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NFL Draft: Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray Among Few First-Round QBs Who Shined As Rookies

Of 33 quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last 10 years, only four had top 10 fantasy finishes in their first season.

The 2022 NFL Draft begins next Thursday, April 28, and with it comes the excitement of a new crop of young players who could emerge into the next fantasy superstars.

If we have learned anything from the past, however, it’s that having a first-round grade doesn’t always mean you’re on the pathway to stardom. In fact, quite the opposite has been the case in multiple cases over the last 10 years. With that in mind, let’s take a walk down memory lane and reminisce on all of the first-round quarterbacks, how they fared as rookies and how many of them actually became studs in the fantasy world.

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2021
The first round was loaded with quarterbacks, as a total of five came off the board in the first 15 selections. Trevor Lawrence went first to the Jaguars, followed by Zach Wilson at No. 2 to the Jets. The 49ers moved up to the No. 3 pick to land Trey Lance, and the Bears moved up to No. 11 to grab Justin Fields. Mac Jones was the final quarterback off the board in Round 1, going at No. 15 to the Patriots. Ironically, it was Jones who led the fivesome in fantasy points with a QB18 finish. Lawrence was second at QB23, and he struggled to find success under head coach Urban Meyer, who has since departed. Wilson and Fields were 30th and 31st in points, respectively, and Lance barely played behind Jimmy Garoppolo and didn't have a chance to make an impact.

2020
Joe Burrow was the first overall pick in the draft, and he looked the part in his nine starts before suffering an ACL tear. He was on pace to throw for an impressive 4,300 yards, which would have been the third-most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Burrow, at least from a statistical perspective, was a win in fantasy football. Tua Tagovailoa was the next quarterback drafted, No. 5 overall, by the Miami Dolphins. While he averaged a less-than-stellar 13.6 fantasy points per game, Tagovailoa did show some flashes of potential, and the Dolphins have added and offensive talent.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, the best rookie quarterback was Justin Herbert. The No. 6 overall pick of the Los Angeles Chargers, he smashed a ton of rookie records en route to the second-best season for a first-year quarterback based on fantasy points. You’ll find, however, that Herbert is the exception to the rule. The final first-round quarterback selected, Jordan Love, didn’t play a single snap behind the eventual 2020 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.

2019
Kyler Murray was the first overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals, and he played the part with 285.3 fantasy points and a QB8 finish. Murray’s value is even higher due to his skills as a runner, as he rushed for 544 yards as a rookie. Daniel Jones was the sixth-overall pick, but he didn’t fare nearly as well as Murray. While he did show some flashes at times, Danny Dimes ultimately finished as the QB24. Dwayne Haskins was the final quarterback selected in the first round, starting nine games while finishing as the QB35. Tragically, Haskins died earlier this month after being hit by a vehicle in Florida.

2018
Five quarterbacks were selected in the first round in 2018. Baker Mayfield went No. 1 overall to the Browns, Sam Darnold was third to the New York Jets, Josh Allen was seventh to Buffalo, Josh Rosen was 10th to the Cardinals and Lamar Jackson was the final pick in the round to the Ravens. Mayfield was the best fantasy finisher (QB16), while Allen was 21st at the position. Darnold (QB27), Jackson (QB29) and Rosen (QB34) all finished out of the top 25, but Jackson started just seven games as a rookie.

Based on what we know now, however, Allen and Jackson were the lone signal-callers who have been worth first-round picks out of this fivesome. Allen, who has finished as the top fantasy quarterback in each of the last two seasons, has been the biggest find.

2017
The 2017 NFL Draft will long be remembered as the draft where nine teams passed on Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson went 12th overall. Both were picked after Mitchell Trubisky, who the Bears traded up to select at No. 2 overall. Mahomes and Watson didn’t play full seasons as rookies, but we all know how their careers have played out. It’s enough to make you sick if you’re a Bears fan, or a fantasy manager in a dynasty league who followed suit and grabbed Trubisky as the top overall signal-caller.

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2016
The first two picks in this draft were quarterbacks, as Jared Goff went to the Rams and Carson Wentz to the Eagles. Goff didn’t play much as a rookie, but he did produce a QB12 finish and a QB7 finish the next two seasons. Unfortunately, the wheels started to fall off after that and the Rams dealt him to Detroit. It’s a similar situation with Wentz, who was the QB24 as a rookie but exploded to be the QB5 in 13 games in his second season. However, Wentz has now been traded twice in the last two seasons and is no more than a No. 2 fantasy option. The final quarterback selected in the first round, Paxton Lynch, never threw for more than 497 yards in two seasons with the Denver Broncos and has since been out of the league (he debuted last week in the new USFL).

2015
The top two overall picks in the 2015 draft were also the only quarterbacks selected in the first round, as Jameis Winston went to the Buccaneers and Marcus Mariota to the Titans. Winston finished a respectable 13th in fantasy points as a rookie, but he’s had just one more top-13 finish in his career since (2019). Mariota was the QB22 as a rookie, and he never finished better than 13th during his five seasons in Tennessee.

2014
Three quarterbacks were picked in the first round of the 2014 draft, starting with Blake Bortles to the Jaguars at No. 3 overall. Johnny Manziel (No. 22) and Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32) were the other two field generals picked. Bortles was the QB24 as a rookie, but he did have a QB4 and a QB8 finish on his resume before falling off the radar. Garbage time, more than playing at a high level, was a big reason for Bortles’ finishes, however. Manziel was an absolute disaster for the Browns, and Bridgewater was the QB22 as a rookie and has never ranked higher than QB18 based on fantasy football points.

2013
There was just one quarterback to come off the board in this draft, EJ Manuel, who went 16th overall to the Bills. He was the QB29 as a rookie, and that was his best NFL finish.

2012
The top two picks in this draft were Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin II, and both finished in the top 10 in fantasy points at the position as rookies. RG3, who was the QB5, dealt with injuries and was never close to being as productive in Washington before going to the Browns and Ravens. Luck emerged into a true fantasy superstar, which many would have predicted coming out of Stanford, but he retired early after the 2018 season. The other two quarterbacks picked in Round 1 were Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. Tannehill was the QB24 as a rookie, but he had just one top-10 finish with the Dolphins. Weeden was the QB26 as a rookie and never made a fantasy impact.

Breakdown

Since 2012, a total of 33 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. Among the field generals who started the majority of their team’s games (10-plus), we’ve seen four top-10 finishes (Griffin III, Luck, Murray, Herbert). Two of them (Murray, Herbert) have come in the last three years. Three others, Mariota, Mayfield and Mac Jones, finished among the top 20 as rookies while the 14 others ranked QB21-QB30. The other 10 all ranked outside of the top 30 quarterbacks as rookies based on fantasy production.

Digging a little deeper and leaving out the 2021 first-rounders who only have one NFL season under their belts, the vast majority haven’t met expectations. In fact, I’d only definite six as fantasy “superstars.” That list would include Luck, Mahomes, Watson, Allen, Jackson and Murray. That’s 21% of first-round quarterbacks since 2012.

All of this data suggests that fantasy fans shouldn’t expect much from the 2022 class of quarterbacks, which has been described as underwhelming. SI NFL writer Conor Orr released his latest first-round mock draft, which includes four quarterbacks (Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral and Desmond Ridder). None of the four will be picked in most seasonal drafts, but will instead have much more stock in dynasty formats.

Based on the production (or lack thereof) from the last 10 seasons, fantasy fans might want to temper their long-term expectations for those projected first rounders as well.

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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!