How many ‘sure thing’ quarterback prospects actually pan out?

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The 2021 NFL Draft is just days away and I’ve had just about all the mock drafts and speculation I can take. This is especially true as it pertains to what the Chicago Bears will do in the first round on Thursday night.

I’ve seen scores of mock drafts that have the Bears selecting anything from a wide receiver to a cornerback to an offensive tackle. Other mock drafts have the Bears trading down, which I’d certainly be okay with. Then, there are those mock drafts that have the Bears trading up into the Top 10 to select a quarterback. I’ve seen more of those than I care to remember.

I just want to put the kibosh on such a notion right now — as if I magically had the power to do so. The Bears would be dangerously playing with fire if they coughed up too many assets to take a chance on an unknown.

I was on board, at the right price, with the idea of the Bears trading three first-round picks and multiple young defensive players for Russell Wilson. At least with Wilson, you would be getting a multi-year Pro Bowler who is still in his prime and who will likely be playing great football for the better part of the next decade.

In other words: you know what you’d be getting in return with Wilson. I am certainly not on board should the Bears be tempted to offer a similar package to move up from Pick 20 into the Top 10.

There’s no such thing as a “sure thing” with rookie quarterbacks

Any time the idea is floated of the Bears giving up a king’s ransom to move up and select a quarterback, the question I immediately ask is: “Who was the last ‘sure thing’ quarterback to pan out?”

I personally think you must wait at least three years to properly evaluate a draft class. So, with all due respect to Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray — the past two No. 1 overall draft picks — let’s let their careers play out a few more years before rendering our verdicts on them.

But what exactly constitutes a “sure thing quarterback” in an NFL draft? That’s difficult to describe and it is clearly a subjective phrase. To me, I feel it is a quarterback who is widely considered the best in the class and is selected with one of the first few picks in the draft.

I feel you have to go all the way back to Andrew Luck in 2012 or Cam Newton in 2011 to find a “sure thing” who actually panned out to some degree. And even those guys couldn’t win a ring. Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan are also successful players who have had good careers but no championships on their resumes.

However, for every one of this type of player, there are far more quarterbacks who don’t pan out. There is only one consensus “sure thing” quarterback in this year’s draft, and that is Trevor Lawrence — and the Bears certainly aren’t trading up to acquire him. What makes anyone think that the other four first-round quarterback prospects are worth the steep price to trade up to acquire?

To put it another way: why would you trade three first-round picks — or something equivalent thereof — for a player who is not a “sure thing,” especially since “sure things” themselves don’t always pan out?

For the purposes of our analysis, let’s expand the field of players and revise my question to: “how many first-round quarterbacks actually pan out?”

First-round quarterbacks have been woefully inadequate this century

Barring the past two drafts, which, as I’ve mentioned, I feel are still without a verdict, there have been 53 quarterbacks selected in the first round since 2000. I divided those quarterbacks up into four categories: Great, Good, Okay, and Bad.

Great is essentially a quarterback who sustained a long career or is in the midst of one, won a Super Bowl, and was a difference-maker. Of the 53, I’ve slotted just four of those: Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes.

Good is a quarterback who has played a long time, won many games and accolades but just wasn’t good enough to carry a team across the finish line (with the exception of Joe Flacco, who has a title but isn’t great in my eyes). I’ve tabbed 11 of those: Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen.

Okay is a quarterback who wasn’t a full-on bust, hung around the league a little bit, but wasn’t exactly the difference-maker their teams were hoping they’d be. I’ve identified 12 of those: Michael Vick, Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Baker Mayfield.

Bad is a quarterback who was a big disappointment. He probably shouldn’t have been drafted in the first round — or at least not in the spot that he was — and likely set back the franchise that drafted him. This, unfortunately, is the largest group, and I have placed 26 of them in there: Patrick Ramsey, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, J.P. Losman, Jason Campbell, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, Paxton Lynch, Mitch Trubisky, Josh Rosen, and Sam Darnold.

Now, some of you might want to quibble with me on where some of these quarterbacks are slotted. (“Daaa, Rex Grossman led da Bears to da Super Bowl.”) Or, you might want to move one guy up a category and another guy down one. Feel free — I’m not beholden to these groupings.

The greater point is this: there is far more likely a chance that a team will swing and whiff on a quarterback in the first round than they will knock it out of the park — or even score an extra-base hit.

Don’t mortgage the future on an unknown

Yes, I get it: quarterback is the most important position in football. Yes, I also agree that you can’t get on base if you don’t at least step up to the plate. I want the Bears to take a swing at a quarterback in this year’s draft. They need to draft and develop a young quarterback, there’s no way around that.

But I would not be in favor of them trading multiple first-round picks, and possibly even some young players, to take a swing at an unknown prospect in the first-round this year.

If, by happenstance, one of the Top 5 quarterbacks falls to the mid-teens, I’d be okay with them trading Pick 20 and a few mid-round selections in this or any future draft. Whether or not that would get the job done, I don’t know.

But I’m not ready to feel good about giving up a ton of assets for a “chance” at a much-hyped rookie quarterback. Given the tremendous unreliability first-round quarterbacks have been since the turn of the century, it’s not worth a massive investment.

I’d much rather the Bears take a shot on a quarterback in Round 2 or 3 and use their first-round pick on a tackle to help shore up the offensive line instead.

It all starts up front, anyway, and no quarterback — whether it be a vested veteran or a promising rookie — will succeed behind a lackluster offensive line.

Former high school and college kicker. Lifelong Chicago Bears fan. I've been writing about the navy blue and burnt orange since 2007. You can follow on Twitter, like it on Facebook, or email me.