The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Terry Bradshaw with the first overall pick of the 1970 NFL draft and reaped bountiful rewards.
Bradshaw would go to three Pro Bowls and earn first-team NFL all-decade acclaim for the 1970s. He would become an NFL MVP, win four Lombardi Trophies and twice earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
That’s the lure of selecting a quarterback with the first overall pick of a draft – the chance to claim a franchise passer in the mold of Bradshaw and the dream of future Super Bowls.
The Cowboys did it in 1989 with Troy Aikman, and the Colts did it in 1998 with Peyton Manning. Aikman would go to six Pro Bowls and win three Super Bowls and Manning would go to 14 Pro Bowls, become a five-time NFL MVP, win three passing titles and a Super Bowl.
But the Bradshaws, Aikmans and Mannings, we’ve come to find out, are the exceptions.
The Cleveland Browns own the first overall selection of the 2017 draft and are leaning toward a pass rusher with that pick. Who can blame them?
When you draft a quarterback first overall, you expect to plug a difference-maker into your huddle. They all arrive in the NFL wearing that “franchise” tag – but few leave the game with that tag intact.
Since the AFL and NFL merged drafts in 1967, there have been 22 quarterbacks selected with the first overall pick. Only eight took their teams to a Super Bowl and only six won when they got there – and only Bradshaw, Aikman and Manning won with the teams that drafted them. Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Eli Manning won for teams that did not draft them.
Of the 22 quarterbacks selected first overall, only four went on to win NFL MVP awards – Bradshaw, Elway, Manning and Cam Newton. And only three of the 22 have gained enshrinement in Canton – Bradshaw, Elway and Aikman – although Peyton Manning is a few years away from joining them.
For every Terry Bradshaw there is a JaMarcus Russell. For every Troy Aikman there is a Tim Couch. For every Peyton Manning there is a David Carr. And it was the Browns who drafted Couch, so you can understand why they might be spooked at the prospect of claiming another quarterback with the first overall pick of this draft.
There have been some quality investments. Fifteen of the 22 quarterbacks selected first overall played in Pro Bowls, and 13 of them took their teams to conference championship games. Manning and Matthew Stafford both passed for 5,000-yard seasons. There have been only nine of them in history.
But quarterbacks are measured by their rings. Twenty-four of the 32 quarterbacks enshrined in Canton won championships. This is the one position teams draft to win titles – and that annually pushes quarterbacks to the top of the draft board. Since 2001, quarterbacks have been the first overall picks in 12 of the 16 drafts.
But is North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky worthy of that first overall pick of the 2017 draft? He’s from Ohio, and his favorite NFL team is the Browns. How about DeShaun Watson? DeShone Kizer? Patrick Mahomes? The Browns also have the 12th overall pick of this draft, and that may be where they look for a quarterback.
But understand this – there are no guarantees. There have been 105 quarterbacks selected in the first round since 1967, but only 12 took teams to championships. The Browns may be wise to wait until the second round where they might find a Dew Brees, the third round where they might find a Joe Montana or the fourth round where they might find a Joe Theismann. Tom Brady was a sixth-rounder, and Kurt Warner went undrafted.
It’s a crap shoot in whatever round you draft a quarterback.