Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there have been 112 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft. Some years are more notable than others—the 1983 draft famously featured future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino in the first round. More recently, the 2018 draft saw future MVP Lamar Jackson taken with the final pick of the first round, preceded by promising passers Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen.
Not all quarterback classes are created equal, though. The 2013 draft is known for its dearth of viable passers, with only one (EJ Manuel at No. 13) going in the first round. He last appeared in a game in 2017, making 18 starts with 20 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 77.1 passer rating. There weren’t exactly any diamonds in the rough in the later rounds, either—none of Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley and Landry Jones have enjoyed sustained success.
Teams frequently mention the desire for stability at the quarterback position. Having one starter for an extended period of time often leads to team success. Franchises that find themselves frequently spending first-round picks on a new quarterback, on the other hand, typically have trouble putting together runs of consistency.
Since 1970, 14 teams have taken a quarterback in the first round at least four times. All 32 franchises have done so at least once, with two franchises drafting only one first-round quarterback: the Dallas Cowboys (Troy Aikman, No. 1 overall in 1989) and the New Orleans Saints (Archie Manning, No. 2 overall in 1971). We’ll break down the 14 franchises that have drafted the most quarterbacks in the first round since 1970, starting with a trio of teams who have made six such selections.
T-1. Cleveland Browns (6)
No surprises here, as the Browns are notorious for habitually rotating through quarterbacks. Five of Cleveland’s six first-round quarterback selections have come since 1999, including four since 2007. That run included taking Brady Quinn in 2007 (No. 22), Brandon Weeden in 2012 (No. 22) and Johnny Manziel in 2014 (also No. 22). Baker Mayfield is the team’s most recent attempt at finding a franchise quarterback, and though he regressed in his second season, his shown more promise than his predecessors, and has more wins as a starter (12) than Manziel, Weeden and Quinn combined (11).
T-1. Indianapolis Colts (6)
Though the Colts have made more first-round quarterback selections than all but two other teams, they’ve had a relatively strong track record in making the right choice. They’ve taken a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick four times: Andrew Luck (2012), Peyton Manning (1998), Jeff George (1990) and John Elway (1983). Elway did not want to play for the Colts and forced his way into a trade to Denver. Manning and Luck each proved worthy of being picked No. 1 overall, while George is the only one of the group who didn’t quite pan out.
T-1. Tennessee Titans (6)
The Titans’ track record of making first-round quarterback choices is not the strongest. They’ve drafted three quarterbacks in the first round since 2000, and all three haven’t lived up to expectations: Marcus Mariota in 2015 (No. 2), Jake Locker in 2011 (No. 8) and Vince Young in 2006 (No. 3).
The “bust” label for Mariota might be a bit harsh—his career numbers dwarf those of Locker and Young, and he posted a 24-19 record as a starter from 2016-18. But Tennessee opted to let him walk in free agency in favor of Ryan Tannehill, so he didn’t end up providing the stability and production at the position that a team would hope for with the No. 2 overall pick.
The franchise has had some success drafting quarterbacks early, however: The then-Oilers picked Steve McNair No. 3 in 1995.
T-4. Arizona Cardinals (5)
The Cardinals are hoping that 2019’s first overall pick Kyler Murray will end a long slump of poor first-round quarterback selections. The group of passers that preceded Murray is full of players that didn’t come close to fulfilling their potential. The Cardinals took Steve Pisarkiewicz in 1977, who made four career starts. Kelly Stouffer, picked sixth in 1987, never played for the Cardinals, and went 5-11 over four seasons as a starter for the Seahawks.
The franchise’s duo of 21st century picks before Murray quickly proved ineffective. Matt Leinart could not replicate the success of his college career, throwing 14 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 17 starts with Arizona. Josh Rosen went 3-10 as a starter and was traded to Miami before the start of his second season. So far, Murray has been a hit, so perhaps it will be a long while until the Cardinals take another quarterback in the first round.
T-4. Chicago Bears (5)
The Bears’ 2017 choice of Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick increasingly seems like a mistake considering the quarterbacks that were taken later: Patrick Mahomes at No. 10 and Deshaun Watson at No. 12. Chicago chose wisely in 1982, though, taking future Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon with the No. 5 pick. Other first-round selections include Jim Harbaugh in 1987 (No. 26), Cade McNown in 1999 (No. 12) and Rex Grossman in 2003 (No. 22).
T-4. New York Jets (5)
The Jets’ lack of consistent quarterback play is one of the main reasons they’ve posted only one winning season since 2010. Their first-round quarterback selections prior to the 2010s has been mostly competent, at the very least.
Ken O’Brien (No. 24 overall in 1983) made two Pro Bowls with the Jets and led league in passer rating in 1985. Chad Pennington (No. 18 in 2000) led the team to the playoffs three times and won the NFL comeback player of the year award in 2006. Before Mark Sanchez (No. 5 in 2009) gave us the most infamous NFL blooper in recent memory, he helped lead New York to back-to-back AFC title games. The Jets’ most recent pick—Sam Darnold at No. 3 in 2018—has shown promise, and will need to take a step forward in his third season.
T-4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5)
Just two of Tampa Bay’s five first-round quarterback selections have come in the 21st century. Jameis Winston (No. 1 overall in 2015) put together what could at best be described as an up-and-down tenure in Tampa Bay, capping it off with the NFL’s first ever 30-30 season (30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions). The Bucs’ pick of Josh Freeman in 2009 (No. 17) led to some initial success, but Freeman lasted just six seasons in the NFL.
Tampa Bay took a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick once before, choosing Vinny Testaverde in 1987. Testaverde spent six seasons with the team but enjoyed his most successful years elsewhere.
T-4. Washington (5)
Four of Washington’s five first-round quarterback selections have come in the 21st century, which explains why the franchise has just five winning seasons since 2000. That quartet has largely failed to deliver results: Patrick Ramsey (No. 32 in 2002), Jason Campbell (No. 25 in 2005), Robert Griffin III (No. 2 in 2012) and Dwayne Haskins (No. 15 in 2019). Griffin is responsible for the franchise’s most recent 10-win season (2012) but was unable to stay healthy, while it’s too soon to count Haskins out.
T-9. Atlanta Falcons (4)
The Falcons have made two first-round quarterback selections since 2000, and both achieved NFL success: Michael Vick (No. 1 in 2001) and Matt Ryan (No. 3 in 2008). Previously, Atlanta had used the No. 1 overall pick to take a quarterback in 1975, choosing Steve Bartkowski, who made two Pro Bowls and led the league in touchdown passes in 1980.
T-9. Buffalo Bills (4)
Three of Buffalo’s four first-round quarterback selections have come since 2004, including the team’s pick of Josh Allen in 2018 (No. 7). Though the verdict on Allen is somewhat divided, the two players that preceded Allen were both clearly failures: EJ Manuel (No. 16 in 2013) and J.P. Losman (No. 22 in 2004). Combine the best moments of all three players’ careers, though, and they still don’t compare to the Bills’ other first-round quarterback selection: Jim Kelly (No. 14 in 1983). Kelly led Buffalo to four straight Super Bowl appearances and made five Pro Bowls. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
T-9. Cincinnati Bengals (4)
The last time the Bengals took a quarterback in the first round was in 2003, when they selected Carson Palmer with the first overall pick. All four of their first-round quarterbacks were top-10 picks, though none were nearly as successful as Palmer. The non-Palmer trio—comprised of Akili Smith (No. 3 in 1999), David Klingler (No. 6 in 1992) and Jack Thompson (No. 3 in 1979)—combined to post a record of 8-38 as starters. Palmer, meanwhile, led the Bengals to the playoffs twice and made two Pro Bowls.
T-9. Denver Broncos (4)
The Broncos took Tommy Maddox with the No. 26 pick in 1992, and he made only four starts for the team before being traded to the Rams. Denver’s taken three first-round quarterbacks since 2006: Jay Cutler (No. 11 in 2006), Tim Tebow (No. 25 in 2010) and Paxton Lynch (No. 26 in 2016). Cutler made his lone career Pro Bowl with the Broncos in 2008 before getting traded to Chicago. Tebow and Lynch quickly proved unworthy of being first-round selections, though we’ll always have Tebow’s memorable playoff win against the Steelers.
T-9. Detroit Lions (4)
The Lions’ most recent first-round quarterback selection has proven to be a good one, as Matthew Stafford (No. 1 overall in 2009) has made 149 career starts and has led the team to the playoffs three times. The team’s previous three first-round quarterbacks—Joey Harrington (No. 3 in 2002), Andre Ware (No. 7 in 1990) and Chuck Long (No. 12 in 1986)—combined to go 25-57 as starters for Detroit.
T-9. Minnesota Vikings (4)
The Vikings have mostly done a good job choosing talented quarterbacks in the first round. Most recently, the team took Teddy Bridgewater with the No. 32 pick in 2014. His best season in Minnesota came in 2015, when he made the Pro Bowl and led the team to the playoffs. He missed basically the next two seasons after suffering a leg injury, but enjoyed a resurgence in 2019 with the Saints before earning a $63 million contract with the Panthers this offseason.
Minnesota’s first-round choices of Daunte Culpepper (No. 11 in 1999) and Tommy Kramer (No. 27 in 1977) both proved successful. Their lone blemish came in 2011, though, as Christian Ponder (No. 12 in 2011) never panned out. Ponder went 14-21-1 as a starter, with 38 career touchdowns and 36 interceptions.