The history of the first-round quarterback

Peyton Manning (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

The Vikings may well be looking at quarterback for their first-round draft pick. History shows us the good, bad and Hall of Famers taken in the first round.

With early draft discussion concerning the Vikings pick at No. 12 centering around the quarterback crop, it brought up a question to ponder – how often do teams take a quarterback in the first round of the draft? You might be surprised.

Since the Vikings took Daunte Culpepper in 1999, a whopping 22 teams have taken a first-round quarterback since that time – some taking multiple QBs, like Denver and Baltimore. But with some teams, the drought of handing the keys to the franchise to a prized rookie has been a long time coming.

Quarterbacks have been popular selections early in drafts, with at least two quarterbacks taken in the first round each of the last eight years. While some teams have doubled up in that span – Baltimore, for example, took Kyle Boller in 2003 and after he flamed out took Joe Flacco in 2008. The same was true in Denver. After trading first-rounder Jay Cutler to Chicago, they took Tim Tebow last April.

For teams like the Vikings, it has been another story. Prior to taking Culpepper in 1999, the last time they took a quarterback in the first round of a draft was Tommy Kramer in 1977 – a 22-year gap that dwarfs the current 11-year QB hiatus between franchise quarterbacks.

When ranking the 32 teams as to when they last took a franchise QB on the first round, almost 70 percent of the league's teams have taken the plunge at least once.

Want to win a bar bet with a slightly inebriated football know-it-all? Ask them who was the last quarterback the Chargers drafted in the first round? The answer is Eli Manning, who was traded hours later to San Diego in exchange for Philip Rivers and a treasure chest of draft picks. The Manning name will become significant when one takes a peek at history and tendencies of teams on draft weekend.

Peyton Manning was taken with the first pick in the 1998 draft, which puts him before the parameters of our research. He's still Indy's starting quarterback and is the only player likely to have a chance to make a run at Brett Favre's consecutive-starts record – Peyton has started every game of his 13-year career.

The others get even more curious as you go farther back. Next in line is Carolina. With the franchise's first pick, they put their faith in Kerry Collins. He's still in the league, but has never been worthy of carrying the mantle of a franchise. In 16 NFL seasons, he has played in seven postseason games – with just five of those in his last 14 years.

The Patriots struck gold at No. 199 with a sixth-round pick of Tom Brady, who has ended any speculation about who's the man in New England. Who did the fair-haired boy replace? Drew Bledsoe – the last Patriots QB drafted in the first round in 1993.

Bledsoe held his starting job for a decade in New England, but that same year, the Seattle Seahawks were faced with a dilemma. They had the second pick in the 1993 draft and, in hopes of maintaining a fan base with a franchise QB, really (really) wanted Bledsoe, a star at nearby Washington State, to be the face of the franchise. With Bledsoe gone, the Seahawks went to the "next-best" option, which proved to be a Scorched Earth selection of Notre Dame QB Rick Mirer.

Mirer was thrown into the mix immediately and started every game as a rookie in 1993. He missed time each of the next three years, Seattle didn't have a winning record in any of those seasons (finishing 6-10, 6-10, 8-8 and 7-9 – posting a better record without Mirer than with him). Since then, only three guys have been "the man" in Seattle. One was Warren Moon, the precursor to the 40-year-old death sentence for quarterbacks who played two years. Next came undrafted free agent and WFL project Jon Kitna, who in his first full season in 1999 led Seattle to a division title. After a pedestrian 2000 season, new head coach Mike Holmgren made a call to his buddies back in 'Sconnie and asked if backup Matt Hasselbeck could be had in trade. The rest is history. The Seahawks may want to take a QB this year just to get Mirer off the books.

Now we start getting deep. The last time the Cowboys took a quarterback in the first round was Troy Aikman in 1989. No complaints there. Bill Parcells' penchant of Tuna-love for his old quarterbacks bought the team five years with aging slingers Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe – the football equivalent to the 40-something left-handed pitcher that can get one guy out in the eighth inning. Tony Romo has likely set them up to add a 22nd straight year in the first round this year. A quarterback may well be taken with the Cowboys' 10th overall pick in the draft, but, if it is, it will be by somebody other than Dallas.

Only three more on the legacy list and all of them are historic. Two of them arrived an astonishing 28 drafts ago. It remains the most discussed and debated quarterback draft in NFL history. A record six quarterbacks came off the board in the first round – each entrusted with the future of their respective franchises. Keeping in mind there were only 28 teams in the NFL at the time, it represented more than 20 percent of the league going with a rookie QB to lead them.

One of them was Dan Marino in Miami – the last time the Dolphins drafted a QB in the first round. Unlike Mirer, there is no shame having a Hall of Famer on your "Last Time…" media Cliff's Notes. He supplanted trivia answer David Woodley in his rookie year and never looked back. Starting in 1983, Marino partied 'til it was 1999. In the 11 seasons since, 17 different quarterbacks have started for the Dolphins, including former Vikings Jay Fiedler, Sage Rosenfels and Daunte Culpepper. It might be time for Miami to end the streak. Chad Henne ain't all that.

Whereas Miami found a Hall of Fame quarterback in Marino with the 27th pick in the first round, the 1983 QB draft started with a quarterback – Baltimore drafting and later trading John Elway. Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the same draft is an achievement. But there were five quarterbacks taken.

With the 14th pick in the draft, the Buffalo Bills took Jim Kelly – a third Hall of Famer from the same draft class! Interestingly, the Bills clearly weren't 100 percent sold on Kelly. They had the 12th pick and took tight end Tony Hunter. Who? A tight end? If they really had a long-term plan for Kelly, who ended up signing with the USFL, they must have been confident Detroit – which had the 13th pick in between the Buffalo bookend picks – would bypass the position. For the record, the Lions took fullback James Jones, whose biggest claim to fame was that he was one of three guys named James Jones who played for the Lions – not to mention the Guyana connection.

Three Hall of Famers in one class? Who were the other three? Two of them put up solid careers, but there is no Hall of Very Good in the NFL.

While clearly overshadowed by the Bledsoe transformation to the Brady era, Tony Eason – taken with 15th pick in the '83 draft (one after Kelly) – was no slouch. He was the Pats' primary starter for only three years, but while his Hall of Fame compatriots were making their careers, he joined Marino in the AFC Championship Ring Club when he took the Patriots to the Super Bowl following the 1985 season. He would only start for one more season, but, while his ring doesn't compare to those of Vikings coaches Leslie Frazier and Mike Singletary, he's got one.

The historical jury is out on Ken O'Brien, taken by the Jets with the 24th pick in the draft. Not remembered as a great quarterback, he was the regular starter for the Jets for seven straight years – the longest consecutive streak in the 51-year history of the franchise. The only Jet with more seasons as the team's primary passer was Hall of Famer Joe Namath with nine – missing all or most of three seasons with chronic knee injuries. If you were a Jets fan in the 1980s, your respect level for O'Brien is much in line with guys like Tommy Kramer to Vikings fans. He posted a solid career resume and trails only Namath in yardage and touchdowns. While Namath has a dismal career passer rating of 65.8 – he threw 45 more interceptions than touchdowns in his career with the Jets – he is the folklore giant and O'Brien is a guy who swam in his wake. But at least a case can be made for the Irish kid. The Nittany Lion has no excuse.

How does this pertain to the list? Of the six quarterbacks taken that year, the only one that nobody could get their hands on (at the time) was Elway, taken with the first pick by the Baltimore Colts and subsequently traded to Denver. What made the '83 draft so amazing was that, not only did the draft produce three Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but it also included Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson (No. 2, Los Angeles Rams), offensive tackle Bruce Matthews (No. 9, Houston Oilers) and cornerback Darrell Green (No. 32, Washington Redskins). Yet, somehow, a Penn State quarterback went with the seventh pick to the Kansas City Chiefs – trivia answer Todd Blackledge.

In a draft class that included six Hall of Famers, five of them were drafted after the Chiefs took Blackledge with the seventh pick in the draft. The list of those taken after Blackledge included Roger Craig (49ers), Joey Browner (Vikings), Henry Ellard (Rams), Leonard Marshall (Giants), Darryl Talley (Bills), Charles Mann (Redskins) and Anthony Carter – who had signed with the USFL, but his rights were drafted by the Dolphins with the 334th pick in the draft – 327 selections after Blackledge.

Blackledge spent five years with the Chiefs and never led the team in passing yards in any season. In a draft viewed by many as the one of the pre-eminent draft classes of the recent era, he was taken with the seventh overall pick in the draft and, through almost 30 years of a QB carousel, the Chiefs were once bitten, permanently shy. With Matt Cassel viewed as the man of the future in K.C., the Chiefs and Dolphins may both be extending their streaks.

And then there was one. This year marks the 40th anniversary and 41st draft in which they won't take a quarterback. Who dat? Who dat? Dat be da Saints. In what seems like a near-impossibility, the Saints haven't taken a quarterback in the first round since Archie Manning in 1971. The '70s most certainly weren't groovy for the elder Manning, as he routinely took a beating for years in the Big Easy. Since then, the Saints were one of, if not the, worst historical franchises in NFL history. No fans wore paper bags more than in New Orleans. As embarrassing as the franchise was, the Saints have never dipped their toe back into the first-round quarterback waters since. They finally won a Super Bowl with a free agent quarterback in Drew Brees – the first pick in the second round of the 2001 draft.

As it currently stands, three franchises have a quarterback named Manning as the last time they gambled a first-round pick on the position. The streak will likely continue for at least the next couple of years, since the Saints, Colts and Chargers aren't exactly in the market for a quarterback. The Vikings are. The question is whether it's worth the risk?


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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