Quarterbacks taken with the First Pick Rarely Lead the Team that Drafted Them to the Super Bowl

By Chris Malumphy

If history is a guide, Daniel Tepper and Carolina Panther fans are likely to be bitterly disappointed if they expect whichever quarterback the team selects with the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to ever lead them to a Super Bowl appearance, let alone to a Lombardi Trophy.

There have been 57 Super Bowls thus far beginning with the 1966 season. In the drafts that directly preceded those seasons, 26 quarterbacks have been selected with the first pick in the draft. Of those 26, only seven have led the team that drafted them to a Super Bowl appearance, and only three have taken home a Lombardi Trophy.

The top picked quarterbacks who led the team that drafted them to Super Bowl victories are Terry Bradshaw (1970 Steelers, 4 Super Bowl victories), Troy Aikman (1989 Cowboys, 3 Super Bowl victories) and Peyton Manning (1998 Colts, one Super Bowl victory and one loss with both the Colts and Broncos). The other four top picked quarterbacks who led the team that drafted them to a Super Bowl appearance, only to lose the game, are Drew Bledsoe (1993 Patriots), Cam Newton (2011 Panthers), Jared Goff (2016 Rams) and Joe Burrow (2020 Panthers).

Of course top picked quarterbacks are not all duds. It's just that the team that drafts them doesn't always reap the benefits. Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford were top picks who combined for ten Super Bowl appearances with seven victories, albeit for other teams. Plunkett had his career resurrected by the Raiders after being cast aside by the Patriots and then the 49ers. Elway and Manning forced the Colts and Chargers to trade them before ever setting foot on the field for franchises for which they had distain. Stafford couldn't overcome the curse of Bobby Layne who was ignominiously sold by Lions to the Steelers after winning two championships for Detroit in the 1950s. The Lions haven't sniffed a championship, and have won only one playoff game in the 75 or so years since then.

At this point, it would be cruel to inform Panther fans that no quarterback drafted number one this century has yet to lead the team that drafted him to a Super Bowl victory. In a year in which it is particularly difficult to determine who the best quarterback in the draft actually is, and with the leading candidate being perhaps the smallest quarterback ever to be drafted so high, it might be even crueler to note that the "surest' of all top quarterback picks in recent memory retired after never having made a Super Bowl appearance.

The poster boy for the debunking of the notion that tanking for the top pick, or trading up for it, is the way to the promised land was supposedly the "surest" of all the number one picks in any draft this century: the Colts choice of Andrew Luck. Luck was the unanimous top pick in the 2012 more than a year prior to the draft. Anticipation was so great it coined the phrase "Suck for Luck." The Colts benefited greatly from his talents improving from 2-14 (.125) in 2011 to 33-15 (.688) over the next three seasons. Alas, Luck had zero Super Bowl appearances, a 4-4 playoff record and a career that lasted just 6 seasons of play. Even with all the attributes of a top caliber quarterback, there is no guarantee of a trip to the big game. So what are the odds for quarterbacks who are 5'9" tall, or who often inaccurate, or who never played top flight competition. Well maybe not as good as one might hope.

As an oddity worthy of a bar bet, the Colt's .688 record in the first three seasons after selecting Luck marked only the 2nd best first three years of any team that took a quarterback with the first pick in the Super Bowl era; the best record was compiled by--wait for it--the Chargers the year they drafted and then immediately traded Eli Manning to the Giants. Under Marty Schottenheimer, the Chargers were 35-13 (.729) with Drew Brees leading the team the first two years while Philip Rivers learned his craft, followed by a 14-2 record behind Rivers in the third year, after which Schottenheimer and the Chargers parted ways. But back to the main point.

Not only is it unlikely that a top picked quarterback will lead the drafting team to the Super Bowl, but even he does, it often takes longer than most teams and fans think. Troy Aikman won his first Super Bowl in his fourth season; Terry Bradshaw and Eli Manning won their first Super Bowl in their fifth season, but Manning did not win his with the team that drafted him. Peyton Manning won his first in his ninth year. Jim Plunkett spent seven unfruitful years with the Patriots and 49ers, then another in which he did not play and a ninth in which he completed only 7 passes before he won his first of two Super Bowls for the Raiders the 10th season following his draft. Matthew Stafford won his Lombardi Trophy in his 13th season. John Elway won his first Super Bowl with the Broncos in his 15th season although he had previously led the team to three losing appearances.

Here are quarterbacks selected with the top pick who never led a team to a Super Bowl appearance: Steve Bartkowski, Vinny Testaverde, Jeff George, Tim Couch, Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell, Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfied, Kyler Murray and Trevor Lawrence.

Regardless of whether Panther owner David Tepper guides general manager Scott Fitterer and coach Frank Reich into drafting Bryce Young or allows them to select from C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, Anthony Richardson or Hendon Hooker, the odds are long against a Lombardi Trophy being won by Carolina anytime soon. But when making his decision, Tepper should consider not only Young’s size, but also the fact that Young, despite his fine play, was unable to bring home a college title with perhaps the greatest coach and football factory in recent collegiate history. The competition only gets tougher at the next level.

26 QBs Selected with First Pick in Super Bowl Era
Super BowlsQB and DraftAs Starting QB
Won with Drafting TeamTerry Bradshaw (1970 Steelers)Steelers: W 1974, W 1975, W 1978, W 1979
Troy Aikman (1989 Cowboys)Cowboys: W 1992, W 1993, W 1995
Peyton Manning (1998 Colts)Colts: W 2006, L 2009; Broncos: L 2013, W 2015
Won with Another TeamJim Plunkett (1971 Patriots)Raiders: W 1980, W 1983
John Elway (1983 Colts)Broncos: L 1986, L 1987, L 1989, W 1997, W 1998
Eli Manning (2004 Chargers)Giants: W 2007, W 2011
Matthew Stafford (2009 Lions)Rams: W 2021
Lost with Drafting TeamDrew Bledsoe (1993 Patriots)Patriots: L 1996
Cam Newton (2011 Panthers)Panthers: L 2015
Jared Goff (2016 Rams)Rams: L 2018
Joe Burrow (2020 Bengals)Bengals: L 2021
No AppearancesSteve Bartkowski (1975 Falcons)  
Vinny Testaverde (1987 Buccaneers)  
Jeff George (1990 Colts)  
Tim Couch (1999 Browns)  
Michael Vick (2001 Falcons)  
David Carr (2002 Texans)  
Carson Palmer (2003 Bengals)  
Alex Smith (2005 49ers)  
JaMarcus Russell (2007 Raiders)  
Sam Bradford (2010 Rams)  
Andrew Luck (2012 Colts)  
Jameis Winston (2015 Buccaneers)  
Baker Mayfield (2018 Browns)  
Kyler Murray (2019 Cardinals)  
Trevor Lawrence (2021 Jaguars)