There were three quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft: Mitch Trubisky (2nd overall, Chicago Bears), Patrick Mahomes II (10th, Kansas City Chiefs) and Deshaun Watson (12th, Houston Texans). Trubisky and Watson have a very good shot at starting right off the bat as rookie quarterbacks, while Mahomes is probably the Chiefs way of letting Alex Smith know he’s not going to be their starter forever.
But if a team starts a quarterback during his rookie year for substantial time, does it bode well for his career and long term development? Or does getting a start right away mean, well, nothing? Alex Smith himself was drafted to be the future of the 49ers, and his career took plenty of twists and turns. Coaching and offensive coordinator stability, along with the actual ability and potential the quarterback has, have more to do with how things turn out than starting right away or waiting a few years, sitting behind a more experienced QB.
Excluding teams that have no idea what’s going on with their quarterback situation, how many teams in the NFL have starting quarterbacks heading into next season that were also starters their rookie year, not necessarily with the same team?
Class of 2004
Eli Manning, the 1st overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft, wasn’t the starter right away for the Giants (Kurt Warner was), but by November Manning was the starter. The following season the job was all his, and he hasn’t missed a start in 199 consecutive games. Ben Roethlisberger, the 11th overall pick for the Steelers, started the season as the number 3 QB, but injuries and ineffective play from Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch led to Roethlisberger taking over and holding on to the job ever since.
Class of 2005
Alex Smith was the 1st overall pick for the 49ers in 2005, and was pulled out of the lineup and thrust back in by head coach Mike Nolan, with injuries and poor play (one touchdown pass, 11 interceptions in 9 games). Things were better later on, then worst, then came Jim Harbaugh, and Colin Kaepernick, and Smith found himself in Kansas City, where he has started in 61 games out of 64, helping the team to three 11-win seasons.
Class of 2008
Joe Flacco was the 18th overall pick, coming to the Ravens after a career at Delaware. Flacco wasn’t intended to be the starting quarterback, but injuries gave him the job from day 1. He has started in all 16 games for the Ravens in 8 out of his 9 seasons with them, missing 6 games due to injury in 2015. Matt Ryan was the 3rd overall pick in that draft, going to the Falcons, and starting right away. He has missed only two games since then, both in 2009.
Class of 2009
Matt Stafford is the only one from that year on the list. The first overall pick in 2009, Stafford was the starter from day 1 for the Lions. Since 2011, he hasn’t missed a single game for them, also helping the team to their first playoff appearance since the 1990’s.
Class of 2010
Sam Bradford was the 1st overall pick in 2010 for the St. Louis Rams, starting all 16 games his first year on the job. Many injuries later, he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and is now with the Vikings, their starter due to Teddy Bridgewater’s terrible injury. Bridgewater is another quarterback who started right out of the game with Minnesota, but who knows if he’ll ever play again for them.
Class of 2011
When the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton in 2011 (2nd round, 35th pick) he wasn’t supposed to be the starter. But Carson Palmer demanded to leave and Bruce Gradkowski just wasn’t good enough. Dalton has been the starter ever since, missing just 3 games over his six seasons with the team. Cam Newton was the 1st overall pick in that draft, always destined to be the starter for the Panthers. Injuries have made him miss four games in six seasons.
Class of 2012
Andrew Luck was the 1st overall pick in the draft, going to the Indianapolis Colts, one of those ‘sure things’ coming out of college. He’s still their starter, but after 3 straight playoff years to kick off the career, things have been more difficult in 2015 and 2016. Ryan Tannehill was the 8th overall pick in that draft, going to the Miami Dolphins. He’s been their starter ever since, missing his first games for the team in 2016. Russell Wilson was only a third round pick for the Seahawks and wasn’t meant to start for them, but he beat Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson for the job. He hasn’t missed a single game for the team since.
Class of 2014
Blake Bortles and Derek Carr. There were quite a lot of debates about who would be better. The Raiders took Carr 36th overall, and he beat veteran Matt Schaub for the starting job. He has missed only one game for the Raiders since due to injury, his progress helping the team make their first playoffs since 2012. Bortles was the higher pick (3rd overall), but wasn’t supposed to start right away. However, Chad Henne was awful, so Bortles got the job. He hasn’t helped the Jags end their playoff drought.
Class of 2015
Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston were always going to be 1-2 in the draft. Winston was taken 1st, going to the Buccaneers, and has made them a lot more competitive, but without any playoff appearance to show for it. Mariota has missed four games since getting the Titans QB1 job, helping them improve, but like Winston, is hasn’t resulted in a playoff appearance.
Class of 2016
An interesting bunch, with an unexpected appearance by Dak Prescott. The Cowboys took him with the 135th overall pick, expecting him to wait behind Tony Romo. But Romo got injured, and Prescott took the opportunity with both hands, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins and more or less pushing Romo into retirement. The story with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz is different, going 1-2 in the draft, with both teams trading up to pick them. The L.A. Rams didn’t want Goff to start right away, but their offense problems forced their hands, and maybe exposed Goff as one huge bust. Wentz did better for the Eagles early on, but an elbow injury and expected problems for someone who wasn’t even from D-1 college football eventually derailed his and Philly’s season.