Aptly referred to as the gold standard of modern-era QB classes, NFL.com’s Marc Sessler ranked the best QB drafts since 2000. No surprise, Ben Roethlisberger and the 2004 group took the top spot. The first three QBs off the board were Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Roethlisberger. And in the third round, Matt Schaub carved out a solid career as a starter and backup.
Here’s what Sessler wrote:
“The gold standard for quarterback classes of the 21st century. The 2004 collection of signal-callers boasts four Super Bowl wins, while the group’s big three — Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger — can all make cases for the Hall of Fame…Big Ben remains the finest of the bunch, but it’s fair to wonder what he can offer come September after a rough-and-tumble ending to 2020.”
That ending question about Roethlisberger aside, all three had great careers. Manning won two Super Bowls. Rivers probably should’ve at least gone to one, while Roethlisberger went to three and won two. Roethlisberger will end his career in Canton. Manning and Rivers will probably join him.
The ’04 class beat out the 2017 class, but it really wasn’t much of a contest. The ’17 class did produce Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Mahomes will be one of this generation’s best QBs,1 but it’ll take a lot for that group to surpass the collective Big Three of 2004.
The better question is where that ’04 group ranks historically. It’s still probably behind the ’83 group of John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly. But you can make the case it’s the second-best class ever. This 2011 ranked them and at the #2 spot was the 1957 group of Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen, Jack Kemp, Milt Plum, and John Brodie. Two of them — Dawson and Jurgensen — made the Hall, while Kemp was borderline. Dawson, by the way, was drafted by the Steelers but traded to the Browns in 1960. One of the many quarterback misses the Steelers made in the pre-Noll era. If Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Manning all get enshrined, they’ll probably vault into that #2 spot.
Taking the worst spot since 2000 was the ugly 2007 class. On paper, it looked impressive, with JaMarcus Russell the slam dunk #1 pick and Brady Quinn going later in the first round. Three more QBs — Kevin Kolb, John Beck, and Drew Stanton — went in the second round. None of them panned out, with Russell being one of the greatest busts in draft history.