Arguably the most important position in sports, the debate over handling 1st round quarterbacks has raged for decades. And that debate has grown in significance as the NFL evolved into the modern passing age. There’s an argument to be made that we’re beginning to shift away from the pass-heavy league that many of us grew up watching, but that will have to be a topic for another day. Today, we look back in history at those teams who spent all that NFL draft capital to put the future of the franchise on the arm of a 20 year old kid.
We look back, and we judge. And often, we shame. As is our right.
We’re quickly approaching several NFL Drafts with deep classes of 1st round-talent quarterbacks. No better time to take a look at the way teams have managed 1st round QBs in modern NFL draft history. It could be argued that the Marino 80s were the start of the evolved passing game, but no one was really doing what the Dolphins were doing at that time, so let’s start with the first half of the 90s when the Bill Walsh coaching tree started to spread.
1st overall – Jeff George – Colts
Top high school prospect to top overall pick in the NFL draft. Jeff George had quite a bit of pressure on him from the start of his NFL career. Not only did the Colts draft him with the top pick, they also traded Pro Bowl offensive lineman Chris Hinton and future all-pro receiver Andre Rison, along with their 5th round pick and the following year’s 1st round pick, just to get Jeff George. In retrospect, maybe moving two of your best offensive players and valuable draft capital isn’t the best way to set a potential franchise QB up for success.
With a still relatively young Jack Trudeau coming off his best season, the question of whether George would start from day 1 lingered through preseason. But ultimately, two weeks before the regular season, coach Ron Meyer famously declared, “Jeff George did not come here to sit the bench… And we did not make the trade to put him on the bench.” George put together a not-terrible rookie year, then flailed the rest of his time with the Colts. Eventually he went to Oakland where he put together one decent year, despite the team going 4-12. A few years later, he won Comeback Player of the Year honors with the Vikings for his ability to be the latest old vet to throw it high and far in the general vicinity of Randy Moss. On a scale of 1 to he should’ve sat a year, I’ll give him an 8.
7th overall – Andre Ware – Lions
The 1989 Heisman winner came into the league with huge expectations. While his athleticism was so great that most college teams tried recruiting him for other positions, his arm eventually got him noticed. He absolutely dominated under a run-and-shoot style offense in college at Houston. It cannot be understated how good he was during that Heisman year. He finished with 4.699 passing yards and 46 touchdowns. Ware wasn’t even at the presentation to receive the Heisman, only learning about it after putting up 400 yards and 2 TDs (and another rushing) in a 64-0 whooping of Rice. And that wasn’t even close to the most points his team put up that year.
As the 7th overall pick and entering an offense that already had Barry Sanders, Ware seemed to be in a great position for success. He even had some time to ride the bench and learn the NFL game, as the Lions mainly stuck with their 6th round pick from the previous year, Rodney Peete.
But despite a few spot starts due to a Peete injury, Ware never got a chance to supplant him. Some say he was never given a proper chance, while others believe coming from a run-and-shoot offense doomed him from the start. It’s impossible to know whether he could’ve succeeded if he got the week 1 start, or if any amount of bench time would’ve been enough to prepare him for the game at the NFL level. On a scale of 1 to we’ll never know, I give him a 6.5.
Other Notable QBs from 1990 Draft
- Neil O’Donnell (3rd Round, Pick 70)
- Scott Mitchell (4th Round, Pick 93)
- John Friesz (6th Round, Pick 138)
16th overall – Dan McGwire – Seahawks
Mark’s younger, taller brother was a story of how upper management overruled middle management and whiffed. Seattle’s still not in the Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Knox wanted to take some guy named Brett Favre with this pick. But owners cut the checks, and Seahawks owner Ken Behring wanted the freakishly tall McGwire. He only saw the field for 1 game in his rookie season. And that had nothing to do with hoping to develop him slowly. He sat because Knox visibly and audibly didn’t want him there.
Even after Knox left, McGwire never really got a real shot. The team picked Rick Mirer 2nd overall in the 1993 draft. McGwire finally threw his first touchdown pass in week 5 of that year, something he would only do once more the following year before fading out one final try in Miami. On a scale of 1 to wait, he was how tall, I give him a 6.8.
24th overall – Todd Marinovich – Raiders
The guy who “never had a Big Mac or an Oreo or a Ding Dong.” Lefties are weird. Probably didn’t help that his dad raised him like a genetic experiment.
Marinovich was all over the place, both as a player and socialite. As the Raiders 3rd string QB in his rookie year, back in the day when 3rd string QBs were a thing, he decided against using the bench time to study and prepare. Instead, he opted to party all week and hit the locker room high. After a short, promising stint at the end of his rookie year, coach Art Shell sent him to rehab in the offseason. He struggled through 7 starts in 1992, culminating in a failed drug test that sent him back to rehab. He got the final boot after failing yet another drug test during training camp in 1993, and that was the end of it.
Safe to say, time on the bench for a young QB can be valuable if it’s seen as a learning opportunity, but Marinovich saw it as a time to take advantage of having no responsibilities. On a scale of 1 to he definitely had a Big Mac at some point, I give him a 4.
Other Notable QBs from 1991 Draft
- Brett Favre (Round 2, Pick 33)
6th overall – David Klingler – Bengals
Replacing a legend can’t be fun. And apparently the league had yet to figure how unprepared a Houston run-and-shoot QB would be, as Andre Ware wasn’t completely finished yet. Enter David Klingler, fresh off throwing 54 TDs at Houston and now expected to fill the shoes of Boomer Esiason.
Klingler started 4 games in ’92, then the gig was all his in ’93. And then the team started that year 0-10. They ultimately finished the season 3-13, and after an 0-7 start in ’94, Klingler’s time was done. He floated a few more years, but never started another game. On a scale of 1 to we should’ve seen this coming, I’ll give him a 3.75.
25th overall – Tommy Maddox – Broncos
This was a wild career. Maddox was drafted late in the 1st round because coach Dan Reeves had this bizarre notion that 32 year old John Elway needed a successor. Talk about starting out in an awkward spot with fans. Elway and Reeves didn’t like each other, but Maddox wasn’t out-of-the-box ready, so it would take some time before Reeves could have his guy in place. Turns out, Tommy would get his shot already in week 11 after Elway hurt his throwing shoulder. Maddox looked decent, the team won and went to 7-3, and Broncos fans weren’t unexcited. With Maddox at the helm while Elway healed, things were looking up!
Then they lost 4 in a row. Elway got the job back when his shoulder was ready, and Maddox spent the rest of that year as the Broncos placeholder for kicks. Reeves was fired, and Maddox spent another year holding for kicks. The following year he went to the Rams and guess what… he was their holder, you know, back when quarterbacks actually did that. Then the Giants, really knocking it out of the park again as a holder. And then out of the league.
Up Next… wait, there’s more? He did what?
AND INTO A NEW ONE. Well, first he sold insurance for a while. But in 2000, he found his way into the Arena Football League for a year. A successful stint there with the New Jersey Bulldogs scored him a gig with a brand new league… the XFL. In the inaugural and also final season (at the time) of the XFL, Maddox led the league in passing yards and touchdowns while leading the Los Angeles Xtreme to an XFL championship. So cool. And then the league folded because who was even watching?
Apparently the Pittsburgh Steelers were watching and in 2001, Maddox was brought in to be the backup for Kordell Stewart. As Slash struggled the following season, Maddox got the nod and led the Steelers to a 7-3-1 record as the starter. He was undeniably the Comeback Player of the Year. After being given the job in 2003 to see what he could do with it, they limped to a 6-10 record.
In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger was picked in the 1st round. After a few games, Maddox had the ball taken away for good. He played a few more games as a fill-in, even grabbing a ring as Ben’s backup. But despite his placeholding prowess, he finally got the boot in 2006.
Then he was like, let’s try out for the PGA Tour and miss the U.S. Open cutoff by one stroke. Seriously, this dude’s life was wild. On a scale of 1 to definitely the future world pickleball champ, I give him a 9.
Other Notable QBs from 1992 Draft
- Craig Erickson (4th Round, Pick 86)
- Jeff Blake (6th Round, Pick 166)
- Kent Graham (8th Round, Pick 211)
- Brad Johnson (9th Round, Pick 227)
- Ty Detmer (9th Round, Pick 230)