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What’s the best quarterback draft class of all time? The 1983 class is generally acknowledged as the best of all time, with John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino going in Round 1. After that, there was the 2004 draft, which produced Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger in the first 11 picks. However, it’s the 2012 NFL Draft that actually has the signal-callers who are about to collectively earn the most money in the history of the NFL and become the first QB class to crest $1 billion in career earnings.

The QB draft class of 2012 is about to earn the most money of any class in NFL history

The QB class of 2012 had a lot of juice at the top but not much else. Stanford’s Andrew Luck was a generational prospect — the best since Peyton Manning over a decade earlier. And the Heisman Trophy-winning Robert Griffin III was electric with the ball in his hands.

After that, though, the options didn’t seem great. There was a converted wide receiver from Texas A&M, an old guy from Oklahoma State, a short signal-caller from Wisconsin who was better at baseball, two tall kids who couldn’t move from Arizona and Arizona State, and the Michigan State QB with the weak arm.

In the end, all these QBs went in the draft, and Luck and RGIII were spectacular. Unfortunately, a rookie season knee injury (and coming back too fast the next season) destroyed Griffin’s career. And Luck decided to hang it up in his prime after just six seasons.

However, all those damaged goods QBs played multiple years in the NFL. They didn’t all become great, but they did all pocket (at least) double-digit millions in career earnings.

From the descriptions above, those QBs were Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler, Russell Wilson, and Kirk Cousins.

Collectively, this class (along with Ryan Lindley, B.J. Coleman, and Chandler Harnish) has played 767 NFL games, 44 postseason games, made 20 Pro Bowls, and won two Super Bowls.

As of the 2023 NFL offseason, this group has also made $893 million in career earnings.

That puts them just $3.4 million behind the highest-earning QB draft class of all time — the vaunted Class of 2004 — which included Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger, along with other big NFL earners like Matt Schaub and Luke McCown.

However, while the entire Class of 2004 is retired in 2023, the Class of 2012 still has three active (and highly-paid) QBs in Wilson, Cousins, and Tannehill, and possibly a fourth if Foles catches on with another team this offseason after the Indianapolis Colts cut him.

Right now, Tannehill has $27 million left on his current deal, Cousins has $30 million, and Wilson has a staggering $239 million, although, realistically, it’s more like $123 million.

These contracts will guarantee that the QB draft class of 2012 surpasses 2004 as the highest-paid of all time next season. And when it’s all said and done, this group will be the first QB draft class to crest the $1 billion mark in career earnings.

Not bad for a draft class where the top two QBs walked away within six seasons.  

The top three highest-paid QB classes of all time

NFL draft, 2012 NFL draft, NFL QB draft class
Ryan Tannehill at the 2012 NFL Draft | Al Bello/Getty Images

Here are the top-three highest-paid QB draft classes of all time: as of the 2023 NFL offseason: the 2004 NFL Draft, the 2012 NFL Draft, and the 2005 NFL Draft. All career earning totals are courtesy of Spotrac.

2004 NFL Draft

1ChargersEli Manning$252.2M
4GiantsPhilip Rivers$243.9M
11SteelersBen Roethlisberger$267.2M
22BillsJ.P. Losman$12.3M
90FalconsMatt Schaub$94.3M
106BrownsLuke McCown$17.1M
148BearsCraig Krenzel$689k
185EaglesAndy Hall$86k
187RavensJosh Harris$190k
193ColtsJim Sorgi$5.1M
201RamsJeff Smoker$279k
202CardinalsJohn Navarre$1M
21749ersCody Pickett$957k
218BengalsCasey Bramlet$441k
225BroncosMatt Mauck$32k
248TexansB.J Symons$159k
251BroncosBradlee Van Pelt$528k
TOTAL 17 QBs$896.4M

2012 NFL Draft

1ColtsAndrew Luck$109.1M
2CommandersRobert Griffin III$33.2M
8DolphinsRyan Tannehill$168.9M
22BrownsBrandon Weeden$11.5M
57BroncosBrock Osweiler$41.3M
75SeahawksRussell Wilson$238.3M
88EaglesNick Foles$87.5M
102CommandersKirk Cousins$201.6M
185CardinalsRyan Lindley$1.3M
243PackersB.J. Coleman$45k
253ColtsChandler Harnish$291k
TOTAL 11 QBs$893M

2005 NFL Draft

149ersAlex Smith$189.7M
24PackersAaron Rodgers$305.6M
25CommandersJason Campbell$24.4M
67BrownsCharlie Frye$4.8M
69RaidersAndrew Walter$3M
85SeahawksDavid Greene$952k
106BearsKyle Orton$30.1M
121PanthersStefan LeFors$742k
145LionsDan Orlovsky$3.1M
152SaintsAdrian McPherson$208k
213RavensDerek Anderson$33.3M
299ChiefsJames Kilian$39k
230PatriotsMatt Cassel$65.4M
250RamsRyan Fitzpatrick$82.1M
TOTAL 14 QBs$743.4M

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