25 NFL drafts ago, no quarterback went into Round 1 – Why it may never happen again

It seems almost unthinkable now. The stuff of a football legend, a Sasquatch tale that gray temples folks tell every now and then and they just swear it’s true, no matter what you’ve heard before.

In 1996, no quarterback was selected in the first round of the NFL draft. It was only the fifth time since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, and it hasn’t happened since.

“I’m not going to see that again — ever,” said George Paton, the Broncos general manager. “I really don’t. The game has changed, the offense, 7-on-7 tournaments in middle school, high school, there’s just too many quarterbacks that are too demanding in that regard compared to a few decades ago. And, perhaps most importantly, the position has become more important than ever.”

Today it’s not about whether a quarterback gets picked in the first round, it’s more about how many get picked in the first 10 picks. In 2021, quarterbacks were selected with the first three picks in the draft, with five going into the first round.

In 2020, Joe Burrow was the draft’s first pick and four quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Three quarterbacks went into the first round in 2019, five in 2018, three in 2017, and so on.

“The position is so important and with a rookie pay scale the financial penalty for failure is far less costly than it used to be [for a rookie quarterback]’ Bill Polian, former general manager of the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.

What happened in 1996?

In the 25 drafts since 1996, a quarterback has been the No. 1 pick more than six times. But in that 1996 draft, no signal caller was taken until Tony Banks with the 42nd pick of the then St. Louis Rams. Only eight quarterbacks were selected this year, with only three — Banks, Danny Kanell and Bobby Hoying — ahead of the fourth round.

“If you look at it, maybe it’s pretty simple, no quarterback started the first round, but how many of these guys went on to start for a team?” said the guy who was number 1 on that draft, recipient Keyshawn Johnson. “The NFL clearly got it right this year, turns out they got it right because I don’t think any of the drafted quarterbacks have started more games than Tony Banks.”

Johnson is right. Banks’ 78 career starts — with St. Louis, Baltimore and Houston — led the way among the 1996 draft quarterbacks. Kanell was the only other quarterback in the group to start at least 24 games. Four of this year’s quarterback picks – Spence Fischer, Mike Cawley, Jon Stark and Kyle Wachholtz – never attempted a pass during a regular season game.

“There weren’t any quarterbacks worthy of a first-round pick, none of them did the things that me, Jonathan Ogden, Kevin Hardy, Simeon Rice — the players at the front of the draft — did and could do,” he said Johnson. “Move around — Eddie George, Terry Glenn, Willie Anderson, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis — there weren’t any quarterbacks at that level who were capable of leading their teams, so they didn’t draft them.”

Three Hall of Famers were actually selected in the first round this year — Ogden (No. 4 by the Ravens), Harrison (No. 18 by the Colts) and Lewis (No. 26 by the Ravens) — while Hall of Famer receiver Terrell Owens was a third-round selection. Rice, ranked 3rd by the Arizona Cardinals, would win defensive rookie of the year this season, while George, ranked 14th by the Houston Oilers, would win offensive rookie of the year.

Why it won’t happen again

History has shown that none of the 1996 quarterbacks questioned anyone as to why they weren’t selected in the first round. However, there is a school of thought that the 2014 draft could or should have been the last first round without a quarterback, but the rush to find a quarterback has grown almost exponentially since 1996 and is now being amplified so much by teams that they just decide not to let it happen again.

“This position is so critical, everything is involved, her talent as well as any position, but this position magnifies everything,” said John Lynch, general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, at the Scouting Combine. “Often you have to make projections from college to the NFL because the game is played a little bit differently. Levels of competition, there are so many things that go into it. Just like any position. But like I said, the importance of this position just makes your decision so critical.”

In 2014, Blake Bortles (No. 3), Johnny Manziel (No. 22), and Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32) were the three quarterbacks selected in the first round. Of the three, Bridgewater, who was hit with the final first-round pick, was the only one selected to the Pro Bowl. Derek Carr, picked 36th overall by the Raiders — a second-round pick — is the only quarterback from this draft to throw for more than 18,000 yards.

Several hiring managers say the 2013 draft, when EJ Manuel was the only passer selected in the first round, the 1997 draft, when Jim Druckenmiller was the only quarterback selected in the opening round, and the 2007 draft (JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn were the only first-rounders) likely to have joined the 1996 draft in history.

As it stands, only five drafts since the merger have gone without a first-round quarterback: 1974, 1984, 1985, 1988, and 1996.

This year’s class was originally called a bad year for QBs, but in their latest mock drafts, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay each picked three quarterbacks in this year’s first round – Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Mississippi’s Matt enclosure.

“It’s like quarterback class this year,” Paton said. “The process is coming and the public perception is that the quarterback class shouldn’t be ecstatic. But they do well in the season, they do well at the Senior Bowl, on pro days. They really passed every test except the hype test.”

The demand for a Passer Franchise is higher than ever and the supply hasn’t increased at the same pace. Teams repeatedly fall back on a quarterback, even early in the first round, and pick a passer well above where they might even grade him in hopes of winning the pitcher’s lottery.

“It’s definitely gained traction,” Johnson said. “But if you can’t pressure it, you won’t get off, you won’t succeed. I don’t care how hard they push you on the board. And if you’re GM and you draft a quarterback in the first round just because you need one and you don’t really think he’s a first-round pick, you probably get fired. It’s not going to make the guy any better just because you took him in the first round.”

These days, quarterback workouts in the Scouting Combine are televised prime time, and pro-day throws against no defenders are the stuff of fire emojis sent coast to coast. It just seems unlikely that a first round in a future draft would end without a quarterback.

“It would be a runaway year, an extreme runaway year,” Paton said. “I just can’t predict it. Too many teams need one every year, they just won’t sit it out.”

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/33670416/25-nfl-drafts-ago-no-quarterback-went-round-1-why-never-happen-again 25 NFL drafts ago, no quarterback went into Round 1 – Why it may never happen again

Joel McCord

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