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2012 NFL Draft: A Look Back at QBs Taken Mid-First Round

When the Seattle Seahawks pick 11th or 12th this season in the NFL draft, there will be a lot of talk about whether or not they should take a quarterback. John Schneider and Pete Carroll seem to have built a nice nest on offense, but in order for the eggs to hatch they will need to find a good mama bird to sit on the eggs and then to spit barf into Russell Okung's mouth.

Sometimes a metaphor can go too far.

They've invested heavily in the offensive line. Heavily in Sidney Rice. Used a 2nd round pick on Golden Tate, made the biggest play in undrafted free agency for Doug Baldwin and then gave a nice contract to Zach Miller. They're working hard to retain Marshawn Lynch as well.

Everything they've done screams, "Well, we just need to find the quarterback now." Will they do that in this upcoming draft and will they spend their first pick on a QB? Or will they go the free agency route? Will they trade up or trade down or stay right where they are?

I have the answers to your mid-term (you can buy them for $150 to supplement my writing income) but I don't have the answers to those questions about the Hawks and the quarterback situation. We will know a lot more by draft day.

However, I do have the answer to this question: What does history tell us about quarterbacks drafted in the middle of the first round?

I have those answers because they have already happened and Pro-Football-Reference is a really handy tool that's still completely free to use because it hasn't blown up quite like Baseball-Reference has. Seattle will be drafting 11th or 12th and their decision to draft a quarterback won't depend on whether or not they think he will be the next Jim Kelly, but based on how well he fits into the system and how much Schneider and Carroll like the kid.

That doesn't mean that history won't give us some interesting insight into what quarterbacks have been taken in this position.

I searched for every QB drafted between 10th and 20th from 1980-2009 and found 15 QBs. Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert were drafted 10th and 12th last season, but it's too early to make any kind of hard statements on their success. I picked 1980 because it was the start of a decade and gave me exactly 30 drafts. (No QB was taken 10-20 in 2010.)

Here is a quick look at all 15 quarterbacks, in chronological order:

1980 - Marc Wilson, 15th overall by the Oakland Raiders out of BYU. 6'6, 205 lbs.

Wilson, a Seattle native, was one of the first quarterbacks to enjoy extreme success in the system of legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards. In the pass-heavy offense, he broke several records and paved the way for future BYU stars like Jim McMahon and Steve Young.


He was the first quarterback taken in a very bad year for quarterbacks and he actually had the best career out of any of the 10 QBs taken that eventually went on to play in the NFL, completing 1,085 of 2,081 passes for 14,391 yards and 86 touchdowns against 102 interceptions over eight seasons.

The Raiders won the Super Bowl in 1980 behind Jim Plunkett and then Wilson took over the next year. He was the quarterback for two Raiders playoff teams, but overall did not have a very successful career.

He told the Seattle PI in 2006:

"I think I'd be less than honest if I didn't say I had moments of sadness over my pro career and wished it had turned out different," he said. "I don't know what else I could have done. I really felt I did all I could do."

He's currently a real estate developer in Bellevue.

1983 - Jim Kelly, 14th overall by the Buffalo Bills out of the University of Miami. 6'3", 217 lbs.

Kelly was from Pennsylvania and wanted to go to Penn State, but Joe Paterno wasn't offering him a QB scholarship (instead going with Todd Blackledge, the 7th pick in 1983) and instead went to Miami (where coincidentally Dan Marino would play his NFL days, though he played his college ball in Pittsburgh.)


The Bills took Kelly, but he was like all "Man, it's COLD in Buffalo! I'm living in Miami, bien venidos a Miami. I'm taking my talents to USFL beach, beyotch!" or something like that. He was an MVP for the Houston Gamblers in the USFL but when the league went broke he finally had to go play for the Bills.

He spent 11 seasons in Buffalo and went to four consecutive Super Bowls. He is by far the most successful player on this list. Of the 15 quarterbacks taken between 10 and 20 over the last 30 years, there are a combined 11 Pro Bowl appearances and five of those belong to Kelly.

He was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in 2002.

1983 - Tony Eason, 15th overall by the New England Patriots out of Illinois. 6'4", 212 lbs.

1983, the first round of the draft had six Hall of Famers including John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino. Selected one pick after Kelly was Tony Eason, a record-breaking quarterback of the Illini that was only offered one Division I scholarship (By the University of the Pacific) coming out of high school. He transferred to Illinois after two years in Junior College and went on to lead them to a Rose Bowl victory over Washington in 1964. their first bowl game since 1964. He broke 5 NCAA passing recordings in 1982.

He also lead the East to a 26-25 win over college's best quarterback, Elway.

However, when people speak of the six first round QBs in 1983, there will be the 3 Hall of Famers and then there will be Eason, Todd Blackledge (7th), and Ken O'Brien (24th).


Between 1984 and 1986, Eason was flashing success and seemed like he could be going onto a very good career, at least, when he had a QB rating of 85.2 on 60% completions, 185 yards per game (7.4 Y/A), and 53 TD/35 INT while starting 37 games for the Patriots.

He beat Marino and the Patriots in the 1985 AFC Championship game but they lost the Super Bowl 46-10 to the legendary Bears, with Eason going 0-for-6 in the game. ESPN ranked it as the worst performance ever by a QB in the Super Bowl.

After another playoff appearance in 1986, and a loss to the Elway Broncos, Eason would start 10 more games for the rest of his career. He has stayed almost entirely out of the public spotlight since retiring in 1990.

1986 - Chuck Long, 12th overall by the Detroit Lions out of Iowa. 6'4", 217 lbs

He's one of the least successful quarterbacks on this list, having been deemed a "bust" by his third season in the league and he didn't start another NFL game after that.

Long was a college legend at Iowa, having led the Hawkeyes to several impressive wins during his tenure after being another high school quarterback that was largely unnoticed and un-recruited coming out of high school in Wheaton, Illinois.

But he finished his tenure at Iowa as the most successful QB in team history, finished 2nd in the Heisman to Bo Jackson as a senior, and was inducted into the college Hall of Fame in 1999.


The Lions took him with the 12th overall pick. Jim Everett was the first QB taken that year, and he enjoyed many years of success with the Rams. But Long threw 20 interceptions over 416 pass attempts in 1987 and he was traded away in 1989.

His final career numbers: 54.5% completions, 19 TD, 28 INT, 6.2 Y/A, 64.5 rating. He attempted 10 passes after 1988.

Long went on to become a successful assistant head coach for several colleges, and was 9-27 during a three year stint with San Diego State as head coach. He was most recently the offensive coordinator at Kansas.

1987 - Chris Miller, taken 13th overall by the Atlanta Falcons out of Oregon. 6'2", 212 lbs.

In 1991, Miller led the Falcons to a 10-6 record, a playoff win on the road over the Saints, and went to his first and only Pro Bowl. He completed 53.3% of his passes for 3,103 yards, 26 TD/18 INT and 7.5 Y/A. His career was not spectacular, but this was his highlight. Up until then, he was very Mark Sanchez-esque, having never been good but slowly improving as it seemed.

Now, the Falcons maybe thought they could win with Miller. That 2nd round pick that they made in 1991 was no longer that important to them. It was Miller Time! So they traded Brett Favre to the Packers.


In 1992, Miller was having by far the best season of his career. Through 8 games, he had 60.1% completions, 15 TD/6 INT and a 90.7 QB rating. However, injury caused him to miss the rest of the season and derailed the rest of his career.

Though he was only 28 after the injury, Miller would only make 28 more starts for the rest of his career with 37 TD against 33 INT and 55.6% completions on 6.4 Y/A.

He has the distinction of having the shortest Wiki page of anyone on this list.

1991 - Dan McGwire, selected 16th overall by the Seattle Seahawks out of San Diego State. 6'8", 240 lbs.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news. There are a lot of awful quarterbacks on this list, but there is no competition as to who the worst of them is. It's McGwire by at least 6 feet, 8 inches.

I do not feel qualified enough to speak to the career of Dan McGwire only because some of you watched it happen in person. I have been an avid fan for about 15 years, which puts me outside of actually having to see him make any of his five career starts. He was a first round pick and threw 2 career touchdowns, even though it wasn't an "injury thing," he was just a bad quarterback.

As far as any Dan McGwire "hate" or whatever, it was 21 years ago so I think we can get over it. I have paid so little attention to McGwire, that I just found out for the first time that his brother is Mark. That probably was a cool fact in 1991. I thought Jose Canseco was Mark McGwire's brother. At least I can find pictures of them two together.

1999 - Daunte Culpepper, selected 11th overall by the Minnesota Vikings out of Central Florida. 6'4", 264 lbs.

Teams were so scared by Dan McGwire, that it would be eight years before another team took a player quarterback in the middle of the first round, until finally the Vikings took Culpepper in 1999.

Despite being one of the best football players in the history of Florida high school's, Culpepper was not getting good grades but Central Florida offered to help tutor him for the SATs. When he academically qualified, schools like Miami came back and said "Hey dude, my bad. Will you come play for us now?" and Daunt was like "No man. You didn't have my back and you're Miami! You help a lot of guys out under the table, but not ME?! I'm going to UCF."


And so he did. And so he broke all of their records. And so he was taken 11th by the Vikings.

During his first five seasons as starter: 64.4% completions, 3,720 yards per year, 129 TD/74 INT, 7.8 Y/A, 93.2 QB rating, 3 Pro Bowls.

However, he threw 8 INT and 0 TD in his first two games of 2005. Injuries and poor performance (and sex boat) tarnished the rest of his career. He was only 28, but Culpepper only made 27 more starts for four teams over the rest of his career and threw 32 interceptions, 20 touchdowns, and a 71.7 rating.

1999 - Cade McNown, selected 12th overall by the Chicago Bears out of UCLA. 6'1", 208 lbs.

Mid-90s Pac-10 with McNown, Brock Huard, Ryan Leaf, Jake Plummer, Akili Smith... those were the days.

His brief time with the Bears... those were not the days.

McNown was a legend at UCLA, but when the Bears drafted him, chose him as starter, then he held out, missed a bunch of time, Shane Matthews was named starter, then McNown thrown into the fire as a rookie when Matthews got hurt... it was just a mess.


On December 19, 1999, McNown went 27 of 36 for 301 yards, 4 TD/2 INT in a 28-10 victory over the Lions. A year later, on December 24th, he went 5 of 11 for 60 yards, 1 TD/0 INT in a 23-20 win over the Lions.

He never played in another NFL game.

It's funny because you'd think "Okay, he was the worst. He only played two seasons and then spent a short amount of time as a backup before being out of the league." No, that's how bad McGwire was.

2000 - Chad Pennington, selected 18th overall by the New York Jets out of Marshall. 6'3", 225 lbs.

Another QB that wasn't recruited much out of high school, Pennington worked his way from 4th string at Marshall to a MAC championship and undefeated record as a senior. Much like Culpepper, Pennington benefited from having Randy Moss to throw to, but Pennington was a very good QB in his own right.


He was the only QB taken in the first in what looked like a QB-poor draft but by 2002 he led the NFL in QB rating (104.2) and completion % (68.9) and led the Jets to a playoff win.

Never spectacular, but always efficient, Pennington's major problem throughout his career was injuries. Not only is he not a bust at 18, but he was a steal for the Jets. He led the Dolphins to a 10-game turnaround in 2008 and a surprise AFC East championship.

2003 - Kyle Boller, selected 19th overall by the Baltimore Ravens out of Cal. 6'3", 220 lbs.

While many of the other players on this list were under-recruited, or under-valued coming out of high school, Boller was considered one of the best prospects in the history of California and the number one QB prospect in the nation.


Even at Cal he enjoyed success, throwing for 2,815 yards, 28 TD/10 INT as a senior. However, his overall numbers at Cal aren't very good. He completed 47.8% of his passes in his career with 48 interceptions. I seem to remember that going into the draft in 2003, Boller was described as having a great combine and mix of speed and tools that could be molded into a great NFL QB.

The Ravens traded a 2nd and their 2004 1st to the Patriots in order to move up and take Boller. He started the first half of the season, but injuries cost him most of the rest of the season. Over the next two years, Boller completed 56.7% of his passes for 4,358 yards, 24 TD/23 INT, 71.2 QB rating, 5.8 Y/A in 25 starts for the Ravens.

In six years since, he has started 13 games and thrown 17 TD against 22 INT for a 70.2 rating. The tools/athletic-ness of Boller has never translated into much success since his phenomenal stats in high school. He is, however, married to Carrie Prejean.

2004 - Ben Roethlisberger, selected 11th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Miami of OH. 6'5", 240 lbs.

You'll notice that many of the players on this list played at small schools or perhaps, lesser-known's than any of the majors. How do players at Marshall, UCF, SDSU, Vanderbilt, "the other Miami" and Delaware wind up as first round picks?

Because oftentimes, quarterbacks in this position have outperformed their big-school brethren at the combine or on the stat sheets. It's hard to ignore a 37-TD season from Roethlisberger, especially when compared to a big school player who didn't put up those kinds of numbers even if it was against "better competition."

One of the hardest choices that talented evaluators have to make is trying to figure out the difference between reality and mirage. Dan McGwire = Mirage. You're trying to make something out of nothing. Ben Roethlisberger = Reality. A great QB prospect that went to Miami (OH) because he didn't start playing QB until his senior year in high school.


As much as we may hate him and the Steelers, Roethlisberger is the only QB on this list that challenges Kelly for "greatest mid-first round QB taken since 1980." After already winning two Super Bowls and going to a third, he could be on his way to an even better career than the former Bill.

Combined with 2004 picks Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Matt Schaub, the 2004 class is shaping up to be one of the best ever.

2006 - Matt Leinart, selected 10th overall by the Arizona Cardinals out of USC. 6'5", 225 lbs.
With prototypical size, USC pedigree, great college numbers, multiple national championship games and titles, there was very little wrong with seeing Leinart as a franchise quarterback.


However, he went from "#1 overall pick" status in 2005, to slipping behind several prospects (and Vince Young at QB) in 2006 and went 10th overall to Arizona.

He took over for Kurt Warner in 2006 and made 11 starts, throwing for 2,547 yards on 56.8% completions, 11 TD/ 12 INT, 6.8 Y/A and a 74.0 QB rating. In the five seasons since: 7 starts, 58.9% completions, 1,403 yards, 4 TD/8 INT, 6.1 Y/A and 67.8 rating.

With a chance to lead the Texans for the rest of 2011, he went 10 for 13 before season-ending injury, however with only 4.4 Y/A.

A prospect that's all projection at QB (like a Ryan Tannehill this year, or McGwire) can go wrong. But so can a QB that seemed to be near to the total package and then just never figures it out. Off-field stories regarding Leinart and partying don't help and help lend to the cause that a QB has to be just as good in the head as he is physically.

Leinart's one "full season" as a starter in his career is as few as Long and McNown (and Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder already) and makes him one of the most disappointing picks of the modern draft era.

2006 - Jay Cutler, selected 11th overall by the Denver Broncos out of Vanderbilt. 6'3", 225 lbs.

If he had played for USC or Texas as Leinart and Young had, maybe he would have been seen as the top QB prospect in the 2006 draft by everybody. Instead, he went to Vanderbilt, won 11 games in his career, and had to overcome any doubts people may have had about him.

Without Cutler, it would have been hard for Vandy to win any of those 11 games.

Some people did believe he'd be the best QB in the draft and by now his career numbers are almost more than the rest of that draft combined. (Including Tarvaris Jackson.)

The biggest complaint that people have about Cutler can be seen in this photo here:

He just doesn't compose himself well and when you combine that with the fact that he's prone to throwing interceptions, it makes for a bad formula. However, his attitude seemed to improve this season and he's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC.

The Bears were on their way to the playoffs until Cutler missed the final six games.

2008 - Joe Flacco, selected 18th overall by the Baltimore Ravens out of Delaware. 6'6", 232 lbs.

I'm not the biggest Flacco fan in the world, and he just put up his worst statistical season in 2011, despite the fact that it was his fourth full year as starter and he had perhaps more weapons this season than any other with the emergence of Torrey Smith.


For his career, he has completed 60.8% of his passes for 13,816 yards, 80 TD/46 INT, 7.1 Y/A and a 86.0 rating. All of his numbers in 2011 were below those however.

He had some good games. He had some awful games. But he was so good in the playoffs that I'm sure most fans are encouraged about Flacco going into next season. Flacco is 27 and has won a playoff game in each one of his NFL seasons. He has to be considered a success at pick 18.

2009 - Josh Freeman, selected 17th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Kansas State. 6'6", 248 lbs.

With size and athletic ability, Freeman was a top recruit coming out of high school and opted to play for K-State. He improved each season with the Wildcats, becoming an efficient dual-threat option in 2008 when he threw for 20 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards while rushing for 14 more scores.


He left school early and many people thought he was the best QB prospect in the 2009 draft but slipped to 17th. This is one of those cases again where you have to decide if success is because of how good the player is or how legitimate the numbers were and how they'll translate to the NFL.

We saw Freeman put up a franchise season in 2010, then throw 22 interceptions in 2011 as the Bucs lost 10 games in a row. I think there was enough good by Freeman last year to believe he can rebound and be a great pickup by the Bucs at 17, but we'll see.


The 15 Quarterbacks taken between 10-20 from 1980-2009:

Name Year Pick School
Marc Wilson 1980 15 BYU
Jim Kelly 1983 14 Miami (FL)
Tony Eason 1983 15 Illinois
Chuck Long 1986 12 Iowa
Chris Miller 1987 13 Oregon
Dan McGwire 1991 16 San Diego St.
Daunte Culpepper 1999 11 Central Florida
Cade McNown 1999 12 UCLA
Chad Pennington 2000 18 Marshall
Kyle Boller 2003 19 California
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 11 Miami (OH)
Matt Leinart 2006 10 USC
Jay Cutler 2006 11 Vanderbilt
Joe Flacco 2008 18 Delaware
Josh Freeman 2009 17 Kansas State

Ranking each in terms of success by using Pro-Football-References Weighted Career Approximate Value:

Kelly - 102
Culpepper - 86
Roethlisberger - 69
Pennington - 55
Miller - 51
Cutler - 49
Eason - 38
Wilson - 35
Flacco - 33
Boller 17
Freeman - 16
Leinart - 12
Long - 11
McNown - 7
McGwire - 2

Now, there are several issues with using "Career AV" but all I'm using it for is a starting point. For one, it matters how long you've been in the league, and Roethlisberger is easily the 2nd best QB on this list, while Freeman, Flacco, Cutler, should move up closer to the top eventually.

If I just use my own opinion then I'd say this:

Elite - Kelly, Roethlisberger

Very Good to Great - Culpepper, Pennington, Cutler, Flacco, Freeman

Decent to Good - Miller, Eason, Wilson

Bad - Boller, Leinart, Long, McNown, McGwire

Cutler, Flacco, and Freeman could move up to "Elite" some day. Or move down to "Decent to Good." As of this writing though I'd say that's:

Elite - 2/15 or 13.3%

Very Good to Great - 5/15 or 33%

Decent to Good - 3/15 or 20%

Bad - 5/15 or 33%

Over the last 30 years, teams have found perhaps two elite quarterbacks in picks 10 to 20. They were taken 14th and 11th overall. This actually doesn't sound too bad, because elite quarterbacks are rare for a reason. With 7/15 QBs rating as "Very Good to Elite" then you've got almost half that probably won't disappoint you overall.

I also wouldn't necessarily say that "scouting is just better now" since Kelly was taken 14th overall in 1983 (after Blackledge) and Leinart was drafted in 2006 and failed. Gabbert and Ponder have their own questions to answer as well. Sure, scouting probably is better, but there will always be successes and failures throughout.

After 4000 words, some of you are probably saying to yourselves, "Couldn't you have just skipped to the round-up?" and to that I will answer a question with a question: Don't you think I'm wondering the same thing?

But it helped me better understand the eighties and shouldn't we all be striving to better understand the eighties?

I hope this has helped give some perspective on mid-first round quarterbacks as we approach the draft and get closer to finding out if there's a potential diamond in the rough this year.

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