The Best Quarterback Draft Classes in NFL History

The crew at sports/politics site El Dorado have gone through historic NFL yardage data, adjusting for contemporary statistical inflation, in search of the most prolific quarterback draft class in league history. The results: The 1971 group (Ken Anderson, Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning, Lynn Dickey) edges out the 1983 group (Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, John Elway, Ken O'Brien) for the top slot, with the 2004 group (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub) still in the hunt. The 2012 group got off to a very strong start, but 2017 was not kind to them:

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9 comments, Last at 18 May 2018, 9:47am

#1 by mehllageman56 // Apr 26, 2018 - 8:55pm

I was going to argue for the Class of 83, but Theismann and Pastorini trump Eason and ... Blackledge. And Ken Anderson deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

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#9 by JimZipCode // May 18, 2018 - 9:47am

Tanier turned me around on Kenny Anderson, I guess it was in his "best QBs for each franchise" series.

Still a great QB, but I now accept that his career might not be Hall-worthy.

Points: 0

#2 by johonny // Apr 27, 2018 - 10:02am

I don't know Tannehill seems to have had is best season last year. After one season of Jay Cutler Miami fans have gain a new love of Tannehill's brand of bad football.

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#3 by nat // Apr 27, 2018 - 10:44am

I checked. No use of the word "interception" in the article. "Sack" is only mentioned to say it was ignored.

Evaluating QBs on passing yardage only is SOOOOOOO 1972.

Yardage isn't too awful as a stat, just wrong. For a lot of QBs their ranking by yardage will be close to their ranking by something like Adjusted Net Yards (which puts a value on TDs, interceptions, and sacks). But for many QBs, avoiding sacks and interceptions and getting TDs is a large part of their value.

There's a lot more to being a QB than raw yardage, even if you adjust for era.

Would using a better stat change the article's gist? Who knows? If a draft class was filled with gunslingers who held the ball too long and then heaved it down the field into coverage, then yeah, it would change the results.

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#4 by mehllageman56 // Apr 27, 2018 - 12:39pm

If a draft class was filled with gunslingers who held the ball too long and then heaved it down the field into coverage, then yeah, it would change the results.

Not enough O'Briens in the 83 class to win it all then.

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#5 by Vincent Verhei // Apr 27, 2018 - 3:55pm

If you're comparing individual quarterbacks in a given year, total yardage is a horrible way to do it.

If you're comparing groups of quarterbacks to see which group had the longest, most productive years, total yardage -- when adjusted for era -- is probably as good as anything else. Good quarterbacks will usually play long enough to end up with higher career totals, even if their single-season numbers are never mind-blowing. Bad quarterbacks may put up a handful of big-yardage years, but they won't last long enough to amass whopping career numbers.

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#6 by Independent George // Apr 29, 2018 - 7:54pm

With no research to back this up, my gut tells me that QB careers also considerably shorter in 1971.

Just for fun, I pulled totals by AV, and they pretty much agree with your ranking by total yards:

1971 (602)
Plunkett (85)
Manning (70)
Pastorini (65)
Dickey (65)
Anderson (121)
Theismann (87)
Hunter (64)
Reed (23)
Scott (22)

1983 (531)
Elway (138)
Blackledge (12)
Kelly (103)
Eason (36)
O'Brien (72)
Marino (145)
Misc including Gary Kubiak (25)

2004 (470)
Manning (112)
Rivers (134)
Roethlisberger (120)
Losman (19)
Schaub (69)
McCown (8)
Misc (8)

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#7 by nat // Apr 29, 2018 - 11:24pm

True. But you could just use games started and get pretty close, too, couldn't you? After adjusting for changes in season length, that is.

It wouldn't even be wrong to do so. A draft class with a lot of long time starters is a strong class, unless some team sticks with a bad starter for years.

For yucks you could rank draft classes by total interceptions thrown. The more thrown, the better. That might be close to the same ranking, too. It's all about volume, which means keeping your starting job.

But if you were comparing two draft classes with the same total starts, raw yardage would be a poor choice of tie-breaker.

Points: 0

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