game. Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Jared Goff lead the teams that drafted them to the Super Bowl, but none were able to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. Ryan’s career will most likely be associated with the greatest Super Bowl collapse of all time after his Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the second half and lost in 34-28 in OT in Super Bowl LI in 2017. Cam and the Carolina Panthers lost to Peyton Manning and Denver Broncos in what proved to be Peyton’s final game in Super Bowl 50 in 2016. Jared Goff led the Rams to Super Bowl LIII in 2019, but came up short against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
If you’re wondering why Alex Smith and Carson Wentz aren't included in the list of QB’s to make it to the Super Bowl, it’s because they didn’t actually lead their teams there. Wentz was out of the season in 2018 when Nick Foles led the Eagles to victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, and Smith was the back-up to Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII (2103).
Even if we add the QB’s that reached the Super Bowl to the equation is still only five out of thirty for a 0.1667 percentage. A success rate of just over 0.15 percent for the last 25 years doesn’t look very good in my eyes.
In fact, going all the way back to Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, only two other top-five pick QB’s have led their teams to Super Bowl success: Troy Aikman and John Elway. Aikman won three titles over the course of four years from 1993-96’ with the Cowboys, who drafted him #1 overall in 1989. Elway won back-to-back championships in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII in 1998 and 99’. Elway’s success is very similar to the Manning brothers. His final game was a Super Bowl victory with Broncos, just like Peyton, and like Eli, Elway never play an actual down for the team that initially drafted him, the then Baltimore Colts, #1 overall in 1983.
So will the top QB’s from 2019's draft class be the ones that break the streak? Will one of the top-five picks from a previous draft find success with their current club, or another viable suitor? Only time will tell. But the numbers don’t lie. Taking a QB early doesn’t have the best success rate. Even more so when you look at the full list of Super Bowl QB’s over the past 20 years and see names like Brady, Roethlisberger, and Wilson; players that were drafted later in the first round, the third round, or all the way down at pick number 199 overall have been some of the most successful QB’s over the last two decades.