The Bengals are set to draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
However, the history of rookie quarterbacks who went first overall hasn’t exactly been great, which begs the question of if the Bengals should keep Andy Dalton to be a veteran coach of sorts for Burrow.
Try as they might, the Bengals have been unable to find a trade partner to take their veteran quarterback off their hands.To complicate matters, the Panthers released Cam Newton recently. Now if a team wants a 31-year old quarterback, they can chose to trade for Dalton or simply sign Newton.
The Bengals are running out of options for Dalton. They just won’t be able to trade him like they thought they were going to. If the Bengals don’t want Dalton’s salary taking up cap space in 2020, they have to release him.
But what if the Bengals kept him? What if the Bengals draft Burrow and let him play while learning from Dalton?
If the Bengals plan on drafting Burrow with their first overall pick, they don’t want to rush him into lineup without some veteran assistance along the way, especially with the way the offensive line looks. The Bengals wouldn’t want the same treatment to befall Burrow as someone like David Carr.
So, let’s take a look at the last 10 quarterbacks drafted first overall and see how they performed in their rookie years.
Alex Smith: 49ers 2005: 7 starts (2-5), 84/165 (50.9%), 875 yards, 1 TD, 11 INT, 40.8 rating
Four quarterbacks started for the 49ers in 2005, but none of them were very good. Smith led the team in starts, attempts, completions, and yards. His touchdown to interception ration turned what could have been a decent season into a disastrous rookie campaign.
The 49ers never posted a winning season until they hired Jim Harbaugh in 2011. Harbaugh was the fourth head coach Smith played under in his first seven seasons, which shows that player personnel was not the only reason they earned the first overall pick in 2005.
JaMarcus Russell: Raiders, 2007: 1 start (0-1), 36/66 (54.5%), 373, 2 TD, 4 INT, 55.9 rating
Widely considered the worst draft bust in NFL history, JaMarcus Russell started his career off on the wrong foot. He held out during training camp, which slowed his development to the point where he didn’t set foot on the field until December.
Russell only played in 31 games over the course of three seasons and was out of the league by 2010.
Matthew Stafford: 2009, Lions: 9 starts (2-8), 201/377 (53.3%), 2,267 yards, 13 TD, 20 INT, 61.0 rating
The Lions fired Rod Marinelli after being the first head coach to go 0-16. New head coach Jim Schwartz took Matthew Stafford with a well deserved first overall pick. He was named the starter at the beginning of the season and played in that role until he was placed on injured reserve in December.
Schwartz and Stafford took the Lions to the playoffs in 2011, losing in the Wildcard round to the Saints.
Sam Bradford: 2010, Rams: 16 starts (7-9), 354/590 (60%), 3,512 yards, 18 TD, 15 INT, 76.5 rating
Sam Bradford’s numbers have always been good when he was healthy, but thanks to injuries his college dominance never translated to the NFL.
He did turn the 1-15 Rams to a 7-9 team his rookie season, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010. He never had a winning record as a starter until 2017, when he led the Vikings to a 2-0 start. He missed the remainder of the season with an injury, letting Case Keenum lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship later that year.
Cam Newton: 2011, Panthers: 16 starts (6-10), 310/517 (60%), 4,051 yards, 21 TD, 17 INT, 84.5 rating
New head coach Ron Rivera selected Cam Newton with the first overall pick, and Newton had one of the best seasons a rookie quarterback has ever had. After becoming the first rookie to pass for 4,000 yards, Newton also won Pro Bowl and Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Newton also rushed for 756 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Panthers went from 2-14 in 2010 to 12-4 in 2013. They went on to compete in Super Bowl 50 after a 15-1 record in 2015.
Andrew Luck: 2012, Colts: 16 starts (11-5), 339/627 (54.1), 4,374 yards, 23 TD, 18 INT, 76.5 rating
The Colts went 2-14 without Peyton Manning, but improved to 11-5 with Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck. The Colts went to the playoffs every year that Luck started all 16 games. Unfortunately, the injuries he sustained during his career led to an untimely retirement.
Luck’s 11 wins was the most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history—passing the previous high of eight. He won a Pro Bowl appearance for his efforts, but was denied the Offensive Rookie of the year title by the second overall pick Robert Griffin III.
Luck joined Newton in the rookie 4,000 club, and only improved. He was 53-33 as the Colts starter and was as good a quarterback as there was in the league when healthy.
Jameis Winston: 2015, Buccaneers: 16 starts (6-10), 312/535 (58.3%), 4,042 yards, 22 TD, 15 INT, 61.1 rating
Lovie Smith picked Jameis Winston after going 2-14 in his first year. Winston couldn’t do enough to save Smith’s job, but he went 9-7 with Dirk Koetter in 2016, though they still failed to qualify for the postseason.
In 2015, Winston was named the Pepsi Rookie of the year and made his only Pro Bowl appearance.
Jared Goff: 2016, Rams: 7 starts (0-7), 112/205 (54.6%), 1,089 yards, 5 TD, 7 INT, 63.6 rating
This is the only instance on this list where a team traded for the first overall pick. Jared Goff only started seven games amidst coaching changes during his rookie year. He didn’t perform very well until the Rams brought in Sean McVay in 2017, taking Goff and the Rams to Super Bowl LIII in 2018.
Baker Mayfield: 2018, Browns: 13 starts (6-7), 310/486 (63.8%), 3,725 yards, 27 TD, 14 INT, 93.7 rating
As with many first overall picks, Baker Mayfield was drafted into a terrible situation. Even so, and despite sitting on the bench for he first three games, Mayfield put together the best season a Browns quarterback had since 2007. Despite the talent he possesses, he won’t be successful until the Browns find a competent head coach. We’ll see if they have found that in Kevin Stefanski.
Kyler Murray: 2019, Cardinals, 2019: 16 starts (5-10-1), 349/542 (64.4%),3,722 yards, 20 TD, 12 INT, 87.4 rating
Incoming head coach Kliff Kingsbury took Kyler Murray first overall to run his new offense. Murray showed that he was not just a freak athlete, but a capable passer. He topped off the season with 544 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns, and the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Most of these quarterbacks didn’t have experienced veterans like Dalton backing up the rookies.
Except for Russell (which was a whole thing, we don’t even have time to get into that here), all of these quarterbacks still got at least seven starts at some point. There hasn’t been a first overall pick at QB that sat all 16 games in the last 50 years. The only ones to do start four or fewer games since then were Russell, Vinny Testaverde in 1987, and Terry Baker in 1963.
While many will say the model is to let the rookie QB sit for a year, like Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, the ones that sit are never first overall picks. The ones that are should be ready to go from the moment they walk into the building.
There’s a difference between being drafted in the first round and being drafted first overall. The first overall pick is clearly the best in their position, and has already shown scouts and coaches what they can do. If a team has the most valuable asset in football, they won’t want it sitting on the bench. He has to play now.
Whether or not you think Dalton should start if he stays on, he is not going to. We’ve already seen Dalton benched in favor of a rookie during Taylor’s tenure. He’s clearly ready to move on from Dalton.
If Taylor was ready to play Ryan Finley in favor of Dalton, what will he do when there is a quarterback in the organization even better than Finley?
Dalton has already made it clear that he doesn’t want to be a backup. Fortunately, he is a professional, so he will do it if he is forced, which could aid in the development of Burrow.
Still, it’s in the best interest of everybody for the Bengals to part ways with Dalton and start Burrow.
It’s tough to let Dalton go, but if the Bengals can’t trade him, they have to release him. It’s not worth paying him all that money to sit on the bench.