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Even in QB-heavy drafts, finding a franchise QB remains difficult

The 2018 NFL Draft is expected to feature a near-record number of quarterbacks selected in the first round, with as many as five QBs – Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson – likely be taken in the first 32 picks.

The most quarterbacks ever drafted in the first round is six, which happened in 1983 – the year of Jim Kelly's famed draft class. The next most-similar draft could be 1999, which saw five QBs taken in the first 12 picks.

How have quarterback classes fared in years where a large number of QBs were taken early? Here's a look at the 10 drafts since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that featured either four quarterbacks selected in Round 1 or at least five quarterbacks selected within the first two rounds. QBs are rated as either franchise quarterbacks, average starters, journeymen or busts.

2014: Five QBs taken in first two rounds

It's a little early to judge this class, which featured Blake Bortles (3rd overall), Johnny Manziel (22nd), Teddy Bridgewater (32nd), Derek Carr (36th) and Jimmy Garoppolo (62nd). So far, Bortles and Carr have the highest Weighed Career Approximate Value on Pro Football Reference, though Garoppolo could end up being the best of the bunch. However this class may not be a great comparison to 2018 given that only one of the QBs went in the top 20 picks.

Franchise QBs: Too soon to call.
Average starters: Too soon to call.
Journeymen: Too soon to call.
Busts: 1/5.

[Check out The News' "Path to the Passer" series: Darnold | Rosen | Allen | Mayfield | Jackson | Rudolph]

2012: Four QBs taken in Round 1, five taken in first two rounds

This class seemed bound for greatness when can't-miss prospect Andrew Luck went first overall and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III went second, but injuries have limited Luck's production and forced Griffin out of the league. Ryan Tannehill (8th) appears to be a legitimate starter (though a bad year after a season lost to injury could call that into question), but Brandon Weeden (22nd) was out of the league after three years and Brock Osweiler (57th) hasn't been able to hold a starting job.

Franchise QBs: Too soon to call.
Average starters: Too soon to call.
Journeymen: 1/5.
Busts: 2/5.

2011: Four QBs taken in Round 1, six taken in first two rounds

This draft saw four quarterbacks selected in the top 12 and six in the top 36. Two of them, Cam Newton (1st) and Colin Kaepernick (36th) have reached the Super Bowl, but Jake Locker (8th), Christian Ponder (12th) and Kaepernick are no longer in the league. Blaine Gabbert (10th) has bounced around as a backup while Andy Dalton (35th) has had moderate success as a starter.

Franchise QBs: 1/6.
Average starters: 1/6.
Journeymen: 1/6.
Busts: 3/6, including Kaepernick.

(L-R) Wide receiver Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech, quarterback Brady Quinn of Notre Dame, running back Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma, quarterback JaMarcus Russell of Louisiana State University and defensive end Gaines Adams of Clemson pose on the Radio City Music Hall Marquee during the NFL Draft on April 26, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

2007: Five QBs taken in first two rounds

Yikes, the '07 QB class. JaMarcus Russell (1st) was a massive bust, but at least he won more career games (7) than fellow first-rounder Brady Quinn (22nd, 4). Kevin Kolb (36th) and John Beck (40th) are out of the league while Drew Stanton (43rd) is a backup.

Franchise QBs: 0/5.
Average starters: 0/5.
Journeymen: 1/5.
Busts: 4/5.

2004: Four QBs taken in Round 1

2004 turned out to be a great QB class, minus the Bills' section of J.P. Losman (22nd). Eli Manning (1st), Philip Rivers (4th) and Ben Roethlisberger (11th) will be Hall of Fame candidates when they retire.

Franchise QBs: 3/4.
Average starters: 0/4.
Journeymen: 0/4.
Busts: 1/4.

2003: Four QBs taken in Round 1

Carson Palmer (1st) became a very good NFL quarterback, but Byron Leftwich (7th), Kyle Boller (19th) and Rex Grossman (22nd) had limited success as starters.

Franchise QBs: 1/4.
Average starters: 0/4.
Journeymen: 3/4.
Busts: 0/4.

Quarterbacks Tim Couch, Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, Cade McNown, and Akili Smith pose for a picture during the NFL Draft at the Madison Square Garden on April 17, 1999. (Getty/Ezra O. Shaw/Allsport)

1999: Five QBs taken in Round 1, six taken in first two rounds

Could the 2018 QB class resemble 1999? Maybe in draft position, but hopefully not in production. This draft saw Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith go 1-2-3, with Daunte Culpepper going 11th and Cade McNown 12th; Shaun King went 50th. Smith and NcNown were major busts, winning three games each in their careers. Couch was out of the league after five years and King lasted six. McNabb became the prize of the draft: He is one of only 18 QBs drafted since the merger to accumulate a Weighed Career Approximate Value of 100 or more. Culpepper made three Pro Bowls but was only his team's primary starter for five seasons. A number of fanbases will be very upset if the 2018 class turns out like this.

Franchise QBs: 1/6.
Average starters: 1/6.
Journeymen: 0/6.
Busts: 4/6.

1987: Four QBs taken in Round 1

Vinny Testaverde (1st) and Jim Harbaugh (26th) went on to have long careers, with Testaverde posting a 97 Weighed Career Approximate Value, but Kelly Stouffer (6th) flamed out with 16 career starts and Chris Miller (13th) had limited success outside of one Pro Bowl season.

Franchise QBs: 1/4.
Average starters: 2/4.
Journeymen: 0/4.
Busts: 1/4.

1983: Six QBs taken in Round 1

The QB class of 1983 is regarded as the best of all time, with John Elway (1st), Jim Kelly (14th) and Dan Marino (27th) all reaching the Hall of Fame. But even if the 2018 class is somehow able to replicate that success, it would still leave half the teams unsatisfied. Todd Blackledge (7th) never started more than eight games in one season over his seven years in the league. Tony Eason (15th) had three good years for the Patriots and led them to Super Bowl XX, but didn't complete a pass against Buddy Ryan's "46" defense and was pulled in the second quarter; he never won more than one game in a season after that three-year span. Ken O'Brien (24th) made two Pro Bowls in a 10-year career but had a losing record with the Jets and never won a playoff game.

Franchise QBs: 3/6.
Average starters: 1/6.
Journeymen: 1/6.
Busts: 1/6.


Adding up the QB-heavy draft classes, here's what the the results look like:

Franchise QBs: 10/45 (22%).
Average starters: 5/45 (11%).
Journeymen: 7/45 (16%).
Busts: 17/45 (38%).
Too soon to call: 6/45 (13%).

The Bills haven't been able to find a franchise quarterback since Kelly retired more than 20 years ago. He also remains the only quarterback the team has ever drafted within the first 15 overall selections.

So while the Bills may spend their highest-ever draft pick on a quarterback later this month, this serves as another important reminder that even landing a top draft pick is no sure thing.

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