The 2004 NFL Quarterback Draft Class: How Did We Get Here, and Where Are We Going?

The big three quarterbacks from the 2004 draft class are getting ready for their careers' final stretch. What should we expect?

It’s been 11 years since Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were drafted into the NFL. Since that class of 2004 entered the league, all three quarterbacks have experienced a great deal of success, combining for four Super Bowl wins, 762 touchdown passes and 11 Pro Bowl appearances (if you’re into that sort of thing as a measure of success). It’s rare for for a single draft to produce multiple above-average quarterbacks, let alone three in an 11-pick stretch.

With the contract situation of all three quarterbacks popping up in the news lately, let’s take a look at where these players have been and who they are now.

Before we continue getting into the brilliance of the top of this draft class, let’s also take a second to remember that J.P. Losman was the fourth quarterback taken in the first round, number 22 overall to the Buffalo Bills. Poor Buffalo. Even the Atlanta Falcons got more value out of the fifth quarterback taken -- Matt Schaub in the third round.

Poor, poor Buffalo.

The Story So Far

Those four Super Bowl victories mentioned above are split between only two of those players. Manning and Roethlisberger have each won two, making them the superior options in the eyes of many. Rivers is widely viewed as a good quarterback who, along with Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner, couldn’t lead his team to the top of the league.

However, statistically that narrative just doesn’t hold. By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Rivers has provided the most value to his team over the course of his career. Net Expected Points, for those of you who are new to numberFire, measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data. You can read more about it in our glossary.

On a per drop back basis, Rivers owns four of the top five seasons by Passing NEP from these three passers since entering the league.

YearNameDrop BacksPassing NEPPer Drop BackPass Success Rate
2009Philip Rivers511175.860.3451.86%
2013Philip Rivers575162.800.2854.61%
2010Philip Rivers579149.590.2651.30%
2008Philip Rivers503126.250.2553.48%
2014Ben Roethlisberger642159.100.2552.34%

Following that list, you would have to go through four more Roethlisberger seasons before getting to Manning’s peak year.

While looking at total Passing NEP, Roethlisberger’s 2014 comes in as the third highest. That put a break in five different Rivers seasons that topped the list heading into this past year. For good measure, Rivers’ 2014 comes in as the sixth-highest total.

YearNameDrop BacksPassing NEPPer Drop BackPass Success Rate
2009Philip Rivers511175.860.3451.86%
2013Philip Rivers575162.800.2854.61%
2014Ben Roethlisberger642159.100.2552.34%
2010Philip Rivers579149.590.2651.30%
2008Philip Rivers503126.250.2553.48%
2014Philip Rivers605105.930.1850.58%
2011Philip Rivers612105.640.1750.33%
2009Eli Manning53996.260.1847.68%
2011Eli Manning61695.650.1648.86%
2007Ben Roethlisberger45289.970.2048.45%
2009Ben Roethlisberger55689.200.1652.70%
2010Ben Roethlisberger42188.240.2147.51%
2006Philip Rivers48786.680.1847.02%
2011Ben Roethlisberger55380.480.1550.09%
2012Ben Roethlisberger47877.290.1650.21%
2012Eli Manning55572.710.1348.65%
2005Ben Roethlisberger29170.750.2451.20%
2014Eli Manning62962.370.1048.49%
2004Ben Roethlisberger32562.250.1952.31%
2013Ben Roethlisberger62661.630.1047.44%
2008Eli Manning50555.560.1148.91%
2010Eli Manning55550.640.0948.47%
2007Philip Rivers48249.450.1046.27%
2005Eli Manning58342.890.0745.28%
2008Ben Roethlisberger51723.590.0547.97%
2012Philip Rivers57616.930.0347.40%
2006Ben Roethlisberger5153.830.0145.24%
2006Eli Manning5472.010.0046.07%
2004Philip Rivers9-0.23-0.0333.33%
2005Philip Rivers25-8.35-0.3340.00%
2004Eli Manning210-35.20-0.1735.71%
2013Eli Manning590-43.56-0.0742.88%
2007Eli Manning555-46.01-0.0843.60%

While the three of these quarterbacks have sustained success, there’s only been one season in which all three of them finished within top-10 quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back -- 2011. Manning makes that feat tougher because he’s only had one other top-10 season since 2004. He’s also the only one of the group to finish a season with more than 25 drop backs and a negative Passing NEP total. Manning has three such seasons, actually -- 2004, 2007 and 2013. Peyton's brother may statistically fall behind the other two, but with moments such as this, this and this, it’s hard to say the Giants made the wrong choice.

Rivers and Roethlisberger each have seven top-10 seasons by Passing NEP per drop back. Only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady have more in that stretch with 10 each. It should be noted that four of Roethlisberger’s top-five seasons came with less than 500 drop backs. Eli Manning’s rookie season is the only year in which he failed to drop back 500 times.

Rivers is the only one of the three to lead the league in Passing NEP per drop back. His 2009 season was worth 0.34 Passing NEP per drop back, the same value Aaron Rodgers had this past season when he won MVP. Rivers received two MVP votes that season, falling to Peyton Manning, who was second among quarterbacks with 0.33 Passing NEP per drop back.

Looking Ahead

2015 was scheduled to be the final year of each of the three quarterbacks’ contract. So far, Pittsburgh is the only team to make a move to keep its current quarterback with the team, signing Roethlisberger to a four-year extension, which would keep him until his age-37 season. Tom Brady, at 37, just finished a season in which he finished sixth in Passing NEP per drop back, so expecting Roethlisberger to keep his value through that time is realistic. Brady and Roethlisberger have different styles of play, and Brady even has a different style than he did three years ago. Roethlisberger would likely have to adjust his game over the next few seasons to get full value out of that contract. Bouncing off and away from hits will probably not be a sustainable model of success for a quarterback in his late-30's.

Both Manning and Rivers appear to be playing out the final year of their contracts, for differing reasons. The Giants have claimed they're comfortable with Manning entering the last year of his deal. Manning is older than both Rivers and Roethlisberger, turning 34 years old in January, while Rivers will turn 34 in December and Roethlisberger just turned 33 earlier in March.

Manning is likely looking for a contract similar to what the Steelers just gave Roethlisberger -- a four-year, $87.4 million extension, per Spotrac -- but the Giants are rightly hesitant to give out that type of cash at this point. Let's also suspend some semblance of disbelief after the Giants just gave Dwayne Harris $7 million guaranteed this offseason.

Manning will be entering his second year under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. And while 2014 was a big improvement on 2013 -- Manning finished was a Passing NEP per dop back of .10 after being worth -0.07 Passing NEP per drop back in 2013, which ranked 34th out of 45 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs -- 2015 could serve as the year to decide if Manning is worth that type of money for the next five seasons. However, it’s unlikely a team like the Giants would move on from Manning without a contingency plan already in place.

Rivers, on the other hand, is voluntarily playing out the final year of his deal. This, of course, has led to speculation that San Diego could move on from Rivers sooner rather than later. Using the time tested speculation technique of matching a player with a former coach, rumors swirled that Rivers could be dealt to Tennessee for the number-two pick to reunite with former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. In an offseason in which players have been traded on a whim, this could have a higher possibility of becoming real than in any other year, but still not probable to happen.

While the story of Rivers wanting to play out his contract is nice, there’s little reason to believe San Diego wouldn’t immediately slap the franchise tag on Rivers once the 2015 season ends, if there’s no deal in place. Under Mike McCoy, Rivers has experienced two his his six best seasons on a per drop back basis without many signs of production dropping off.

Realistically, there’s still a few good seasons left in each of these quarterbacks before these teams need to seriously consider what’s next at quarterback. We’ve been lucky to see a single draft class bring in this much talent at quarterback. It’s something we shouldn’t take for granted, even as these players enter the back stretch of their careers. It could be a while until we see something like this again.