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What exactly is a ‘franchise quarterback’?

It’s something that is hard to define, but easy to recognize after the fact.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There are quarterbacks that were undeniably franchise quarterbacks.

  • Peyton Manning
  • Tom Brady
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Drew Brees
  • John Elway
  • Kurt Warner
  • Jim Kelly
  • Joe Montana

I could name some more, but the gist is that all of these guys are or will be in the Hall of Fame.

Then there are the guys playing right now who are undeniably current franchise QBs.

  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Josh Allen
  • Matt Stafford
  • Jared Goff
  • Lamar Jackson
  • Joe Burrow
  • Aaron Rodgers (at least he was - age may have finally caught up to him)

With the exception of Allen and Jackson, all have led their team to the Superb Owl ( ;-) ) at least once. Then there are the QBs who have played well recently and led their teams consistently to wins, but whose inclusion in the group of “franchise” QBs could be debated.

Is Tua Tagovailoa? Is Kirk Cousins? Is Brock Purdy? Is Dak Prescott? Is CJ Stroud? Is Baker Mayfield? Is Justin Herbert? Is Aaron Rodgers (still)?

Is Russell Wilson?

At one point the answer to that question would have been an emphatic yes, but that point is not now. Wilson’s legacy may be lumped in with other QBs who led their team to victory in the Super Bowl, but who don’t get (much) credit for it. Similar to Troy Aikman, Brad Johnson, Joe Flacco and Trent Dilfer. All those were QBs on great teams who won the big game in many cases despite the play of the QB and not because of it. All were on great TEAMS when they won the Super Bowl and even if they played well to get to (and into the) Super Bowl, they will generally be remembered as QBs who were “along for the ride”. I think Russell Wilson will end his career with the same caveat. Like Troy Aikmen he will still make the Hall of Fame and he will still be remembered as a franchise QB at least for most of his career.

We can’t just use getting a team to the Super Bowl as the criteria, though, can we? That would mean Colin Kaepernick was a franchise QB and so was Matt Ryan and Matt Hasselbeck - and Rex Grossman (?!?!). Ok so maybe we shift to WINNING a super bowl, but then you get into the argument of guys like Dilfer and Johnson. No one argues that Trent Dilfer was a franchise QB. From more recent history, is Jalen Hurts a franchise QB? He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl almost exactly a year ago.

And what about Eli Manning? He led his team to TWO Super Bowl wins. Was he a franchise QB? He was never the best QB in the league in any season when he played, but he had some great games in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl. He tends to confound this conversation much like Brock Purdy might should the 49ers win.

So let’s get back to the original question - what is a franchise QB and how many of them are there in the NFL right now?

Let’s say, for the sake or argument, that there are eight franchise QBs currently playing in the NFL, which means that 75% of the NFL DOES NOT HAVE ONE. Every team wants one. So how often are they found in the draft. Since they rarely move from one team to another WHILE they are still franchise QBs (see Wilson, Russell and Rodgers, Aaron).

Let’s look at the the draft slot for the eight current franchise QBs.

  • Patrick Mahomes - 10th
  • Josh Allen - 7th
  • Matt Stafford - 1st
  • Jared Goff - 1st
  • Lamar Jackson - 32nd
  • Joe Burrow - 1st
  • Jalen Hurts - 53rd
  • Dak Prescott - 135th

So if you agree that Hurts and Prescott are franchise QBs, you can find a franchise QB outside of the top 10 in the draft, but it’s quite rare. In fact if you look at games started at QB by draft slot, the first overall just blows away every other spot in the draft. During the history of the NFL, players taken with the first overall pick have started 3,938 games at QB. The total for players drafted at every other spot is 18,830 games. QBs drafted with the second overall pick have only started 973 games in NFL history or one quarter as many as guys taken with the first overall pick. This is despite 35 QBs taken first overall and 17 being taken second overall. In fact if we look at the how many QBs have been drafted in each spot in the first two round (1-64) we get this

Slot QBs taken
1 35
2 17
3 15
4 4
5 7
6 7
7 6
8 2
9 1
10 4
11 7
12 5
13 1
14 2
15 5
16 4
17 3
18 2
19 2
20 1
21 0
22 5
23 1
24 4
25 4
26 4
27 2
28 1
29 1
30 4
31 0
32 5
33 4
34 1
35 1
36 3
37 2
38 1
39 1
40 3
41 1
42 3
43 2
44 2
45 2
46 1
47 2
48 3
49 1
50 3
51 3
52 3
53 3
54 1
55 1
56 2
57 4
58 1
59 4
60 2
61 0
62 1
63 1
64 4

Interestingly, no QB has ever been drafted 21st or 31st. For those who prefer charts, that’s below

The average modern draft sees roughly 10 QBs taken every year with a high of fifteen and a low of seven.

So if we look at the eight franchise QBs currently in the NFL all were taken in one of the last ten drafts. With the exception of Dak, they were all taken in the first two rounds. So then the recent odds of getting a “franchise” QB in the draft is 20% (8 of 40). Looking at it another way, the success rate of finding a franchise QB in the first round is even lower.

Only six of 32 have been first round picks, that’s only a success rate of 16.6%.

It’s get even worse if we focus on the first three picks. Over the last ten draft, fifteen of the thirty picks in the top 3 have been used on QBs and only three of those have resulted in franchise QBs. So even with the three MOST VALUABLE picks in the draft, the success rate on taking QBs (where they are EXPECTED to be franchise QBs), has only been 20%. Think about that. That’s an 80% FAILURE rate.

Of course, it’s not as bad as that sounds since guys like Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Trevor Lawrence, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield could still become franchise QBs. Some might argue that they already are, but feel free to debate that in the comments.

My conclusion is that it is foolish for the Broncos to trade up from 12 to get a QB in the draft. With already limited draft capital, mortgaging future draft capital on a 1 in 5 roll of the dice is foolish, but fools have big egos and many fools like to gamble. The question becomes, is Sean Payton a gambling fool?