What's the Quarterback Path to Starting in the NFL?

If you ever wondered why NFL teams continue to reach for quarterbacks in the first round time and time again, despite a mediocre hit rate, it’s because it’s hard to find a starting QB outside of Round No. 1.

Of the 32 quarterbacks who started Week 1, 23 were first-round picks, and that number would have been 24 (75%) if the Cleveland Browns QB1 Deshaun Watson wasn’t suspended.


Of those 23, seven went No. 1 overall. That’s 25% of the league’s starting quarterbacks. 

No. 1 Overall Pick QBs Starting in the NFL

  • Matthew Stafford (2009), Detroit Lions
  • Jameis Winston (2015), Tampa Bay Bucs
  • Jared Goff (2016), Los Angeles Rams
  • Baker Mayfield (2018), Cleveland Browns
  • Kyler Murray (2019), Arizona Cardinals
  • Joe Burrow (2020), Cincinnati Bengals
  • Trevor Lawrence (2021), Jacksonville Jaguars

While the most recent three are still with the team that drafted them, the first four are on their second franchises, including Baker Mayfield, who was selected just four years ago by the Browns before they traded him to the Carolina Panthers this past offseason. 

Since 1998, when the Indianapolis Colts called Peyton Manning’s name with the first pick in the draft, teams have used the No. 1 overall choice on a QB in 18 of the past 25 drafts.

The other seven were quarterback adjacent selections with two offensive tackles and five defensive ends, including Travon Walker by the Jacksonville Jaguars this past April. If you’re not taking a quarterback, you’re trying to protect yours or get after the opponent’s.

It was nearly flipped in the prior 25 years (from 1973-97), with just six quarterbacks going with the first pick, compared to 19 non-QBs. Even then, there was a premium on d-ends, with six going No. 1 overall, it’s the same amount as running backs, the last being Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. 

Only five starting quarterbacks from Week 1 were drafted 75th or lower.

If you take out Jacoby Brissett (Browns again), a backup, that’s four out of 32 or 12.5%. Yes, that group includes Tampa Bay Bucs passer Tom Brady, the only one of the four drafted after the fourth round. 

The 45-year-old Brady also scoffs at conventional wisdom when it comes to age, as 22 of the 32 Week-1 starters were younger than 30 years old, which should have been 23 if not for the New York Jets being without the injured Zach Wilson (Joe Flacco).

Included in that group were five members from the class of 2021: Justin Fields (Chicago Bears), Mac Jones (New England Patriots), Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers), Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), and Davis Mills (Houston Texans). Wilson would have made it six. 

Today’s SportsGrid Daily examines the trajectory of the Arizona Cardinals with analysis from senior writer Grant White, who also looks at the 2022 Draft Class of the Houston Texans in Chalk Talk.

College Football lead analyst J.D. Yonke tells you about a quarterback whose Heisman odds are soaring like a FAANG stock in a bull market. What I’m Watching Tonight is the slugging Seattle Mariners led by star rookie Julio Rodriguez at the Oakland A’s.