Ranking the best QB classes in NFL Draft history

Draft classes are often evaluated by the strength of their draft classes, and 2021 is shaping up to be one of the deeper quarterback draft classes in recent memory. These 20 previous draft classes are the measuring stick for all future quarterback draft classes.



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The 2017 quarterback class has a chance to be elite depending on how the careers of first-round picks Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Mitchell Trubisky pan out. Mahomes is off an incredible start, winning an MVP and appearing in two Super Bowls in his first three years as a starter. Watson has also made three Pro Bowls, but off-field allegations cloud his future. Trubisky had an up and down first four seasons in Chicago, though he did make the Pro Bowl in 2018.



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The 1999 draft was a mixed bag. The draft included five first-round quarterbacks, but only Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper truly panned out from that group, going to a combined nine Pro Bowls. Still, there were some surprises from the class, like second-round pick Shaun King and fourth-round pick Aaron Brooks.



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The value of the 1979 draft rests on two quarterbacks, with seventh overall pick Phil Simms and third-round pick Joe Montana have great careers. Montana is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, winning four Super Bowls and winning two MVP Awards with the 49ers. Jack Thompson (first round), Steve Fuller (first round), and Steve Dils (fourth round) also started more than 20 games in the league.



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Roger Staubach was a 10th round pick in the 1964 draft out of Navy. He didn’t play for the Cowboys until 1969 but would go on to make the Hall of Fame. The only other Pro Bowl season from the draft was accrued by 11th rounder Bob Berry, though Pete Beathard (first round), Bill Munson (first round), and Jack Concannon (second round) saw over 30 starts in the league.



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Quarterback Angelo Bertelli was the top pick in the 1944 class, but Hall of Famers Otto Graham (first round) and Bob Waterfield (fifth round) were the only quarterbacks of great NFL significance selected. The pair combined to win five NFL Championships.



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Michael Vick was the first overall pick in 2001 and helped change the game with his running ability. Unfortunately, his career was disrupted by off-field troubles, but he still made four career Pro Bowls. However, the top player of the draft was second-round pick Drew Brees, who is a surefire Hall of Famer after making 13 Pro Bowls and winning two Offensive Player of the Year Awards in 19 seasons. The rest of the draft didn’t offer much of NFL significance.



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The 1949 draft class had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, each selected late. Fourth-round pick Norm Van Brocklin went to the Rams, while 12th rounder George Blanda was also enshrined in Canton as a quarterback and placekicker. First-round picks Bobb Thomason and Frank Tripucka also saw NFL success, making four Pro Bowls combined.



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First-round picks Norm Snead and Billy Kilmer were quality NFL starters who both made Pro Bowls, but easily the best player taken in 1961 was third-round pick, Fran Tarkenton. He made the Hall of Fame with nine Pro Bowls and one MVP Award over 18 NFL seasons. Eight-round pick Charley Johnson also had a nice 15-year NFL career, making one Pro Bowl.



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As we look back, the 2011 draft is a bit of a disappointment with three first-round busts (Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder). The three most prominent quarterbacks from the class, Cam Newton (first round), Andy Dalton (second round), and Colin Kaepernick (second round) had relatively short peaks, but they did make a combined six Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl appearances. Tyrod Taylor has also been a solid journeyman from the sixth round.



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First overall draft choice Drew Bledsoe had a fine NFL career with four Pro Bowls in 14 seasons, even though he’s best remembered for being replaced by Tom Brady in New England. The other strong value from the draft came much later, with Mark Brunell (fifth round), Elvis Grbac (eighth round), and Trent Green (eighth round) having excellent careers. Second overall pick Rick Mirer was a forgettable bust for the Seahawks after a strong career at Notre Dame.



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The 2000 draft is known as the one that produced sixth-round pick and GOAT Tom Brady. Everything else is just a footnote. Still, Chad Pennington (first round) and Marc Bulger (sixth round) did have nice NFL careers.



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The 1998 draft had arguably the most memorable top two picks in history, with Peyton Manning going to Indianapolis and notorious draft bust Ryan Leaf going one pick later to the Chargers. Manning is on the shortlist as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever with 14 Pro Bowls and five MVPs. The draft also produced a couple of Pro Bowlers later, as Brian Griese (third round) and Matt Hasselbeck (sixth round) emerged. Second-round pick Charlie Batch also had a few notable seasons.



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The 1973 class had only one quarterback in the first round (Bert Jones), but the class is headlined by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts (third round), and strong pros Ron Jaworski (second round) and Joe Ferguson (third round). Second-round pick Gary Huff also started parts of three seasons.



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There are no Hall of Famers from the 1987 class, but six different quarterbacks made at least one Pro Bowl. Rich Gannon led the way with four Pro Bowls seasons and one MVP after going in the fourth round. Top overall draft choice Vinny Testaverde played for 21 seasons with two Pro Bowls. The single Pro Bowl quarterbacks were Jim Harbaugh (first round), Chris Miller (first round), Steve Beuerlein (fourth round), and Don Majkowski (10th round).



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6. It’s still relatively early, but the 2012 quarterback class looks outstanding led by third-round pick and seven-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson. Most of the four first-round quarterbacks were productive, including Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Ryan Tannehill, while Nick Foles (third round) and Kirk Cousins (fourth round) were draft steals. Through the 2020 season, the class has tallied 16 Pro Bowls.



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The 2005 class doesn’t quite stack up with the 2004 class, but it’s no slouch. First overall pick Alex Smith has had a long and productive career, and 24th overall pick Aaron Rodgers has gone on to become one of the top quarterbacks in history with nine Pro Bowls and three MVPs. Seventh-rounder Ryan Fitzpatrick has had quite the career as a starter, and fellow draftees Jason Campbell (first round), Matt Cassel (seventh round), and Kyle Orton (fourth round) also had nice NFL runs.



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The historic 1971 class led off with three quarterbacks in Jim Plunkett (Patriots), Archie Manning (Saints), and Dan Pastroini (Oilers). While all three were quality NFL players, the best of the class was third-round pick Ken Anderson, the MVP in 1981, and fourth-round pick Joe Theismann, who eventually made his way to Washington and won an MVP. In total, the class had nine Pro Bowl seasons.



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The 1957 class is known for Hall of Famers Len Dawson (first round) and Sonny Jurgensen (fourth round), but behind them were three more excellent NFL quarterbacks in John Brodie (first round), Jack Kemp (17th round), and Milt Plum (second round). The 23 Pro Bowls from the class clearly make it one of the best ever.



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The 2004 draft had four first-round quarterbacks, with three (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger) likely to get enshrined in Canton one day. Those three quarterbacks have combined for four Super Bowls and 18 Pro Bowls. Third-round pick Matt Schaub has also had a nice career with two Pro Bowls.



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The incredible 1983 quarterback class was featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, with six quarterbacks taken in the first round and three going on to become Hall of Famers. John Elway (first overall), Jim Kelly (14th), and Dan Marino (27th) combined to go to 23 Pro Bowls, while first-rounder Ken O’Brien also made two Pro Bowls himself. The other first-rounders, Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge, had far less NFL success.

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