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What history says about 49ers picking third QB in NFL draft

/ by Jennifer Lee Chan
Presented By Big O Tires
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With the No. 3 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers are set to select the quarterback of their future.

With all signs pointing to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets selecting quarterbacks with the No. 1 and 2 picks in the draft, the 49ers will have a chance to take the third. Only twice in NFL history have quarterbacks been taken consecutively as the top three picks of an NFL draft.

1971 NFL Draft

In 1971 Jim Plunkett was the No. 1 overall pick by the New England Patriots. The New Orleans Saints selected Archie Manning at No. 2 and Dan Pastorini was the No. 3 overall selection by the then-Houston Oilers. All three quarterbacks had successful NFL careers.

Plunkett was a two-time Super Bowl Champion (XV, XVIII), the MVP of Super Bowl XV and enjoyed a 15-year career in the league. While the Stanford quarterback was drafted by the Patriots, Plunkett spent the majority of his successful NFL career with the Raiders (eight years).

Manning might have never made a postseason appearance but was named to the Pro Bowl twice over his 15-year NFL career. The Ole Miss quarterback is a Saints Hall of Fame inductee and is a member of their Ring of Honor.

In Pastorini’s 12-year NFL career, he received one Pro Bowl nod and was a part of the Raiders’ 1980 Super Bowl season. He coincidentally started the first five games of the season until he was injured, and 1971 draft classmate Plunkett took over in Week 6.

 

1999 NFL Draft

The first three selections of the 1999 draft were not quite as illustrious across the board. While Donovan McNabb, who was selected No. 2 by the Philadelphia Eagles, had a successful 13-year career in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns used the No. 1 overall pick on Tim Couch and the Cincinnati Bengals selected Akili Smith at No. 3.

McNabb is a six-time Pro Bowler who made several postseason appearances. While the Syracuse quarterback was never able to bring a Lombardi Trophy back home, he is ranked highly in several offensive categories including being 25th in career passing yards with 37,276.

Couch spent his entire five-year NFL career with the Browns recording a 22-37 record. The Kentucky quarterback may have been named to the 1999 All-Rookie team but he also ranked top in the league for yards lost when sacked (359) in the same season.

Smith spent all four of his NFL seasons in Cincinnati only appearing in 22 games with a 3-14 record as a starter. After signing a seven-year $56 million rookie contract, the former Oregon Duck threw five touchdowns and 13 interceptions over his career before being released after the 2002 season.

What history says

Historically, there have been successful signal-callers that were the third quarterbacks taken in the draft but there have been a significantly higher number of misses.

There are a few who became more successful than the players chosen before them. Hall of Famers Brett Favre (1991) and Jim Kelly (1983) were the third quarterbacks off the board of their draft classes. Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Tennessee Titans Ryan Tannehill (2011) were the third signal-callers off the board and are still playing in the league.

Of the 55 players since 1965 that were the third quarterback selected in their class, 12 received Pro Bowl nods. Favre and Kelly are the only two who were named All-Pro and are Hall of Fame inductees.

Favre was selected 33rd overall by the Atlanta Falcons after Dan McGwire was taken as the No. 16 pick by the Seattle Seahawks and  Todd Marinovich taken by the then Los Angeles Raiders with the 24th pick.

Kelly was drafted in 1983 after fellow Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway was taken as the first overall pick by the Baltimore Colts. The Kansas City Chiefs took the second quarterback off the board when they chose Todd Blackledge as the No. 7 overall pick over Kelly.

Incidentally, Dan Marino was the sixth quarterback selected in 1983, a draft class that boasts three Hall of Fame quarterbacks and seven total inductees.

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Boom or bust

More recently, the third quarterbacks taken in their class have seen success on the field. Justin Herbert was taken by the Los Angeles Chargers with the No. 6 pick in 2020 after the Cincinnati Bengals used the No. 1 overall pick on Joe Burrow and the Miami Dolphins selected Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5.

Josh Allen has proven that the Buffalo Bills made the right move in drafting him with the No. 7 pick in 2019 after the Cleveland Browns used the No. 1 overall pick on Baker Mayfield. The New York Jets selected Sam Darnold with the third overall pick that same year and the two sides already parted ways.

 

Jay Cutler, the 11th pick of the 2006 draft, had a 12-year NFL career which was significantly longer than either of the quarterbacks selected before him. No. 3 overall selection Vince Young lasted five seasons with the Titans before spending his sixth and final season with the Eagles. The Arizona Cardinals used their 2006 first-round pick, No. 10 overall, on Matt Leinart, who spent four seasons with the club before his NFL career ended two seasons later.

For every successful case like Josh Allen, there is a Garrett Grayson, Paxton Lynch, Kyle Boller or Patrick Ramsey. 

The 2021 quarterback class has been touted by scouts and team personnel as one of the best in several years, but will all of the top three chosen prove to have staying power in the NFL? 

Early rumors suggest that the 49ers are leaning toward Mac Jones with the No. 3 overall pick in a little over two weeks, although Adam Schefter told Matt Maiocco on 49ers Talk that the team is "keeping an open mind" about the pick. 

The 49ers will bet that whoever they select can beat the odds for the third quarterback taken and become an NFL success.

Only time will tell if the 49ers made the right choice. 

Here's a list of the third quarterbacks taken in each NFL draft since 1965:

  • 2020 - Justin Herbert, Round 1, pick 6, LAC
  • 2019 - Dwayne Haskins, Round 1, pick 15, WAS
  • 2018 - Josh Allen, Round 1, pick 7, BUF - Pro Bowl
  • 2017 - Deshaun Watson, Round 1, pick 12, HOU - 3x Pro Bowl
  • 2016 - Paxton Lynch, Round 1, pick 26, DEN
  • 2015 - Garrett Grayson, Round 3, pick 75, NO
  • 2014 - Teddy Bridgewater, Round 1, pick 32, MIN - Pro Bowl
  • 2013 - Mike Glennon, Round 3, pick 73, TB
  • 2012 - Ryan Tannehill, Round 1, pick 8, MIA - Pro Bowl
  • 2011 - Blaine Gabbert, Round 1, pick 10, JAX
  • 2010 - Jimmy Clausen, Round 2, pick 48, CAR
  • 2009 - Josh Freeman, Round 1, pick 17, TB
  • 2008 - Brian Brohm, Round 2, pick 56, GB
  • 2007 - Kevin Kolb, Round 2, pick 36, PHI
  • 2006 - Jay Cutler, Round 1, pick 11, DEN - Pro Bowl
  • 2005 - Jason Campbell, Round 1, pick 25, WAS
  • 2004 - Ben Roethlisberger, Round 1, pick 11, PIT - 6x Pro Bowl
  • 2003 - Kyle Boller, Round 1, pick 19, BAL
  • 2002 - Patrick Ramsey, Round 1, pick 32, WAS
  • 2001 - Quincy Carter, Round 2, pick 53, DAL
  • 2000 - Chris Redman, Round 3, pick 75, BAL
  • 1999 - Akili Smith, Round 1, pick 3, CIN
  • 1998 - Charlie Batch, Round 2, pick 60, DET
  • 1997 - Danny Wuerfel, Round 4, pick 99, NOR
  • 1996 - Jeff Lewis, Round 4, pick 100, DEN
  • 1995 - Todd Collins, Round 2, pick 45, BUF
  • 1994 - Perry Klein, Round 4, pick 111, ATL
  • 1993 - Bill Joe Hobert, Round 3, pick 58, RAI
  • 1992 - Matt Blundin, Round 2, pick 40, KC
  • 1991 - Brett Favre, Round 2, pick 33, ATL  - HOF, 3x All Pro, 11x Pro Bowl
  • 1990 - Tom Hodson, Round 3, pick 59, NE
  • 1989 - Bill Joe Tolliver, Round 2, pick 51, SD
  • 1988 - Don McPherson, Round 6 pick 149, PHI
  • 1987 - Chris Miller, Round 1, pick 13, ATL - Pro Bowl
  • 1986 - Jack Trudeau, Round 2, pick 47, IND
  • 1985 - Steve Bono, Round 6, pick 142, MIN - Pro Bowl
  • 1984 - Rick McIvor, Round 3, pick 80, STL
  • 1983 - Jim Kelly, Round 1, pick 14, BUF - HOF, All Pro, 5x Pro Bowl
  • 1982 - Oliver Luck, Round 2, pick 44, HOU
  • 1981 - Tom Flick, Round 4, pick 90, WAS
  • 1980 - Gene Bradley, Round 2, pick 37, BUF
  • 1979 - Steve Fuller, Round 1, pick 23, KC
  • 1978 - Guy Benjamin, Round 2, pick 51, MIA
  • 1977 - Glenn Carano, Round 2, pick 54, DAL
  • 1976 - Jeb Blount, Round 2, pick 50, OAK
  • 1975 - Steve Grogan, Round 5, pick 116, NE
  • 1974 - Kim McQuilken, Round 3, pick 69, ATL
  • 1973 - Jon Jaworski, Round 2, pick 37, LAR - Pro Bowl
  • 1972 - Pat Sullivan, Round 2, pick 40, ATL
  • 1971 - Dan Pastorini, Round 1, pick 3, HOU - Pro Bowl
  • 1970 - Dennis Shaw, Round 2, pick 30, BUF
  • 1969 - Terry Hanratty, Round 2, pick 30, PIT
  • 1968 - Mike Livingston, Rond 2, pick 48, KC -  Pro Bowl
  • 1967 - Don Horn, Round 1, pick 25, GB
  • 1966 - Gary Snook, Round 4, pick 58, STL
  • 1965 - Bob Schweickert, Round 2, pick 29, SF

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