How safe are 1st-round quarterbacks? What recent NFL draft history tells us about Caleb Williams

Record 6 quarterbacks were drafted in top 12 this year

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the Chicago Bears with the first overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Bears found their quarterback. Caleb Williams is the new face of the franchise.

The organization selected a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in team history. The 22-year-old out of USC has the entire city of Chicago, not to mention the whole NFL world, watching him in 2024. The weight of Bears fans’ hopes and dreams will be on his shoulders.

The Bears believe Williams is equipped to handle that pressure. General manager Ryan Poles wouldn’t have drafted him with the top pick if they didn’t believe it.

But nobody can predict how a quarterback’s career will turn out. That’s what makes the draft so wild. Players are over-drafted every single year. Quarterbacks, in particular, are often over-valued.

With six QBs selected in the first round of the 2024 draft, there’s bound to be a few busts in there. Here’s a look at the first-round quarterbacks of the last five NFL drafts and how those quarterbacks fared so far.


First-round quarterbacks:

No. 1: Kyler Murray, Cardinals

No. 6: Daniel Jones, Giants

No. 15: Dwayne Haskins, Commanders

Murray’s career has been complicated by injury, some odd distractions and a poor supporting cast, but he remains the top quarterback from his draft class. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler and was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019. He could be primed for a major bounce-back season in 2024.

The Jones pick caused consternation for many Giants fans at the time. Jones has led the organization to a playoff victory (something Murray’s never done in Arizona), but Giants fans still might have preferred their team wait one more year to draft a QB in the top 10. Jones can be a middle-of-the-pack quarterback when supported by a good running game and a solid defense.

Haskins went 3-10 in 13 starts for Washington. He spent the 2021 season as a backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Haskins died in April 2022 after being struck by a truck on the side of a Florida highway.


First-round quarterbacks:

No. 1: Joe Burrow, Bengals

No. 5: Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins

No. 6: Justin Herbert, Chargers

No. 26: Jordan Love, Packers

Now four years removed from this draft, it’s looking more and more like one of the best QB classes of the past two decades. Burrow and Herbert have already inked huge extensions with their respective teams. Tagovailoa and Love could be next in that department. Three of these four have been Pro Bowlers (only Love has yet to achieve that).

This is the rare class where none of these four quarterbacks would likely be considered a bust. Tagovailoa has been divisive, but successful once paired with the right offensive scheme. Love didn’t see a real chance to play until 2023, and led the Packers back to the postseason in his first year as a starter.


Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields looks to throw in the first half against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.

First-round quarterbacks:

No. 1: Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars

No. 2: Zach Wilson, Jets

No. 3: Trey Lance, 49ers

No. 11: Justin Fields, Bears

No. 15: Mac Jones, Patriots

The promise of the 2021 quarterback class has long since dissipated. Only Lawrence, the top pick, remains with the team that originally drafted him.

Wilson and Lance will go down as two of the biggest misses in recent memory. Lance has started only four games in his NFL career. The 49ers, remember, traded three first-round picks to get him.

Wilson (12-21), Fields (10-28) and Jones (18-24) all have losing records as NFL starters. All three were traded over the current offseason. Wilson is now in Denver, Fields plays for Pittsburgh and Jones is backing up Lawrence in Jacksonville. Lance is a backup in Dallas after the Cowboys traded for him nearly a year ago.


First-round quarterbacks:

No. 20: Kenny Pickett, Steelers

The 2022 draft was historically bad at the quarterback position. Pickett was the only QB drafted in the first round. Even that may have been a reach.

In two seasons, Picket went 14-10 as the Steelers’ starting quarterback. In what ultimately wound up signaling the end of the short-lived Pickett era in Pittsburgh, the Steelers elected to start Mason Rudolph over a healthy Pickett in the Wild Card round of the playoffs in January. The Steelers traded Picket to Philadelphia two months later.


First-round quarterbacks:

No. 1: Bryce Young, Panthers

No. 2: CJ Stroud, Texans

No. 4: Anthony Richardson, Colts

The jury remains out on last year’s first-round picks. Young had an awful rookie season, but he was also in the worst possible situation in Carolina. It’s hard to blame him for the terrible receiving group or the porous offensive line he had to work with.

Stroud took what looked like a bad situation and turned it into a playoff appearance. It’ll take a few more years to say definitively, but it’s looking like Stroud probably should’ve been the No. 1 pick in this draft.

Richardson looked electric in the four games he played before a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. He’ll be one of the most intriguing QBs to watch in 2024.


Chicago Bears No. 1 draft pick quarterback Caleb Williams smiles as he listens to reporters during an NFL football news conference in April in Lake Forest, Ill.

First-round quarterbacks:

No. 1: Caleb Williams, Bears

No. 2: Jayden Daniels, Commanders

No. 3: Drake Maye, Patriots

No. 8: Michael Penix Jr., Falcons

No. 10: JJ McCarthy, Vikings

No. 12: Bo Nix, Broncos

And now, this year. It’ll take at least a couple of seasons before there’s an answer on any of these QBs. Six went in the top 12, a record. Six quarterbacks hadn’t gone in the first round since 1983.

With that many QBs, there will almost certainly be a few busts on this list.

Big-picture takeaways

As far as quarterbacks who have been drafted No. 1 overall, they’re usually – usually – not complete busts. There hasn’t been a true bust since JaMarcus Russell in 2007. Every quarterback taken first overall since Russell has been, at least, a serviceable starting quarterback (again, the jury is still out on Bryce Young).

The Bears, obviously, hope that Williams will be much more than that. A serviceable quarterback should be the bare minimum and would, frankly, be a disappointment. The Bears drafted Williams because they believe he can be truly special.

[Caleb Williams] has a really high ceiling. Now, we’ve got to pour [resources] into him. He’s got to put in the time as well, which we know both sides will do everything that we can to develop him.”

—  Ryan Poles, Bears general manager

“He has a really high ceiling,” Poles said after the draft. “Now, we’ve got to pour [resources] into him. He’s got to put in the time as well, which we know both sides will do everything that we can to develop him and those around him, and then we’ll see where that ceiling is.”

The teams that really should be nervous are the Commanders, Patriots, Falcons, Vikings and Broncos. Beyond the top quarterback, it’s usually a guessing game. They could be getting a Justin Herbert or they could be getting Zach Wilson.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.