The NFL trade machine was in full vigor last week, as the San Francisco 49ers made a huge deal with the Miami Dolphins to move up to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Dolphins then traded once again, flipping the No. 12 overall pick (acquired from the Niners) and a 2022 first-round pick to move up to No. 6 for the 2021 draft.
The biggest move, made by the 49ers, was to land one of the top-three quarterback prospects. Trevor Lawrence will be a Jacksonville Jaguar with the top pick, and it looks like the Jets are all in on BYU’s Zach Wilson with the second selection. That will leave the Niners to pick from Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones at No. 3 overall.
READ MORE: 2021 NFL Mock Draft
If you have learned anything from the past, however, it’s that having a high first-round grade doesn’t always mean you’re on the pathway to stardom. Quite the opposite has been the case in multiple instances since 2012. With that in mind, let’s take a walk down memory lane and reminisce on all of the first-round quarterbacks, how they fared as rookies and how many of them become stars in the fantasy football world.
Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love
Joe Burrow was the first overall pick in the draft, and he looked the part in his nine starts before suffering an ACL tear. He was on pace to throw for an impressive 4,300 yards, which would have been the third-most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Burrow, at least from a statistical perspective, was a win in fantasy football. Tua Tagovailoa was the next quarterback drafted, No. 5 overall, by the Miami Dolphins. While he averaged a less-than-stellar 13.6 fantasy points per game, Tua did show some flashes of potential, and the Dolphins have added and will continue to add talent on the offensive side.
Of course, the best rookie quarterback was Justin Herbert. The No. 6 overall pick of the Los Angeles Chargers, he smashed a ton of rookie records en route to the second-best season for a first-year quarterback based on fantasy points. You’ll find, however, that Herbert is the exception to the rule. The final first-round quarterback selected, Jordan Love, didn’t play a single snap behind the eventual NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins
Kyler Murray was the first overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals, and he played the part with 285.3 fantasy points and a QB8 finish. Murray’s value is even higher due to his skills as a runner, as he rushed for 544 yards as a rookie. He was even better in NFL Year 2, finishing third in points at the position with 3,971 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes, 819 rushing yards, and 11 scores on the ground. Daniel Jones was the sixth-overall pick, but he didn’t fare as well as Murray. While he did show some flashes, Danny Dimes ultimately finished as the QB24 as a rookie. He was a popular sleeper as an NFL sophomore, but he didn’t meet expectations with another QB24 finish. Dwayne Haskins went to Washington as the final first-round quarterback in the draft, and we all know how that worked out. It didn’t, and now he’s a backup in Pittsburgh.
Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson
Five quarterbacks were selected in the first round in 2018. Baker Mayfield went No. 1 overall to the Browns, Sam Darnold was third to the New York Jets, Josh Allen was seventh to Buffalo, Josh Rosen was 10th to the Cardinals, and Lamar Jackson was the final pick in the round to the Ravens. Mayfield was the best fantasy finisher (QB16), while Allen was 21st at the position. Darnold (QB27), Jackson (QB29), and Rosen (QB34) all finished out of the top 25, but Jackson started just seven games. Of course, he became the top quarterback in fantasy football the following season and was 10th this past season. Allen moved to QB6 in 2019 and was the QB1 in 2020, so he’s also been a worthwhile investment for the Bills and fantasy managers alike.
Mayfield hasn’t evolved into a fantasy star just yet, finishing no better than 16th in points at the position. Darnold hasn’t been better than the QB27 in his three seasons, and Rosen, well, never made an impact and has already fallen off the fantasy radar.
Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson
The 2017 NFL Draft will long be remembered as the draft where nine teams passed on Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson went 12th overall. Both were picked after Mitchell Trubisky, who the Bears traded up to No. 2 to select him out of North Carolina. He played four lackluster seasons in Chicago, never finishing better than QB16. Mahomes and Watson didn’t play full seasons as rookies, but we all know how their careers have played out. It’s enough to make you sick if you’re a Bears fan or a fantasy manager in a dynasty league who followed suit and grabbed Trubisky as the top signal-caller.
Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch
The first two picks in this draft were quarterbacks, as Jared Goff went to the Rams and Carson Wentz to the Eagles. Goff didn’t play much as a rookie, but he did produce a QB12 finish and a QB7 finish the next two seasons. Unfortunately, the wheels started to fall off after that, and the Rams dealt him to Detroit this offseason. It’s a similar situation with Wentz, who was the QB24 as a rookie but exploded to QB5 (13 games) as an NFL sophomore before suffering a serious knee injury. He did post a QB10 finish in 2019, but Wentz fell apart this past season and was then traded to the Colts this winter.
The final quarterback selected in the first round, Paxton Lynch, never threw for more than 497 yards in two seasons with the Broncos and has since been out of the league.
Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota
The top two overall picks were also the only quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, as Jameis Winston went to the Buccaneers and Marcus Mariota to the Titans. Winston was a respectable 13th in points as a rookie, but he went QB16, QB22, QB22 in his next three seasons before breaking out for a QB5 finish in 2019. Of course, he also threw 30 interceptions that season. He was a backup in New Orleans this past year, but Winston will be the favorite to start without Drew Brees under center in 2021.
Mariota was the QB22 as a rookie, and he never finished better than 13th during his time in Tennessee. He’s now a backup behind Derek Carr in Las Vegas.
Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater
Three quarterbacks were picked in the first round of the 2014 draft, starting with Blake Bortles to the Jaguars (No. 3). Johnny Manziel (No. 22) and Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32) were the other two field generals picked. Bortles was the QB24 as a rookie, but he did have QB4 and QB8 finishes before falling off the radar. More than playing at a high level, garbage time was a big reason for Bortles’ best finishes. Manziel was an absolute bust for the Browns, and Bridgewater was the QB22 as a rookie and has never ranked higher than QB18. That happened last year in Carolina.
There was just one quarterback to come off the board in this draft, E.J. Manuel, who went 16th overall to the Bills. He was the QB29 as a rookie, and that was his best finish.
Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden
The top two picks in this draft were Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, and both finished in the top 10 in fantasy points at the position as rookies. RG3, who was the QB5, dealt with injuries and was never close to being as productive in Washington before going to the Browns and Ravens. Luck emerged into a superstar, which many would have predicted coming out of Stanford, but he retired after the 2018 season.
The other two quarterbacks picked in the first round were Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. Tannehill was the QB24 as a rookie, but he had just one top-10 finish with the Dolphins. However, he has resurrected his career with the Titans as he’s coming off a career-best QB7 finish in his first season as their full-time starter. Weeden was the QB26 as a rookie and never made much of a fantasy football impact.
Since 2012, a total of 28 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. Among the field generals who started the majority of his team’s games (10-plus), we’ve seen four top-10 finishes (Griffin III, Luck, Murray, Herbert). Two of them (Murray, Herbert) have come in the last two years. Two others, Mayfield and Mariota, finished among the top 20 as rookies while 12 others ranked in the QB21-QB30 range. The other 10 players all ranked outside of the top 30 quarterbacks as rookies based on fantasy production.
Digging a little deeper and leaving out the 2020 first-rounders who only have one NFL season under their belts, the vast majority haven’t met expectations. In fact, I’d only define six as fantasy superstars. That list would include Luck, Mahomes, Watson, Allen, Jackson, and Murray. That’s 21 percent of first-round quarterbacks since 2012. The jury is still out on Jones, Mayfield, and Tannehill, but for the most part, the rest of our first-rounders have been unreliable or downright bad from a fantasy football perspective.
The good news is that we’ve seen more first-round quarterbacks succeed quickly in the last three seasons, with Allen, Jackson, Murray, and Herbert all owning at least one top-10 finish at the position. Burrow was on pace for a possible top-12 finish last season, too. So if we include the former LSU superstar into the mix, five of the last 12 first-round quarterbacks have either established themselves as studs or have shown the potential to emerge into stars. Maybe it’s the evolution of the college game, NFL rule changes that favor quarterbacks or a mix of both, but the trend we’re seeing at quarterback is a positive one. That’s good news for Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, Jones, and Lance as our projected 2021 first-rounders.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for all of the latest breaking fantasy football news and the best analysis in the business!