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Stars? Duds? Where does Jameis Winston fit in the list of No. 1 QBs?

John Romano | There were 20 quarterbacks who were taken No. 1 overall in drafts prior to 2015. Where does Jameis Winston currently rank on that list?
Quarterbacks Jeff George, left; Jameis Winston, center; and Troy Aikman, right.
Quarterbacks Jeff George, left; Jameis Winston, center; and Troy Aikman, right. [ AP; DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Apr. 28, 2020
Updated Apr. 29, 2020

No more touchdowns, and thankfully no more interceptions. The book is now officially closed on Jameis Winston’s time in Tampa Bay, who officially became a Saints quarterback Tuesday. Really, the only thing left is your memories and appraisal.

On Thursday evening, it will be exactly five years since Winston was selected by the Buccaneers with the No. 1 pick in the draft. In retrospect, was that a mistake? Or, based on all the available evidence at that moment, a calculated gamble that did not ultimately meet expectations?

Related: Jameis Winston ‘will learn more in a year with New Orleans than he has in his lifetime': Saints exec

Personally, I’d choose the latter. There are other players from the 2015 draft who have had better starts to their careers (Todd Gurley, Amari Cooper, Marcus Peters), but a quarterback’s impact on a team far exceeds any other position. That means Winston was the correct choice, even if the results and the length of his tenure ultimately fell short.

If you want to put it in perspective, there were 20 quarterbacks in the Super Bowl-era chosen with the No. 1 pick before Winston. Some were obviously great choices. Four went on to be Hall of Famers. Some were spectacular duds. Five never won a playoff game.

Related: There may not be much for Jameis Winston to do as the Saints’ No. 2

The rest fall somewhere in between, just like Winston.

With his legacy in Tampa Bay in mind, here is a ranking of Winston and the 20 other quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall between 1966-2015. You may nod your head, spit up your Frosted Flakes or send me a line at jromano@tampabay.com or @romano_tbtimes on Twitter to explain how I could be so very wrong.

21. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland (2007)

JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell

Missed the entire training camp and the opening game of his first NFL season in a contract dispute, eventually grew to more than 300 pounds, and had thrown his last NFL pass less than three years after being drafted. Lane Kiffin, who was then the Raiders coach, says he begged owner Al Davis to draft Calvin Johnson instead. Oops.

20. Tim Couch, Cleveland (1999)

Tim Couch
Tim Couch [ BILL KOSTROUN | AP ]

Browns could have had Donovan McNabb. Or Daunte Culpepper. Or even Aaron Brooks. Instead, Couch spent five years in Cleveland and never played again.

19. David Carr, Houston (2002)

David Carr
David Carr [ MIKE LONGO | AP ]
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Not a terribly strong draft class, but when your No. 1 pick has a 23-56 record as an NFL starting quarterback, you could have probably done better.

18. Sam Bradford, St. Louis (2010)

Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford

What’s worse? The Rams drafting him No. 1 overall, or the Cardinals giving him a one-year, $15-million guaranteed contract eight years later and cutting him after three games?

17. Jeff George, Indianapolis (1990)

Jeff George
Jeff George [ PAUL SAKUMA | AP ]

Colts traded Pro Bowl tackle Chris Hinton, receiver Andre Rison and a 1991 first round pick to the Falcons for the No. 1 pick in the draft. They shouldn’t have bothered.

16. Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta (1975)

Steve Bartkowski
Steve Bartkowski [ UNKNOWN | St. Petersburg Times ]

He wasn’t terrible. He even made a couple of Pro Bowls. But that ’75 draft yielded four future Hall of Famers, including Walter Payton at the No. 4 pick.

15. Matthew Stafford, Detroit (2009)

Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford

He’s thrown for a ton of yards, made a Pro Bowl and taken the Lions to the playoffs three times. But do you consider him an elite quarterback?

14. Vinny Testaverde, Tampa Bay (1987)

Vinny Testaverde
Vinny Testaverde [ Associated Press ]

Best way to describe his career? He led the league in interceptions with the Bucs in 1988, and again with the Cowboys 16 years later. Still, when Testaverde retired he was sixth on the all-time list for passing yards and had taken the Jets and Browns to the playoffs.

13. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay (2015)

Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

His career is on a trajectory that looks very similar to Testaverde. Winston gets rated one spot higher because he’s still only 26 and has plenty of time to rewrite his legacy.

12. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati (2003)

Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer

Decent career. Decent quarterback. Just not quite special. Interestingly, he is one of five QBs on this list to have been coached by Bruce Arians.

11. Alex Smith, San Francisco (2005)

Alex Smith
Alex Smith [ PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS | AP ]

A 94-66-1 career record, three Pro Bowls and five playoff appearances are nothing to be ashamed of. Still, he was taken 23 picks ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Ouch!

10. Drew Bledsoe, New England (1993)

Drew Bledsoe
Drew Bledsoe [ ELISE AMENDOLA | AP ]

For eight seasons, he was a star in New England. Made three Pro Bowls and took the Pats to a Super Bowl. Then he was benched in favor of a guy named Tom Brady.

9. Jim Plunkett, New England (1971)

Jim Plunkett
Jim Plunkett [ VICTORIN, FRED | St. Petersburg Times ]

A largely mediocre 15-year career is defined by two seasons. He won a pair of Super Bowls with the Raiders and took them to the playoffs four times in five years.

8. Michael Vick, Atlanta (2001)

Michael Vick
Michael Vick

The hardest of the bunch to grade. He was a ground-breaking quarterback early in his career before heinous off-field transgressions sent his career spiraling.

7. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (2012)

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck [ MICHAEL CONROY | AP ]

Best of the What-Might-Have-Been list. In his five full seasons as a starter, he took the Colts to the playoffs four times. Retiring at 29 is not what you expect out of your franchise QB.

6. Eli Manning, New York Giants (2004)

Eli Manning
Eli Manning [ ADAM HUNGER | AP ]

Unwillingly drafted by the Chargers then quickly traded to the Giants, two Super Bowls could get him in the Hall of Fame. But he led the league in INTs three times, and has a 39-60 record the past seven years.

5. Cam Newton, Carolina (2011)

Cam Newton
Cam Newton

One of four players on this list to have won the Associated Press MVP award. Took the Panthers from 2-14 to 12-4 in three seasons. Still only 30 years old.

4. Troy Aikman, Dallas (1989)

Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman [ RON HEFLIN | Associated Press ]

Is he one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time? No. Was he one of the most successful and dependable? Absolutely.

3. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh (1970)

Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw [ PETE LEABO | AP ]

The Steelers of the 1970s are known for their defenses, but this was a top-10 scoring offense for 12 consecutive seasons. Bradshaw does not get as much credit as he deserves.

2. John Elway, Denver (1983)

John Elway
John Elway

He told the Baltimore Colts he would never play for them, and they drafted him anyway. Elway forced a lopsided trade to Denver, and the rest is history.

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (1998)

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning

Almost comical now to think there was once a question whether Manning or Ryan Leaf should have been the No. 1 pick in the draft.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.