Perhaps the worst kept secret in the NFL is that the Bengals are poised to take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick in the 2020 NFL draft. While Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert came into the season as the top quarterback options, Burrow has been electric leading the Tigers to the National Championship and shattering passing records along the way.
After a rough few years culminating in a dismal 2019 season, Bengals fans are excited about the idea of drafting a quarterback in with the first overall pick. After all, it is a quarterback-driven league and young dynamic signal callers are taking over. 4 of the 6 AFC playoff teams from this season have 2nd or 3rd year players behind center (Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, Deshaun Watson in Houston, and Josh Allen in Buffalo).
A lot of people are billing Burrow as a savior but even in a quarterback-driven league, it can’t all be on one man’s shoulders. None of the young AFC playoff QBs mentioned above went 1st overall. In fact, only half of them went in the top-10 and those teams traded down to get them. 3 of those 4 teams were in the playoffs the year prior to drafting their quarterback and the Ravens were a respectable 9-7.
The fact is that a quarterback can take your team to new heights, but you must have the right tools around them.
This article will focus on quarterbacks drafted in the first round over the past 5 years by teams that originally had a top-10 pick. The idea is to look at teams at the bottom of the league and how they fared after taking a quarterback.
Mahomes and Allen do not meet this criteria because their teams traded up into the top 10 to get them. There are 7 quarterbacks who fit this criteria and we will start with the oldest.
2015 - Jameis Winston 1st overall pick, Marcus Mariota 2nd overall pick
In 2015, quarterbacks went 1st and 2nd overall. This year both may enter free agency and neither has established themselves as a franchise quarterback.
Like the Bengals, the Buccaneers went 2-14 before being awarded the first selection. The following year they went 6-10 with Winston starting every game, but fired their coach after the season. In Dirk Koetter’s first year they went 9-7. 2 wins to 6 wins to 9 wins is a promising climb over a 3-year span, but unfortunately, that is where it ended.
Koetter went 5-11 in each of the next two seasons before getting fired. Winston struggled and Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team to a few of these wins.
Bruce Arians went an impressive 7-9 in his first year as head coach, but Winston was all over the map and his future is uncertain,
Heisman winner Mariota went 2nd overall. The Titans were also 2-14 the year prior, but only improved by one game in 2015 and fired their coach part way through that season. Mariota went 3-9 as a starter that season, while the team was winless without him.
Their new coach went 9-7 in each of the next two seasons, but was fired after a playoff loss in 2017. Mike Vrabel went 9-7 in each of his first two seasons, and beat the New England Patriots in the first round of the playoffs this year.
Of course, Mariota played a very small role in this season. He was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill after going 2-4 as the team’s starter and is set to become a free agent.
2016 - None
Both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were selected by teams who went 7-9 the previous season and traded up from the teens. No quarterback was selected in the top-10 by a team who originally owned a top-10 pick.
2017 - Mitch Trubisky 2nd overall pick
The Bears originally had the 3rd overall pick after going 3-13 in 2016 and traded up one spot to make sure they got Trubisky. Since their original pick was top-10, this pick still counts.
In 2017 they went 5-11 and fired their head coach. They showed drastic improvement in 2018 going 12-4 with a dominant defense, but fell flat of expectations in 2019 with an 8-8 record.
The Bears had one very good year with Trubisky and Matt Nagy but this year without the help of a great defense the offense couldn’t pick up the slack. Trubisky’s weaknesses were exposed early in the season, but to his credit he fought back and played some pretty good games down the stretch.
With many people thinking that Trubisky is holding this team back, it is not clear if he will be the long-term answer at quarterback in Chicago.
Patrick Mahomes does not qualify. He was selected 10th overall by a team that won 12 games the year before and originally was set to pick 27th.
2018 - Baker Mayfield 1st overall pick, Sam Darnold 3rd overall pick
I don’t know if Baker was seen as a savior in Cleveland when they drafted him, but he definitely was when he took over for the injured Tyrod Taylor early in his rookie season and led the team that had gone winless in 2017 to their first win of the season. The Browns went 7-8-1 that season and fired head coach Hue Jackson part way through the year.
That led to extremely high hopes this season. In fact, expectations were unrealistically high. In the end, despite making blockbuster moves to add talent, the team won only 6 games and fired their head coach. It is far too early to judge Mayfield and what his career could be.
A lot will be riding on the shoulders of new head coach Kevin Stefanski. It does however show us that taking a quarterback 1st overall does not win you a Super Bowl even if you trade for top playmakers to put around him.
The Jets traded up to select Darnold, but originally held the 6th overall pick after winning 5 games in 2017. The Jets won only 4 games in 2018 and head coach Todd Bowles got fired. (Are we seeing a trend yet?)
This year after some early struggles under Adam Gase the team managed a 7-9 record. Darnold has done some good things, but has not truly established himself as the answer. The team has made some headway, but failed to compete for a playoff spot despite some expensive free agent acquisitions.
2019 - Kyler Murray 1st overall pick, Daniel Jones 6th overall pick
Obviously it is way too soon to judge draft picks from last year, but for the record...
The Cardinals went 3-13 before being awarded the first pick and selecting Murray and went 5-10-1 this year under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Murray however looks very promising and the offense overall was much improved.
The Giants went 5-11 in 2018 and 4-12 after selecting Jones 6th overall in 2019. Jones was 3-9 as a starter after replacing Eli Manning and head coach Pat Shurmur was fired following the season.
First and foremost, the Bengals need to draft Joe Burrow with the number one overall pick. Don’t twist my words into meaning something they do not.
This does show that expectations of Burrow and this team should be kept in check. It is a long road to building a great team and a winning culture (that far too often involves a coaching change). A franchise quarterback is a huge piece of that and cannot be passed on, but it is not a one-stop fix.
Even teams that have made big moves to acquire weapons like the Browns with Odell Beckham Jr. and the Jets with Le’Veon Bell to put around their young quarterbacks have struggled.
Burrow may very well be a franchise-altering quarterback, but don’t expect those changes to happen overnight. This team needs to build a winning culture and put the right pieces around him to compete for the Super Bowl.