All signs point to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III going first and second in the draft, and while Luck seems to be the considered likely to go number one, there has been a lot of debate about who will be better long term. Even before this season, Luck was considered the best prepared quarterback coming out of college since Peyton Manning, but Griffin has won over some analysts as a better overall prospect due to his speed and athleticism, combined with his arm strength and football smarts.
Only time will tell on the question of Luck versus Griffin, but looking back over the last 20 years, there are frequently draft day controversies over two top quarterback prospects. Sometimes they go 1-2, and sometimes one drops, but frequently there is a big disparity in how their careers end up. Let’s take a look back at some of the great 1-2 debates, and how they panned out.
1993 – Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer
Bledsoe went first to the Patriots, and Mirer went second to the Seattle Seahawks. Bledsoe had a solid career, with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys. Ironically, despite putting up solid numbers every year, he didn’t finish his career in New England. He was injured in 2001 right in his prime, shortly after signing a 10-year, then-record $103 million contract. He lost his starting job for good that season to the second year backup quarterback whom the Patriots had selected in the sixth-round the prior year. Of course, that backup was Tom Brady, and New England has never had to rethink that decision. Still, Bledsoe had more solid years in Buffalo and Dallas, and finished his career with 44,611 passing yards (8th best all time) and 251 TDs.
Mirer saw far less success. He played in Seattle for four seasons, and then bounced around primarily as a backup quarterback for the Bears, Packers, Jets, 49ers, Raiders and Lions. He finished his career with 11,969 passing yards and 50 TDs, roughly a quarter of the production that Bledsoe had.
1999 – Three way decision – Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb or Akili Smith
In 1999, quarterbacks actually went 1-2-3 with Couch going first overall to the Browns, McNabb going second overall to the Eagles, and the Bengals taking Akili Smith third. The experts were 1 for 3 this year. McNabb had a stellar career – passing for over 37,000 yards, 234 touchdowns and going to six Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl.
Couch was plagued by injuries and played for five years, managing to rack up 11,131 yards and 64 TDs before he was let go by the Browns, but that was Hall of Fame material compared to Smith, who never really established himself in the NFL. Smith played intermittently from 1999 to 2002 for the Bengals, ending his NFL career with 2,212 passing yards and 5 TDs.
2004 – Eli Manning or Philip Rivers
This is one of the cases where both quarterbacks have had excellent careers so far, although most people forget the draft day drama that ended with Manning going to the Giants. Manning was considered the top prospect coming out of Ole’ Miss and with a football pedigree that included dad Archie and big brother Peyton. The San Diego Chargers were sitting on the top pick in the draft, but Manning didn’t want to go do San Diego, a point he made abundantly clear going into draft day.
The Chargers selected Manning first overall, and the Giants took Philip Rivers with the fourth overall pick and swapped quarterbacks, along with a few other draft picks to account for the difference between number one and number four.
Manning sealed his place as an elite quarterback last season, earning his second Super Bowl victory, and second Super Bowl MVP award. He has already passed for 27,579 yards and 185 TDs.
Rivers has not brought the Chargers to the Promised Land and delivered on a Super Bowl yet, but remember football is a team game. Rivers numbers are not far behind Manning, as he has passed for 23,975 yards and 160 TDs in his career. This was one year where neither choice was a bad one.
2005 – Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers
The following year, San Francisco was sitting on the first overall pick, and there was a great debate as to whether Smith or Rodgers should go first overall. When SF went with Smith, Rodgers fell all the way to the Green Bay Packers at number 24 (still the second quarterback off the board). At the time, Smith was handed the keys in San Francisco while Rodgers had to sit for three years behind Brett Favre, but there were bigger differences that ultimately worked to Rodgers advantage.
Rodgers went to a quarterback-friendly system with a stable coaching staff and after three seasons, was handed the keys to the Ferrari. Smith had six different offensive coordinators and four different head coaches in his first six seasons.
Before last season, this looked like a one-sided affair. Rodgers has won a Super Bowl in Green Bay already, and has the highest career passing efficiency in NFL history. Over the last two years, he put together stellar numbers and last season broke the record for highest single-season passing efficiency in NFL history (122.5), while throwing for 4,643 yards with 45 TDs and 6 INTs. He has passed for 17,366 yards and 132 TDs, and has a career passing efficiency of 104.1.
Smith looked like he was on his way out of the NFL prior to Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in San Francisco last season. Smith had a breakout year, leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship game and passing for 3,144 yards with 17 TDs and 5 INTs. Smith’s career numbers are much more modest than Rodgers (12,543 yards and 68 TDs) despite Rodgers three years on the bench. But even though Smith’s accomplishments are nowhere near Rodgers at this point, both have developed into very capable NFL quarterbacks, and a matchup in the NFC title game next season looks very possible.
Hall of Fame – 1998 – Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf
This is the greatest one-sided draft story of all time. There was debate about Manning versus Leaf, with Manning considered to be the safer, better prepared pick, but some arguing for Leaf as having “more upside” and a stronger arm. Manning went first overall to the Colts, and Leaf went second overall to the Chargers. Even from their first season, it was obvious that number one had a big advantage over number two.
Manning was asked in his rookie season what he planned to do with his big rookie contract, and his answer was “Earn it.” And he proceeded to do just that, passing for over 3,700 yards in his rookie season, and in 13 seasons in a row. He started 208 games in a row prior to last year. He is a four-time NFL MVP and a Super Bowl MVP, and has thrown for 54,828 yards (third all time behind Brett Favre and Dan Marino) and 399 passing TDs (also third all time). He recently made headlines signing as a free agent with the Denver Broncos for $96 million.
Leaf never reached 3,700 yards in his career, much less in a season, and he was out of the NFL in three years. His brief career was marked by locker room blow ups and legal problems, and last week he also made headlines, but not for a contract signing. He was arrested on burglary and drug charges in Montana.