How Often Are Successful Quarterbacks Drafted After the First Round?

With Tom Brady and Russell Wilson facing off in Super Bowl XLIX, they serve as examples of the few quarterbacks who aren't drafted in the first round to go on to have success.

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson are part of a dying breed. That breed, surprisingly, is not quarterbacks with immaculate hair. Rather, it's quarterbacks drafted after the first round who find success in the NFL.

Last year, we did a study of how important it was to draft a quarterback in the first round. In summation, if you want a quarterback that's not going to stab your offense straight in the heart (Waddup, Geno?), you almost always need to snag him in the first round.

There are few exceptions to this, but two of them happen to be facing each other in Super Bowl XLIX. What are the odds of that? (There was actually a 21.88 percent chance based on Week 1 starters, but who's counting?)

That number may seem high, and it is. But when you look at the quality of most of those starters, the script starts to change. Additionally, this is trending away from the later-round quarterbacks. So just how rare is it now to find gems like Brady and Wilson after the first round? Let's find out.

The Non-First-Round Successes

In order to determine which quarterback will be classified as a success, we'll be using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. This tracks the expected points a player adds to his team relative to what he would be expected to add.

For this specifically, we'll be looking at Total NEP. This tracks the quarterback's effectiveness both when he drops back and when he runs. It can best give us the full scope of how much a quarterback's value to his team.

Below is a chart of quarterbacks that were either drafted after the first round or not drafted at all since 2000 that have finished in the top 10 in Total NEP in at least two separate seasons. As you can see, the list isn't exactly what you'd call extensive.

QuarterbackYear DraftedRound DraftedYears in Top 10
Tom Brady200069
Marc Bulger200063
Drew Brees2001211
Tony Romo2003UDFA6
Matt Schaub200433
Russell Wilson201233

Of the 136 quarterbacks drafted between the second and seventh round since 2000, only five have finished in the top 10 in Total NEP more than once. Only one undrafted free agent has done so. Now those are some steep odds.

The other huge thing that sticks out here is that there was not a single quarterback drafted outside of the first round from 2005 to 2011 that finished in the top 10 in Total NEP more than once. This makes Wilson's success even more mind-boggling.

From 2000 to 2007, 61.25 percent of the quarterbacks that finished in the Top 10 in Total NEP were drafted after the first round. From 2008 to 2014, that number is only 40 percent. And a good chunk of those have either been repeats from the likes of Brady, Brees, Romo and Wilson. The rest are all one-hit wonders.

Let's narrow the scope to just Super Bowls. Assuming Brady isn't stricken from the Earth as punishment for deflate-gate, this will be the first time the two starting quarterbacks of the Super Bowl have been drafted outside of the first round since 2004. Who were the starters that year? The sixth-rounder Brady and the undrafted Jake Delhomme.

Considering how rare this success is, you have to ask what made the six guys in the chart above the exceptions. What about them made them drop in the draft, and why were they the few that succeeded? Let's investigate.

The Draft Profiles of the Underdrafted

For each of the six players on the chart above, I looked at things such as which college they attended and their stats while they were there along with their height, weight and age.

Obviously, the common thread is that three of the quarterbacks finished their collegiate careers with Big Ten teams. Correlation is causation, homies. If you draft a Big Ten quarterback, you will go to the Super Bowl. I can't wait until Trevor Siemian wins Super Bowl LIV.

While that is (partially?) in jest, maybe there is something to it. No Big Ten quarterback has been drafted in the first round since Kerry Collins out of Penn State in 1995, yet three of them have been in the top 10 in Total NEP at least three times. So, our first conclusion can be that you shouldn't exclude a player merely because the conference in which he plays some times used to forget the forward pass existed.

The more-discussed commonality would be the height of Wilson and Brees. Both guys are shorter than your average NFL quarterback, yet not all of their passes are immediately swatted back into their grills. Who knew?

Another thing that each of the quarterbacks had at their advantage was a boatload of collegiate experience. Of the six, only Brady had fewer than 33 collegiate games in which he attempted 10 or more passes. This was similar to what we found in our study of first-round quarterbacks last year: quarterbacks with more collegiate experience have a higher success rate than those with less.

As I looked at the traits of each player, I was still trying to find something to unite each of these players to see why they may have fallen. Somewhere, deep in the dark trenches of my mind, a little voice said, "What if they scouted based on quarterback wins?" I gave a shudder just thinking of it. The horror. There's no way people paid to evaluate quarterbacks would ever use such a hideously offensive statistic. Nah. No way.


Tom BradyMichigan199910-2
Marc BulgerWest Virginia19994-7
Drew BreesPurdue20008-4
Tony RomoEastern Illinois20028-4
Matt SchaubVirginia20038-5
Russell WilsonWisconsin201111-3

"Russ, we're really sorry. You have the best Passer Efficiency Rating in the history of the NCAA, and you have a butt-ton of collegiate experience... but you lost the Rose Bowl. Sorry, dude. Baseball's fun, though, right?"

Because this is only a sample-size of six, I'm going to go ahead and assume that this is all just a coincidence. I refuse to accept that a travesty such as scouting based on a team's record would ever occur. Regardless, this should show that a player's school's record indicates exactly zero about that individual's abilities, whether they be 14-0 or 4-7.

In conclusion, we have learned several things here. First, Brady and Wilson are very much the exceptions when it comes to quarterbacks taken after the first round having success. Second, those successes are becoming even rarer as we get further away from the early 2000's. Third, you shouldn't dismiss a quarterback prospect because of the conference in which he plays, his height, or his team's record. Especially not his team's record.

Thankfully, it looks like Wilson is going to be a solid quarterback for a long time to come. He can be the beacon to the past, when not every successful quarterback was a first-rounder. Seeing Brady and Wilson duel on Sunday could signal of the passing of the torch of the go-to example of a quarterback drafted later than he should have been. But either way, these guys are special because players in their situation don't pull off feats like this very often.