The most memorable draft classes in NFL history have tended to be headlined by the quarterbacks. Football started as a ground-based, run-heavy game. The first forward pass wasn’t legally thrown until 1906, and as the professional game evolved, increasing importance has been placed on the quarterback as the field general of teams’ attacking units.
Today, becuase of that, the NFL is dominated by the passing game. As such, quarterbacks are in huge demand and their value in the NFL Draft has never been higher.
Great quarterback draft classes in NFL history
The 1957 draft class featured Hall of Famers Len Dawson and Sonny Jurgensen, while fourteen years later, in 1971, Jim Plunkett, Dan Pastroiani and the first of the great Manning quarterbacks, Archie, were drafted in the first three picks. Ken Anderson, NFL MVP in 1981, was taken in the third round, while Joe Theismann, a fourth-round pick, won Super Bowl XVII for Washington in 1983.
1983 itself was arguably the greatest quarterback class. Six passers were taken in the first round. The first overall pick, John Elway won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, Jim Kelly (14th overall) went to four Super Bowls with Buffalo (losing them all) and Dan Marino (27th overall) set NFL passing records for the Dolphins. Tony Eason (selected 15th) was a Super Bowl runner-up with the Patriots while Todd Blackledge (7th) and Ken O’Brien (24th) were also selected in the first round.
The 2004 Draft
The 2004 draft saw No.1 and No.11 picks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger win four Super Bowls collectively. While fourth pick Philip Rivers had a Hall of Fame career in San Diego, and latterly, Indianapolis, going to eight Pro Bowls.
Just three years on, it’s hard to say whether the Class of 2020 will emerge as the greatest ever. But, based on current progress, it’s possible. Four quarterbacks selected have already been selected for the Pro Bowl. Headlined by the first overall pick, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow. Followed by Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa (5th overall), San Diego’s Justin Herbert (6th overall), & Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts (53rd overall). The fifth, Baltimore’s Tyler Huntley, was an undrafted signing. You wouldn’t bet against Burrow or Hurts going one better and adding a Super Bowl ring to their already impressive fledgling careers. While Tagovailoa and Herbert play for clear playoff contenders in the Dolphins and Chargers. Jordan Love, the 26th overall pick, finally gets his chance in Green Bay in the forthcoming season. He may add to the depth and achievement of this potentially great quarterback class.
The Class of 2023
As many as five quarterbacks are projected to be taken in the first round of this month’s NFL Draft. But, who are the contenders to look for and how do they compare?
Bryce Young, 5’10”, 204lbs, Alabama
The knock on the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is his relatively small frame. At 5’10” and 180lbs in his college career, Bryce Young bulked up to over 200lbs for the NFL Combine. What isn’t in doubt is his ability to extend plays with his superb mobility. Alongside an ability to process his options quickly. Giving him the X factor that could transform a losing franchise very quickly. While he didn’t add to Alabama’s national title collection, when the Crimson Tide struggled, Young showed his resilience and determination. He will be highly motivated to win in the NFL. Will this be in Carolina, at No.1, or Houston at No.2?
NFL comparisons: Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson.
C.J. Stroud, 6’3”, 218lbs, Ohio State
Is it a coincidence that new Carolina head coach Frank Reich has worked with tall quarterbacks in Carson Wentz (6’5”), Nick Foles (6’6”) and Matt Ryan (6’4”), all strong pocket passers? Might this be the factor that steers the Panthers towards selecting CJ Stroud first overall? (Reich also didn’t draft any of the above passers either, for the record). Stroud is arguably the most accurate passer and has led Ohio State to consecutive 11-2 seasons, throwing to some great receivers in Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxson Smith-Njigba. Considered an archetypal pocket passer, Stroud showed glimpses of his potential mobility in the heartbreaking Playoff defeat to Georgia, where he played the game of his college career. This will have raised an intriguing eyebrow for NFL GMs.
NFL comparisons: Joe Burrow, Teddy Bridgewater.
Anthony Richardson, 6’4”, 232lbs, Florida
The most polarising of all the quarterback prospects in this year’s class. Anthony Richardson is arguably the most physically gifted with 4.47 speed, a huge arm and the strength to fend off defenders. He is also extremely raw, inconsistent and inexperienced. He completed just 53.8% of his passes, whilst also making some jaw-dropping displays and dazzling at the NFL combine. His best fit will be a team who can afford to sit him initially so he can continue his development away from the intense focus of NFL Sunday crowds and the media. The Las Vegas Raiders, at No.7, look like an intriguing fit, where he could learn behind newly signed Jimmy Garoppolo. Could they repeat the 49ers’ bold 2021 move, trading up to No.3 to draft an inexperienced passer with huge potential (Trey Lance) to learn behind Garoppolo?
NFL comparisons: Cam Newton, Trey Lance.
Will Levis, 6’4”, 230lbs, Kentucky
Will Levis sat behind Sean Clifford at Penn State for three years before impressing in his debut season at Kentucky. On paper, he has an appetising blend of arm strength, toughness and mobility as a real dual-threat quarterback. The question on Levis is his statistical drop off from his junior to senior year, in which Kentucky underwhelmed. Also questionable is his taste for mayonnaise in his coffee (look it up). The ideal situation for Levis would be to sit behind an established starter and develop for a year – the Raiders, Titans, Commanders and Vikings could be good options. He has a high ceiling but there is work to do.
NFL comparison: Josh Allen.
Hendon Hooker, 6’3”, 221lbs, Tennessee
While many analysts are predicting four quarterbacks will be taken in the first round of the draft, Hendon Hooker could be the fifth. Tennessee’s quarterback, a transfer from Virginia Tech, was in serious Heisman contention before an ACL tear ended his season prematurely in November. Hooker’s career as a Volunteer saw him throw 58 touchdowns with only five interceptions. His age (25) might be a concern for some teams, but this does give him credibility with established players, calling plays in the huddle. Scouts praise him for his poise under pressure, ability to read defenses and toughness. They will have been drooling after his five touchdown, 385-yard passing performance in a 52-49 win over Alabama which put Tennessee at No.1 in the AP polls. An intriguing prospect whose star is on the rise. Don’t be surprised to see a team trade back into the first round to pick him up.
NFL comparisons: Geno Smith, Jacoby Brissett.
Watch out for the quarterback class of 2024…
Having marvelled at the potential of this year’s crop of signal-callers, the Class of 2024 could be even better. USC’s Caleb Williams is the No.1 pick in many people’s early mock drafts and will learn under the tutelage of former Arizona Cardinals and Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who shaped the careers of Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes. North Carolina’s Drake Maye, Kentucky’s Devin Leary, a transfer from North Carolina State, Quinn Ewers (Texas), K.J. Jefferson (Arkansas) and Spencer Rattler (South Carolina) have the potential to develop into high-calibre NFL quarterbacks.
This article was contributed by Gareth Evans who continues to enjoy sharing his passion for college football with us all.
Find more from Gareth here.