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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

NFL Draft: Where 2024 quarterback class potentially ranks over past 20 years; which QB group sits at No. 1?

SportsNFL Draft: Where 2024 quarterback class potentially ranks over past 20 years; which QB group sits at No. 1?


By the time we get to the end of the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, we could, conceivably, see quarterbacks fly off the board. When was the last time that happened? You have to go all the way back to 1983 … the draft with John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. 

Yeah, that one.

This quarterback class has more hype than any since 2018, the year Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield went in the first round and Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen busted. And let’s not forget, the 2004 class that featured three potential Hall of Famers — Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning — remains the gold standard. 

But how does 2024 collectively measure up in terms of talent? Will it produce three franchise quarterbacks like 2004? More? Zero? Only time will tell, but below I’ve tried to answer where I think this class slots in among every class since 2004 by ranking them all.

Classes that produced franchise quarterbacks were given boosts, and those with colossal busts were downgraded. Because this is a ranking of the entire class, depth was also a factor, yet franchise quarterbacks were most important.  

I’ve listed noteworthy quarterbacks from each draft year into the following categories:

  • Franchise QBs: Like elite quarterbacks, these are simply guys everybody knows are franchise quarterbacks. Maybe not for their entire career, but for at least a three-to-four-year stretch, they were the face of their franchise and produced at a high level. If you and your friend have to argue for 30 minutes over someone … he’s probably not a franchise quarterback, although I will concede there’s no concrete definition of that term.
  • Solid starters: Maybe ventured into the “franchise QB” ranks for a short period of time, but didn’t sustain the quality of play to stay in that category. Or, a quarterback with plenty of starts on his resume who was never considered a franchise quarterback and simply has been (or was) an up-and-down starter in his career.
  • Capable backups: Pretty cut and dry. Worth mentioning though that backups are backups for a reason. Some of the names you’ll see in this category are not high-caliber quarterbacks. They did show some signs of competence in relief appearances or spot starts yet were mostly incapable of hanging onto a starting job. 
  • Busts: Almost solely meant for first-round picks who simply did not live up to their draft status and were either completely out of the league much sooner than many expected or fell into the “capable backup” ranks during what should have been the prime of their careers.

21. Class of 2007

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: None
Capable backups: Kevin Kolb (2.04)
Busts: JaMarcus Russell (1.01), Brady Quinn (1.22), Drew Stanton (2.11)

Whenever anyone asks, “What’s the worst quarterback class in recent memory?” this should be your first response. It can be argued Russell is the biggest quarterback bust in modern NFL history, which does major damage to the reputation of this draft class, a group that didn’t even yield any signal-callers who were solid starters for a few seasons. It’ll be forever remarkable the Eagles were able to trade Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals for a quality cornerback — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie — and a second-round pick (!) in the 2012 draft after a pair of 300-yard games in 2009 and one in 2010. But he flopped in Arizona. At his absolute best, he was a capable backup. 

20. Class of 2015

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: None
Capable backups: Jameis Winston (1.01), Trevor Siemian (7.33)
Busts: Marcus Mariota (1.02)

Winston did lead the NFL in passing yards but did so in one of the most bizarre quarterback seasons in NFL history, when he simultaneously threw 30 interceptions. Since then, he’s hardly been given an opportunity to start, and even at his peak, I don’t think he was steady enough for long enough to be considered a solid starter. The rest of this class never amounted to much at all, despite a few spot-starting stints for Siemian. Mariota is still in the league, but is a clear bust choice after what transpired in Tennessee and in the seasons afterward.  

19. Class of 2010

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: Sam Bradford (1.01)
Capable backups: Colt McCoy (3.21)
Busts: Tim Tebow (1.25)

Bradford was widely viewed as a can’t-miss quarterback prospect, but his injury history was a concern. Those concerns have plagued his NFL career, and for many small spurts, he was a solid starter. Yet, he was hardly as consistent as he was at Oklahoma and the injuries followed him his entire career. Tebow had his magical run with the Broncos in 2011 that featured the overtime playoff win against the Steelers and inspired Tebow mania across the country. That all turned out to be a mirage, as Denver won the majority of those games in spite of Tebow, not because of him. McCoy has been the consummate backup for his long NFL career. This class was nothing to write home about. 

18. Class of 2013

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: Geno Smith (2.07)
Capable backups: Mike Glennon (4.01)
Busts: EJ Manuel (1.16)

Manuel was the only quarterback picked in the first round in 2013, and he was grabbed after the Bills traded back from No. 8 overall. He never started more than five consecutive games in Buffalo and ultimately busted. This draft class had a fair amount of hype at quarterback with decorated USC quarterback Matt Barkley and late-riser Ryan Nassib along with the super-productive Smith, who, at the time, surprisingly went in the second round. Nevertheless, the 2013 draft class didn’t provide the league much, until, well into his 30s in Seattle, Geno Smith erupted as a solid starter with consecutive effective seasons throwing to D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The late-career Geno ascension completely saves this class. 

17. Class of 2022

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: Brock Purdy (7.262)
Capable backups: Desmond Ridder (3.74), Sam Howell (5.144)
Busts: Kenny Pickett (1.20)

Look at that number next to Purdy — 262. Still striking. He’s teetering on the franchise quarterback realm; however, for as much as I admire what he’s done in his first two seasons at San Francisco’s starter, I do think he’s more of a product of a ridiculous environment with the 49ers than a transcendent type. 

Ridder flamed out quickly in Atlanta, and I’m holding out on Howell, who I think could ironically have a Geno Smith-type turnaround in Seattle if he has to play for the Seahawks in the near future. Pickett was simply too timid as a thrower and too antsy when pressure mounted to meet first-round expectations in Pittsburgh. 

16. Class of 2021 

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: Trevor Lawrence (1.01)
Capable backups: Justin Fields (1.11), Mac Jones (1.15)
Busts: Zach Wilson (1.02), Trey Lance (1.03)

As each season progresses, this class looks worse. And I’m stunned by Lawrence’s 2023 after a breakout 2022 when he appeared aligned to be a shoo-in for a monster, $50+ million APY extension at the end of his rookie deal. I’m not so confident about that now. 

Fields and Jones never could get it as passers, for different reasons, and Wilson and Lance can’t be viewed as anything more than Top-three busts at this stage of their careers, although they are both very young.

15. Class of 2014 

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: Derek Carr (2.04), Jimmy Garoppolo (2.30)
Capable backups: Teddy Bridgewater (1.32)
Busts: Blake Bortles (1.03), Johnny Manziel (1.22)

No one from this class ever flirted with the franchise-quarterback realm, outside of a few moments from Carr. Those were extraordinarily rare and typically followed by stretches of average-at-best play. Garoppolo is a shell of his former self now into his 30s, but when healthy with Kyle Shanahan, he absolutely was one of the league’s solid starters. 

Bridgewater spent most of his career as the classic bridge quarterback who could functionally operate an offense despite being hindered by mediocre physical talent. Bortles had a 35-touchdown season and was on the brink of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl, but that quickly proved to be an aberration. Manziel is one of the league’s all-time first-round quarterback busts.  

14. Class of 2019 

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: Kyler Murray (1.01)
Capable backups: Drew Lock (2.10), Jarrett Stidham (4.31), Gardner Minshew (6.05)
Busts: Daniel Jones (1.06). Dwayne Haskins (1.15)

Murray kinda-sorta was part of the MVP race in 2020, and since then he’s play at “solid starter” ever since and, of course, missed a long period of time with a torn knee ligament. Like a few of these other classes, a Day 3 pick materialized as one of the best passers from this class — Minshew — and there were two first-round busts from 2019. 

13. Class of 2006

Franchise QBs: None
Solid starters: Jay Cutler (1.10)
Capable backups: Kellen Clemens (2.17), Tarvaris Jackson (2.32), Bruce Gradkowski (6.25)
Busts: Vince Young (1.03), Matt Leinart (1.10)

Cutler was, too, up and down to earn the franchise-quarterback label, and when he was at his best, he wasn’t ever elite or very close to it. Young and Leinart ultimately busted, though Young had more staying power than Leinart. As a consolation, this class did provide a nice trio of capable backup quarterbacks.

12. Class of 2009

Franchise QBs: Matthew Stafford (1.01)
Solid starters: None
Capable backups: None
Busts: Mark Sanchez (1.05), Josh Freeman (1.17)

Injuries led to patience being a necessity with the super-young Stafford during the beginning stages of his time in Detroit. The former No. 1 overall pick wavered back and forth between the solid starter and franchise quarterback labels until 2015. Since then, he’s ascended to become an unquestioned franchise quarterback. Since joining the Rams he’s been a rockstar and was dazzling en route to the club’s Super Bowl win at the end of the 2021 season. The Jets traded way up to get Mark Sanchez, which didn’t work out, and Josh Freeman had one of the craziest outlier quarterback seasons in recent memory as the lone bright spot on his professional resume. In 2010, at 22 years old, he completed 61.4 percent of his throws at 7.3 yards per attempt with 25 touchdowns and just six picks. The wheels fell off after that — he never truly recovered from his post-2010 regression. The rest of this class features a plethora of signal-callers who didn’t amount to much in the NFL. 

11. Class of 2023 (still TBD)

Franchise QBs: C.J. Stroud (1.02)
Solid Starters: Will Levis (2.33)
Capable Backups: Aidan O’Connell (4.33)
Busts: Bryce Young (1.01)

Stroud had one of the finest rookie quarterback seasons ever. To some, he set a new bar. Now, of course, all these quarterbacks are still TBD, because we’ve just seen so little from them. And, yes, I assume you’re checking as to why I have Levis placed in the solid starter category — I loved the flashes from his rookie season and simply having those in Year 1 is vital. And Tennessee has now begun the build-around-him phase. O’Connell was very serviceable in his long audition in Las Vegas. Young had a cataclysmic rookie campaign in Carolina. 

10. Class of 2008

Franchise QBs: Matt Ryan (1.03), Joe Flacco (1.18)
Solid starters: None
Capable backups: Chad Henne (2.26), Matt Flynn (7.02)
Busts: None

Ryan has been a franchise quarterback for his entire career. End of story. Can’t crush him too much for that disastrous final season with the Colts. While my answer to PFT Commenter’s foundational question was, no, Flacco is not elite; he represented the floor of franchise quarterbacks in Baltimore. And how good was he in Cleveland in 2023?! Out of nowhere. Henne has been a clipboard holder for a long time after flopping in Miami to start his career, and Matt Flynn parlayed a 480-yard, six-touchdown effort on a loaded Packers team to a big payday in Seattle and being the answer to a trivia question that asks “Who did Russell Wilson beat out to win the Seahawks starting job as a rookie?” This class gets a slight bump not only for Ryan and Flacco but because there weren’t really any franchise-altering busts. No solid starters, though. 

9. Class of 2016 

Franchise QBs: Dak Prescott (4.37)
Solid starters: Jared Goff (1.01), Carson Wentz (1.02)
Capable backups: Jacoby Brissett (3.29)
Busts: Paxton Lynch (1.26)

Wentz and (especially) Goff had disappointing, highly concerning rookie campaigns. As sophomores in the pros, Wentz was an MVP candidate. After his injury in the playoffs that year, he never was anywhere close to the same. Goff made a sizable leap to become one of the league’s most efficient passers. He then fell off before being traded away from the Rams and has reemerged as the epitome of a solid starter with a surging Lions team. Prescott had arguably the best rookie quarterback season in the NFL history in 2016, and has been one of the more hotly debated franchise quarterbacks ever since. Brissett has become one of the league’s preeminent backups. Lynch, the wild card of this draft class and whom the Broncos traded up for in the back end of Round 1, busted quickly in Denver. 

8. Class of 2017

Franchise QBs: Patrick Mahomes (1.10)
Solid starters: Deshaun Watson (1.12)
Capable backups: None
Busts: 
Mitchell Trubisky (1.03), DeShone Kizer (2.20)

What this class lacks in depth, it makes up for with one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Because it’s been so long — and really wasn’t for an exceptionally long stretch — I can’t place Watson in the franchise quarterback territory right now. That will probably bother some people. Trubisky and Kizer were busts, despite Trubisky still sticking around the league as a backup. 

7. Class of 2011

Franchise QBs: Cam Newton (1.01)
Solid starters: Andy Dalton (2.03), Colin Kaepernick (2.04), Tyrod Taylor (6.15)
Capable backups: None
Busts: Jake Locker (1.08), Blaine Gabbert (1.10), Christian Ponder (1.12)

Newton was never the most accurate or consistent passer. But he won the league MVP and set records to begin his career, both of which scream franchise quarterback. Dalton never was a franchise guy. Solid starter at his peak for a few seasons? Absolutely. Kaepernick gets a solid starter designation because when he burst onto the scene, he was borderline unstoppable. Taylor has proven to be capable when given an opportunity for more than a few games and has been in the league for nearly 15 years. This mostly rock-solid class is dragged by the three top-half-of-the-first-round busts. 

6. Class of 2024 (TBD)

Franchise QBs: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye 
Solid starters: Jayden Daniels
Capable backups: Spencer Rattler, Michael Pratt
Busts: J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix, Michael Penix

It’s incredibly easy to believe all the early-round picks in the present draft class will ultimately star in the NFL. As you can tell from above, hype often quickly dissipates once passers turn professional. That’s just how it happens. Williams and Maye are my top-two quarterbacks and feel like passers who can overcome imperfect situations, although may have the finest No. 1 overall pick situation we’ve ever seen for a youthful quarterback. Daniels is too purely talented to flame out completely, but I have much more reservations about the other perceived top passers in the class. 

Rattler and Pratt have legitimate starter qualities and, vitally, plenty of collegiate experience. They possess the right mix to become sneaky good backups or bridge quarterbacks if need be. 

5. Class of 2012

Franchise QBs: Andrew Luck (1.01), Russell Wilson (3.12)
Solid starters: Ryan Tannehill (1.08), Kirk Cousins (4.07)
Capable backups: Nick Foles (3.25)
Busts: Robert Griffin III (1.02), Brandon Weeden (1.22)

Luck and Wilson, in their primes, were absolutely franchise quarterbacks. Tannehill was never atrocious in Miami and blossomed in Tennessee for a nice 2-3 year stretch under Arthur Smith. Cousins has teetered on the franchise quarterback realm since his Washington days. Foles has a darn statue built for him outside the Eagles facilities after his epic run to a Super Bowl title at the end of the 2017 season. Griffin and Weeden, who was 28 years old when he was drafted, are the clear busts from this class. 

4. Class of 2005 

Franchise QBs: Aaron Rodgers (1.24)
Solid starters: Alex Smith (1.01)
Capable backups: Kyle Orton (4.05), Derek Anderson (6.39), Matt Cassel (7.16), Ryan Fitzpatrick (7.36)
Busts: Jason Campbell (1.25)

Extraordinarily top-heavy class here. I mean, Rodgers is in the top 3-5 of most gifted passers in NFL history. Smith had a rough go of it early in his 49ers career then became one of the league’s more stable quarterbacks once Jim Harbaugh got to San Francisco. He was a reliable, low-volume signal-caller under Andy Reid’s tutelage. Despite his steady career after a rough beginning, I don’t think he was ever a bona fide franchise quarterback. This class also featured a respectable assortment of capable backups, who all had at least one year of adequate-to-good play as a season-long starter. Campbell was the lone bust in this group, but he was picked late in Round 1. 

3. Class of 2018

Franchise QBs: Josh Allen (1.07), Lamar Jackson (1.32)
Solid starters: Baker Mayfield (1.01)
Capable backups: Mason Rudolph (3.12)
Busts: Sam Darnold (1.03), Josh Rosen (1.11)

The 2018 class is a classic highly hyped class — a few franchise types, a lone solid starter and a few busts. Jackson has won two MVPs, even though his most recent is one of the least convincing in league history. Either way, he has well outplayed his pre-draft criticism. The same is true with how Allen’s proven the doubters wrong. Mayfield was in bust territory until last season when he resuscitated his career in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers. Let’s see if it continues. Rudolph kept signing one-year deals to stay in Pittsburgh as either the backup or QB3 and proved his worth after Kenny Pickett’s injury in 2023. Darnold and Rosen have been on a variety of teams and were extraordinary flops relative to how well liked they were before this draft. 

2. Class of 2020

Franchise QBs: Joe Burrow (1.01), Justin Herbert (1.06), Jordan Love (1.26), Jalen Hurts (2.53)
Solid starters: Tua Tagovailoa (1.05)
Capable backups: None
Busts: None

The 2020 class has a legitimate chance to be the best in NFL history. How many first-rounders are as good as the ones in this group? Very few, if any. Burrow is elite. Herbert has elite skills. And Love was one of the most efficient passers in the league in 2023. Oh, and Tua Tagovailoa led football in passer rating in 2022 and has become a brilliant orchestrator of Mike McDaniel’s offense in Miami. He’s close to the top distinction here. 

Throw in the vast development Hurts has made from his rookie season, and you can see why this class gets such a high billing. 

1. Class of 2004

Franchise QBs: Eli Manning (1.01), Philip Rivers (1.04), Ben Roethlisberger (1.11)
Solid starters: Matt Schaub (3.27)
Capable backups: None
Busts: J.P. Losman (1.22)

You’re looking at three potential (likely?) Hall of Fame quarterbacks in this class, although out of this trio, I’d have the biggest gripe with Manning getting in. But those two Super Bowl rings will be hard to ignore for voters. Manning, Rivers and Big Ben were franchise cornerstones for well over a decade. During his prime in Houston, Schaub was one of the more underrated quarterbacks in football. Losman is the lone bust in that famous first round, a signal-caller with all the physical tools but poor decision making to go along with a gun-slinger mentality. It’ll be difficult to unseat this quarterback class.





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