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Quick Hit: Success Of QB’s Drafted In The Top 50

From the mailbag:

(In reference to my examination of QB’s selected outside of the top 50 picks in the draft)

Ben writes:

that is an apparently telling statistic regarding the 90% “failure” rate of non-top-50-pick quarterbacks. However, what is the failure rate of top-50-pick quarterbacks (didn’t start for 5 years or throw 1,000 passes)?

That answer would provide a context for the failure rate among non-top-50 picks


It’s a good question. Let’s take a quick look at these QB’s :

Between 1995-2010, there were 49 QB’s selected in the top 50.

18 have started for 5+ years

29 have thrown 1000+ passes (with Bradford and Stafford likely to get there by the end of the year, health providing)

Of the 35 QB’s drafted from 2000-2010, only 5 are out of the league (Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey, Joey Harrington, Jamarcus Russell, Pat White).

Here are 40 years of QB’s

As you can see, a majority of Top 50 QB’s hit 1000 pass attempts in their career, whereas only 16% of QB’s taken after pick #50 do. In that 40 year time period, 51 Top 50 QB’s were 5+ year starters compared to an aggregate 31 from the later portions of the draft.

Ben also writes:

Per your stats, a full 30% of the top 20 NFL quarterbacks [in 2011 passer rating] were not among the top-50 picks. As I see it, that’s a success story, not a failure story.

Here’s the thing though, those 5 QB’s (Brady, Romo, Schaub, Fitzpatrick, Hasselbeck) came from 4 different draft classes (1998, 2000, 2004, 2005) over a 14 year span (1998-2011). In that time period, there were 127 QB’s drafted after pick #50 and probably 300+ undrafted guys. Most years will produce one “decent” QB (short term starter, journeyman starter or long-term decent backup) and every so often a very good (or better) long-term starter emerges. That 25% of the “best” (by passer rating) QB’s were later selections/undrafted shouldn’t really be a surprise. Good QB’s tend to start for a long time, so there only needs to be a “good” QB to come out every 2-3 years to consistently have a few such players in the top 20 QB’s.

For reference, here the best of the drafted “2nd Tier+” QB’s since 1995:

2010: Colt McCoy, John Skelton

2009: Curtis Painter

2008: Chad Henne, Josh Johnson

2007: Trent Edwards, Tyler Thigpen

2006: Tarvaris Jackson, Bruce Gradkowski

2005: Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel, Derek Anderson, Ryan Fitzpatrick

2004: Matt Schaub

2003: Chris Simms

2002: David Garrard, Josh McNown, Shaun Hill

2001: Quincy Carter, Sage Rosenfels, A.J. Feeley

2000: Marc Bulger, Tom Brady

1999: Aaron Brooks

1998: Charlie Batch, Brian Griese, Matt Hasselbeck

1997: Koy Detmer, Jake Delhomme

1996: Danny Kanell, Jon Kitna, Damon Huard

1995: Kordell Stewart, Rob Johnson, Kelly Holcomb

Not many top QB’s. Even many of the “successes” were guys who had 1-2 really good years in otherwise average (or worse) careers (Delhomme, Brooks, Orton, Garrard).

Individually, Brady, Romo et al. are success stories. But the chances of finding a top QB outside of the top tier of prospects are very, very slim. It’s a good strategy to take a QB every year or 2 in the hopes of hitting on one, but a QB-needy team that passes on the elite prospect in hopes of finding a guy later on is probably going to fail to find their quarterback of the future.


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