Sam Mellinger

Does drafting a quarterback with a top-10 pick mean NFL success? Flip a coin

The Indianapolis Colts got it right when they selected quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Indianapolis Colts got it right when they selected quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. AP

(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear as a special section in the Sunday, Aug. 27 print edition and also on and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)

Before drafting Patrick Mahomes this spring, the Chiefs hadn’t used a first-round pick on a quarterback in a generation, but you don’t need to be reminded that other teams have taken quarterbacks high in the NFL Draft. Twenty-six went in the top 10 from 2000 to 2016, ranging from Cam Newton and Matt Ryan to JaMarcus Russell and Joey Harrington.

We’ll go through all of them here, deciding that exactly half are, or appear to be, some version of successful.


▪ Michael Vick, Falcons, 1st pick overall.

Tantalizing talent was the first quarterback to ever win a road playoff game at Lambeau Field. Missed two years in jail for dogfighting charges, then had his most efficient season for Andy Reid and the 2010 Eagles.

Successful? Yes, but not as good as he could’ve been.


▪ David Carr, Texans, 1st.

Led the league in sacks three of his first four seasons, and was hurt taking a sack in the other. Never had a realistic chance, but was seen as such a failure that some believe it hurt his brother Derek’s draft stock years later.

Successful? No, but deserved better.

▪ Joey Harrington, Lions, 3rd.

Drafted by Matt Millen’s Lions, so tough luck there, but stunk a very large stink. Threw more interceptions than touchdowns every year but one, when his career-best 77.5 passer rating ranked 22nd — behind Tim Rattay, Aaron Brooks, and Billy Volek, among others.

Successful? No, but played a mean piano.


▪ Carson Palmer, Bengals, 1st.

Led the league in completion percentage and touchdowns his second year, helping the Bengals to their first playoff game in 15 years. Had the best season of his career in 2015, leading the league in QBR as the Cardinals went 13-3.

Successful? Yes.

▪ Byron Leftwich, Jaguars, 7th.

Helped the Jaguars to their first postseason in six years as a second-year starter. Broke an ankle in 2006, and lost his job to David Garrard in 2007.

Successful? No.


▪ Eli Manning, Chargers, 1st.

Forced a trade to the Giants and has a really peculiar career. Statistically mediocre — his passer rating is 37th of 71 quarterbacks with at least 40 starts since he entered the league. But, those Super Bowls. And he helped save us from a 19-0 Patriots team.

Successful? Yes.

▪ Philip Rivers, Giants, 4th.

One of the most consistent and competitive quarterbacks in the league. Has never been surrounded by enough talent — Eli Manning wasn’t wrong — but has helped the Chargers to six postseasons. Ranks sixth in passer rating, second in yards and third in touchdowns since entering the league.

Successful? Yes.


▪ Alex Smith, 49ers, 1st.

Drafted before his 21st birthday by a dysfunctional franchise, he had an annual switch of offensive coordinators before Jim Harbaugh brought some competence to the place in Smith’s seventh season. They got within a fluky special-teams turnover of the Super Bowl. Smith lost his job because of a concussion the next year, was traded, and brought stability and checkdowns to the Chiefs.

Successful? Yes, but Aaron Rodgers tho.


▪ Vince Young, Titans, 3rd.

Made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and helped the Titans to the playoffs in his second year. But the end was ugly with the Titans, including an injury, altercation with the coach and statement from the owner about cutting him. Was out of the NFL after six seasons, before his 29th birthday.

Successful? No.

▪ Matt Leinart, Cardinals, 10th.

Threw 21 interceptions and 15 touchdowns. Lost one starting job to Kurt Warner, which isn’t so bad, but lost another one to Derek Anderson, which isn’t very good. We’ve already spent too much time on his career.

Successful? No.


▪ JaMarcus Russell, Raiders, 1st.

Of course the Raiders took him first overall. Calvin Johnson went second and Joe Thomas third. Adrian Peterson seventh. All three might be in the Hall of Fame someday. Russell is the biggest bust in draft history.

Successful? Lol no.


▪ Matt Ryan, Falcons, 3rd.

The Falcons had not had a winning season in four years when they drafted Ryan. They’ve had only two losing seasons in the nine years with him. The league’s reigning MVP. He’ll always have that 28-3 lead over the Patriots, too.

Successful? Yes.


▪ Matt Stafford, Lions, 1st.

Struggled and injured early, now one of the league’s strongest-armed, most productive and most consistent quarterbacks. Threw for 4,327 yards in 2016 without Calvin Johnson, posting a career high 70.5 QBR.

Successful? Yes.

▪ Mark Sanchez, Jets, fifth.

Made the AFC Championship game as a rookie despite being fairly terrible. Hasn’t been a regular starter since 2012. Will be forever remembered for the Butt Fumble.

Successful? No.


▪ Sam Bradford, Rams, 1st.

Talented passer who’s shown consistent production despite being on consistently bad teams. Led the league in completion percentage for the Vikings last year, but a maddening series of injuries makes him unreliable.

Successful? This is harder than you might think, but no. Unless you’re his agent.


▪ Cam Newton, Panthers, 1st.

A physical freak even by NFL standards, he is an impossible matchup with a combination of arm and athleticism. Was the league’s MVP and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, his fifth year.

Successful? Yes, of course.

▪ Jake Locker, Titans, 8th.

Retired at 26, saying he no longer wanted to play, which was fine with the NFL, because nobody else much wanted him to play, either.

Successful? No.

▪ Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars, 10th.

Has been a backup for bad teams his entire career, except as a rookie, when he completed just 50.8 percent of his passes as the starter for a bad team.

Successful? No.


▪ Andrew Luck, Colts, 1st.

One of the league’s best quarterbacks, a consistent and reliable combination of traditional drop-back skills but enough athleticism to be a threat on the ground, too. A true franchise quarterback, even if he’s also probably a bit overrated based on what he’s done so far.

Successful? Yes.

▪ Robert Griffin, Washington, 2nd.

Bizarre career. Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler in 2012, and then a combination of injuries and Washington’s incompetence torpedoed his career there. So much talent, though.

Successful? No.

▪ Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins, 8th.

Played just one full season as a quarterback at Texas A&M, but quickly found success in the NFL. A terrific athlete — he was a star receiver in college — and emerging passer who completed 67.1 percent of his passes in 2016. Suffered a partially torn ACL in the preseason.

Successful? Yes, probably.


▪ Blake Bortles, Jaguars, 3rd.

So far his career has peaked as a fantasy football sleeper in 2015. He’s still young, but he was overdrafted and has thrown at least 16 interceptions in each of his three seasons.

Successful? No. Or, at least: not yet.


▪ Jameis Winston, Bucs, 1st.

The first quarterback in NFL history to begin his career with consecutive seasons of 4,000 yards passing, and even if that has more to do with the current game’s inflated numbers, it’s also a sign of his progress. The Bucs are in love with his work ethic and accountability.

Successful? A qualified yes.

▪ Marcus Mariota, Titans, 2nd.

Was OK as a rookie but made a big jump in his second season, protecting the ball by avoiding sacks better. The Titans are adding more talent around him, and Corey Davis could be among the league’s best rookie receivers. One stat the Titans like to promote: Mariota has thrown 33 touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone.

Successful? A qualified yes.


▪ Jared Goff, Rams, 1st.

A disastrous rookie season, basically. He started the last seven games, all losses, completing just 54.6 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Rams scored more than 14 points in just two of those games, and never more than 21.

Successful? Not so far.

▪ Carson Wentz, Eagles, 2nd.

Rushed into a starting job he probably wasn’t ready for as a rookie, but generally held up well. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions despite some unfair circumstances that included bad receivers, an unreliable run game and a suspended offensive lineman.

Successful? More reason to say yes than no, but not enough to be certain.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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