It is pretty much guaranteed that the Jacksonville Jaguars will draft Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence #1 in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That means the Jaguars consider Lawrence to be the best quarterback in the draft. But is it a sure thing that he maintains that position?
In the last 8 drafts (2012-2019), only twice has the first quarterback taken, been the best quarterback in the draft. In the four years prior (2008-2011), the first QB taken, was in fact, the best QB, in hindsight.
*Excluding 2020 from this, due to small sample size.
Best QB in each draft
2020 – Sample size is too small, but competition is strong to determine the best between #1 pick Joe Burrow and #6 pick Justin Herbert, who won Rookie of the Year. Tua Tagovailoa may also develop into a top QB. He struggled a bit in 2020, but was recovering from a major injury.
2018 – Lamar Jackson (5th QB drafted)
2020 showed the strength of this class. #1 pick Baker Mayfield, #7 pick Josh Allen, and #32 pick Lamar Jackson were 3 of the final 4 QBs in the AFC Playoffs. Josh Allen was a contender for 2020 MVP and led the Bills to the AFC Championship, but I’ll give the slight nod (for now) to Jackson, who did win the 2019 MVP award.
While Mayfield has been good, he has not been the best (regardless of if you think Allen or Jackson are #1). The other 2 first round QBs are Sam Darnold (#3) and Josh Rosen (#10), who have seen the teams that drafted them move on and replace with different top 2 QBs.
2017 – Patrick Mahomes (2nd QB drafted)
I will NEVER stop writing, tweeting, and speaking about the fact that Bears GM Ryan Pace traded UP from #3 to #2 to select Mitchell Trubisky. At #10, the Chiefs drafted Mahomes, who won NFL MVP in 2018 and Super Bowl MVP in 2020 and returned tot he Super Bowl in 2021.
Notably, Deshaun Watson was drafted third, at #12 overall. Not an MVP (yet), but a pretty good quarterback who may find himself on a better team in the future.
2016 – Dak Prescott (8th QB drafted)
This may have been an argument in recent years, but now there is no controversy behind this selection. The top 2 QBs, Jared Goff (1) and Carson Wentz (2) were both traded this off-season, showing what the Rams and Eagles, respectively, think of the QBs after giving them major contract extensions.
For the first time in his career, Prescott missed games in 2020 after suffering a major leg injury. So while there are big question marks, Prescott has proven his worth and despite not having the playoff resume as some other QBs, is one of the top young QBs in the league.
2014 – Derek Carr (4th QB drafted)
Previously, I had done this list and put Jimmy Garoppolo as the top QB (he was 5th QB taken). He did help the 49ers to the Super Bowl two years ago, but beyond that has been plagued by injuries. Carr has been mostly healthy in his career and is a big reason why the Raiders have hovered around .500 in recent years.
Regardless of the Carr vs Jimmy G debate, the first QB taken was Blake Bortles and second was Johnny Manziel.
2013 – Geno Smith (2nd QB drafted)
I wrote about this draft recently. It stunk. It’s probably the worst QB draft of all-time. The only first round pick was EJ Manuel at #16 to the Bills. Geno Smith, by process of everyone else being awful, is the best QB from this draft. Recommend you read the 2013 recap and see for yourself how bad it was.
2012 – Russell Wilson (6th QB drafted)
Andrew Luck went #1 and it would be fun to debate whether or not you would want to have Luck or Wilson, but following his abrupt departure and considering his overall struggles with injuries compared to Wilson’s clean slate of health and Super Bowl experience, it’s not a great debate. Luck was #1 over Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
When the first QB drafted is the best QB drafted
2019 – Kyler Murray (1st QB drafted)
Murray was drafted, somewhat controversially, one year after the Cardinals used the #10 pick in the 2018 draft on QB Josh Rosen. But the decision to quickly move on from Rosen and drafted the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner has been a wise one. Cardinals have yet to make the playoffs, but came close in 2020 and Murray is on the verge of breaking out into a major star.
Meanwhile, #6 pick Daniel Jones is still finding his way with the Giants and Washington released #15 pick Dwayne Haskins before the end of the 2020 season. Broncos QB Drew Lock is on the hot seat entering 2021 (assuming he isn’t replaced in the 2021 draft).
2015 – Jameis Winston
In hindsight, this was a pretty awful drafted for QBs. Winston went #1 to the Bucs and Marcus Mariota went #2 to the Titans. Both QBs won Heisman Trophies and competed for National Championships and entered the league with a ton of hype and buzz. Now? Mariota is a backup on the Raiders and Winston was a backup for the Saints in 2020, but enters 2021 with the keys to the offense, as he is tasked with the responsibility of replacing Drew Brees.
Only 7 QBs were drafted. Maybe the 3rd best was Trevor Siemian, who was the 7th QB taken by the Broncos in the 7th round.
2011 – Cam Newton
Cam is the only quarterback in the last 20 years to be the #1 pick and win the league MVP award (last one was Peyton Manning, drafted in 1998). Ironically, those two QBs opposed each other in Super Bowl 50 in 2015. Newton is no longer the quarterback he once was as his body is breaking down, but for much of his career he was one of the most exciting playoffs in the NFL, due to his ability to run and force defenders to miss, while he bowls over them and his strong arm and passing ability.
2010 – Sam Bradford
Sadly, injuries held Bradford back for an even greater and special career. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2009 at Oklahoma and never started a playoff game in the NFL. His stats were fine, his career as a whole was good, if only a little underwhelming. But the next best QBs in this draft were Colt McCoy, Jimmy Clausen and Tim Tebow. Tebow, by the way, is the only QB drafted in 2010 to both start and win an NFL playoff game.
2009 – Matthew Stafford
Stafford is one of two active starting QBs from 2019 that has started multiple playoff games in his career and has 0 playoff wins (0-3 and Andy Dalton is the other). Now on the Rams, Stafford has a chance to finally prove doubters wrong in 2021.
In some ways, Mark Sanchez has been more successful than Stafford, having led the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010. But he is not a better QB than Stafford, who has had a really good, and rather underrated career, to-date.
2008 – Matt Ryan
Ryan is the only QB in this group who was not the #1 pick. He was drafted 3rd by the Falcons after the Dolphins took Jake Long #1 and the Rams took Chris Long #2. Rams would draft Bradford first just two years later and the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill in the top 10 in 2012. Ryan is still with the Falcons and won NFL MVP in 2016, leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl (a loss to the Patriots). Joe Flacco was the only other QB drafted in the first round (#18) and while he did something Ryan did not (winning the Super Bowl) he is not and has not ever been a better QB, outside of that one month in 2013 where he was “elite”.