NFL Draft: The 7 Most Surprising Quarterback Slides of All Time
Even the most plugged-in NFL Draft experts can’t accurately predict what will happen once it’s time for teams to pick. After all, a single trade can throw a mock draft completely out of whack. In most cases, though, at least when it comes to quarterbacks, it’s pretty easy to peg where a prospect will go.
But as so many signal-callers have learned the hard way, sometimes the chips just don’t fall your way. Let’s take a closer look at the seven most surprising draft-day slides of all time at the quarterback position.
7. Will Levis, 2023
Even though Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud boasted far more impressive resumes, Kentucky’s Will Levis somehow entered the conversation to be one of the first players taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. Leading up to Thursday night, some even wondered whether he could go No. 2 overall to the Houston Texans. With speculation swirling about possible trade-up scenarios centered around Levis, all of that talk turned out to be just that.
Not only did the big-armed quarterback fall well out of the top 10, but he had to wait until Friday to officially hear his name called. The Titans finally ended Levis’ well-publicized slide by trading up to take him with the 33rd overall pick. The move clearly signifies Malik Willis won’t be the guy, but it remains to be seen if Will Levis will become one of the rare quarterbacks on this list who proved teams wrong for letting him slide.
6. Malik Willis, 2022
NFL Draft Twitter took a huge L by making it seem like Malik Willis had a legitimate shot at being the first quarterback taken in 2022. Not only did the former Liberty University star fail to become a Day 1 pick, he didn’t go in the second round, either.
Whether it was his small school background, inconsistent accuracy, or a combination of several factors, Willis clearly had red flags working against him during the 2022 NFL Draft. Ultimately, the Tennessee Titans took a third-round flyer on him with the 86th overall pick. The Georgia native played sparingly as a rookie, providing little reason to believe in his ability to replace Ryan Tannehill in the long term.
5. Lamar Jackson, 2018
How the league let someone as special as Lamar Jackson almost slip out of the first round is beyond shocking. Sure, he entered the 2018 NFL Draft with legitimate questions about his ability to fit into a pro-style offense. But he also stood far and above the rest of his fellow quarterbacks in terms of athleticism, upside, and production.
Still, the electrifying Louisville star watched Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen get selected within the first 10 picks while waiting for a phone call. It took the Ravens trading back into the first round to finally bring Jackson’s fall to an end with the 32nd overall pick.
Needless to say, the New England Patriots still look foolish for taking Sony Michel at No. 31.
4. Johnny Manziel, 2014
A Heisman winner with moxie and dual-threat abilities, Johnny Manziel’s off-field issues and character concerns led to a disappointing outcome in the 2014 NFL Draft. Despite having an excellent track record of production at Texas A&M, the controversial signal-caller slid out of the top 10 and nearly out of the first round altogether.
Perhaps the only thing that saved Manziel from having to wait until the second round was the Browns’ desperation. But in one of the least surprising outcomes in NFL draft history, their decision to trade up to end Johnny Football’s slide did not pan out at all.
On the contrary, hitching their wagon to Manziel only brought about frustration for a franchise that finally addressed the position nearly a decade later by trading for Deshaun Watson and handing him a fully guaranteed $230 million contract.
3. Jimmy Clausen, 2010
A big-name quarterback from Notre Dame, Jimmy Clausen serves as a cautionary tale about falling in love with potential. Viewed as a high-upside prospect who could be an excellent pro-style quarterback, he was expected to be a top-10 pick along with Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford. While Bradford went No. 1 overall, Clausen suffered one of the biggest draft-day slides of all time, falling all the way to the Carolina Panthers at pick No. 48.
Ultimately, NFL teams were proven correct for passing over him in the first round. Clausen’s career as a starter ended just about as soon as it began. After a rough rookie season that included just three touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a 1-9 record as a starter, he never threw another pass for the Panthers. In fact, Clausen only appeared in eight more games before his time in pro football came to a close.
2. Brady Quinn, 2007
From his frame to his camera-ready face, Brady Quinn embodied what teams look for in a franchise quarterback. However, the former Notre Dame standout found out that the NFL didn’t exactly view him as a can’t-miss prospect coming out of college. Even in a loaded 2007 NFL Draft class that included three current Pro Football Hall of Famers, Quinn was expected to go in the top 10.
Unfortunately for the 2006 Maxwell Award winner, he didn’t come close to delivering on those pre-draft projections. Once JaMarcus Russell went No. 1, no other quarterback went off the board until the Cleveland Browns selected Quinn 22nd overall. Of course, that came 19 picks after they took offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who became one of the best players of all time at his position.
As for Quinn? He went 9-12 as a starter across three forgettable seasons in Cleveland.
1. Aaron Rodgers, 2005
No player in NFL history has endured a more embarrassing draft day moment than Aaron Rodgers.
With the 49ers holding the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the California native seemed like a lock to become the face of the franchise he rooted for growing up. Yet instead of walking across the stage first, Rodgers watched Utah’s Alex Smith get anointed the savior in San Francisco.
To rub salt in the wound, his slide lasted longer than anyone could have predicted. Despite being penciled in as a surefire top-five pick, Rodgers slipped all the way to No. 24 before the Packers ended his brutal experience in the green room. Luckily for both the talented quarterback and Green Bay fans, the wait was well worth it.
Still, there’s no doubt that Rodgers’ infamous fall ranks at the top of the most surprising quarterback draft-day slides of all time.